"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
9From what you have read so far it should start becoming clear that this is not something for everyone. I am not talking about the cost of the machine and supplies. The entire process of attempting to achieve something close to the "perfect espresso" at home with a home machine is a process with a long, steep learning curve that has no peak. Much like the task given to Sisyphus of rolling a large, round boulder up a hill only to have it roll down each time just before reaching the top, the goal of creating perfect espresso is also as nearly impossible. Once you accept that, you must be aware that it is a messy and detail oriented activity- hot water, coffee grounds, stained sinks and towels, frothing milk, the threat of steam scalds, pre- heating silly little cups, and all for the privilege of sitting down for ten or fifteen minutes and slowly sipping an ounce or two of that dark, rich liquid, and then spending the next hour debating why it wasn't just right and how to do better next time.
Are You Anal Enough For Espresso?
"The milk was nice, but didn't have the silkiness of the last batch."
"Yes. I liked the crema in this batch, but there is a hint of bitterness. I should have stopped at 25 seconds instead of going to 27 seconds."
"Do you think that I should have tamped with thirty-two pounds of pressure?"
"No, but seven and one half grams of coffee might have been better."
"I see that the Newcombs got a new car."
Another point to consider is what kind of person you are. When wandering the aisles of J-Mart and you see a product you like, how do you feel when you see the words, "Some assembly required"? What about, "Assembly time three hours"? If you dread those words then brewing espresso at home may not be for you. It is certainly a wonderful liquid to drink, but if you are planning on brewing your own, you must be a person who thrives on the process. The type of person who is task oriented and who lives for the little details.
You should also know how to apply the scientific process. Remember when doing an experiment in high school science, you were always told to only have one variable. That's the dream we have when brewing espresso- one variable. Everything else must remain exactly the same from brew to brew. Water temperature, water pressure, tamp pressure, coffee measure all remain the same and only vary the grind in quest of the perfect brewing time. Whoops- don't forget to compensate for the relative humidity in the brewing area. Wait- that's two variables! Welcome to the wonderful world of espresso.
Ahh.. The grind. I have a Braun burr grinder. These are small, home grinders that retail for something like $40-50 and are best suited for drip coffee makers and not necessarily espresso machines. I wanted to test it to see if it could be acceptable for espresso, at least to get us started. I laid a sheet of wax paper on the counter and with a permanent marker numbered the paper from one through five. I placed a handful of beans in the grinder, set it on five, and ground about a measure-full of coffee into the receptacle then turned off the grinder. I poured out this dose on the number five on the wax paper. I repeated this for the numbers one through four, and then once more for the zero setting which I found as I finished (it wasn't actually numbered). I compared the various piles and found that the settings for espresso on this grinder were not subtle enough to suit my needs. The zero grind was mostly powder and the number one was mostly granules, but to my untrained eye were too large- and there was little difference in the size of the granules between one through three.
Can you be that anal? Can you become that involved in the process? If not, it may be that home brewing espresso is not for you. If, while reading the above paragraph were you asking yourself, "I wonder why he didn't use a microscope to measure the grains for a more scientific comparison?" then home brewing of espresso may be for you! Also, please save me a room next to yours at the asylum. We'll have lots to talk about in between the electro-shock therapy and the serving of the afternoon Jello. "Ooo. It's green today- my favorite! Let's sing together... Jay-Ee-eL-eL-Oh. JELLO!"
Now, let me remind you once again, that up to this point I have ONLY been shopping for a machine and reading whatever I could find on the net for about a week or so. I have neither owned nor ever operated an espresso machine of any type. Even so, my wife just walked up to me and asked, "What side of the bed will it be sleeping on?" In respect to our marriage, I decided not to correct her oral grammar at this time. It's, "ON which side of the bed will it sleep," dear. [Note to self- insert sound of the proverbial blunt object against skull here.]
A couple of days later we went to town once again. We were dragging Mom along as it was her birthday, so we went to look at a couple more stores under the delusion that we were taking Mom out for lunch. We toured through the central shopping district where there is a sort of gourmet shop and they ended up having no machines at all. The downtown hardware store carried a couple of Krupps machines- nothing that excited me. Went into Starbucks and saw their machines. Looked them up on the Internet after returning home and found that, for the money, I could do better, although they seem to have the best warranty and customer support around from what I have read. As my espresso education had brought me to a place where I was more concerned with flavor than service, I was not enticed.
At Barnes and Noble I browsed through the cooking section and found the coffee related books. There were about ten or so. I didn't actually count them, but there was nothing over which one should get excited. One said, "Steps to make espresso: 1) Fill the machine with water, 2) Plug in the machine..." I felt I was already well above this level of detailed help. There were no dedicated espresso books. The best I could find was a small chapter in one book and about four or five pages in another book. These pages were filled with advice and discussions that seemed to be carbon copies of all the information I had already found on the Net.
By this time I had already accumulated forty-four bookmarks and that doesn't include the one or two dozen
I had first saved and then later discarded. Most of those discarded were for machines that had already been
eliminated from my "good list" (I told you it takes a detail oriented person for this- I actually did go back
and count my bookmarks to make that statement accurate). Detail oriented, anal retentive, obsessive- the
definition depends on the observer. When you go off on a Holy Quest, you begin by shopping very
carefully for sandals. You're going to be out in the desert for a long time.