The Original Espresso FAQ AKA Bogiesan.
The following was originally written by David Bogie, a one-time frequent alt.coffee
poster, and has been copied nearly verbatim (but without the formatting and that vivid
yellow colour!) from his ex site. In my view, it is important not so much for the
espresso information but the dire warnings that it provides... Ken
Greetings Seekers, The alt.coffee & alt.food.drink.coffee newsgroups
are often crowded with questions about espresso machines for home use. The traffic in such
inquiries gets especially heavy around Christmas time. I post this FAQ to help fend off
this flood. Please read this document and do yourself (and the rest of the newsgroup
regulars) the favor of exploring the archives at
http://groups.google.com/groups?q=alt.coffee&hl=en before posting your questions.
Past readers of this document have accused me, in jest, I trust, of trying to terrify the
innocent; of attempting to scare the dickens out of espresso newbies by portraying the
cuisine as a messy, inconvenient, and potentially dangerous kitchen science. My intent, of
course, is to demonstrate that espresso at home can be as intimidating as your first
souffle' or as wonderfully satisfying as a well-crafted omelet.
Well, stop reading this online and download it. Print it and take it with you to your
Before I answer your Frequently Asked Questions, allow me to inquire of you, dear reader,
about your reasons for wanting to add an espresso machine to your stable of kitchen
Have a look around your kitchen and open a few cabinets. Where have you hidden your
feeble, ineffective, and trendy culinary baggage?
Where are the impulse purchases you have made late at night watching those stupid
Where are the useless gadgets you've received from people who don't cook?
Where are those devices that promised to make your meals easy, nutritious, and delicious;
the toys that promised to simplify the drudgery of food preparation: yogurt maker, pasta
extruder, ice cream system, food processor, food dehydrator, bread maker, flour mill,
juicer, waffle iron, corn popper, sausage stuffer, on and on?
Look, I can save you five hundred dollars! Just be honest with yourself. If your kitchen
is filled with the ghosts of appliances used but once and promptly abandoned you do not
need an espresso machine. You won't like it. You don't even need to read this document.
Save your money. Buy something important like a new set of tires or take your main squeeze
out for sushi.
Here area a few more questions you need to answer honestly. Why do you think you want an
espresso machine? What do you know about espresso? Do you want to make cappuccino like
they do at Café Rialto or your favorite coffee bar?
Or is espresso just an ingredient, merely the coffee flavoring to be blended with hot milk
and sweetened syrups? I don't mean to dismiss your tastes in espresso out of hand but a
cheap pump or steam-powered machine is entirely adequate for your needs. You don't need to
read the rest of this document. Make a quick run to WalMart, find the Mr Coffee
"expresso maker," put your $50 on the counter, and you're done.
Are you giving a machine as a gift?
What makes you think the giftee wants to be saddled with the upkeep of something you
happen to think is a cool gift?
Are the kind of person who thinks giving someone a pet is appropriate?
Does he or she have the patience to care for an espresso machine and learn how to operate
Do you know that the giftee enjoys their espresso straight? If so, are you prepared to
spend the appropriate amount of money on a machine that is capable of satisfying their
passion for coffee or are you just looking for a cheap way to impress them?
Hey, get them whatever you can afford but save yourself the embarrassment of their
disappointment or disapproval and include the purchase receipt so the giftee can return it
without involving you.
A few more questions for you ... Do you love your espresso? I mean, REALLY love it?
Are you a fanatic about it?
A hopeless snob?
Do you piss off or embarrass your friends when you all go out for coffee?
Do you take your espresso straight?
As a double ristretto?
Do you want that ephemeral taste sensation accessible in the comfort of your own home?
Do you want it whenever you feel like it?
If you have answered more than two of these questions in the affirmative you will need all
of the information I am going to give you -- and much more that you must gather on your
own -- in your pursuit of "espresso perfetto," the perfect espresso.
Okay, now you ask me a question ...
How weird is espresso at home?
Well, go find out for yourself, don't take my word for it. Go hang out at your favorite
coffee bar for a few hours. Find a comfy chair where you can watch the action behind the
bar at the espresso machine and then return to this document.
Am I right?
Espresso is "a messy, inconvenient, and potentially dangerous kitchen science."
So, now what do you think?
Are you sure you want to bring all that weirdness into your kitchen?
A. Opening Disclaimer:
I'm not in the coffee business.
I don't sell espresso machines and I don't get a commission from anyone who does so I
don't make any recommendations. (However, I will entertain offers. Send me a machine. If I
like it, I'll keep it and then I'll recommend it.)
There are oceans of incredibly bad coffee served everyday in America. Unskilled operators
and innocent consumers mistakenly refer to this grunge as "espresso." I'm on a
mission to improve this culinary tragedy.
As a child I developed a taste for straight shots of espresso while my parents were
stationed at an Air Force base in Europe.
I take my espresso seriously.
Shoot, ask my coworkers. I'm insufferable on the subject. Few will go out for coffee with
me. I embarrass them with the demands I make on the barista.
This FAQ document has been assembled after several years of experimenting with dozens of
home machines and reading everything on the subject on which I can get my hands. In
pursuit of the latest espresso information I've paid my own way to attend coffee trade
shows and conventions. However, I'd gladly consider an offer from an underwriter or
In the document that follows, I've tried to indicate where my personal opinions cross the
line of objectivity. I've tried to be thorough but you're not going to learn everything
about espresso and espresso machines here. You will not find recommendations for brands or
models of machines in this document. No way, folks. You make up your own minds.
As a result of reading this document it is my sincere hope that you will make your
purchase decision wisely. Write your check only after you have shopped carefully, asked
difficult questions of sales people, and demanded hands-on demonstrations of all the units
you are considering.
I don't make recommendations because my tastes and requirements probably don't match
yours. Besides, the market refuses to stand still new machines and revisions to old
standbys are entering the market all the time. I have no problem informing the attentive
reader which machine I currently own. Keep reading, you'll find it.
There is a short Espresso Bibliography at the bottom of this document.
I enjoy receiving reader mail including suggestions on how to improve this FAQ. I
cheerfully ignore criticism so don't bother.
Here we go ...
B. Definition of ESPRESSO:
Francesco Illy, in his magnificent coffee table tome "Book Of Coffee," calls
espresso a romantic, remarkably aromatic, and complex liquid. It is at once a solution of
sugars, caffeine, acids, and proteins; a suspension of tiny particles of coffee beans and
minute bubbles of gas; an emulsion of oils and colloids -- all concentrated into a small
volume and covered with a light, brown-colored foam known as "crema."
David Schomer, owner and operator of Espresso Vivace!, Seattle WA, calls espresso "a
polyphasic colloidal foam made by forcing pressurized brewing water through finely ground,
tightly packed coffee." That about sums it up. Interestingly, Mr. Schomer is also
known to say, "Forget espresso at home!"
A single shot of "True Espresso," as defined in the specialty coffee trade,
requires a precise weight of finely ground coffee (7 grams) to be tightly packed (tamped)
into a filter holder so that hot water (not-quite-boiling water, between 195 and 205 F --
88 and 92 degrees C; boiling water or steam will utterly incinerate coffee's delicate
essences), moving under at least nine atmospheres of pressure (at least 130 pounds per
square inch -- or some unknown number of ergs, Newtons, Joules or kiloPascals), will take
20 to 30 seconds to extract exactly one fluid ounce of the magical liquid.
