Whether you prefer an automatic drip coffee maker or the meditation of a perfect...
If you’re a newbie espresso snob, you can be forgiven for thinking that the right espresso machine is the be-all and end-all for making the perfect espresso. As you get more experienced, you’ll quickly figure out that your espresso machine is only part of the equation. In addition to good coffee, soft water and a good espresso maker, you also need accessories to complement your machine. Here’s what the well-dressed espresso machine is sporting as accessories these days.
One of the most important elements in getting espresso right is the proper grind for your coffee. You can buy espresso ground coffee in a can, or have it ground for you at the market or cafe, of course. If you’re really into your coffee, though, you really need a good coffee grinder. There are two types of coffee grinders available, though there are dozens of variations on the theme. Bladed grinders are relatively inexpensive and are a good first step. For about $20, you can buy a coffee grinder that works similar to a blender. If you’ve never made coffee starting with a fresh grind before, you’ll be amazed at the difference in flavor. However, bladed grinders have a couple of problems if you’re aiming for real high quality brewed coffee. The blades tend to chop unevenly, leaving chunks of bean mixed in with the powder. This produces an uneven brew. In addition, the blades generate heat while chopping, and that can ‘burn’ the beans. The coffee will taste slightly ‘off’ rather than developing its full flavor. A burr grinder grinds coffee between two rolling cylinders, resulting in evenly ground coffee without the risk of burning the bean. They’re expensive, but any coffee gourmet will tell you that they’re worth the expense.
Extracting perfect espresso from coffee may be an art, but it’s a chemical process that relies on heat and the right amount of time to draw out the coffee oils from the ground beans and emulsify them with the water. The grind of the coffee is important for a couple of reasons. First, a finer grind exposes more bean surface to hot water. The second reason is that a fine coffee grind packs tightly, slowing down the water as it passes through the coffee. The pressure that the coffee machine exerts is only one part of the mix in regulating the flow of hot water through the ground coffee. The other part of it is how well-packed the coffee is. If it’s properly packed, the water seeps through and takes the right amount of time to extract all the oils from the grounds without overcooking. A tamper helps the barista pack the coffee properly. You’ll need a tamper with a flat face, made of materials sturdy enough to withstand the thirty pounds of pressure it takes to make a good tamp in a size that is a perfect fit for your portafilter basket.
Why filter the water? When you’re making a beverage that only has two ingredients, you need to start with the finest ingredients possible. A good water filter will ensure that the water you use to make your espresso is as pure as possible. In addition, unfiltered water can build up lime scale in your coffee maker, and that will definitely make a difference in the quality of your espresso.
You know those cute little demitasse cups that espresso is served in? They actually play an important role in how good your espresso tastes. The thick walls and shape help retain heat and the flare at the top of the cup delivers the ‘nose’ of the espresso, that all-important aroma that is a major part of how your senses perceive the coffee’s flavor.