want to suggest that I drank bad espresso in Italy; Anita’s
criticisms came from a rarefied palate, the gustatory equivalent
of finding fault with a New York Philharmonic performance.
In fact, nearly a decade ago, the Italian government created
a regulatory commission, the Istituto Nazionale Espresso
Italiano, which certifies restaurants and coffee bars
provided that the establishments demonstrate the use of a
certified coffee blend, certified brewing machine and grinder
and licensed personnel.
was a good place in which to be introduced to the art and
science of espresso. Like any privileged knowledge, it seduces
you, delights you, consumes you. I entered what I think of
as the first stage of espresso fanaticism: I became a crema
hunter, drawing puzzled looks from area baristas as
I finger-dipped my way through shot after shot.
is a protein-rich emulsion, the product of the high rate
of pressure behind the not-quite-boiling water that’s forced
through a compressed layer of finely-ground beans. It floats
atop the inky coffee and gives espresso its sweet richness.
that sweetness is gained in the context of a brew that can
be intimidating even to those who can’t go a day without coffee.
An espresso is a beverage consumed quickly (ideally, within
two minutes) and in minimal amounts, typically half-filling
an already diminutive demi-tasse.
the history of coffee goes back at least a thousand years,
espresso officially debuted in 1901, when manufacturer Luigi
Bezzera, seeking to reduce his employees’ coffee-break times,
patented a machine that brewed the stuff far more quickly
was steam-driven (a technique still used by lower-cost equipment),
but it produced a somewhat bitter brew—a characteristic that
became apparent after the development of pump-driven espresso
machines some years later.
where the classic espresso-machine look comes from: those
tall, gleaming units with long pump handles challenging the
barista (as the Italians term the journeyman server)
to apply the right amount of pressure to the pull. By
the 1950s, they’d become ubiquitous in trendy coffeehouses.
trend is toward machines with built-in pumps that automatically
apply the right amount of water and pressure for the number
of shots chosen. That’s what you see in the local emporia.
But you don’t have to use all of the conveniences the machines
one of the lead baristas at Ballston Spa’s Coffee Planet (where
I consume many a cappuccino), sees her share of espresso fanatics
coming through, many of them with their own home machines
who share stories and critical analyses. “We strive for a
consistent product,” she says, “and so we’re careful about
the grind and the tamp. Our espresso machine offers an automatic
brew, but we prefer to control the fill.”
my longstanding misconceptions was that espresso requires
a specific coffee bean. What’s needed is quality; good equipment
and technique does the rest.
myself to a fare-thee-well by testing two machines that present
two different approaches to home espresso brewing. The KitchenAid
Pro Line Series Espresso Machine is a handsome, sturdy, semiautomatic
unit with two separate boilers to provide the correct temperature
and pressure for brewing espresso and for steaming milk. Saeco’s
Odea Giro is a fully automatic machine that handles everything
from the grind to the espresso output, although you do your
own milk steaming.
Giro is at the lower-priced end of a new line of machines
designed by BMW, and it attractively departs from the boxy
look of most espresso units. A topside hopper holds several
ounces of beans that are sent through its ceramic burr grinder
a portion at a time when you select your brew strength and
than regular maintenance—and refilling the water and empting
the waste fairly often—that’s all you do. For a cappuccino
or other steam-enhanced drink, immerse the moveable Pannarello
wand into the milk, choose your steam pressure and froth away.
You can also set the spout to produce hot water.
this machine gives you a simple, surefire way to get consistently
good espresso without any kind of learning curve. It has a
feature set typical of much higher-priced machines; with retail
pricing at around $600, it’s a bargain.
also about the price at which you can find the KitchenAid
espresso maker, an excellent unit geared for a more hands-on
fanatic. Its pleasingly retro look comes from the twin boilers
that decorate the front alongside corresponding temperature
gauges, letting you know when brew-time is here.
to take care of the coffee grinding yourself—and you can pay
as much again for the grinder as for an espresso machine,
so shop around—but you have a professional dual-spout portafilter
with two removable baskets (one for single shots, one for
double) to fill and tamp (tamper included). A correct fill
and tamp pressure are critical to good espresso, and developing
your technique is part of the artistry this machine allows.
You also control the brew time, helped by an instant shut-off.
I’m obsessive enough to have charted my variables, clocking
the “pull” (20 to 25 seconds is optimal), pursuing my preference
for very strong coffee.
wand at the end of the steam boiler travels a much wider range
of motion than most, handy for frothing milk in a bulky mug,
but the unit ships with an eight-ounce stainless steel pitcher
for that purpose.
espresso cup should be preheated, so both machines give you
warming spaces at the top. Instructions are easy to follow—the
KitchenAid maker even has its own DVD—and either one of these
units will make it very difficult to go back to plain old