When everything is working perfectly, espresso dribbles out of the filter in a heavy
stream displaying the consistency of warm honey. The Italians call this "coda ti
topo," tail of the mouse. (I just love that.)
Failing to meet a single one of these critical factors -- or any combination of possible
blunders -- will ruin our espresso and produce insipid, runny, bitter, burnt, or
completely boring and consummately lifeless coffee. Tragically, this ill-prepared swill is
precisely what millions of Americans are served at thousands of coffee bars everyday. Most
folks don't know espresso from bear whiz.
America is a milk-drinking country. Most of our nasty espresso is used secondarily as a
coffee flavor added to a large glass of hot and sweetened milk to produce the beverage
known as the caffe latte'.
The incontrovertible source of the word "espresso" is lost in the anecdotal
history of coffee cuisine. The only thing we know for certain is that its appearance as
"expresso" indicates either ignorance or poor breeding.
While speed or rapidity are seemingly implied, once you have learned how to run your
machine you will understand the lie.There is nothing fast about a double tall skinny
orange-almond latte with extra foam.
The etymological source I cling to is an Italian word saying simply, "I have just now
made this with my own hands especially for you."
B-1. Definition of Crema
"Crema" is the lovely layer of thick and effervescent foam that defines
well-crafted espresso. It is mostly carbon dioxide that has been liberated from the plant
fibers. The gas exists as a polyphasic foam of micro bubbles. The foam is the result of
the hot brewing water passing through the finely ground coffee particles under pressure.
Try this image: The teeny tiny bubbles found in naturally fermented Champagne. The bubbles
are always there but you can't see them, the carbon dioxide is hidden in the wine, kept
under wraps by tremendous pressure. It is only when the cork has been pulled and the wine
is poured that a galaxy of latent bubbles, suddenly liberated, tickles the nose and
delights the eyes.
The presence of a thick layer of richly aromatic, reddish brown crema indicates that all
culinary factors were met satisfactorily during the preparation of the shot. Espresso is
all in the nose. The aroma of espresso lives in the crema so swirl it around. Get your
nose right down in there. Inhale deeply.
Even exquisite espresso is embellished with ephemeral crema; the elements that make it
such a wonderful and integral part of espresso are lost forever in the course of sixty
short seconds. Do not delay when serving your best espresso to your guests. Take care to
preheat your demitasse to prolong the crema.
Crema was once the Holy Grail of the proud barista, the professional espresso machine
operator. Sadly, this is not the case these days. Contemporary machines manufacture crema
through the use of cunningly crafted flow restriction doodads or squirt valves. These
devices create an emulsion that resembles crema in most physical properties and is
probably indistinguishable from the Real Thing. Beware. The presence of this illusory foam
does not necessarily mean the espresso will be any good. It merely indicates the presence
Consider that there are more than 40 individual steps in the preparation of espresso. Most
of the steps, like harvesting, processing, and roasting, don't involve the consumer
directly and they are completely out of our control. Screwing up any of the remaining
steps will absolutely ruin your espresso.
Every shot is a chemistry experiment.
I prefer to call it alchemy.
Or even magic.
B-2. Variations on the "True Espresso"
B-2-a. Coffee Dose Weight:
7 grams for a single shot; 14 grams for a double shot; and more than 16 grams if you pull
the exquisite double-ristretto shots at Espresso Vivace in Seattle. (A matter of personal
opinion, mind you, but I think Vivace's Dulce Blend is probably the finest espresso you
will ever drink on this little blue planet. Sadly, not everyone shares this opinion. I
don't know what's wrong with those people's taste buds ... )
The amateur barista need not bother with such precision of measure or mass. Fill the
filter, tamp the coffee, top it off if necessary and tamp it again. Leave about 1/4"
space between the top surface of the coffee and the rim of the filter holder so the water
B-2-b. Liquid Volume:
A single shot of espresso is 1 fluid ounce and it is made from 7 grams of coffee. Two
fluid ounces comprise a double shot and this is made from 14 grams; a bit less water if
you like your espresso "ristretto." A double shot is never more than 3 ounces.
Don't let anyone try to tell you differently. They lie and they would happily have you
Most home machines come with instructions that are utterly worthless. There may be
valuable maintenance information in them somewhere but the recipes are dangerously inept.
The writers of these "directions" claim a single shot from their machines should
be 2 ounces. This is terrible advice. Absolutely crazy. Who writes this stuff? Espresso is
horribly over-extracted at that point. No wonder your guests squish up their faces when
they sip your "expresso."
Here is a short list of a few factors contributing to the quality of espresso: roasting
style and degree of roast; blends of single source or varietal bean; freshness and quality
of the beans; fineness of grind; volume or weight of coffee dose; tamping pressure and
accuracy; water temperature; water delivery pressure; water quality and softness; length
of pour in seconds; volume of water delivered to the cup in the time of the pour; and
relative humidity of the preparation environment. There is an astounding number of diverse
ways in which any of these variables can botch our espresso. The home enthusiast has
little or no control over most of these factors but she can learn to compensate so that
every shot is as close to perfetto as possible.
Learning how to cope with these myriad obstacles and the peculiarities of your chosen
machine will eventually allow you to produce, upon demand, in your own kitchen,
spectacularly rich and flavorful espresso.
C. Avoid The Steam-Powered Toy
C-1. The Steam Unit and High School Physics
Steam-driven coffee makers, including the Italian-style "moka" -- a
slim-waisted, stove top device and its numerous variations -- with a bit of practice and
attention to basic physics, will produce excellent, strong coffee. These devices cannot
generate the temperature or pressure factors required for "true espresso."
(Don't confuse moka pots with the popular espresso & chocolate drink known in the
United States as "Mocha," which should not be confused with an Arabica coffee
varietal imported from the port of Mocha.)
C-2. If I had one, how would I use it? (This section of the FAQ is based on material
contributed by David Turnbull.)
If you own a steam pressure unit you can make good strong coffee that makes excellent
stock for iced coffee drinks and fake caffe latte. This pseudo-espresso can be used just
like real espresso in many mixed drinks, but it's still an impostor, a poser. It ain't
espresso. No way, never gonna be. Doesn't matter what's printed on the box or what the
sales person claimed.
A burr grinder is a necessary tool in obtaining repeatable and satisfying results. Any
adjustable burr grinder will suffice. You'll be experimenting with different grind
settings. If your brew is noticeably gritty, use a finer grind. Are you clogging the
brewer? This is a dangerous practice so use a coarser grind.
Whatever the capacity of your steam unit, only the first half of the coffee produced is
worth drinking. Capture the initial liquid for consumption and then replace the carafe
with another heat resistant vessel and discard whatever else flows, dribbles, or spits
out. Some machines have valves that you can close after brewing. Some only let you turn
off the heating element or remove the device from your stove.
When filling the filter basket with coffee, use the amount indicated in the instructions.
Don't try to restrict the flow of coffee by overstuffing the filter or tamping hard. Tamp
or pack the coffee very lightly or not at all. You do NOT want to test the safety pressure
release valve. I've never seen one of these rascals explode but the thought is sobering.
