An espresso is a short, strong coffee made by squeezing almost boiling water with a lot of pressure through finely ground coffee. Espresso can be drunk as a & # 39; shot & # 39; or made into drinks such as Americanos, cappuccinos and lattes. Most people only drink espresso and espresso drinks made by professional baristas in cafes because they honestly have to do a lot of work at home.
But if you take coffee seriously as a hobby and you want to try "pulling" espresso shots, it can be done. This is what you need to get started.
What exactly is espresso?
The key to an espresso is that it is a strong coffee that is made under high pressure. In general, an espresso machine reaches a pressure of about 9 bar, or nine times the atmospheric pressure at sea level. This is a big part of what gives espresso its unique flavor, features like crema (the foam on top of a fresh espresso) and body. A mere strong coffee made with something like a Moka pot or Aeropress does not have the same mouthfeel.
Also, while Nespresso machines brew a somewhat strong coffee under pressure (up to 1
This means that for a real espresso you really need an espresso machine – and to grind the beans fresh.
What to Look Out for in an Espresso Machine
There are many espresso machines out there, and to be honest, there are many bad ones. Manufacturers can cut a lot of angles and make something they can call an espresso machine, but it will never allow you to take a decent photo. This is what distinguishes the good one:
- Price: One of the biggest factors in choosing an espresso machine is unfortunately the price. The commercial machines you see in coffee shops cost thousands of dollars. Even decent home models cost hundreds of dollars, and many hover around a thousand dollars. Before you buy an espresso machine, consider how much to spend. You should also consider the cost of a grinder if your chosen espresso machine doesn't have one.
- A steam wand: If you only want to make espresso's and Americanos, you don't need a steam wand. However, if you want to make drinks with steamed and frothed milk like cappuccinos and lattes, make sure you have a model that includes one. The best steam bars allow you to froth milk like a barista for perfect latte art.
- Semiautomatic or Superautomatic: There are some fully automatic or superautomatic espresso machines out there, but to be honest, they are hard to recommend. They are usually very expensive, and while they take the work out of brewing espresso, they do the custom work as well. They will reliably pull acceptable drinks, but they won't let you make great drinks. That said, ease of use is still important. If you are just starting out, a semi-automatic machine is ideal. They will heat the water and keep the pressure at a constant level, but you still have control over the "dose" and grind the coffee. The most affordable espresso machines are completely manual: you literally pull a lever to create the pressure (that's why it's called an espresso shot). The downside is that they are more difficult to control and will not produce as consistent results as a semi-automatic machine. They're nice for a Saturday morning, but hard to count on every day of the week.
- Enough Power: An espresso machine must squeeze water through finely ground coffee. Good ones have a powerful pump that does this easily. Cheap espresso machines tend to have weak pumps choking on coffee grounds that are fine enough for espresso.
- Consistency: You want the fifth shot taken one morning to be similar to the first. If the espresso machine doesn't match the water temperature, pressure or flow rate, your drinks will be very hit and miss.
Now let's take a look at some great espresso machines.
A manual espresso machine to get you started: Flair Classic
Espresso started with manual lever machines and, if you're just making espresso at home, it is a good place where you can also start.
The Flair Classic is a few hundred dollars cheaper than any equivalent electric machine, and with a little practice and elbow grease, you can take some great photos. It easily reaches 6 to 9 bar, which is enough for a real espresso. Not bad for less than two hundred dollars.
Like all manual machines, the Flair is probably a little too much trouble for weekday mornings, but it's a perfect weekend project. It also looks great on a counter.
Unfortunately, the Flair Classic doesn't come with a milk frother steam wand, so you have to buy a special milk frother or just do it with regular espresso.
If you have the budget to stretch, the Flair Signature includes a pressure gauge that makes it easier to be consistent when shooting.
An affordable semi-automatic machine: Breville Bambino Plus
The Breville Bambino Plus has a great balance between price and quality. It's still pricey, but that's the cost of a functional electric espresso machine. Most cheaper machines simply cannot brew reliable espresso. The Bambino Plus draws a constant pressure between the shots and the pump is strong enough to work with finely ground coffee, so you can get cafe-quality coffee every time.
One of the best features of the Bambino Plus is the fast warm-up time. It can be ready to set in just three seconds. It also quickly switches the temperature so that you can use the steam wand almost immediately after brewing an espresso. Many cheap machines take much longer, making more than one drink a rut.
A Burr Grinder: Baratza Encore
To make espresso, you need a grinder that can reliably produce a consistent fine grind. If the grind is too coarse, you will get a weakly under-extracted shot. If it is not consistent, you will not be able to take reliable photos. The best grinders use conical burrs to grind the coffee beans consistently, rather than knives to break them up.
To get started with espresso, the Baratza Encore conical grinder is perfect. While not a specialty espresso grinder, it can grind fine enough – and it can still grind a little coarser if you like using or pouring a French press. It's easy to enter one of the 40 built-in grind sizes – and swap them.
An easier to use, more expensive machine: Breville Barista Pro
For almost double the price, the Breville Barista Pro doesn't make better espresso than the Bambino Plus – but it does make it easier to get them right every time. It's actually very similar to the Bambino Plus under the hood and also heats up in just three seconds with a powerful pump. The intuitive LCD screen can help you make the different espresso drinks, making the whole brewing process easier, especially for beginners.
The Barista Pro's built-in coffee grinder means everything you need to make espresso is at your fingertips. machine – and save you the need to buy a separate machine.
If price is not an object, the Barista Pro is a good upgrade over the Bambino Plus. Yes, the coffee will taste pretty much the same, but it's more likely that everyone in your household will enjoy using it, rather than just the resident coffee geek. If the sticker price is a bit much, the Bambino Plus is an uncompromising choice.