While coffee and espresso are close cousins in the caffeinated drink world, you can not brew espresso in the same way you brew coffee.
From the grind of the bean to the temperature of the water, every detail is an important step to pulling the perfect cup of espresso.
So whether you like to mix your caffeinated shot into a frothy latte or foaming cappuccino, or savor the simplicity of the drink’s dark, rich flavor, you have to start by buying the right espresso machine.
Knowing which essential features to look for and how to evaluate your own personal needs will help you make the best selection possible and the following espresso machine buyers guide will help you consider the possibilities.
The National Coffee Association of the USA explains that the grind of the bean and the quality and temperature of the water are the building blocks of the perfect cup of coffee or espresso.
When purchasing beans you have the option of buying pre-ground or whole beans.
While pre-ground beans are more convenient, the flavor is not as fresh as what you get from grinding fresh beans just before brewing (Reference 1).
Many top-of-the-line espresso machines, similar to those made for coffee shops but scaled down for home use, come equipped with built-in grinding functions.
Built-in grinders enable you to start fresh every time, you brew.
Next in importance to a fresh grind is a fresh source of water. Tap water can often contain strong odors and flavors caused by high chlorine or metal content; the National Coffee Association explains that these flavors and odors can alter the quality of your brew and make your drink taste bitter.
To avoid contaminating the flavor of your espresso, look for an espresso machine that contains an onboard water filter.
To maintain freshness, be sure to change the filter as directed by the machine’s manufacturer (Reference 1).
For the perfect espresso, your water must not only be fresh and free from contaminants, but it must also be at the right temperature to draw the optimal amount of flavor from your grounds.
While the temperature range for brewing a good cup of coffee can vary between 135 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit, the brewing temperature for espresso is much more precise, explains 1st In Coffee.
The optimal water temperature for brewing espresso is between 190 and 195 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the site.
The drink drops 30 degrees in temperature between the brewer and your cup.
Accessory Features to Consider
Whether you are brewing your espresso or choosing the right brewing machine, personal preferences come into play.
Some of the lifestyle and drinking considerations that go into purchasing a brewer can affect the features you need to look for.
Time for brewing, number of people being served, and the way you like to drink your espresso all play a part in which features you should look for in an espresso machine.
When you are trying to rush out the door in the morning, every moment matters.
Some espresso machines can help make your morning runs more smoothly by allowing you to set up your beans in the built-in grinder, ready for push-button action the minute you reach the kitchen.
Others offer clocks with timers that allow you to set the machine to automatically begin brewing at a specific time.
Another useful, time-saving feature to look for when buying an espresso machine is a self-cleaning function.
Instead of having to take apart your machine in order to properly rinse and dry the various components, machines with self-cleaning features allow you to simply dump out any groups, pour a cleaning solution such as white distilled vinegar into the water basin and activate the self-cleaning function.
Since keeping your machine clean is essential to maintaining functionality and the flavor of your brew, the self-cleaning feature is a nice option.
The number of people wanting an espresso also factors into the equation when purchasing a machine.
The traditional simple espresso machine brews one two ounce cup at a time. While you will not find a machine to brew a large pot of espresso, because the strong brew is not typically enjoyed in large portions, there are machines that allow you to brew two shots at a time.
Specialty drink features on an espresso machine can turn your home kitchen into your own personal coffee shops.
Espresso machines can be purchased with milk steamers which make it easy to heat your milk while you brew your espresso.
Steaming milk rather than boiling it on the stove or heating it in a microwave, allows you to heat the milk without causing it to curdle and separate.
Frothing steamed milk. Froth attachments can also be found on some models.
Steamed and frothed milk can be used to produces an airy foam with your steamed milk, which can then be used to create specialty drinks like a latte or cappuccino.
If all of the fancy features and possible accessories seem like more trouble than they are worth, or if you feel a high tech machine may be above your learning curve, don’t worry, the perfect cup of espresso is still within your reach.
Simple, one cup, one button machines are on the market and are perfect for the buyer who wants a more laid-back approach to brewing their espresso.
Instead of a built-in water filter that has to be changed every few months, you could use bottled water or filtered tap water in a standard machine.
And if you do not want to deal with an onboard grinder, you can either choose a separate grinding machine or sacrifice a little freshness for simplicity and use pre-ground beans.
The simple one cup espresso machines are good options for buyers with limited space as the more feature-filled options take up more counter space.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America works in conjunction with the European Coffee Brewing Center to evaluate and rate home brewing machines.
The most exemplary home brewers are given SCAA Home Brewer Certification.
Certification standards are based on brewing requirement complied throughout a decade of specialty drink industry surveys and brewing research conducted by both organizations.
Certification stands include grinding, heating, and brew pressure and time requirements that are aimed at producing high-quality espresso (Reference 2).
If you seek to purchase the best espresso machine, look for a machine with SCAA Certification.
A good cup of espresso can be an excellent caffeine packed wake up call and specialty drinks like lattes and cappuccinos can be made at home for a fraction of the cost of in a coffee shop.
So, if you are looking to add an espresso machine to your kitchen or office space, consider the aspects of a quality brew as well as your own personal needs.
To ensure a good pull, you will need fresh grounds, clean water, and the right amount of heat.
Accessories such as a milk steamer and frother as well auto brewing and self-cleaning features and make espresso brewing suitable to your lifestyle and personal preferences.
SCAA Home Brewing Certification is another considering for those looking for the best possible brew.
National Coffee Association: http://www.ncausa.org/About-Coffee/How-to-Brew-Coffee
Specialty Coffee Association of America: http://www.scaa.org/
1st In Coffee: http://www.1stincoffee.com/art-of-making-espresso