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Old 10-16-2008, 01:57 PM   #1
Mister Moo
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Default Espresso at Home

A few words about espresso.

1. It is the ultimate expression of coffee, as a fine cigar may reasonably be considered the ultimate expression of tobacco.



2. Making conventional espresso at home is not a casual occupation for a FNG coffeehead; it makes a mess and demands a longish learning curve, good equipment and absolutely fresh roasted coffee. Except, perhaps, for a trial decision period to figure out if you want to buy into making espresso at home, the process does not work especially long or well with bottom-end equipment. Yes, yes... there are always some folks who really sweat the details and get highly focused on the craft (and the machinery) who can make low end gear really sing but it isn't easy. There are certain laws of physics that low end gear simply cannot address. This is a nasty bit of business to mention but, with espresso hardware, what you pay for is pretty much what you get. No $200 espresso manine will ever do what a $2000 machine will. Does that matter? Maybe yes - maybe no. But it is the way it is.

3. No snob zone? This is the fact of it. Anything less than freshly roasted coffee makes swill from an espresso machine; and anything less than exemplary single origin beans (or well crafted/roasted blends) makes, at best, 2nd rate espresso.

4. Trying to make what the technical people define as "espresso" requires a machine that produces a lot of pressure - min. 9-bar - and can hold brewing water at a steady temperature (198-205f as a rule) over a 20-30 second brewing cycle. You cannot do this with a mokapot or a steam-driven machine.

5. Making GREAT coffee with an AeroPress, mokapot or other steam driven devices is certainly possible - it just isn't espresso. It's strong coffee - maybe even fantastic strong coffee. Maybe even as tasty or better than espresso - but it isn't espresso. This is like the thing about ISOMs vs NCs. There may be a range of great, overlapping taste on both sides, but one is not the other.

6. I love coffee but don't drink much of it; I usually have one or sometimes two espressos in the morning. I'd rather have one good espresso or great mokapot brew than 5-cups of brewed coffee.

7. Badly made espresso tastes like crap. Espresso has a richness of flavor, mouthfeel and aroma that is not comparable to any other straight coffee drink. If you have ever had espresso that was bitter or otherwise unpleasant, it was badly made, produced on a filthy machine or was brewed from stale beans or a rotten roast. Well made espresso is smooth, almost oily or buttery, stays in your mouth for half and hour and ranges somewhere around the word "sweetish" to the experienced palate.

8. Without a superauto machine, well made espresso in the home is more of second job than a means to a morning eye-opener. Espresso produced from pods (pre-roasted, pre-measured, pre-ground, vacuum sealed packages) is faster, cleaner, easier and may produce a very decent shot according the quality of the pod and the brewing machine. Most pod espresso I've tasted was pretty much awful but some was quite good. I suspect the bad-est of it had more to do with cheap equipment or improper machine cleaning than anything else; a dirty machine is the first culprit to finding the source of bad espresso in my experience.

9. Anyone who works her way through the maze of cigars to find nirvana from an evening puff will probably love good espresso. This is not to say you'd necessarily love the process of making good espresso unless, of course, you insist on rolling your own cigars.

10. There are many ways to make really fine coffee. They involve better bean selection, finding a good roasting company to buy from, home roasting, fresh grinding, alternate brewing methods, etc. If you want to learn how to make good coffee, I say explore everything EXCEPT making espresso at home.

11. If you plan to make any kind of good coffee at home over the long haul, get yourself a kick-ass burr grinder before spending a nickel on anything else. The kicker-ass it is, the longer it will last (a lifetime, say) and the more versatile it will be. It will grind for espresso if you ever go there, but will serve you well for everything else coffee no matter what your tastes or budget.

12. I do not qualify as an expert on this subject. I'm merely a post whore with a laptop and a coffee jones, that's all.

13. Like Seinfeld and the menage-a-trois ("Then I'll need orgy clothes and orgy friends. I'll need lotions and I'll have to grow a mustache...") you may find espresso requires a community and many accessories. You would not be the first to wonder, "Where does it end?" Tampers. Pitchers. Skim or whole milk. This grinder. That grinder. Bigger filterbasket. New portafilter... it goes on and on.

Insane thing to do, making espresso at home. I love it. But a mokapot, for a thousand dollars less, ain't too shabby, either.

Are you a home espresso weenie? Are you thinking about becoming one?



Relax.

Explain.