The device will produce a little more than one atmosphere before the vessel is pressurized
and water is forced through the filter contents. This water is boiling hot and moving
under steam pressure. You do not want the steam to touch the coffee so figure out a way to
prevent that from happening.
Steam-powered machines represent a severe burn hazard. Place the device out of reach and
let it cool down completely between uses. If your unit produces steam for frothing milk be
sure you know how to depressurize the vessel before attempting to refill the reservoir.
D. Collection Of FAQs
Home Espresso Machines
D-1. Where should I shop for a home espresso machine?
These days, many of us shop on the Internet (I mean, here you are, right?). We log on and
start cruising Web sites, clutching our Visa cards, searching for the best price on a
machine about which we might know very little or nothing at all! This is a bad thing ...
clearly a waste of your time, possibly lots of your money, and precious bandwidth.
Don't go looking for the lowest price when it comes to the purchase of a serious culinary
tool like an espresso machine. Find coffee experts who sell equipment and patronize their
establishments. This might turn out to be an online emporium but give your local merchants
and coffee shops a chance to help you out, satisfy your curiosity, and earn your
There are specialty coffee shops in most cities that are owned and staffed by people who
make a living brewing and selling fine coffees. They may actually roast their wares on the
premises. Some offer home brewing apparatus for sale. Presumably, these business people
know their coffees and they know something about the products they sell. Reading this
document will prepare you for dealing with these people. You will be able to tell
immediately if they know what they're talking about or if they are just yankin' your
Friendly and helpful service you receive from coffee experts is important. Certainly it's
more important than saving a few bucks on your initial purchase. It is unlikely you will
find coffee and espresso experts at an online auction site, a cut-rate store, an outlet
mall, or a catalog showroom.
No coffee bars in your town? No kitchen specialty or department stores at your nearest
mall? If you'll spend five or six hours on the Web or do some research at your local
library you will turn up many good mail order sources for espresso equipment. But you'll
still need some way to make your machine selection other than hands-on experience.
Equipment reviews exist but they're usually out of date or hopelessly superficial. I'd
like to change this sad state of consumer affairs by ruthlessly reviewing a large number
of home espresso machines. All I need is an underwriter and a sponsor.
Shameless Appeal For Sponsorship:
Are you in the coffee business? Interested in helping me review and evaluate machines?
Drop me some email or send me your machine.
If you read the coffee newsgroups on Usenet for a few weeks you'll gather some useful
information and read some valuable opinions. You will also discover some of the regulars
are only posting thinly veiled commercials for their retail Web sites. Watch out.
D-2. What kind of machine should I buy for home use?
Look, it's your valuable time and it's your hard-earned money so let me give you an
elusive answer first: "Don't buy a machine on impulse and don't base your purchase on
price alone." Think about how you're going to spend Your Money. Relax and take Your
Time to research the subject. This document is an excellent place to start, if I do say so
Making superb espresso is a culinary skill and anyone who tells you it's easy is lying to
you. Anyone can make horrible espresso. Learning how to run a high quality machine takes
time and practice and you'll go through several pounds of coffee in the process. These can
be complicated devices to master, especially if your coffee-brewing experience consists of
opening a can of Folgers (gak!) and pouring water into a drip brewer. Making espresso is
rocket science compared to using your old Mr Coffee.
Many people who buy home espresso machines are surprised at the complexity of the process
and at how difficult espresso is to make consistently well. They are disappointed they
cannot make cappuccinos or lattés that taste like they came from their favorite coffee
bar. And, if they have had the misfortune of acquiring a lousy machine, making good
espresso is impossible. Such a machine will soon join the other abandoned appliances,
stuffed into some dusty corner of a forgotten cupboard.
D-3. What kind of machine should I get?
Short answer: Buy a pump-powered machine.
Do not buy a steam-driven toy.
Shy away from "lever operated" machines unless you know exactly what you're
doing and what you're buying and why you want one of these devices. They look cool, they
will last a lifetime, and they are capable of producing absolutely fabulous espresso.
Because of their complexity they are not appropriate for the beginner, in my opinion.
Consider a lever machine only after reading the books in the bibliography below, doing
some hands-on tests, and checking out some Web sites devoted to lever machines.
Most home lever machines are nothing like the classic systems once common in Italian
coffee bars and that gave rise to the expression "pulling espresso." Units made
by Elektra and La Cimbali are the only home lever machines of which I am aware that use a
cock-the-spring method of extraction. Other diminutive home lever machines employ an
entirely different mechanical principle to extract the coffee in which you provide all of
the pressure by leaning on the lever.
The skilled and enthusiastic owner of a lever machine can achieve a level of control over
the quality of her espresso that no other style of machine for home use can possibly
duplicate. This capability will cost you, both in terms of financial investment and time
required to develop your skills. How did I arrive at these conclusions? I've done the
research for you by playing with some of these cool machines and by reading the coffee
newsgroups for years. The owners of lever machines often drop in to ask the rest of us how
to use their beautiful new machines.
Lever machines start at $300 and climb to $1,200 depending on quality of construction and
finish, additional features, the number and functions of various gauges, and abundance or
silliness of filigree.
For a fascinating look into the mind of an obsessive lever machine owner, point your Web
browser to one of these two sites:
D-4. Thanks. What's a "pump" and how much does one cost?
"True Espresso" requires pressure. At least 9 atmospheres; 130 pounds per square
inch. Pressure is needed to emulsify the oils and to suspend the gases that will magically
appear as the layer of fine brown foam known as "crema" marking true espresso.
Espresso without the crema is just strong coffee; most likely, its absence identifies
*very bad* strong coffee.
Steam machines only produce one to three atmospheres of pressure. Look, any more than that
and they'd blow up. (Do not over-fill or over-tamp a steam-pressure device. This mistaken
attempt to cheat physics by hampering the function of the safety pressure relief valve can
put your kitchen decor -- if not your very life -- at severe risk.)
There are two popular styles of pump-driven machines: Those that heat water in a
pressurized tank resembling a small boiler and those that use some type of fast-acting
heat exchanger, often referred to as a thermal block.
There are good and bad features of both styles. Each family of machine has its diehard
fans. Find an expert salesperson at a well-equipped specialty coffee establishment and
engage in a discussion with her. Or tune into the coffee newsgroups for a few months to
read what the owners of these machines have to say about their investments.
Pump Factoid: The relatively inexpensive home espresso machine uses a motive device called
a "reciprocating" or "solenoid action" pump. They're cheap, noisy, and
produce very high pressure under ideal laboratory conditions and readings are taken right
at the pump's exit orifice. Don't be fooled by claims of ridiculously high pressure that
appear in trendy graphics splashed across the machine's packaging. Your machine will not
be operating in a lab. The performance of these little pumps drops off rapidly under load
in real-life conditions and is further attenuated by friction in the tubing, valves, and
the packed coffee in the filter group.
Commercial espresso machines -- and a very few high end home units -- use a far more
efficient centrifugal or positive displacement water transport and pressurizing system.
The pump itself is larger and costs more than most basic home machines.
There are two other types of pump machines that have recently become available on the
consumer market: pod or capsule systems, and super-automatics.
