People today are very choosy when it comes to their coffee. Gone are the days when people were happy drinking any type of coffee, including instant coffee. The people’s palate has become discriminating as they tasted various coffee concoctions thanks to the proliferation of coffee shops all over the world.
While people a few years ago were happy making their pot of coffee in the morning using their drip coffee maker, the discriminating coffee drinkers today will settle only for the taste of the brew made by an espresso machine.
There is a world of difference between an espresso machine and your regular drip coffee maker. An espresso machine makes coffee through pressurized water that is close to the boiling point and forced through a hard tamped disk of ground coffee, called a “puck”, and a filter. The brew produced is a thick and concentrated coffee that is commonly referred to as espresso. The espresso is a nice brew but unfortunately, very few people know how to use an espresso machine.
The espresso machine has a long and colorful history, with the first machine built in 1884 by Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy. Several improvements were made on the original Moriondo design but they all share common elements which include a group head and a portafilter. Espresso machines may be piston-driven, steam-driven, or air-pump-driven, either manually operated or automatic.
An espresso machine, regardless of the brand or the design, needs a water source. Water is drawn by the machine either from a small reservoir that is part of the machine or directly from a plumbed water connection. Reservoirs work well for small volumes but a commercial or professional espresso machine relies on a piped water source. The water to be supplied to the expresso machine must be clean and without too much or too little mineral content. Espresso machines typically have built-in filters. A pump to force the water into the condensed coffee puck is needed as the regular household water pressure will not have enough force. An espresso machine comes with a water pump, which is electrically operated in most machines. An espresso requires 130 PSI of pressure, or 9 bars, which is 9 times the atmospheric pressure. To give you an idea about the type of pressure needed in an espresso machine, car tires generally have between 30 and 35 PSI.
The water that is moved forward by the pump needs to be heated, which necessitates a boiler. Professional machines have two boilers - one for brewing the espresso and the other one for the steam wand. The two boilers have different temperature settings, with the boiler for brewing pegged at 93°C and the one for the steam wand needs to be at 100°C. The consistency of water temperature is important for the rate of extraction and the taste of the espresso shot.
How to use an Espresso Machine – The Definitive Guide
After getting your espresso machine, the next logical step is to know how to use it. It is important that you know how to operate the machine before you attempt to turn it on. Espresso machines always come with instruction manuals to eliminate the guesswork in their operation. A new espresso machine operator should stay on the safe side by first reading the manual before even touching the machine. This will prevent damaging this expensive piece of equipment.
The following are the steps in operating an espresso machine:
1. Plugging the machine to a power source
An espresso machine is an electrical device which requires electricity to operate. Find an ideal location for your espresso machine, preferably next to an electrical outlet to avoid using an electrical extension. The first step before you operate your espresso machine is to plug in the machine’s power cable to the electrical outlet
2. Fill with water
Your espresso machine has built-in water reservoirs. You will find the opening to the reservoirs at the top of the machine. If your machine has no reservoirs, you will need to connect your machine to a plumbed water source. You will use water for making espresso and for cooling the machine. The water you will put into the machine must be cold, fresh, soft, and filtered.
3. Switch the machine on
Switch on the power source to ensure that electricity will flow into your machine. Then turn on the machine by pressing the switch. Once you have confirmed that the machine is on, give it some time to heat up because boiling the water will take some time. When you feel that your machine is warm enough you can start preparing your espresso. If you purchased a large machine, expect the heating time to be longer than if you have a small machine.
4. Prepare your coffee beans
Have your roasted coffee beans ready and place them in the grinder. The coffee beans will grind as you fill your portafilter or collect the ground coffee powder using any container. Your coffee beans must be smooth and finely grounded. It should not have the same texture as the coffee grounds that you use in your drip coffee maker
5. Filling the portafilter
You don’t need any utensil to perform this task. You will have to use your fingers to level the coffee powder inside the portafilter. Remove the excess coffee powder. Make sure that you fill up any air pocket on the portafilter, which must be filled to the brim.
6. Tamping your coffee powder
Using a tamper, apply some pressure on the coffee powder inside the portafilter. Check for excess coffee powder on the inner wall of the tamper. Knock it another time to ensure that any excess coffee powder will be at the center. Continue tamping until all the coffee powder in the portafilter are compressed.