Take plenty of time to decide.
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Last edited by Mister Moo; 10-16-2008 at 02:04 PM.
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Old 10-17-2008, 02:22 PM   #2
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mister Moo View Post
12. I do not qualify as an expert on this subject. I'm merely a post whore with a laptop and a coffee jones, that's all.
You may not think you qualify, but for the purpose of answering this question I appoint you Resident Expert:

How much better are high-end espresso makers than budget/econo machines? For example, I recently jumped into the shark tank and acquired a DeLonghi EC155 -- a pump machine that can be had for well under $100. It has some really serious design flaws, but ignoring those it seems to make pretty good coffee. Pretty good, I say, because I was expecting better. I'm still new at this so there's a lot of room for operator error, but I'm working on my technique, and I am not afraid to fail. (Lately I've been failing with a nice blend of Brazil Pedra Grande and El Salvador COE. Not too shabby for failure.)

Yet I wonder -- am I setting my sights too high? Is this the best I can expect from a budget machine? And what is "fake" crema? (as critics of this machine have espressed.) What's fake and what's real and how do I tell the difference?
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Old 10-17-2008, 02:29 PM   #3
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

Great post Moo. I cant bump your rep anymore than I already have!
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Old 10-17-2008, 02:32 PM   #4
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

awesome post...thanks moo!
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Old 10-17-2008, 09:18 PM   #5
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

How much better are high-end espresso makers than budget/econo machines?

More than night and day.

For example, I recently jumped into the shark tank and acquired a DeLonghi EC155 -- a pump machine that can be had for well under $100. It has some really serious design flaws, but ignoring those it seems to make pretty good coffee. Pretty good, I say, because I was expecting better.

This is where things historically have gone off the track and peope begin sending me exploding cigars. So! This is just an opinion based on my experience, not a statement of fact: low end steam and pump machines are what they are. In general, if you have low expectations for espresso, they will be met. Otherwise they're good:

1. to help one decide if they want to make good espresso at home (which I already said was a bad idea - expensive ticket to play); or

2. as a teriffic looking paperweights. (Most of them end up in the garage.)

I had three cheapies and I really like great espresso. One of the three delivered great brew but I had to play it like a violin to get the right tune out of it more than 50% of the time. I'd call it a learning experience. If I knew then what I know now I would have bought one extreme grinder and a $10 mokapot instead of four espresso machines and two grinders


I'm still new at this so there's a lot of room for operator error, but I'm working on my technique...

Zakly. Start where you are. Making good espresso is, in part, learning how to eliminate operator error. Learn how to make the best with whatever you have. That might be great espresso half the time, or it might be not-so-great espresso 100% of the time. If it makes you crazy after a year or two, upgrade or slide happily into mokapot world.

Yet I wonder -- am I setting my sights too high? Is this the best I can expect from a budget machine?

Old saying - "When you think you might maybe have a problem then you already do."

And what is "fake" crema? (as critics of this machine have espressed.) What's fake and what's real and how do I tell the difference?

False crema is the floaty foamy brown emulsification you might get when producing coffee with methods under 9-bar of pressure.
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Last edited by Mister Moo; 10-17-2008 at 09:23 PM.
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Old 10-18-2008, 12:19 AM   #6
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

Thanks for your sage counsel, Moo. Expert or no, it helps. Meanwhile I have some really nice beans to work with and this forum to look to for comaraderie and sound advice. On my part, practice, discipline, and a trainer machine. One day I hope I can snatch the coffee bean from your hand.
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Old 10-18-2008, 12:46 AM   #7
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

Mister Moo thanks for putting this down. I really like reading what you have to say about coffee. I enjoy coffee but i like putting sugar/ milk in which I know it is wrong but I drink what I like. I hope to someday enjoy coffee to the point of no add ins. I have been cutting back on all that stuff. Thanks for your wisdom.
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Old 10-18-2008, 07:37 AM   #8
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

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Originally Posted by leasingthisspace View Post
Mister Moo thanks for putting this down. I really like reading what you have to say about coffee. I enjoy coffee but i like putting sugar/ milk in which I know it is wrong but I drink what I like. I hope to someday enjoy coffee to the point of no add ins. I have been cutting back on all that stuff. Thanks for your wisdom.
I was once at a winery in Piemonte and asked the manager there, what he considered the best wine... his response "the one you enjoy drinking." The same holds true for coffee. Drink what you like, like what you drink.

There is nothing wrong with putting in sugar and milk in your espresso. In fact in Italy MOST people use sugar or sweetner in their coffee.

As far as milk goes, if you add a touch of steamed milk it is called a macchiato (that crap that starbucks calls a macchiato is really a caffe latte) If you add cold milk it is called a macchiato freddo.

