|Espresso made with the Nespresso home machine|
Whoever thought of roasting a specific cherry seed and grinding it to make a drink, thank you! This is one of the most consummed beverage world wide and one smell of freshly roasted beans tells you why. I've given serious thoughts to opening a coffee shop (and still do) because of the simplicity and yet complexity of this product. Coffee should something easy to make, yet it in't. As good as your cup is right now, do you think it's the BEST way to enjoy that crop of beans? Farmers in low income countries work very hard in the sun to collect these cherries off the plants by hand, carrying huge baskets of it through the fields. Then they extract the seeds and lay them in the sun to dry and then sell them at an insanely low price. The farmer can pay the wages, buy more seeds, and then maybe get a new hat. The beans then go to a roaster to turn the raw product into the tasty flavour bomb that it is through lots of care and attention. This is a very artistic process, every roaster is different. It's the equivalent of a brewmaster or winemaker. Everything makes a difference. They get packaged, put onto trucks and then some high school kid is putting them on a shelf somewhere locally waiting for you to pass by and grab a bag. You bring it home and then you throw them into the $15 coffee maker from Walmart. Really? Maybe this will help you change up your routine a little bit. Give some respect to all the hard work it took to get that to you.
Many factors will change the flavour of the coffee. The grind, the aparatus used, the roast, the water temperature, blend even humidity believe it or not but we'll leave that super scientific stuff out for now. The entire goal of the combinations above is to maximize the quality and quantity of flavour from the grains.
The grind: You have to match the grind to the filter being used. The faster the water goes through the stack of grains, the smaller the grind must be. This is why espresso is very fine, almost powdery, because a proper espresso takes between 20-30 seconds to pull. The water is pushed through at a steady but high pressure. What happens if it doesn't? If the grain is too large, the water will pass through it faster than it should, and it won't extract the most flavour it can because the water doesn't have time to sit there and soak the entire grains and pull the taste out of each one. If water stays too long in the grains, there's no more flavour left and it begins to take on a bitter flavour.
Grind too large = weak coffee
Grind too small = bitter coffee
So if we know this fact, then it becomes easier to see why the type of aparatus used to make the coffee will change the taste. It becomes a mix and match. Some machines will generally make stronger bolder tasting brews such as espresso machines, vacuum pots and percolators. This is because of the increased pressure (so faster extraction, smaller grind). The exact same bag of coffee will taste very different in all of these machines. So while some times you don't like your new variety you bought, maybe you should try it in a different machine. The standard drip coffee uses gravity, the water pools in the filter and you just wait for it to go through. This tends to extract some bitter coffee towards the end because the last bit of water takes much longer to come out. When I have lots of people over for dinner, yeah I use this for convenience, making 12 espressos while entertaining isn't always easy. If you get a drip machine, try to look for features like an airpot. This will keep the temperature much longer and won't sear the coffee at the bottom of the caraffe (Think old man dinner coffee flavoured sludge). The vacuum pot coffee is rare in north america but I've had the chance to try this is Portland Oregon and I was VERY impressed by this! It's a cool visual with water coming to a slow boil and then shooting through it. But the flavour is so mind blowing! I will definetly be buying one of these for my sunday morning brew some time. The percolator is an old method that you probably saw your grandma use. It's very versatile, you can use this on the campfire, the stove, any good source of heat. It's great for the cottage. French Press. These, I love. It's the weekend coffee of choice at my place. Put a pot of water on high heat and wait for it to boil. When it comes to a full boil, take it off the heat and wait a minute. While that's cooling down a bit (we don't want to scorch the grains), put some beans into your grinder and set it to the biggest grain. For my 1 Liter pot, I put it two heaping tablespoons. Now the water is just under the boiling point, we can put it in. Fill up the pot, give it a good stir for 2-3 seconds and put the plunger on top. Now set your timer for 4 minutes. Plunge, slowly but steadily.
Espresso machines. I put these seperately because, well..... it's THE most expensive thing to have at home, and the hardest one to make correctly. The proof is the number of actual good espressos I can find in this city. Maybe half a dozen? Maybe? Espresso is the most finicky one you can have. EVERYTHING changes the taste and texture. At home, I've had a Gaggia machine which was ok, except that cleaning it was a massive pain. It filled up with calcium deposits and the boiler crapped out a couple of times because I wasn't taking proper care of it. I had given up on espressos at home till I tried the Nespresso machines. Let me start by saying it's not as good as a proper cup from Cafe Olympico or something. But it's consistent and a passable home coffee. I can make myself an espresso, an americano and latte drinks. The reason I chose this machine over others is the recycling program Nespresso has. Bring the used cups back to their store and they take care of them. Small step, but worth doing. Why is espresso so hard to make? In europe, they use barristas. Not students who read a pamphlet and call themselves barristas, but actual "this is my career" professionals. Those europeans are so stuck up aren't they? No they're not. Well not in this case. Can you taste the difference between bread made by a bakery vs bread that was made in a factory, frozen and then just thrown in the oven 10 minute sbefore you got there? Yes you can. The same with coffee. A true barrista will pay attention to the colour, the smell, the time the extraction happens, the crema and other factors like this. Each one is an indicator of the quality. They should also randomly pull themselves a shot to see if the taste is right and make adjustments if needed. A proper espresso should taste strong and feel rich, almost creamy with no bitterness to it. That's not most peoples' experience with it I know. The process goes like this. The barrista gets the order from the cashier. Takes the portafilter off the group head. It's kept there so that it stays hot and doesn't drop the temperature of the water when it comes through as water should stay around 200F. The Portafilter is then put under the burr grinder, never a regular house grinder. They don't grind it fine enough. The pre-measured dose comes out. It's then tapped a bit to even the pile as much as possible before the tamper comes down. This is the "stamp" that you see them do, pushing down on it. This packs down the grind a bit to ensure the water goes through a tight pack. The filter is attached to the grouphead now, and the button is pushed. This should normally be a manual switch although a lot are now pre-programmed. The shot should come in 20-30 seconds and when the colour starts to change and it comes out beige instead of caramel, the machine has to be stopped. The lighter colour is the bitterness. At most you should have a small dot. If anything is off in there, the barrista needs to know that this shot should be thrown away, the adjustments made, and redo the client's shot. Your $1.50 espresso cost them about $0.13 to make. If they have to pull it a couple of times then they should. They still have lots of profits on it. So while a barrista is on the machine all day and can see the changes coming like a different bag of beans, the humidity in the room changing which makes the beans grind differently for example, they can make the minor adjustments. At home you don't have that. You'll do a couple of these a day at most. So you might do half a dozen shots of hone in the machine, just to get two perfect shots for your after supper coffee. And it's the most expensive machine you'll have also (anything under $1000 can't do the job and that's JUST the machine, not the grinder). If you want to play with restaurant quality espresso at home and do it like I described, it's a lot of fun, but the grinder will be $400 at the very least (I have a Nuova Simonelli burr grinder, about $425) and then you might want to get the Oscar by Nuova Simonelli. It's an impressive home machine but last time I checked it ran well over $1000. Those Saeco, Jura and all that stuff.... Leave it for people who don't know what espresso is. If you're gonna get that, get a Nespresso. Cheaper and better. People will spend so much money on these garbage automatic machines that don't do a proper job to begin with.
So all this to say, if you only have a drip machine at home but love coffee, I recommend to get at least one more coffee toy. The french press gets a ton of use at my place. I even use a cheapo jobber from IKEA and it works better than some I've spent 3 times more for in kitchen stores. There's the aeropress which is a manual espresso system. Kinda hard to master but fun to use. I have one at home and don't use it as much as I should.