7. Brewing espresso
Put back the portafilter to the group head of the espresso machine. Turn on the correct button in the espresso machine. The espresso machine will now be brewing the espresso shot.
8. Turn off the espresso machine
After picking up your espresso cup, turn off the machine using the on and off button or switch. If no other machine is using the electrical outlet to which your machine is connected, you can turn it off.
Which machine are you using?
The type of espresso machine you should be using will depend on the purpose of owning one. If you will use the espresso machine for home use, that is brewing espresso for the family members, you can settle for a home espresso machine. If you will be brewing espresso for commercial purposes, such as having a coffee shot, you will need a commercial espresso machine.
For an espresso machine for personal use, you should buy a “Home and Office” espresso machine, except when you have a very large family, in which case you should choose a commercial model.
If you will be using an espresso machine in a commercial food-service establishment, a home espresso machine will not be able to meet your needs unless you get a fully NSF-certified unit such as the Pasquini espresso machine. Commercial espresso machines are both large and expensive. They require connection to a plumbed water source and a floor drain. They also use a different electrical outlet as they use a 220-volt electrical circuit.
Best Home Espresso Machine
Going to the café for an espresso drink each time you feel your energy level is going down is both time-consuming and expensive. The problem gets worse if you are the type of person who regularly consumes four or more cups of brew each day. Also, you may not consistently get the kind of brew that you want when you buy your coffee from different coffee shops.
Instead of playing the game of luck each time you buy a cup of your favorite brew, you ensure getting your consistent brew by buying the best home espresso machine. After experimenting with your machine for a while, you will be able to come up with your perfect espresso shot.
The following are some of the best espresso machines you can buy for your home or office:
You will get everything you expect from a barista-quality coffee from a machine with a compact footprint. You can have a cup of espresso from the bean to the brew in under a minute. The Barista Express allows the grinding of the beans before extraction. It comes with interchangeable filters and a choice of automatic or manual operation to produce an authentic café style coffee in a very short time.
This is a popular semi-automatic style machine that is built to last. It has strong linear designed housing constructed with an iron frame and side panels made of stainless steel. It features a patented ergonomic 58mm portafilter for excellent extraction. The single boiler has a large volume capacity compared with any home machine in its class. The chrome-plated boiler holds 12 ounces of water to produce steaming power and remarkable recovery time in between shots. It has a 2-quart water reservoir that is removable. This machine features articulating stainless steel wand to allow for a complete range of motion for steaming milk.
This is a one-touch espresso maker and cappuccino machine from Mr. Coffee. You can make espresso, latte, or cappuccino within minutes with a simple press of a button. You can easily choose from a single or a double shot of espresso and allow the automatic milk frother steam your milk into light or airy foam. It comes with a 19-bar Italian pump to deliver the optimal amount of pressure that will squeeze every bit of flavor from the brew to bring you a barista-quality drink.
The pioneer of the single-serve coffee - Nespresso - brings coffee-making to your fingertips. You can use your smartphone to make the perfect coffee through the first Nespresso connected machine via Bluetooth smart technology that can be used with a mobile app for iOS and Android mobile devices.
This espresso machine is equipped with a single and a double shot filters that allows you to choose to have one cup or two cups of coffee at the same time. This machine has only five buttons and a steam knob, making it easy to control. It freely regulates the steam with a steam knob, making it easy to make fantastic foamed milk. There is no need to buy another cream maker, letting you save time and money.
Commercial Espresso Machine
Choosing a commercial espresso machine for a restaurant or a coffee shop is a challenging task as you have to choose from hundreds of brands and manufacturers. The following are some of the best commercial espresso machines you can buy:
This is a compact machine that can work both at home and office setting. It has an automatic dosing, thermos-compensated group and steaming system that is similar to what they have in large, professional machines. It has a water pump that is sound-proof and insulated boiler with exchanger. The portafilters and steaming system protect the operator from any injury.
This espresso machine is equipped with the latest technology including pre-infusion coffee grounds and a constant temperature. It has a water softener, which is standard in all la Pavoni models.
This semi-automatic machine has traditional styling, compact size, and commercial strength. Its commercial style copper boiler has both hot water dispensing and steam wands that can be adjusted laterally.
