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Espresso, anyone? (Some random thoughts)

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by secretdonkey, Jan 5, 2004.


  1. secretdonkey

    secretdonkey

    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    I recently bought myself a decent pump-driven espresso machine, and my quest to make the perfect cup has led me to some surprising discoveries. Namely, that there is much more art and science involved than I suspected, and that there seems to be a surprising lack of a standard, at least here in the U.S.

    That became apparent when working with one thing that *is* standardized - the E.S.E. espresso pod. How much coffee should be extracted from one of these little suckers? The manual that came with my machine says 2.5 oz. The instructions on my box of Starbucks ESE pods says 1 oz. The most credible info I found on the web I found says .75 to 1 oz. That's a pretty wide range!

    I have found that the smaller amounts yield a much better cup of E, and I've abandoned the ESE pods because I want to drink more than 1 oz. at a time! I can't rationalize buying a burr grinder now, but I've found that shaking my blade grinder as it runs yields a more even grind for the pretty darn good 2 oz. double shots I've been pulling.

    As a Southpark episode once pointed out, Starbucks may be the evil corporate coffee giant, but they do make a better cup than some of the small and hip coffee houses - a notion that's been confirmed by the cups that I've sampled in my backwards little burg. I think that's because the small shops around here tend to pull a longer shot, which just doesn't taste as good.

    Anyway, those are my random thoughts on the subject. I'd be curious to hear some others...
     
  2. DigMe

    DigMe

    Aug 10, 2002
    Waco, TX
    I don't mind Starbuck's so much if I make it myself (using my machine and methods with their product) but that crap they brew in their restaurants can barely be called "coffee." I shake my blade grinder as well. I have an espresso machine but I make drip coffee in my cone filter machine a lot more often than I make espresso. Really a time and convenience (and lack of desire to clean the machine) thing more than anything. Coffee is God's gift to beverages.

    brad cook
     
  3. rustyshakelford

    rustyshakelford

    Jul 9, 2002
    I find it helpful to occasionally clean the machine. On most pump driven machines, there is a perforated plate on the under side where you load the espresso. The plate is usually held in place by a screw (in the center of the plate). You remove the screw, the plate. Scrub. Minor surgery. Improves the taste. Ammeliorates espresso shooting out the sides.

    I don't use pods - I use beans. I find a nice blend is to grind a half cup really fine. Then add a half cup (whole) beans to the grinder cup and grind them semi-fine. (If you use fine-only the machine becomes clogged. The semi-fine grind gives the steam room to exit.)

    I have found some roasts good, some bad. Starbucks espresso - good.
    Lavazza espresso - not so good.
    Any Scandanavian roast - dreadful
    Cuban roast - also dreadful

    Some coffee (not espresso) roasts produce excellent shots:
    Starbucks French Roast - good
    Ruta Maya Coffee - excellent
    (Ruta Maya is a local Austin blend. Cheap at Randall's, yo).

    Lastly, a bit on clean up. Espresso is messy business. I like to have on hand: a plate (to hold the dead grinds), several paper towels and windex.

    The paper towels are also nice to clean the tamper. If the tamper is moist, it tends to uproot the grinds, as opposed to compacting them.

    It is nice to keep distilled water on-hand, too.

    The espresso ritual:
    - gather cup, saucer, plate, beans, grinder, tamper, paper towels, etc., .
    - add water, turn on machine
    - grind beans while machine warms
    - load, tamp, pull, repeat

    Take care,

    wmh
     
  4. MJ5150

    MJ5150 Terrific Twister

    Apr 12, 2001
    Lacey, WA
    I think I should whipser my following comments since I am living in the shadow of the Starbucks empire.....Hehehe

    My wife and I are not real fans of Starbucks. Then again, we are not fans of burnt coffee, which is what Starbucks is. You can roast coffee, and you can burn it. SB burns. Anyway....what machine did you get? We have used the Barista, and Athena models from SB. It did a good job, but now we have a la Pavoni Europiccola. It is the old style lever-action machine. We have used many espresso machines over the years, and the la Pavoni is by far the best you can get. Pure espresso, awesome crema. They can not be beat. I suggest you get the burr grinder. It does do a better job than a normal grinder.

    Once you get all the espresso making down to an art, you should learn to roast your own beans. That is what we just learned to do. Fresh roasted beans, done to a roast you prefer is where it's at. WAY better than any you can buy.

    -Mike
     
  5. rustyshakelford

    rustyshakelford

    Jul 9, 2002
    I don't really understand the Starbucks issue.

    They do rout the local coffee shops, but local coffee shops don't offer health coverage. I think Starbucks does. And the reason they are popular is because their coffee is good.

    On the other hand, I understand some of the foods sold at Starbucks are prepared in prisons, a la Sodexho. Is this good or bad? It sounds like China, but I understand prisoners yearn for work in prison.

    Lastly, there is the Justice Brandeis "curse of bigness" argument. I suppose coffee growers upstream are getting screwed, but the local shops would countribute to this, too.

    www.revbilly.com
    Reverend Billy (of the Church of Stop Shopping) has a lot to say about Starbucks. I don't really understand his argument.

