Coffee aficionados who love espresso but dislike lines at the local café often purchase their own espresso maker, to enjoy espresso at home. After choosing the right espresso machine and mastering the perfect espresso shot, latte lovers can whip up a wide range of espresso-based drinks right in their own kitchens.
Great Espresso Starts With the Right Machine
Having a high-quality espresso machine makes a big difference in the quality of the coffee. The best machines utilize double boilers because water used to brew espresso needs to remain slightly cooler than water used to power the steam wand. A machine with a single boiler won’t maintain the temperature differential, and coffee lovers will have to wait between the time that they pull a shot and the time that they blend it with steamed milk. The waiting period allows the shot to decay and affects the quality of the final beverage.
Steam-Powered Espresso Machines
Any espresso machine on the market uses one or two boilers to bring water to the appropriate temperature and pressure mechanisms to pull the shot. Steam powered machines are usually the most affordable, but they rarely maintain adequate and consistent pressure when creating the shot.
Buyers who choose steam-powered machines with single boilers should look for a model that features a heat exchanger. Heat exchangers, even though they cost more, eliminate the delay between brewing and steaming.
Older espresso machines use a piston to maintain pressure while espresso brews. They’re not as convenient as machines that have pumps, and finding replacement parts might present a challenge.
Motor Pump Machines
The best espresso machines use a motor pump to maintain consistent pressure. Most consumer machines use vibration pumps, which apply pressure only as the shot is being pulled. Commercial espresso machines use rotary pumps that maintain a constant pressure. At this price point, most machines have double boilers.
Crafting the Perfect Espresso Shot
Follow these steps to pull a rich, flavorful espresso shot:
1. Grind the Espresso Beans
The most expensive espresso machine is pointless without a high-quality espresso grinder. Choose a grinder with a precise conical burr to create consistent grounds for the espresso machine.
In most cases, the ideal grind produces espresso with the consistency of table sugar, but the taste of the shot should determine how the grind is adjusted. A burnt-tasting shot could mean that the grind is too fine; a watered-down tasting shot could mean that the grind is too coarse. Also, monitor and adjust the grinder to keep the quality consistent. In humid environments, the grinder might need more frequent adjustment.
2. Add the Espresso to the Portafilter and Tamp It
Add about 15 grams of espresso to the portafilter. After adding espresso, baristas tamp down the shot to better concentrate the flavor. Apply pressure to the top of the grounds and press the ground espresso into a tight, compact disc within the portafilter.
3. Attach the Portafilter and Pull the Shot
Attach the portafilter to the machine, and place a cup or shot glass underneath to catch the espresso. Initially, the espresso will look dark brown, but the brown will transform into a thicker, toffee-colored crema, which will deposit on the top of the shot. The ideal espresso shot finishes in between 20 and 30 seconds after the pour begins. If the shot takes longer or pulls up short, adjust the grind or the quantity of espresso in the portafilter. Also, check to make sure that the shot is adequately tamped so that the espresso is firm within the portafilter.
Buying an Espresso Machine and Accessories on eBay
From the eBay home page, choose “Home & Garden” from the top navigation bar. On the pop-up menu, click “Kitchen, Dining & Bar.” Find the left sidebar, and scroll down to the “Kitchen” section. Click “Small Kitchen Appliances” and choose “Coffee & Tea Makers” from the pop-up menu. On the “Coffee & Tea Makers” page, find “Espresso Machines” on the sidebar and click it to see a range of available espresso machines from eBay sellers.
To find accessories on sale including spare portafilters, and spare parts, such as steam wands, scroll past “Espresso Machines” and click “Replacement Parts & Accs.” “Grinders” is also a sidebar option; remember that purchasing a good grinder is just as important as buying the right espresso machine. Accessories like cups and sauces can be found on the “Kitchen, Dining & Bar” page by clicking “Dinnerware & Serving Dishes” on the sidebar and choosing “Cups & Saucers” on the following page.
With the perfect espresso brewed at home, coffee lovers can transport themselves to a sidewalk café in Paris or Venice without ever leaving their kitchens. The right equipment and some trial and error should eventually result in the perfect shot.