Sunday, January 17, 2010

Coffee Anyone - Part 2: Espresso Machines

In order to have good coffee, you must have 4 things:

1. Good Coffee - if you don't have this, you won't arrive at the goal.
2. Good Water - good water makes any coffee bean brew better coffee. For espresso you should use distilled or other water that has virtually no minerals in it. Hard water can damage the boiler.
3. Good Grind - whether you grind it at home, or at the store, finely ground coffee produces better coffee.
4. Good Equipment - it doesn't matter if it is a drip machine or an espresso maker - good equipment gives you better results.

That being said, we now focus upon item #4, the Equipment. At my home I have a Bunn drip maker which is my personal choice - no intention here to endorse, as I am not a sponsor. I just like having hot water always ready at 165° Fahrenheit - which is, according to another good cook, the "perfect" brewing temperature. For Espresso I have gone through three different machines: A Braun which lasted for over 6 years, a Krups that we had for 4 years and our most recent, a Hamilton Beach unit.

Each of the espresso machines had its good and bad points. It is difficult to compare them as the first two we had were steam machines and the latest is a pump machine. OK, I know I need to explain this to some folks out here it goes: There are two common kinds of espresso machines today, steam driven and pump driven.

The steam driven is similar to the first espresso machines in the fact that water is boiled, steam is created and it is sent through the ground coffee to produce the wonderful, dark liquid we know as espresso. The pump driven unit delivers hot water to the coffee by pumping it through the grounds. Both are effective, but the pump driven unit is what is in most commercial machines and some of the better home units. The pump unit delivers more of the frothy crema on top of the espresso, making it produce a better cup. For more info on this go to Wikipedia .

With the Braun machine, it produced good coffee, that wasn't bitter. The machine was well-constructed and cost us about $80 in 1995 (as I recall). The only weak link was the handle on the filter holder - it was plastic and it broke after several years of heavy use. I repaired it using some JB Weld steel and we got 2 more years out of it before the boiler failed.

The Krups machine was purchased after this. The unit cost around $80 and it produced coffee that was good in quality. Unfortunately, the machine started to leak after a couple of years of use. The leaking got so bad that we were losing one-third of the water! To make 2 ounces of espresso, you had to put 3 ounces of water in the boiler. Since we made a lot of espresso for cappuccinos and making americanos, the leaking water trickled down to the counter where it made a big mess. I don't think most people brew as much espresso as we do, so the leaking may have something to do with the very heavy use it got...and the coffee was good. This may be a good option for you if cost is a concern.

Our latest machine from Hamilton Beach, is a pump unit. It produces excellent espresso and is less expensive than either of the units I bought before. One thing I noticed is that to get the best results out of the unit, I have to use coffee that is a little coarser than true espresso grind. If you use a finer grind, this machine produces much less of the crema, which is a big part of the flavor. When the unit was brand new, I used espresso ground coffee and it worked well, but with time, the quality started to falter and the brew time increased. I went to a coarser grind (I found this tip in a review on the machine on amazon), I found that brew time returned to normal and quality is back to what it was when I first got the machine. If you grind beans when you buy them, go for a setting on the grinder that is slightly coarser and you will always be pleased with the results. I will say the coffee from this pump machine is better than it was from the other 2 units, mainly because the water is coming through at a lower temperature. The resulting coffee is less bitter and isn't overheated as it is when straight steam hits the beans. Gooooooood stuff!

Check out the links to products on this page for more info. I apologize for no link on the Braun machine - they don't make this model anymore, but the other two are still available, and the Krups machine is less expensive than when I bought mine. If you do check them out, I think you will learn a lot, get some great info, and perhaps get a machine that will provide you with Awesome Coffee! I like to put a 20 ounce cup under the spouts and brew it until the cup fills up. This stuff isn't espresso and it isn't regular coffee - it is strong and flavorful. I love this in the morning.

Hope you enjoyed the information. Go out and enjoy some really good coffee!

Have a Great Day and God Bless!

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