This is a 2 Group Commercial Espresso Machine with a digital control pad and microprocessor controls for four dosing settings. Boiler capacity is the largest in the industry at 14 liters. It is NSF certified.
This model has the components to create the perfect espresso brewing environment. It has a 3-way solenoid valve that prevents excessive pressure and releases built-up pressure at the end of the brew.
Best Automatic Espresso Machine
An automatic espresso machine is a great help for multitaskers. Simply turn it on and the machine will control the volume of water that passes through the coffee grounds. Once the pre-determined amount of espresso is brewed, the machine automatically stops.
Vying for the title of the best automatic espresso machine:
This automatic espresso machine allows you to enjoy espresso, cappuccino, latte or macchiato in the comfort of your home at the touch of a button. This machine has mastered the art of making espresso for you. It is both compact and elegant, incorporating features from a full-sized super-automatic espresso machine.
This machine allows you to enjoy your favorite brew with a one-switch operating system. It has a high-performance coffee grinder, allowing you to have always freshly ground coffee.
The Brera from Gaggia is a high-end model for beginners. It is designed to deliver classic Italian espresso with automated convenience. It is compact, simple to operate and futuristic.
A portafilter is a simple but necessary component of all espresso machines, whether manual, semi-automatic, super-automatic, or commercial. Many people in the coffee industry, including the professional baristas, consider it to be the most important factor in successfully brewing espresso.
The portafilter is the machine component that holds the ground espresso beans or coffee grounds before and during the brewing process. It is where hot water runs through the grounds, extracting the espresso flavors from the grounds, at which point the extracted espresso flows to the bottom of the portafilter through a chute into the waiting cup below.
The portafilter is made up of a few parts, mostly non-mechanical. The parts include a handle that allows the barista to easily hold the portafilter unit. It also has a filter basket that fits inside the exterior of the portafilter. It is generally made of metal with tiny holes all over the bottom to act as a screen and allows the water with the extracted flavor to run through, down to the chute and into the waiting cup below the portafilter.
Pulling a Delicious Shot
You can pull a delicious shot each time you want to drink your brew by strictly following these steps:
- Grind fresh whole beans - Grinding fresh beans is the key to brewing coffee, using any brew method. The texture of the grind impacts the shot quality. Too fine a grind will over-extract the shot, resulting in a bitter and burnt taste. Too coarse a grind will result in an under-extracted shot that is watery, weak, and sour. Your perfect ground should look like granulated sugar.
- The dose of coffee to fill the portafilter - You will need between 14 to 18 grams of coffee grind for a double shot of espresso.
- Tamping the grounds - Tamping will ensure uniformity in extraction. Hold your elbow at 90°, rest the portafilter on a level surface then apply pressure until the coffee will have a polished and even look.
- Brew - Put back the portafilter into the brew head and put the preheated cup beneath it. Time your shot then pull and carefully watch espresso dipping onto your cup.
Steaming milk may look so simple, but it is difficult to perfect. There are two phases to steaming: aerating or stretching, and emulsifying or texturing. You need both phases to have the velvety and creamy milk that you will need to create a great cappuccino or latte.
To aerate the milk, place the tip of the steam wand into the milk and turn on the wand. The milk will capture the air at the surface and incorporate it into the milk. Once your milk has captured some air, plunge the steam wand deeper into the milk to emulsify it. Lattes will need only a little bit of aeration and a decent amount of foam for cappuccinos.
Enjoy your Delicious Drink
After learning how to use an espresso machine and after deciding on the best espresso machine for your needs, it is now time to enjoy your first espresso shot. Your first espresso shot may not be the perfect one as you still have to familiarize yourself with how your espresso machine works but eventually, you will have your perfect formula for your perfect espresso shot
Coffee drinking has reached a new height because of the ubiquitous coffee shops that we find in almost every corner. The people’s love of coffee goes further than the espresso cup made by a barista as people now want to brew their espresso, resulting in coffee lovers learning how to use an espresso machine and experimenting with various formulas to brew the perfect espresso shot. The dream of many coffee lovers today is no longer to buy the perfect cup of brew but to make the perfect cup of coffee drink using their machine.