Using aluminum capsules or paper "pods" containing pre-measured and pre-ground
doses of espresso-style coffees, these machines can take the tricky process of making
espresso and turn it into a smooth and efficient no-brainer. They've been around for a
decade or so yet I remain firmly skeptical about these gadgets. Capsules are expensive and
create a large amount of waste that may or may not be recyclable in your home town. Pods
are expensive and after trying many brands and styles I can say without hesitation that
the espresso from these systems sucks. It absolutely sucks. Each manufacturer has created
their own unique filter holder so few if any of these systems are interchangeable. This is
stupidly and aggressively anti-consumer in a way I find disturbingly short-sighted.
Besides, who knows how long the coffee's been in those little dudes?
The great joy of having an espresso machine at your immediate disposal is the freedom to
experiment. The espresso enthusiast can purchase hundreds of different espresso coffees
from all over the world. One can alter the grind, dose, and tamp to make subtle changes in
the pour. The consumer gives up all of this fun and excitement when she buys a pod- or
capsule-based machine. Indeed, the best reason NOT to buy such a contraption is that you
are spending your money on a closed system; you are forever at the mercy of a single
source supplier of distinctly questionable and unobservable quality.
Nonetheless, this type of machine is growing in popularity and you might consider one
carefully if convenience is your only shopping criteria. The facile operation means they
can fit well into small offices and group homes. A recent issue of Fresh Cup Magazine
reported on pods and capsules from several highly visible espresso makers including
Lavazza, Starbucks, and Illy. This is definitely a trend worth watching. But, listen, I'm
telling you truly, the coffee still sucks.
As a side note, heavy duty commercial-grade pod/capsule machines are popular in areas like
ski resorts, health clubs, and national park concessions where customers demand some form
of espresso beverage service but where skilled operators are scarce or impossible to
Brief Interlude For Shameless and Gratuitous Promotional Message:
Does your company make or market a pod/capsule system? Are you interested in changing my
mind about your products? I invite you to ship me one of your machines and a supply of
your coffee. A group of espresso lovers will carefully and objectively evaluate your
machine and we'll deliver our findings to whatever forum you desire. Email me for my
The other relative newcomer in the home market is the totally automated super machine; the
"espressobot." Looking a little bit like R2D2, these units have separate
openings into which the user pours whole coffee beans, water, and milk. At the other end
is an orifice from which issue-eth espresso and milk-based beverages. With varying degrees
of engineering superiority, programmability, automation, complexity, ergonomics, and
ingredient storage capacity or refrigeration, they start at about $500 and top out around
Reviews of espressobots that have been posted on the newsgroups are encouraging. The
owners of these machines are enthusiastic, although they grudgingly acknowledge the loss
of control over the brewing variables. These units are definitely gaining in popularity
which means there will be more choices in the near future, perhaps leading to lower
Brief Interlude For Shameless and Gratuitous Promotional Message:
Once again, I cordially invite manufacturers or distributors of super-automatic home
espresso equipment to ship me sample machines for objective evaluation by a group of
D-5. Uh, fine. Nice lecture. You didn't tell me how much a pump machine will cost.
Good pump-driven home espresso machines are not cheap. There's a broad range of prices,
say, $100 to $1,500. Compare this to the cost of professional bar machines costing $3,000
to well over $10,000. Quality costs. It's that simple.
D-6. You're kidding! Five hundred bucks for espresso?
This is a serious kitchen tool you're thinking about buying, no less complicated than a
food processor and much more personal than a microwave oven because your interaction with
the espresso machine is immediate and intimate.
What distinguishes these machines from each other besides the price? Quality of the
materials and components, care of construction, and perhaps fluctuations in international
There are more than 200 models of home espresso machines on the market with more appearing
every year. They are made by more than 30 manufacturers in at least 5 countries. With so
many options, how can you possibly make up your mind without doing some serious research?
Here are some questions to ask yourself or with which you can pester sales people:
How does the machine look?
Does it fit your kitchen's decor?
Do you care?
Does it feel like a tool or does it feel like a toy?
Is the housing made of plastic or metal?
Does it look like it might break during regular use?
Is the filter group a massive chrome-plated, cast brass fixture that uses a pop-out
stainless steel filter cup (like my Rancilio Rialto) or is it just bent aluminum with some
holes poked in it? (Coffee writer for the Atlantic Monthly and Coffee Journal magazines,
Corby Kummer, considers a professional-sized filter group essential on his home espresso
equipment. Other knowledgeable coffee people on the newsgroups place no value in this
feature. You see why it's tough to depend on others' opinions? We can't agree on much
Is the machine heavy enough not to tip over when clamping in the filter group?
Do the buttons, switches and knobs look like they'll stay on for at least five years?
What parts can you replace yourself?
The first thing to fail will likely be the rubber gasket where the filter cup meets the
pressurized brewing head. Can you get to the gasket to replace it?
How easy is it to keep the machine sanitary and clean? (Espresso can be quite messy, see
below, but your machine must be kept absolutely spotless or your coffee will taste like
crap and lower life forms will quickly move in and call it home.)
What accessories are included in the purchase price? (Not many, these days see below.)
Does the steam wand look like it's part of a serious kitchen tool or does it seem like it
will fall off or easily break?
Will you honestly be able to deal with the monster the first thing in the morning?
Or are you the type of person who needs a cup or two of coffee just to get your mental
gears in motion? (You want an espressobot so start saving up for one now.)
Here's what I evaluate upon encountering a new machine for the first time: Exterior finish
(I prefer unpainted stainless steel.) placement and size of controls (Bigger and beefier
is better than cheap and chic. I prefer real knobs and buttons and switches instead of
electronic touch pads.); size and weight of filter holder (Bigger and heavier is better. I
want cast brass or solid aluminum.); size of water reservoir; capacity and ease of removal
of drip tray (Can it be removed without sloshing?); and the presence of a heavy duty
grounded electrical cord set.
I would not pay for a machine unless it had this list of features: A cast brass boiler; a
brass steam valve that was carefully machined to operate smoothly; a preponderance of
brass and copper internal tubing instead of aluminum or plastic; at least 1,000 watts of
heating power; and an exterior finish that reflects the same quality as the rest of the
A few things that are marketing propaganda and make no difference whatsoever in the
usability or performance of an espresso machine: cup warming rack, built-in tamper,
crema-enhancing filter holder, adjustable capacity filter holder, milk frothing enhancer,
and other over-designed or overly complex mechanical subsystems (they break).
If I get a chance to demo a new unit I try to discern these things:
How long does it take to come to operating temperature?
Does the water stream remain reasonably hot during the length of the pour?
How difficult is it to change to steam mode?
How long does it take to produce usable steam pressure?
How long does the machine take to recover when switching from steam mode back to brewing
Here's the Most Important Question: Do you like the coffee it makes?
How do you know? Insist -- I say, INSIST -- on a thorough demonstration of the
espresso-making capabilities of whatever machine you are considering. Why? Besides the
obvious reasons, here's something you might not have considered: Does it purr or does it
make the windows rattle? You absolutely want to know what kind of noise the little beasty
Gracefully request a thorough demonstration of all the machine's capabilities and
functions. Don't be intimidated by stuffy or hesitant sales staff. You are, after all,
offering the salesperson an opportunity to demonstrate his/her knowledge of the product
and to close a substantial sale.
