Today’s Edmonton Journal published a primer on the more sophisticated home espresso setup: Getting Serious About Coffee. In other words, what do you do when your $100 home Krups machine isn’t cutting it — because the espresso it produces belongs in the same landfill where your machine will deservedly rot its final days?
There’s an avalanche of articles, and dedicated Web sites, on the topic. However, I will briefly point out my own Rules of Home Espresso Engagement from my own years of home espresso-making:
- Don’t buy a home machine as a means of saving money. You’ll spend more by throwing out the cheap piece of junk you bought because of the bad coffee it produces, and you’ll end back up at square one.
- To do this right, it’s going to be expensive. Don’t even bother getting a home espresso machine if you can’t afford at least a $400 Rancilio Silva.
- Buy your espresso machine from a specialist retailer. Bigger-name retailers of kitchen appliances and gourmet food equipment mostly sell overpriced, underperforming landfill.
- An exception to the above rule is if you want something self-contained, push-button, and of the ultimate convenience. In which case, I recommend that you forget the home machine, find your favorite café on CoffeeRatings.com, and pay someone else to brew your espresso.
- Do your research online, get opinions of those you trust.
- Don’t spend more than $400 on an espresso machine without also spending almost as much on a decent burr grinder. Most everybody treats the grinder as an afterthought, and an inexpensive grinder will throttle the quality completely — making your expensive espresso machine pointless.
- Use coffee beans as fresh as you can possibly get — ideally less than one week since roasting. Your crema will notice the difference. Bags of the stuff that you find on Starbucks‘, Peet’s, or other store shelves are typically weeks old — so go to a local roaster if you can. If opening the bag doesn’t make your house stink of coffee, it’s not fresh enough. (Unless it’s roasted that day — and it never is.)
- Unless you drink espresso daily and in significant quantities, you may want to consider home roasting your own beans. People did this for centuries before Sanka, today it is a lot less complicated than it sounds (think “hot air popcorn popper”), and you can’t beat the freshness.
- Clean your equipment frequently, as with food-safe coffee oil solvents such as Puro Caff, and perform regular maintenance, such as replacing seals and gaskets about every year, to prevent your home espresso from going rancid in a hurry.
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