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If you’re a coffee lover, you’re probably an espresso lover. ‘What?’ I hear you say. ‘But espresso is too strong for me. I like a latte or a cappuccino, something with milk.’ And well you might.
But what you may not know is that espresso forms the basis of your cappuccinos, lattes, macchiato, cafe cremes etc. Which is why, even if you’re not an espresso drinker per se, you still want and need a quality espresso.
The espresso machine has a long history. Probably unsurprisingly given their fondness for the drink, it originates from Italy. The very first espresso machine was built and patented in 1884 in Turin, by a man called Angelo Moriondo, who must surely be a coffee lover’s icon.
In 1903, an improved design was patented by another Italian, Luigi Bezzera, before the La Pavoni company bought him out. La Pavoni began commercially producing espresso machines in 1905, albeit on a small scale. And so the espresso machine market was born.
Of course, these days, espresso machines are to be found in coffee shops – and homes – everywhere.
An espresso is a short, intense shot of coffee. It ideally combines 7g of ground coffee with 1 fluid ounce, or 28ml, of water.
An espresso machine works when water, which should be at around 71-72℃, is forced through the coffee grinds at a pressure of at least 15 bar.
The resulting coffee is rich, dark and concentrated. And when it’s well brewed, it’ll have a foam on top, known as a crema.
The coffee grind consistency is very important with espresso. When making an espresso, the water passes through the grinds very quickly, so the coffee must be finely ground for lots of surface area to allow for maximum taste extraction.
Too coarse, and the water won’t extract the flavour.
However, too finely ground and the water will pass through too slowly, leading to the beans being scalded and a bitter coffee.
The main consideration when choosing an espresso machine is the water pressure. Some espresso machines have higher pressure – up to 19 in some cases – but the absolute minimum should be 15 bar pressure. Any lower, and you’ll lose both flavour and the rich crema.
Water temperature is another consideration. Too hot, and the beans will scald. Too cold, and as well as having an unpleasantly cool coffee, you won’t get the full taste. However, many machines will allow you to set the temperature to meet your preferences.
While some espresso machines just make espresso, many have additional functions and features. The most common is a steam wand, which is designed for making deliciously creamy frothed milk for cappuccinos, lattes, and other milky coffees.
For real ease of use, bean to cup machines are hard to beat. They remove need to measure or weigh out the coffee grinds and the guesswork of whether you’ve ‘tamped’ the coffee to the right extent.
And for milky coffee lovers, there are fully automated machines that have integrated, automated steam wands. These can produce a wide range of coffee types with just a push of a button.
So whatever your coffee preference, the quality of the espresso should be a primary consideration. Understanding what makes a good espresso, and what to look for in a machine is the basis of making sure you get a great coffee.