If you add 1/3 espresso 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 foam from the steamed milk, then you have a cappuccino. Alter the portions to 40% espresso and 60% steamed milk (leave out the foam) and you have a caffe latte.

Take your steamed foamy milk and make it very very warm (not hot) serve it in a highball glass and add a short shot of espresso (2oz) and you have a latte macchiato... the ladies love this one because it looks really beautiful when you add the espresso to the milk.

When steaming milk remember the rule I always tell my employees... if its too hot to hold, its too hot to drink (the steaming pitcher). If you scald the milk, not only will it taste bad, the first sip will fry your tastebuds for the rest of the drink.

Also cold milk+ chilled frothing pitcher= better foam.

Moo, any thoughts you would like to add?

Last edited by md4958; 10-18-2008 at 07:43 AM.
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Old 10-18-2008, 04:21 PM   #9
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

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...Moo, any thoughts you would like to add?
What you said. (And I am fond of cream or milk and sugar with coffee as often as not. What's not to like? )
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Old 10-18-2008, 05:25 PM   #10
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

Good to see you post this back up Moo, and anyone interested, once upon a time I went against everything this guy told me and went the semi-decent budget route, and got AWFUL espresso. This was largely due to me not giving it enough tries over the course of a week, but after a week of making a mess, elevating my blood pressure, and failing miserably I JUST WANTED A SHOT OF MF'ING ESPRESSO!!! Whew..... so I delved further into my moka pot (which became a 2cupper brikka) and found true happiness with faux-espresso that tastes plenty good, even without considering how much work/effort it DOESN'T require.

The moral of the story IMO? = Either jump in all the way and commit to spending both money and time, or spend neither and go moka pot route.
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Old 10-19-2008, 10:44 AM   #11
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

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... Either jump in all the way and commit to spending both money and time, or spend neither and go moka pot route.
Yeah boy. (Starting with a snarking good grinder above and before anything else. A good grinder for moka is a good thing - that or pro-ground. Same thing with vacpot and, a little less so, press. Paper filter drip - use a hammer if you want and the coffee still comes out good if the beans were OK to begin with. I swear people think I just make this stuff up. Thanks for the kind validation report, Duck'o.) Jeezo. Who wants to start a grinder thread?

My brain is still swelling from concussion of the last one I started. My flesh was ripped, eyes gouged and reputation (what little there is of it) was tarred and feathered. Fact is, once a bunch of anti-expensive-grinder sharks smell blood in the coffee they won't stop circling until the prey is dead, shredded and eaten. I don't think I have the strength to start another grinder thread. I am only alive today because I taste so bad.

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Old 10-19-2008, 11:43 AM   #12
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

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Drink what you like, like what you drink.


Thanks.
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Old 10-20-2008, 07:27 PM   #13
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

I might be nuts, but I really have learned one of the most important things about equipment, cheap or expensive, is to keep it clean with a regular schedule of daily wiping and cleaning of all parts and a twice monthly descale.

I was doing great the first few months with my Gaggia and all of a sudden, couldn't get good foam. I tried everything from changing milk brands to buying a new pitcher.

After really taking apart the steam wand, I discovered a part inside the sleeve that looked really badly gunked up. After cleaning it, I was back in business.

It's a real pain in the butt, but I feel it's necessary and probably why Starbucks charges so much for their lousy coffee.
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Old 10-21-2008, 12:14 AM   #14
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

Man Mister Moo, that is the best post that I have ever read on what it take to create espresso at home. Well done!

I have been making espresso at home for about 2 years, and have been making good espresso for about the last 2 months.
I recently moved from a Rancilio Silvia to a Simonelli Oscar.

The Silvia is a good 1st machine, but the Oscar is the real deal.
It's stable temperature makes a LOT of difference.

I would like to underscore that you must have a source for freshly roasted beans, and a good burr grinder.

It has been a fantastic experience, and the espresso world, and the cigar world have a lot of parallels.
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Old 10-21-2008, 06:34 AM   #15
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Awesome post bro!

~Mark

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Old 10-21-2008, 06:53 AM   #16
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

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...The Silvia is a good 1st machine, but the Oscar is the real deal. It's stable temperature makes a LOT of difference.

I would like to underscore that you must have a source for freshly roasted beans, and a good burr grinder...
Thanks for kind remarks.

