get asked at least once a week, 'Colin, what is the best kitchen counter espresso machine and grinder combination for me?' Truth is, that is a tough question with lots of different answers.
Let me ask you a couple of questions.
How comfortable are you spending hard earned cash on a kitchen appliance?
Gourmet coffee can be rocket science.
How do you feel about learning a whole lot of stuff to make cafÈ quality cappuccinos and lattes?
How do you feel about messes in the kitchen?
How will your housemates tolerate your new obsession? Letís face it. In these tough economic times, no one really wants to spend too much money on a coffee maker. There are way too many demands on the house piggy bank for most people so we are going to try and keep the nuptial harmony happening in your household by getting to the bottom line on the best brewers for the buck. There is a learning curve with cafÈ quality espresso and espresso powered drinks. Do not expect to make great gourmet coffee drinks without a good machine and certainly not without reading each and every word on this web resource!
With this introduction to a series of package reviews, the coffeecrew lab team hope to pair up a wide variety of espresso machines and grinders. Over the course of the next few months, we will break down the buying and end user experience to three, perhaps four distinct consumer groups; the under-400 dollar set, the under-500 dollar group, the under-600 dollar circle and finally, the over-1000 dollar ìmoney is no object give me the best money can buyî cluster.
The language of Espresso coffee is jargon filled so letís establish some minimum parameters for evaluating home cappuccino machines shall we?
An espresso maker must have an electric pump or hydraulic lever arrangement to make espresso. Espresso, if you have read one of the many articles on the subject, is coffee brewed under high pressure by passing hot water through finely ground coffee. The brew pressure, for extracting espresso coffee from finely ground java, can be produced by a vibration pump, common in all home machines, a hydraulic piston manual lever configuration, or a rotary or volumetric pump, the likes of which are found in high end commercial machines.
A source of steam is required to foam milk for cappuccinos and lattes. There are a wide variety of methods to extract steam and we will not go into them all. Suffice to say, most machines have a boiler or heat exchanger to generate the hot water for brewing espresso. As it is with smoke and fire, where there is hot water there is steam!
Speaking of steam, you cannot make real espresso with a steam powered ëespressoí maker. This is not espresso. This is strong coffee. You cannot make espresso by brewing an espresso blend in a regular coffee maker or stovetop coffee maker. You cannot make espresso by adding hot water to instant espresso powder! Go figure.
Super-cheap pump driven espresso makers for much under 129 dollars rarely make a good shot of espresso, the building block of good cappuccinos and lattes.
ìWhy is this, Colin? They have a pump donít they?î
Yes they do folks but they are missing some creature features critical to good espresso production.
'What now, Colin you ask?
A good machine should have a good housing. Metal is great and space age plastics are fine. The sheath around the guts of your machine should work with the inner components to help retain the heat in such as way that that does not allow the temperature of the working components to fluctuate while the brewing process is taking place. Okay, now you are confused. If you want nauseating details on why a heavier machine is better, dig deeper into my gear head oriented tutorials.
A couple of words on grinders: An espresso machine is only as good as its partnered grinder. Remember this. This is the single most important piece of information. Forget about every other minute detail. Do not forget this detail. Espresso coffee is coffee that is finely ground. A blade grinder, the likes of which you can pick up at the corner store, is not good enough. It does not grind the coffee finely or precisely enough. An adequate grinder has stone or metal burrs. We will talk more about the grinders as we mix it up. Stay tuned.
Okay, enough information! Let us pick a machine and a couple of grinders and go to it. Click here for the review of the Solis SL70.