Okay, not every store will graciously serve you espresso from a demo unit. Find the
manager and ask, "Why not?" and consider taking your money (all $200 to $1,500
of it) elsewhere. Competent appliance sales managers will realize you are a potentially
serious customer and will try to accommodate your wishes. Don't be a jerk about it,
though. Ask for a demonstration only if you're serious about a particular model.
I owned a $250 Krups Novo for more than five years. My Krups was a nice little home
appliance and a similar unit will probably fit your needs as a first machine. The Novo
performed admirably and dependably and while I was saddened by its death I was excited
about replacing it. It was succeeded by a $400 Rancilio Rialto, purchased from Barry
Jarrett at Riley's Coffees. Rancilio is a seriously formidable tool of near-professional
caliber and I love it. I wish I had invested in the Rialto long ago. The difference in the
price between these two machines does not reflect the remarkably superior quality of the
Historical update: After about a year of constant use and superb espresso, my Rialto died.
The boiler's Teflon lining started to flake off and this apparently exposed the heating
element causing a short. The importer replaced the boiler under warranty,repaired it at a
premium charge, and I paid the shipping both directions. The total came to about $85.00
and would have been closer to $160 if it had died a few weeks later and been out of
Additional information (March, 1999): See below for more details but I have recently been
informed by a prominent retailer of Rancilio consumer equipment that the practice of
"backflushing" is discouraged by the manufacturer
Would I buy another Rancilio machine? Yes, without hesitation. I might buy a premium
Gaggia next time. Or one of those Pasquini semi- professional machines. Or try to locate a
used Marzocco single group. I dunno.
D-7. Look, I'm on a budget. Isn't there anything cheaper?
Yes. There are some pump machines available for less than $100. Some of these models are
stripped down versions of their more costly cousins. Careful research will also turn up
"factory refurbished" units at temptingly deep discounts. Looking at costs
alone, you could buy two or three refurbished Gaggia model "Espresso" units for
what a Rancilio Silvia would set you back. With these economics, you can start to think of
espresso machines as disposable.
Don't buy one of these things based on cost alone. Don't buy one because someone on the
coffee newsgroups happens to be totally nuts over theirs and is posting glowing
"reviews." Buy a less expensive home espresso machine only because you have done
your homework and some serious shopping.
Look carefully at several different models and brands of equipment in a broad range of
prices so you get an idea of what differentiates the low end from the better machines.
Establish what the "gold standard" is ... to what are you comparing all of your
choices?Settle for one of those cheap units because you like the espresso it makes. But,
hey, let's be serious. Do you really expect a $100 unit to perform as well as -- or last
as long as -- a machine that costs three or six times as much? I do not.
D-8. Fine. You're not just serious about your coffee, you're a bit of a snob about this
espresso thing, aren't you
I've played with dozens of machines. I've tasted hundreds of espresso roasts. I've been
served utterly horrible espresso by louts at fine coffee establishments all over the
country and I'm not afraid to ask someone to make it for me again.
Making bad espresso is effortless. It's a no-brainer. Anyone can over- or under-extract
espresso. Most people do. They do it without realizing how awful the stuff is because they
do not know how to drink it straight. Even those who should know better, people in the
specialty coffee and food service industries, will pass off any slop as espresso to an
ignorant public. They get away with it because 6 ounces of hot milk will hide almost
It ain't the machine's fault. Well, could be ... It is my experience that poorly trained
baristas all over the world are using the finest technologies and the best coffees to
serve up the worst possible drek to their best customers. "Put the coffee in the
filter thingy, push the button, get the money."
Making superb espresso requires no more effort or time than making bad espresso. It takes
a little practice, yes. And some attitude. Superb espresso requires a passion for
everything about fresh coffee and at least a passing interest in how your machine works.
Anyone who tells you espresso is "Quick And Easy" is under suspicion, they're
lying to you for one reason or another. Avoid these people and hang onto your wallet when
in their presence.
If you have easy access to a well trained, highly skilled, and quality-conscious barista
who makes beautiful espresso for you consider yourself truly blessed. Tip this person
often and be bountiful because he or she has spoiled you rotten.
I serve myself and my guests only the finest espresso I can make. I throw away gallons of
David Schomer of Seattle's Espresso Vivace, even after almost a decade in the business and
working with the finest professional quality tools he can find, says he only creates
"perfect espresso" about 20% of the time. What is "perfect espresso?"
To Schomer, that means it tastes just like his freshly roasted coffee smells. Sadly, this
quality is almost impossible to accomplish with even the best home unit with any level of
D-9. What else do I need to know?
There's much more to making espresso at home than just buying a machine, plugging it into
the wall, and filling it with water. Most of what you need, including a large amount of
storage space, is not in the box nor is it included in the purchase price. Heed these
words of advice from the School Of The Hard Knockbox (this experience cost me plenty but
for you, such a deal):
Everything you know about brewing coffee is wrong.
Espresso is messy. Unbelievably disorderly. Seriously sloppy. Good and gloopy.Espresso
involves many important and subtle steps. Compared to making simple brewed coffee,
espresso is a serious chore. It's not brain surgery; it's more like a nightmare. I call it
The finely ground espresso coffee is like talcum powder and, man, it gets into everything.
Liquid espresso is likely to stain anything it touches.
Espresso machines are fussy, squirty, noisy, and drippy.
The miraculous elixir known as espresso dribbles into your demitasse because the machine
is a collection of pumps, switches, valves, gaskets, tubes, soldered joints, flare
fittings, and filters. These operate under tremendous pressure and at high temperature.
These mechanical parts and fittings will eventually get tired, burn out, get clogged,
bend, wear thin, or break. While not a Universal Truth, the life expectancy of your
machine is directly proportional to its initial cost.
Residual coffee oils will turn rancid in a few hours on a warm machine. The filter,
showerhead disk, gasket, and all other parts that contact the coffee must be kept
reasonably clean or your espresso will taste awful. Keeping your machine clean is strictly
a manual job. Nothing on a home espresso machine can safely be put in a dishwasher.
Leaving soap on your equipment is just as bad as leaving it dirty. Umm, no, it's much
A spotlessly glistening steaming wand is the first thing I look for in a coffee bar. It's
a definite clue that the barista is well trained. The steaming wand will get crusty with
hardened milk residue the instant you remove your steaming pitcher. The temperature of a
steam wand that is in constant use at a coffee bar is sufficient to keep it sterilized.
Your wand, on the other hand, will play host to an unspeakable slime of lower life forms
if not kept absolutely spotless, sanitary, and utterly clean. How do you do that? A quick
wipe with a clean towel and a quick burst of steam to blow out any residual drops of milk
will keep your wand hygienic but be careful. That little wand is incredibly hot! A wet rag
can generate flash steam and burn your hand in seconds. Watch it, steam burns deep tissue
quickly. Key concept: The cloth must be CLEAN. This seems obvious to me but I've had it
pointed out to me by an observant reader that most people have horrible household hygiene
habits that would get a restaurant hauled into court by the Food police. Do not use a
cloth that has been used to mop up spilled milk, the remains of your tuna sandwich, or to
dry your hands. You'll just transfer all those bugs to your next lattéé. Yuck.
