Alf 101 wrote: ↑Mon Mar 11, 2019 11:13 am
The OP has returned to chime back in. Thank you for all the responses, and detailed insight on espresso. I find it a most enjoyable beverage, but reading the range of opinions, I'm left wondering what kind of investment is required for the "espresso curious".
Admittedly, part of the appeal is the craft involved. I'm less motivated by just pushing a button, and like to study the variables in things. At some point I may discover that a millisecond or fraction of a gram represents a critical difference, but you inevitably pass a price for that precision. It might be, down the road, I do continue to upgrade, but I am decidedly more entry level at present.
So what would I need to buy?
1. First off is the espresso machine. I would be looking to spend around the price of the Gaggia Classic. I have seen the Breville Barista, factory reconditioned, in that ballpark. DeLonghi has some manual models I'll also look into. I'm not considering anything fully automatic.
Saeco once upon a time made the Aroma machine. Mine was the Via Venezia (essentially the same machine, but by a different name), and it was more than decent, after I bought the un-pressurized portafilter. These may be available as reconditioned units
2. I then need a grinder. I currently own the Capresso Infinity, which was the Cooks Illustrated best buy, for general coffee consumption. I could perhaps upgrade to the Baratza Encore, which is about $140. Spending $500+ on a burr grinder is not currently in the cards.
Encore at the very least. My first grinder was the predecessor to the Encore, and it could not grind fine enough out of the factory for espresso (water would shoot out of the portafilter, which i guess is fine if one wants Americanos). On the third attempt, Baratza sent me something with a fine enough setting. You'll want to double check with Baratza that the Encore can indeed grind fine enough for your needs
3. I have decent digital kitchen scale with gram accuracy. My hope is this would be accurate enough.
Unlike other posters above, I observe significant differences between 15.5 and 16.5 grams of ground (that's the difference between getting a full 2 oz of extracted coffee vs 1.5 oz of extracted coffee), all else held constant (to the best of my abilities). A scale that reads to the nearest gram has precision of +/- 1 gram. 15 grams would therefore range anywhere from ~14 to ~16 grams. This was made particularly apparent, as I have one scale that reads +/- 1 gram, and another that reads +/- 0.01 gram, and the readings between the two really could be off by a whole gram at times.
4. Water quality is no doubt a factor, but do you need to go beyond a simple Britta pitcher filter for this?
water testing strips (relatively inexpensive from Amazon) is the best way to go here. You can see how hard the water is out of the tap, after filtering, and when dispensed from the group head.
fwiw, my tap water has ~80 ppm of dissolved particulates, and my PUR filter lowers it to ~40 ppm. The water coming out of the brewhead is less than 20 ppm (below threshold of the test strip). So i'd say a Britta should be fine.
5. The quality of beans makes a difference, as with filter coffee. I most often find myself buying Peet's medium and dark roasts, which are easy to find and work well for me. How much higher end of beans are needed for a good cup?
I drink both caffeinated and decaf espressos. For caffeinated, i've found that the $8 Organic Bolivian from Trader Joe's to be great. I can get a standard sized (~50 mL) double shot that is neither bitter (sign of over-extraction) nor sour (sign of under-extraction). Instead, it is smooth, with a slightly nutty aroma that shines through. Beats the $14/lb beans from La Colombe or my other local roasters
For decaf, you need a local roaster. I want to cheap-out here, but i've been consistently disappointed by everything except the ones that Whole Foods roasts on-site.
I wonder if anyone can weigh on this, understanding that I'm looking just to enter these waters.
My last question regards descaling. Typically, for a drip coffee makers, this has running through a vinegar solution (and flushing it many times afterwards). I suspect, given the additional components, a different approach will be required.
you can purchase descalers (I use descal)