Espresso Coffee

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Introduction: Espresso Coffee

Tired of spending $3 every morning for your espresso coffee half decaf, low fat, extra foam latte? I was, although I was in between machines as my 10 year old espresso machine died and it took me a while to figure out my upgrade path. My wife speculates that I did about 12 hours of research into finding the perfect espresso machine to buy. I also spent a couple of months testing out the various morning coffee locations and was getting embarrassed by what was coming out of my mouth when I ordered what I thought was a simple drink, but was hard work spitting out without any caffeine.

I'll walk you through the basics of espresso coffee and my personal favorite espresso+steamed milk variation, the latte. I will share my hard earned research and tell you the best espresso machine to buy and how I came to that conclusion.

Why make your own espresso?

For me the main reason was that I couldn't order exactly what I wanted. I needed more control over the amount of caffeine and the espresso to milk/foam ratio.

The experience and benefits of making something yourself, no matter how small or trivial, is also something I crave. Starting off the day crafting my drink of choice makes my day that much better.

So let's get started.

Step 1: Espresso Machines

Before getting started on your path to espresso perfection, you're going to need to decide what kind of espresso machine you want to buy.

How much should you spend?

Let's do the math. My wife and I typically have one latte a day, so at $3, that's $2,190 a year. I expect a quality espresso machine to last at least 10 years and probably more if it's properly maintained. I probably would have spent up to $2-3k if I thought the machine was worth it. I ended up spending about $1,200 for the espresso machine and grinder.

There are too many espresso machines to choose from and it's hard to figure out which is the best one. I stayed away from the pod only machines, since I wanted to have control over where I bought my coffee and what kind of coffee I wanted to use. For example the Nespresso machines don't have an option to buy a half decaf pod and each pod costs $.50. Most of these machines won't do much for steaming milk either. I don't like twist off beer caps or screw-off wine caps, so where's the art is throwing in a pod and pressing a button. Not for me thanks.

The best espresso machine for your money

Through my hours of research on forums, reviews, in store investigations, this is what I bought.

RANCILIO SILVIA w/ COMPUTER TEMP (PID)

The Silvia is a great machine and the most popular. It's in the ~$600 price range without a temp. control modification. The temperature control is an custom modification to control the temperature of the water. Without the temp. control, the boiler can fluctuate ~40 degrees. You typically need to spend $2000+ for temperature control in an espresso machine, but you can get the Sylvia for less than half of that . You can also buy kits to do this yourself and there are a number of instructions on how to do this, just google Silvia PID.

Now you'll need a grinder

I thought I could get away without buying a grinder, but I was wrong, very wrong. You'll need a burr grinder that you can adjust to match your coffee beans. I'll explain this more in the next step, but trust me, don't skimp on the grinder or you'll never be happy with your results.

Step 2: Pulling Shots

So you've got the gear, let's get started.

Turn your machine on and let it warm up

The better the machine, the longer it takes to warm up. Make sure the handle is attached to the unit while it's warming up. You want all the brass to be nice and warm. The Silvia takes about 20 minutes to warm up. Also remember to make sure there is some water in the steam wand by turning it on and letting water run through it. You don't want heating components to be dry as they will get damaged over time. The Silvia can make hot water using the steam wand, so you just turn on the middle switch to run a little water through it. I also use the hot water to heat up my mugs before pulling the shots.

Load up your espresso handle with coffee

Level off any excess coffee before we get to tamping. Here's another item you'll need, a nice tamper. This is what you use to compress the coffee in the espresso handle basket. The Silvia uses a 58mm size tamper. When tamping, use about 30lbs of pressure. If you need a sense of how much pressure that is, try using a bathroom scale and pushing against it. Tap the sides to get any air bubbles out and then finish with a light twisting off motion.

Insert espresso handle and start pulling

Make sure the handle is properly locked into your machine before hitting any buttons. This is the area you'll need to work on the most. It is supposed to take around 25-30 seconds to pull one ounce of espresso from start to finish. If it comes out too fast, you need a finer grind. If it's too slow, you may need a coarser grind or you may be tamping too hard. If you don't have a good coffee grinder, you may not be able to get the right grind for your machine. Different types of coffees will need different grind settings.

Before pulling, you also want to know the temperature of the water. Again, some coffees do better with different temperatures and even 1-2 degrees can make a difference. I'm using 219 degrees right now. You'll just need to experiment and if your machine does not have a temperature control, you can probably find somebody who has 'temp. surfed' it enough to know how to get the appropriate temp. With the Sylvia, you can run the espresso switch, water will come out, way about minute and it will be around 200 degrees. My advice, get a PID unit.

Step 3: Milk Frothing

If you like cappuccinos and lattes, spend the money and get a quality espresso machine or you won't be satisfied. The Silvia has great steam power and the power to make microfoam. Microfoam just means that the foam has tiny bubbles and it gives it a smooth texture. The only coffee shop that I know of that does microfoam really well, is Peet's coffee.

Frothing basics

Start by putting your stainless steel frothing pitcher in the freezer. The colder your milk, the longer you can work with it to get nice foam. Don't use a pitcher larger than 20oz. and don't fill it more than half way. Bleed the steam wand of any water by turning it on and letting the water go out until all you have is steam.

