Tl;dr- prepare to learn and clean a lot.
I doubt I’m the first person to ever purchase a home espresso machine with the idea that I will be drinking the nectar of gods each morning, that it is a simple formula, and that it would bring all the girls to the yard. After a marital agreement upon the large investment and a few dexterous clicks – voilà! It’s ordered and en route. It arrives in a massive box and we salivate as we remove it from the packaging.
Oh man, is it ever shiny! Revel in its stainless steel glory, marvel at its apparent simplicity! I’ve only been so wrong once or twice in my life. Ready to up my coffee game I sat down with my wife to construct this device and make my first tazza.
I read the instructions, and honey turns on the machine and makes it run water to clean it of any manufacturing smells/chemicals/what have you. I am not paying any attention to what she’s doing.
While everyone’s enjoying their one-touch Keurigs with pre-measured capsules I am filling a tiny filter, “tamping” it, scraping it, and finally loading it into the miniature starship Enterprise I’ve purchased.
Step 1. Fill the back tank with water. How the hell does this thing come out? I don’t wanna break it trying to get it out! OMG I’m going to break it. OK got it.
Step 2. Turn the machine on at the power button and wait for it to stop blinking. Easy!
Step 3. Put the wand with the tamped/scraped coffee into the machine and lock. A little fiddly, but not too hard.
Step 4. Turn the dial to the left, toward the tiny coffee icon. Oky doke.
BWAWRRRRRRRRRRGHNNNNNNNEEWRRRRRWRAWRRRR!!!!! HOLY SHIT THE STARSHIP ON MY COUNTER IS TAKING OFF!
OK, why is this thing not making coffee? The instruction manual says it should have started drooling coffee after six seconds. Oh, wait, here it comes, a stream of liquid blacker than my soul. How long do I let the coffee drip before I shut it off? 25 seconds? Thank you, manual. The moment has come, so I turn the dial back to the do-nothing position and sip my tazza. I spit the whole thing out. It tastes like I was served divorce papers and am observing my wife with a new man; weak and horrendously bitter.
I chalk it off to “first-cup” grossness and make another with the same result, so I try other espresso brands during the days that follow, as well as different fineness of grind.
After many attempts and different processes I have made some delicious espresso, so let’s move on to the milk frothing wand. Actually there’s not a lot to say about that one.
- We let some milk get to room temp (I recommend this).
- We put it in the shiny cup thing which came with the machine. I fill it up about 1/3 of the way.
- We switch the dial to the frother, and BWWWAAARNEERWRAAAGH the spaceship is reaching warp speed.
Milk splashes everywhere until we figure out we need to make sure the tip of the wand remains under the surface of the milk as we move the little cup around to get an even frothing. We realize this is going to take some practice. If you don’t vary the height of the wand you will either make a lot of foam or make the milk warm but not both.
We turn the dial back to the do-nothing position and I learn the valuable lesson that if you don’t wipe it immediately the milk crusts all over the wand and it’s a pain in the ass to clean off.
Well, that’s that. So here is, conclusively, my advice about getting a home espresso machine:
- Be prepared to learn. Every brand brews differently, so some will need more or less coffee than the tamping and scraping process suggests. Some will need to brew for more seconds, some less. Look at the colour of liquid coming out of the machine, and learn to tell from that colour when it’s done, rather than counting.
- It’s more work than a Mr. Coffee. Each time you use your machine you get one tazza. That means if you invite four friends, you’ll have to dump out four pucks, rinse the filter four times, tamp and scrape four times as well.
- Don’t get one of these machines if you are lazy. Each use involves emptying and rinsing the drip tray, cleaning the grate and back-splash, as well as reaching up into the filter-wand dock and cleaning grounds. There are tablets you need to run through the machine on occasion, and you need to keep up with water film/grossness which may build up in the tank.
- When putting milk in the frothing cup, don’t overfill. It expands significantly as it froths.
- ONLY buy espresso that clearly states it’s for an espresso machine. Some, like my beloved Lavazza, are really best in a stove top percolator thingy.
- There are variations in how espresso coffee is ground, and each grind fineness will brew differently! Coffee companies grind them to the fineness that best expresses their coffee’s flavour, not the fineness that best works with some random person’s random machine. That said, these machines often have a model with a grinder attached which will grind to the fineness best used in the machine.