The sky’s the limit when it comes to making your own Espresso. But by focusing on the essentials I say you can get 80% of the way to perfection with just 20% of the effort (and cost)!
I have a sub $200 espresso machine and $50 hand grinder.
With these I can make a coffee that tastes better than anything I’ve had from the “chain” coffee shops, and pretty close to the best I’ve ever tried elsewhere. And massively, i.e. not even in the same ball park, not even the same sport, to “pod” Nespresso machines et all.
To make a double shot (55ml) you will need:-
1) 14g of coffee beans
2) Water, heated to 88-90 degrees
3) 20-22 seconds time
Directions – in order of importance:-
To my mind the most important factor. The coarseness of the grind will have the biggest effect on taste; even more so than the beans or machine itself.
I use a Hario MSS-1B. I set it 8 or 9 clicks back from the closest setting. Any less and my machine can stall due to the grind being too fine. Different brands of beans will need adjusting here.
Remember you’re aiming for around 20 seconds from when the coffee starts coming out until the full 55ml is produced. If ground too coarse the coffee will come out too fast and bitter, watery and disgusting! Too fine and the machine will either stall completely, or come out a drip at a time. This will “over extract” the coffee resulting again in a dark, bitter drink with no head.
The sweet spot is a thin but constant trickle (not a drip) that starts dark and gradual lightens without become too clear or “blonde”. In my experience the thicker the head of foam on top the better.
My favorite of the generally available from supermarkets is the Lavazza Espresso. Very important – grind your own beans when required – don’t buy pre ground.
5 years ago I bought a Delonghi Icona at a bargain price. It must have averaged a cup a day since then and so will have made approaching 2000 cups – and still working as new. I run some descaler through every few months but that’s all.
The priorities are that the machine is powerful enough to push the water through the ground coffee, and that is maintains a consistent temperature while doing this. Obviously the tendency is for the water to cool as it moves through the machine. Flashier models allow greater water temperature adjustment.
Entry level – downsides
Pay more and the first benefits are more (1) adjust-ability and (2) consistency. This is where the entry level equipment can struggle.
Manual grinders don’t have anywhere near as many levels of adjustment to the grind coarseness. With practice though these can be worked around. They also take A LOT longer than an electric one.