    Ruta Maya, available in Texas, is organic, locally owned. Good. Cheap. I don't know if it is shade-grown.

    wmh
     
  6. secretdonkey

    secretdonkey

    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Rusty - I pretty much arrived at the same ritual. I've been running a "blind" shot to warm the portahead as part of the warmup routine, but otherwise it's pretty much the same as yours. If Ruta Maya is 'local' for you, I think I know where you are... :)

    MJ - It's all relative. I'm sure that in your neck of the woods, Starbuck's could rightly be looked down upon. There, I bet the independent coffee houses are mostly better than Starbucks. Down here, they're mostly inferior, and that saddens me because I'd rather patronize and support the small shop and the artsy crowd they cater to. -- Oh, I bought a $200 Krups machine. Pretty low on the totem pole, I know -- but all I could rationalize for now. Still, I get a better crema than what I'm offered out of commercial machines locally. If I'm still using the machine daily this time next year, I'll likely step up to a burr grinder and a real Italian machine. I guess bean roasting would be even further down the line! There is one shop locally that roasts their own beans. Sadly, they illustrate all that is wrong with local shops around here... great food, great people, great atmosphere -- and the coffee they roast is patently awful.
     
  7. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    I never really bothered to run with the Espresso craze crowd. No 500$ espresso machines for the sake of "crema" for me (I couldn't afford one anyway :p ).

    I grind my Espresso beans and brew it with either the aluminum espresso pot (rarely) or a regular paper filter. So I'm more a regular coffee guy.

    I only buy fairtrade coffee. There's a German cooperative called GEPA that offers a great Arabica espresso that is still affordable.
    Since we have very hard water where I live, I found using mineral water really improves the taste.
     
  8. canopener

    canopener

    Sep 15, 2003
    Isle of Lucy
    JMX, do you just brew your espresso through a regular coffee percolator?

    Right now, I am reading up on how to make my own latte...
     
  9. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    you guys are pretty coffeed out there.

    I make all my coffee with a french press, that's the easiest way I know of, and it yields some of the best coffee you can have. I don't generally drink espresso, I don't generally drink Starbucks either, I was fortunate to have many good local places where I used to live. I haven't really been drinking coffee lately though.
     
  10. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany

    Nononono, I am not using a percolator. A percolator makes bad-tasting coffee.

    I brew manually with just a paper filter (Melitta filter).
     
  11. Johnny BoomBoom

    Johnny BoomBoom Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2001
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Hmm, I was given a little Espresso making pot for Xmas - havne't tried it yet. Actually to be honest, I'm really interested to see it work...'cos I like a good Espresso (although I admit it I use instant coffee most of the time.......).....but I have my doubt about this little pot thingy!

    I'll give it a try and report back.....
     
  12. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    You mean those aliminium pots, with the water reservoir in the bottom? I use one too when I make espressos, I like it, but you can't get crema with those.
    I always forget what those pots are called.
     
  13. Johnny BoomBoom

    Johnny BoomBoom Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2001
    Glasgow, Scotland

    Yes! It's got a screw fit between the water resrvoir, and the coffee pot bit, and the coffee grounds sit in between the two parts in a filter section...type thingy!

    You know, I don't know what it's called either....

    So, it's OK for making espresso....that's nice to know...

    Erm , what's crema?
     
  14. rustyshakelford

    rustyshakelford

    Jul 9, 2002
    The imported espresso packages (such as Lavazza) say which machine is suitable for which grind.

    These pictures refer to the aluminum pot machines as a "moka espresso pot" or "moka press".

    I bought one a few months ago. I didn't have much luck with it. I think the pot imparts a taste.

    BTW, on those pots, the seal under the top half comes off. This allows more thorough cleaning.

    wmh
     
  15. canopener

    canopener

    Sep 15, 2003
    Isle of Lucy
    I've got one of those, too. I haven't tried making espresso in it, mainly because I end up grinding regular coffee beans too fine or too coarse...you're not supposed to use a filter with those, right? Whatever they're called?
     
  16. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
  17. Johnny BoomBoom

    Johnny BoomBoom Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2001
    Glasgow, Scotland
  18. One handful of coffee grounds. Throw it in some water. Boil it till it dissolves plastic and etches glass.

    You now have Boy Scout coffee. Espresso is nothing compared to the kick that this stuff gives. I'm suprised it's not a controlled subtance.

    Rock on
    Eric
     
  19. MJ5150

    MJ5150 Terrific Twister

    Apr 12, 2001
    Lacey, WA
    come on now Eric....you forgot the special ingredient in Boy Scout coffee.....a little dirt off the ground as you scoop up the grounds that fell out of your hand while dumping them in the pot. :D

    -Mike
     
  20. Depends on where you are. The last time I had Boy Scout coffee was in a lodge up on Mt Hood. The floor was made of wood, so it would be pretty hard to get wood into the coffee.

    Mmmmm, pine flavored coffee.

    Rock on
    Eric