Additional quip: A new espresso machine is like bringing home a new baby: Lots of weird
noises, new types of messes, unfamiliar smells, many additional and unplanned expenses.
Beware of marketing scams like milk frothing doohickeys, overstated pressure ratings,
crema production or crema enhancement doodads, and worthless accessories meant to trick
you into thinking you are getting something for nothing. The people who design the
packaging, write the brochures, and craft the directions for home machines don't know
squat. See the rest of this document below.
D-10. There's more? Sheesh. Like what?
Can you say, "Accessorize?"
The toys listed below will add fun, flair, and class to your home coffee bar. Naturally,
you can get by without these accouterments and, with a little imagination, lower cost
substitutes can be found.
D-10-a. Demitasse cups, miniature saucers, and itty bitty spoons.
Lovely white china doesn't necessarily make your espresso taste better but these cute
little cups are way cooler than serving espresso to guests in your Dunkin Donuts Coffee
Club mugs. Traditional demitasse belie the diminutive appellation; these rascals are
massive. The thick china will sustain years of heavy use but they must be preheated before
receiving your espresso so run a shot of hot water into the cups before brewing. The teeny
spoons are no mere affectation, espresso should be lightly stirred before drinking. The
finest 2 oz. demitasse by far are sold by Illycafe. The handle is disk-shaped so it feels
secure and looks very cool. The best 3 oz cappuccino cups are probably from Lavazza.
Demitasse Oddity: There is a club of folks in Europe who collect the Illycafe artists'
series. See lots of color images of the cups.
$20 to $50 for set of four
D-10-b. Knock box (for your used coffee grounds)
Plastic works fine, stainless steel is better. The best have a cushioned bar across the
middle upon which to bang your gruppo. Obviously, the bar should be resilient to prevent
damage to your filter group.
Ideally, used grounds will pop out in a nicely formed cookie or biscuit. You might need a
small plastic spatula to help clear your gruppo. Don't use metal tools that could scratch
or pit the filter gruppo. Don't wash your espresso grounds down your kitchen drain or
flush them down your toilet. You're only setting a date with a professional plumbing-type
person in the very near future to have your drains unceremoniously unclogged. Just put
them in the trash. Feeling politically correct? Espresso makes a great compost ingredient.
$5 to $40
D-10-c. Burr (not blade) grinder (Available in flat or conical burr styles.)
Once you've painstakingly tuned your expensive burr grinder for espresso you must never
use it for regular coffee. You must never use it for "flavored" coffees. Sorry,
did I sound obsessed? Well, I put much thought and energy into tweaking my Rocky grinder
for the perfect pour. I do not want to readjust it or remove the beans every time someone
else wants to make coffee "their way."
Listen, fitting a new espresso machine into your life will be easier if you simply invest
in two grinders. Get one very good burr grinder for your exclusive use for espresso and
buy one of those cheap little blade grinders for your other coffee brewing needs.
Some espresso enthusiasts swear by their hand-cranked grinders. I dunno, sounds too
Neanderthal-ish to be efficient.
$100 to $500
D-10-d. Airtight storage for fresh beans
You can get special stainless steel, glass, or ceramic coffee storage containers at any
specialty coffee emporium. Spend what you want or strive to maintain your decor.
Inexpensive, wide mouth, half liter glass canning jars are great. They have a secure metal
closing system and a large rubber gasket. Umm, don't drop one of these on a tile
countertop, it will ex-freaking-plode! Mine are made by Arc of France, each holds about a
half pound of roasted espresso beans. If I've got two or three different blends on hand I
cut the label off the bag and tape it to the top of the jar.
$5 to $40
D-10-e. Tamping tool (turned wood, molded plastic, cast aluminum or machined stainless
steel, brass, or aluminum)
For reasons that will only become clear to you much later, your tamper is no rudimentary
tool. It's a statement, your testimonial, avowing your commitment to the espresso
lifestyle. If anyone else could decipher the message, they would take one look at your
tamper and know exactly how you feel about your coffee.
I can save you lots of research here. I've tried them all. My tamper is machined stainless
steel. It fits my Rancilio's filter cup precisely. It is joy to wield.
Reg Barber Enterprises in Canada will sell you one or make one to fit your oddball
machine's filter basket. Reg's compact yet massive stainless steel tampers are precision
machined on a metalworking lathe and then highly polished. They are attached to a
beautiful hardwood handle that has an ingenious nylon tapping button on the other end. Ask
anyone who owns one. It is the only choice for the hopelessly obsessed. You can email Reg
for his product list and pricing: firstname.lastname@example.org (Please say "Hello" from
$5 to $50.
D-10-f. Lots of bad coffee to practice with while you learn how to use your new machine.
For god's sake, don't drink this stuff! Just use it to learn how to tune up your new
grinder, experiment with different tamping pressure, and watch for crema development.
D-10-g Lots of superb coffees to learn how to enjoy your espresso the way it was meant to
be drunk: as a double ristretto.
Try buying coffee online if you like. Dozens of links can be found at espresso.com. For
objective reviews of some of the finest espressos, visit Kenneth Davids' site.
$10 to $20 a week for the rest of your life
D-10-h. Stainless steel steaming pitcher
Do not use plastic, you can melt right through it. Porcelain and glass are okay but they
can break if dropped on your counter or floor. I find the smaller sizes more practical.
Look for complex cross sections rather than simple cylinders. The voluptuous compound
curves of these little pitchers helps keep the milk from sloshing over the rim.
$10 to $50
D-10-i. Sweetened Flavor Syrups
Use these colorful liquids for caffe latte for your uninitiated friends and guests. They
make refreshing iced drinks, too. They are excellent for milkshakes, "Italian
sodas," and other cooking chores. Do not confuse flavor syrups with
"flavored" coffees. Do not use flavored coffees to make espresso. Do not EVER
put flavored coffee in your espresso grinder.
$5 bottle, get two or three if you like this sort of thing, or buy by the case.
D-10-j. Decalcifying and cleaning supplies
Towels and sponges for mopping up espresso can't be used for much else because of the
brown stains so maintain a dedicated collection that can be bleached.
Water is rarely "pure." It's loaded with all kinds of chemicals and minerals.
When water boils some of these dissolved substances precipitate out and cling to the
insides of your machine as a calcine deposit. Vinegar is acceptable for some -- but not
all -- machines as a decalcifying agent. (Urgent warning: Carefully follow your
manufacturer's instructions for decalcifying your machine's boiler. You can cause all
kinds of damage to your system that may or may not be covered by your warranty. Umm, I
know what I'm talking about here.)
Chemical compounds specifically designed to safely clean espresso machines are available
from restaurant suppliers and specialty coffee suppliers. Most are based around trisodium
phosphate (TSP), a cleaning agent powerful enough to clean walls. The TSP is cut with
inert ingredients to bring down the concentration and buffers are added so it will not
attack the rubber gasket. Some of the compounds on the market these days are
To keep your drains clear of espresso grounds, professional strength drain cleaning
chemicals and enzyme products can be found at plumbing suppliers. Use these compounds with
extreme caution and follow the label directions absolutely to the letter. (Urgent warning:
Your plumber is the only person qualified to tell you what compounds can safely be used on
YOUR household drains. Save yourself lots of trouble. Ask.)