It's easy to come off as a total azzozzole (my specialty) talking about the fruitlessness of sub $200-300 grinders paired with minimum $500 coffeemakers but - what else can I say that your own experience hasn't borne out? Every time I read about someone "jumping" on a low end espresso machine (and saying they'll get around to a better grinder later) I feel... no. I will not go this way again.

All I want to say more about home espresso:

1. it can be way better than than 90% of what coffeeshops sell; and
2. it takes about $1000 minimum to play; and
3. it's a stupid sport, really, when a great grinder and a $20 mokapot can make staggeringly good coffee approaching espresso.

You gotta really want it. There's cheap ways in but results will almost always disappoint.

Having said this I now concede that there are a few people with $149 Hamilton Beach espresso makers and $150 Solis grinders who will say they love their stuff, they make world class espresso and I'm full of chit. Well, I'm sure they're right.

But let me hear back from them after 24-months. If they still disagree with me then they don't know what good espresso is supposed to tate like - or they're OK with 65% of their shots being sorry, which, with enough milk, sugar or syrup, may be fine.
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Old 10-21-2008, 08:18 AM   #17
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

I check this thread every morning just to drool....

I don't have the $$$$ maker....mine was discussed, slammed, hammered, kicked, and basically called a POS the last time I mentioned it.

It's claim to fame, however, is that it's spent more time in Iraq than in my kitchen!!

I've been dying to get a Gaggia one of these years, but that machine will NEVER leave the house!!!

Besides, I'm more of the "shade tree mechanic" approach to espresso - even a lousy glob is better than none at all...and always a learning experience.

Couple of the guys here blew me away with some amaaaaaaaaaazing french press coffee at the MB Herf...but that's another story!!!

Keep them pics coming Moo!!!!
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Old 10-21-2008, 02:04 PM   #18
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

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3. it's a stupid sport, really, when a great grinder and a $20 mokapot can make staggeringly good coffee approaching espresso.
Moo, I completely agree. I would rather see somebody buy a $20 moka, than a $150 espresso machine.

The problem as a professional barista, is that when somebody is used to drinking lousy coffee, they almost expect it. Aggrivating to say the least, espically when they are used to the that Starsucks sells.
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Old 10-21-2008, 02:08 PM   #19
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

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Originally Posted by floydpink View Post
I might be nuts, but I really have learned one of the most important things about equipment, cheap or expensive, is to keep it clean with a regular schedule of daily wiping and cleaning of all parts and a twice monthly descale.

I was doing great the first few months with my Gaggia and all of a sudden, couldn't get good foam. I tried everything from changing milk brands to buying a new pitcher.

After really taking apart the steam wand, I discovered a part inside the sleeve that looked really badly gunked up. After cleaning it, I was back in business.

It's a real pain in the butt, but I feel it's necessary and probably why Starbucks charges so much for their lousy coffee.
Cleaning your equipment is essential. ESPECIALLY if you have an auto-frother on your espresso machine. The tube should be cleaned out every day... just think of milk sitting in there for a few days... gets kinda nasty.

Also, if you use your espresso machine alot, you might want to consider a backwash soap such as PuroCaffe. It is a detergent you use in conjunction with the blind filter your machine should have come with. It will really make a difference in the taste of your espresso... no more burnt taste or black spots in your crema.
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Old 10-21-2008, 07:02 PM   #20
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Default Re: Espresso at Home

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I don't have the $$$$ maker....mine was discussed, slammed, hammered, kicked, and basically called a POS the last time I mentioned it.

Besides... ...even a lousy glob is ... always a learning experience.
hope I wasn't the one who hammered your piece of sh... I mean, your espresso maker. Hey! You start where you are and make the best of what you have. That's always it, isn't it? I heartily agree that any espresso machine is the route to learning the process, developing a little technique to get the best from what you've got and deciding if a next step is a good idea or not.

Quote:
Originally Posted by md4958
...I would rather see somebody buy a $20 moka, than a $150 espresso machine.

The problem as a professional barista, is that when somebody is used to drinking lousy coffee, they almost expect it.
That nails it down for me. I was imprinted by a couple of years of killer coffee while I was in Europe and, upon returning home I wanted to reproduce it. Slap wore me out with the wrong espresso gear. And, for sure, a mokapot paired with a good grinder is 5x the value of a low-flight grinder paired with a $2000 espresso machine.

Grinders... gotta get to grinders one of these days. They really do come before everything else in coffeeland. Uh, in my overblown and highly overrated self-important opinion of this topic. I am really just guessing on all this stuff so, if anyone takes me to be too full of myself, just remember - I don't know what I'm talking about. That my disclaimer and I'm sticking to it.
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