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Espresso Coffee

Originally "FAST" or "EXPRESSLY FOR YOU" coffee, brewed using hot water and steam forced through the grounds, and therefore somewhat scorched in taste. Half a century of modification and invention led to the first modern style espresso machine, where a set amount of water at a temperature around 90° C was forced through the coffee under pressure. The ability to generate copious amounts of hot frothy milk probably had a lot to do with the success of espresso as a process, though, and still does.

Modern espresso can be defined as 25 – 30ml of coffee concentrate produced from 92° ` 2° C water forced through 6 – 7g of finely ground coffee at a pressure of 9 bar, in a period of 20 – 30 seconds. Obviously there's a fair bit of latitude there, as well as lots of VERY variable variables. An Italian coffee organization even specifies that the coffee must be a blend, which I consider stretching things a bit! especially when you consider that most Italian blends are based firmly on Brazils, Brazils and Brazils.

For the home enthusiasts wishing to produce their own espresso drinks, the first consideration is "What sort of machine do I need?" The simple answer is "One with a pump." So called Steam Espresso units produce coffee which is similar to that from Moka/Espresso Pots, strong coffee but not espresso as it is currently defined. Only units with electric pumps or lever operated compression can reach the 9 bar pressure level for true espresso.

Pump espresso machines can vary in price from a few hundred to over 2000 dollars, depending on the materials used and the levels of gadgetry built into the machines, but it's important to recognise that a single group commercial machine can be purchased for less than a fully automatic home unit. In the long run, the commercial machine will make better espresso with far less maintainence than the automatic.

The two largest manufacturers of domestic espresso machines are Saeco and Krups. In general, the Saeco machines in a given price bracket will outperform the similar Krups unit in terms of reliability and espresso quality. There are a number of smaller manufacturers with home units which are better than either Saeco or Krups, and often cheaper as well, and it's worth looking up internet reviews of domestic espresso machines at before committing your cash. My personal wishlist for a home espresso machine would include a brass boiler, stainless steel body and professional standard portafilter, and a minimum of gadgets like "crema" and "froth" enhancers.

IF you have a machine, the next most important thing is correctly ground coffee. Real espresso coffee is the finest grind next to Turkish, and if the grind isn't right a good espresso can't be achieved. The best espresso is produced from freshly ground coffee, otherwise you need a supplier with a good grinder, the knowledge of how to use it, and fresh coffee (blush). If you're a serious espresso fanatic, a good burr grinder is a must. The chopper blade thingies just can't cut it (pun) where espresso is concerned.

Given that you've organised your machine and your coffee, the next steps are (fairly) standard, and should produce good espresso.

  1. Lock your portafilter (groove handle thingy) into the grouphead with no filter basket in it, and run hot water through it until the light comes on to tell you that the water is heating.
  2. Remove the portafilter, insert your filter basket, fill with coffee (7g for the single basket, 14g for the double), wipe off excess grounds from the edges with the flat of your hand, then tamp.
  3. The finer your grind, the lighter your tamp needs to be. Coarser grinds need a harder tamp. In all cases, you're trying to get a reproducible grind/tamp combination which will give you a 25 second shot.
  4. Insert the filled portafilter into the grouphead and lock it in.
  5. Turn on the brew switch for 3 seconds. Wait a further 5 seconds, then turn it on again and brew your shot. (This is the equivalent of commercial machine preinfusion.)
  6. Your shot (30ml single, 60ml double) should be rich and unctuous, with a thick layer of reddish brown, fine bubbled crema and a smooth aftertaste.

Now, if you are making an espresso drink you'll want to froth up some milk. You will need a stainless steel jug about 1/3 filled with cold milk. The type of milk you use can affect the frothing process, but I normally recommend starting with plain, ordinary, homogenised, pasteurized MILK and playing with fat and/or protein modified variations later.

  1. Fill your jug about 1/3 full of cold milk.
  2. Turn on your "Steam" switch. On some machines, this is a separate switch, but others simply require you to open up the steam valve, after which a microswitch activates the steam heating element.
  3. When steam temperature is reached (or when steam begins to come out of the wand on the microswitch models) insert the tip of your steam wand just below the surface of the milk, no more than 2mm.
  4. Open the steam valve up fully and keep the wand just below the milk surface. As the foam forms lower the jug, do not move it up and down or side to side.
  5. LISTEN to the steaming process, the pitch of the sound will gradually deepen until you start to hear "knocks" or "pings". Turn off the steam valve at this point, and you should have perfectly frothed milk about 1cm from the top of the jug.
  6. If you want hot, non-frothy milk plunge the steam wand to the bottom of the jug at the start and keep it there until you hear the "pings".
  7. After steaming ALWAYS, always clean the dried milk off the wand with a damp cloth, then open up the steam valve, turn on the brew switch and wait until water comes out from the wand. This refills the boiler and cleans any dried milk out of the wand.

Espresso Drinks

Espresso 30 ml of black coffee produced from 7g of grounds. (1 cup basket.)

Short Black Australian idiom for espresso

Long Black 60ml of espresso with 120ml of hot water added after brewing

Americano As for long black

Double 60 ml of black coffee produced from 14g of grounds. (2 cup basket.)

Cappuccino 60 ml of espresso, 60 ml steamed milk, 60 ml froth

Café Latte 60 ml of espresso, 120 ml steamed milk, little froth

Macchiato 60 ml of espresso, 5 ml milk on top, dollop froth

Ristretto 30 ml of black coffee produced from 14g of grounds (strong!)

Corretto 60 ml of espresso, 30 ml of grappa

Mocha Latte 60 ml of espresso, 1 teaspoon drinking chocolate, 120 ml steamed milk

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