$10 to $25
D-10-k. Treat yourself to a couple o' three good coffee books
The available literature is a rich source of coffee lore and science. Most coffee books
include the standard milk and-espresso beverage recipes, lots of coffee history, coffee
tasting instructions and blending guidance, facts about coffee and the people who produce
it for our enjoyment, oddball baking recipes, and advice on how to shop for your next
$40 to $100
D-10-l. Clear glass shot glasses (Most are 2 ounces and these can encourage careless over
extraction. Most shot glasses are improperly marked. Check them against a known measure.)
The preferred method for espresso preparation is to let the machine dispense directly into
preheated demitasse, bypassing shot glasses entirely. If you are creating mixed espresso
beverages, shot glasses will help you transfer the espresso and maintain your accuracy.
Use only clear glass shots because you want to see the crema developing. This visual
feedback will tell you much about how your system is performing. Preheat the shot glass
with hot water before extraction.
$2 to $10
D-10-m. Thermometer (rapid-read digital or fast-reacting analog dial)
Use this to check your machine's water temperature accuracy and to monitor your milk while
foaming and steaming. Milk shouldn't get much higher than 145 to 160 F or you run the risk
of scorching or boiling it. Ick.
$10 to $50
D-10-n. Water Filtration System
Your water supply might be soft, hard, or laden with all kinds of trace chemicals that
affect the taste (or possibly threaten your health), but let's not get paranoid. You might
not notice the presence of these invisible "taste enhancers" but -- I guarantee
-- you will notice when they have been removed from your espresso.
There are many kinds of water purifying and softening systems on the market ranging from
giant reverse osmosis tanks and sodium cylinders that sit in your garage to beer
bottle-sized canisters that go under your sink or replaceable podlets you put on your
kitchen faucet. Look, I don't know anything about these things. This FAQ is about espresso
machines. I just know that I clean my machine less often and I like the flavor of my
espresso more when I carefully filter my water. I once used a simple charcoal filter disk
in a drip funnel but I have recently installed an OmniFilter on the kitchen faucet. The
cartridges are replaced three times a year for about $10.00 each. Update: the OmniFilter
is a piece of junk. I've replaced it with a lovely unit by PUR. I also have one of their
backpacking water purification systems. I have a "Brita" filtration jug in the
fridge for drinking water cuz that's my sister's name.
$5 to $10,000
D-11. Whew! Got it. Expensive hobby. Not a toy. Anything else you wanna tell me?
Professional baristas make espresso look fun, easy, fast, and, above all, profitable. A
good barista is hard to find. Cultivate the relationship if you know a talented espresso
craftsperson. Patronize their shop. Tip them well. Tell their boss about their performance
Only after you have tweaked and fiddled and crouched in front of your machine and watched
several thousand shots dribble into your demitasse will you recognize the horrible truth:
You are hopelessly obsessed with this pungent brew. Seek counseling if your behavior
threatens your marriage or job.
Ah, I can hear you laughing. "... Seek counseling." Sure. As if.
Go ahead, buy your little espresso machine. It's just an appliance. It's not like it's
going to change your life or anything weird. Yes, well, check back here on the coffee
newsgroups in a few months and read this document again. Yes, we'll see who's laughing
Home-style espresso machines will not necessarily allow you to play "Pretend Espresso
Cart." A phenomenon known as "dwell time" requires some machines to recover
operating temperature between servings and pressure must bleed off the brewing head before
you can remove the filter to reload for another shot. (Just try to reload before the
machine drains off the pressure in the head. Barry Jarrett, coffee newsgroup junky and
professional coffee roaster, calls these explosive events "sneezes.")
The Rancilio Rialto features a solenoid activated pressure bypass valve that eliminates
the pressure relief problem completely. This bypass valve is standard equipment on
professional machines. It's a nice thing to look for in your better home machines but I
know of only one other manufacturer that offers this nifty feature, Gaggia.
You cannot make espresso in advance. Dwell time, dancing with your machine, swabbing the
steam wand, and numerous trips to the fridge, the sink, your grinder, and your knockbox
all add up. It can take you half an hour to serve six complicated espresso and steamed
milk drinks to six dinner guests because you must make them one at a time. As your skill
level and familiarity with your equipment increase you'll be able to crank out the
lattéés and cappuccinos almost like a pro.
Frothing milk is another technique you will need to practice privately prior to performing
in public. Most home machines just can't put out the volume of dry steam that professional
machines effortlessly spew so you may never achieve stardom as a cappuccino master. The
chemical changes milk's elemental parts undergo during steaming are topics for someone
else's FAQ but I think you will find steamed milk tastes much better than milk that has
been microwaved or heated in a pan. You can steam milk for hot chocolate and other
beverages with your espresso machine. After each use be sure to jet some steam to clear
the tube of residual milk and to wipe the wand carefully with a clean towel.
Never immerse the wand in a pitcher that is filled with a liquid, whether it is milk or
water, unless you're actively using the machine. Once the steam system begins to cool, the
lower pressure will suck stuff up into the wand and possibly all the way into the boiler.
This can utterly destroy your machine.
North Americans tend to want their milk foamed until it forms dry peaks and that's tough
to do with home machines. Personally, I prefer a softer and gooey froth. It tastes better
and insulates the drink just as well.
Then there is "milk chiffon," the velvety thick micro-bubbly foam that is so
difficult to prepare at home. The remarkable mouth sensation of delicately chiffoned milk
makes cappuccino an unbelievably elegant drink. Takes practice. I can only get it to work
one out of every ten tries. Get a copy of Schomer's book or videos to learn the details.
D-11-a. Cleaning the machine
Here's a scary topic ... You thought all you had to do was buy the thing and plug it in?
An espresso machine is not maintenance-free. To ignore it is to invite a disease-ridden
slime to take up residence and to allow an internal encrustation to prematurely clog the
waterways. Gross, dude.
Do you need to be compulsive about the cleanliness and sanitation of your espresso
Well, no. But it helps.
MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT AND CAUTIONARY NOTE:
In March of 1999, I received a note from a prominent retailer of Rancilio espresso
machines advising me that "backflushing" is not recommended nor is it supported
by the manufacturer as an acceptable maintenance routine. The excuse I was given was that
the pump seals on Rancilio's home espresso units cannot be expected to survive the
sustained high pressure of the blind filter. I interpret this to mean that the pumps are
either substandard or other components such as the bypass valve are faulty but I,m just
editorializing sarcastically because I think this sucks. I am assuming that any damage
caused to your Rancilio machine by using a blind filter for backflushing procedures would
NOT be covered by the warranty offered by Rancilio.
Let me repeat myself: This procedure is probably NOT covered under warranty!
Here's my routine ...
The first thing I do is put the plug in the kitchen sink because I don't want anything
falling down the drain or into the disposer. The second thing I do is lay out all my
tools, supplies, a couple of towels, and I pour myself a tall cool beverage.