Place the pitcher of milk at a slight angle and insert the wand just under the surface. When you turn the steam on, turn it on until you stop hearing any really loud whining. The surf the tip just at the top of the milk. You want to get some air into the milk without creating large bubbles. You can hear the air getting sucked in as you do it. If there are huge bubbles, lower the tip into the milk.

When the temperature is at 100 degrees sink the tip into milk and get it swirling. This creates finer bubbles with the air that you already got into the milk and is the path to microfoam. Microfoam is not easy and has a lot of subtleties that you'll need to work out by trial and error. I have just ordered a thicker gauge frothing pitcher to try out. I'll follow up if it helps.

Clean the steam wand!

After you are done frothing, wipe the wand with a wet rag or sponge. If you leave the milk on there, it's a real pain to get off later.

Here's a short video to help with the sound and tip placement.

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72 Comments

It obviously a good suggestion to make espresso at home and save some bucks and it's pretty simple to make a basic cup of espresso at home if you have a nice machine. For $1200, you can get a pretty much good machine like Rancilio, Breville or even a Jura (Super Espresso). Here is a list of top espresso machines that are worth to look for.

Any guides on building an espresso maker? I can't seem to find any.

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I would actually discourage most people from getting their own home espresso machine. For most consumers, home espresso machines are the home exercise treadmills of the new millennium. People think they want it and that it will save them money, but in the long term they're just too lazy to really get much out of it and the purchase sits gathering dust in the corner -- while they succumb to the convenience of having someone else make your coffee. Evil green mermaid or otherwise. And as for the machine, that's only one element. Some consumers buy some ridiculous $1,000 machine and yet use a $50 grinder -- which is like buying a $30,000 stereo system to play 64kb mp3s. @ pyro13: if there's no point to coffee without caffeine, then skip the coffee and look for a drug delivery mechanism. Like a syringe for instance. If the coffee is just a formality, you're a user of coffee, not an enjoyer of the stuff.

This sounds like a comment from a coffee-business owner :) I make really delicious coffee at home every day with my stove-top stainless steel espresso maker and locally-roasted organic beans. And I also support the local roasteries and espresso shops. I live just outside a small town of 10,000 people - I pass 4 roadside (think fruitstand-style) espresso shops on my way to town, and have my choice of at least 10 espresso-dedicated cafes once I get there. My favourite smell in the world is walking in town in with the crisp fall air enriched by the aroma of the local roastery roasting beans in the early morning...

SERIESCAFEyou don't need to spend to mutch money on equipment
my second setup cost about $500 doll Australian worth every cent

* Café Series® Conical Burr Coffee Grinder

my machine Café Espresso™

* Barista Pack

the secret is good coffee here in austrailia i use vitoria oro gold but if you have trouble finding good coffee ask the shop you get a nice cup from they get coffee deliverd fresh 1-2 times a week and will usurally sell it at cost

WARNING once you get set up you will ruin the expirience of buying a cup of coffee as 90per cent of the cups you buy will not meat your standards for a good/drinkable cup one of the moast common mistakes you will notice is a coffe shot should be one ounce 30mls about 1/3 of a cup after that the cremer turns whte and the coffee come out biter i call it creek water or 2nd hand coffee (when you forget to refill your espresso handle another is to hot you burn your toung

re:you don't need to spend to much money on equipment
my second setup cost about $500 doll Australian worth every cent

nice choice on your upgrade how many years is the warranty
check out

http://www.myitalia.com.au/products.html

Unfortunately, it looks like your shots are over-extracted (tighten your grind!). They shouldn't be that light tan color. Espresso should have a "tiger striping" pattern in the crema that varies in color from an caramel color to a deep dark chocolate. The crema should be light and fluffy, and feel like a cloud in your mouth. A properly extracted shot is 1/3 crema! A great shot of espresso is like a fine wine; flavors can include baker's chocolate, oak, peat, etc. There are over 13 independent variables that go into making a good shot, including (but not limited to) your beans, grind, pressure of tamping, freshness of beans, accuracy of burr grinder, water temp, and barometric pressure. You should consider switching beans. Peet's is considered to be the McDonalds of coffee to us career baristas. Try Vivace, Danesi, Stumptown, Intelligentsia, or Broadway Cafe. They may cost a tad more and you may have to get them shipped, depending on where you live, but the difference is dramatic. If you are interested in learning more, read David Schomer's "Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques." It's the barista's bible. Schomer, owner of Vivace coffee, not only wrote the book on espresso, but had a big hand in introducing Italian coffee to the US and the subsequent specialty coffee boom. In Italy, it takes seven years to earn the title "barista." Keep workin' on it!

I agree with almost all of what you said, but I would add that a good shot should be judged on taste, not on the amount of crema. Some blends have very little crema, some shots of some other blends will be all crema.
Tightening the grind may not be the answer - from his description of his technique it sounds like he is getting a lot of channelling. To solve this, he can change the dose, change the grind, or simply not tap the portafilter. Sometimes channelling is actually caused by a grind that is too fine - the water is offered too much resistance so it will force a channel to release the pressure.
Lasty, I agree that the author should read, but he should not consider Schomer's book to be a bible any more than the Illy books. One of the greatest thing about espresso is it is deeply personal - if your technique produces results that you (and your boss/customers, if applicable) like, then your technique is good.