Every two or three weeks I disconnect or move all of the hoses and tubes that sluice or
slurp water through my Rialto and I remove the water reservoir. I scrub it with a baby
bottle brush and a mild vinegar solution. I place the unit's tiny water softener cartridge
into a cup of salty water to recharge the resins. I use a shorty screwdriver to remove the
disperser screen (the showerhead) and I place the parts in a 4-cup Pyrex glass measuring
cup. I remove the double shot filter basket and replace it with a "blind
insert." I fill the blind insert with 2 teaspoons of PuroCaff (similar to common TSP
but containing some some buffering agents) and run through a backflush cycle that takes
about five minutes.
** This backflushing can only be performed on a unit that is equipped with a "triple
action bypass" valve! ** Don't try it on a conventional unit. **
Check with your manufacturer but be forewarned, most espresso machine manufacturer's
customer service people don't know nuthin' bout no espresso machines. They are just as
likely to give you worthless information as they are to give you sound advice.
I dab a clean dish towel in the diluted backflushing liquid that has filled the drip tray
and I carefully wipe down the outside of the machine, trying to get into all of the nooks
and crannies. I swab between the switches and in the joints between pieces of the metal
exterior housing. I use a stiff bristle brush for any stubborn stains or gunk. Then I
carefully wipe it down with a clean damp towel.
I place all of the filter group's parts in the large measuring cup along with the
showerhead, add a scant teaspoon of PuroCaff and fill the measuring cup with very hot
water. I will then fill the machine's reservoir with clear water at least three times,
running all three fillings through the main system and the steaming wand. I let everything
cool down for an hour or two and then carefully reassemble all the bits and pieces.
This chore takes about an hour but the rewards are immediately tangible. My espresso
D-12. What about caffeine? If I drink double shots of espresso regularly won't I tend to
be moving quite rapidly and won't my friends try to avoid me?
Just because you take your coffee as espresso doesn't mean you're a speed freak. You won't
be moving into the Folgers Wing of the Betty Ford Center. A properly made shot of espresso
contains significantly less of the bitter alkaloid known as caffeine than an 8 ounce mug
of your basic office or supermarket swill. See the FAQ on Coffee and Caffeine for the
exact milligram measurements of caffeine in a curious collection of consumables including
coffee, colas, and candies.
Why is this so? Espresso's water-to-coffee contact time is short, leaving some of the
caffeine molecules locked into the plant fibers. Fine Arabica coffees contain one half of
the caffeine found naturally in the cheaper Robusta beans that are used in supermarket
coffees. (Using Robustas in espresso blends is another controversy that tweaks the
regulars around the coffee newsgroups.)
The results of chemical analysis performed by Lauk's Testing Labs in Seattle were recently
posted at the LucidCafe Web site by David Schomer. Check out these numbers:
Espresso Ristretto (18.5 grams of finely ground coffee, 1 3/4 fluid ozs) 230 milligrams of
Paper Filtered, Cone drip brewed coffee (18.5 grams of Arabica coffee, about 16 fluid ozs)
340 milligrams of caffeine
Those are interesting numbers but I don't know anyone who makes a 16 oz pot using only
18.5 grams of ground coffee. Seems to me that so little coffee would produce only 6 to 8
ounces of brew worth drinking.
Folks, if you get nothing else of value from your visit to my FAQ, I hope you will take
these three -- umm, four -- thoughts with you . . .
1. Espresso is the concentrated essence of superb coffees.
Espresso is delicious. The brewing process has been utterly perfected. It is designed
specifically to accomplish only two things: 1) To get the best out of the coffee; and 2)
to leave all the bad stuff behind.
2. Making espresso at home resembles only superficially brewing regular coffee.
Both of the end products are "brown" and they come from the same plant but
that's all they have in common.
3. Espresso is messy.
Really. If your Significant Other likes a tidy kitchen your relationship may not survive a
home espresso machine.
4. One of your countertop appliances must die.
A machine and a grinder take up about two square feet of space and can draw from 10 to 20
amps of electricity. Got the room? Got the juice?
E. Closing disclaimer:
It is my not-so-humble opinion, based on years of teaching other newbies about coffee and
espresso, that you will be happier if you do not rush out and buy a machine for yourself
or for your loved ones. Think of some of the other appliances or tools in which you have
invested and how carefully you researched them before making your purchase decision ...
Did you buy the $150 dishwasher or the $400 model that heats its own water and has the
built-in food disposer? Did you buy the $99 table saw or the $899 model that is more
accurate, comes with better accessories, and will last two lifetimes? The $149
"mountain bike" from K-Mart or the $3,000 dual suspension monster from a real
bike shop? Did you order your golf clubs from the back of a comic book or did you have
them custom fitted by an expert? How did you decide which juice extractor to buy (just so
you could end up hiding it in your closet)?
Hang out on the newsgroups for several weeks (or even several months) before investing in
your espresso machine. Send for catalogs, cruise the Web, and watch for other people to
post reviews of their machines. Watch the baristas perform their jobs at your favorite
coffee bar (don't be a cheapskate, tip them!). If you know someone with an espresso
machine rush to a nearby coffee shop, buy two or three pounds of high quality espresso,
invite yourself to their home right now and insist on playing with their machine.
Hopeless espresso hound, woodworking hobbyist
Brief Coffee and Espresso Bibliography
(rated on a scale of 1 to 10)
"An Espresso Hound's Search For Crema At Home" by David Bogie, published in
Café Olé magazine, October, November, and December, 1992.
rating: 10 (What can I say?)
"Espresso, Ultimate Coffee" by Kenneth Davids, 1993, published by the Cole
Group. rating: 7
"Coffee" by Kenneth Davids, 1976, revised several times, published 101
Productions. rating: 8
"Espresso, from Bean to Cup" by Nick Jurich, 1991, published by Missing Link
Press. (Rare and out of print.) rating: 7
"The Perfect Cup" by Timothy Castle, 1991, published by Aris Books. rating: 6
"The Joy of Coffee" by Corby Kummer, 1995, published by Chapters. (Revised
edition, 1997). rating: 8
"The Book Of Coffee" by Francesco and Ricardo Illy, 1992, published by Arnoldo
Mondadori Editore S.P.A., Milano, Italy. rating: 10
"The Espresso Encyclopedia" by Bernard N. Mariano and Jill West, 1994 published
by Trendex Int'l. rating: 6
"Espresso coffee, Professional Techniques" by David C. Schomer, 1996, published
by Peanut Butter Publishing. rating: 8
"Espresso Tasting, L'Assagio Dell'Espresso" edited by Luigi Odello, English
edition 1995, published by Centro Studi e Formazione Assaggiatori. rating: 6
Very Few Links
Go Here First: www.espresso.com
Go Here Second: www.espressoTOP50.com
Lucid Cafe's Web site: www2.lucidcafe.com
Various issues of Fresh Cup magazine (the only editorial voice in the coffee industry with
cajones to challenge the Starbuck Way) email: email@example.com and on the Web at
Various issues of Tea And Coffee Trade Journal, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. (May have changed,
do a search on your own.)
Various issues of Coffee Journal magazine (Now defunct, major bummer. )
Tim Nemec's "Over The Coffee" (Now defunct. A great loss to the coffee world.
Tim, if you ever see this, we really miss you, man.)