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Espresso From Home

Started: 2021-02-27 21:56:16

Submitted: 2021-02-27 23:57:39

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator buys an espresso machine to honor his one-year quarantine anniversary

Shortly after I started working from home last March I decided I needed to upgrade my coffee-from-home equipment with a pour-over funnel, a gooseneck electric kettle, and a fancy grinder. I resisted the urge to buy an espresso machine at first, but at some point last summer I got the idea to observe my one-year quarantine anniversary by buying myself an espresso machine, on the theory that I'd still be working from home a year into the pandemic, and the pandemic would stretch long enough so that I'd still get enough use out of it to be worthwhile. (Now that I live a half-hour drive from the nearest coffee shop I have even more incentive to build up my own home coffee infrastructure, since I can't just nip out and get coffee on a whim.)

I searched the Internet and decided I wanted a Breville Infuser espresso machine, which seemed to be at the high end of the home market (at almost US$600), while still considerably cheaper than a truly professional espresso machine (for thousands of dollars). Most reviews suggested the Breville espresso machine with a built-in grinder, but I already have a Breville grinder so I figured I'd save a bit of money and use the one I already had.

I did most of my research a couple of weeks ago, then thought about it for a couple of weeks to make sure I really wanted to buy the machine. This week I realized my one-year quarantine anniversary was quickly approaching so I ordered the machine. It arrived on Thursday.

The first thing I did when the machine arrived was to drive to Summit Store (the closest retail, almost fifteen minutes away) to buy dark-roast coffee beans suitable for espresso. (I tend to like my French press medium to medium-dark, and my pour-over medium-light to medium roast, so I don't have dark-roast beans on hand.) But by that point it was late on Thursday afternoon, past my 16:00 coffee cutoff, so I unpacked the machine and set it up on the counter (and ran the cleaning cycle to get it ready to run) but waited to use it until Friday morning.

Breville Infuser espresso machine
Breville Infuser espresso machine

The first step was grinding the beans. My grinder supports an adjustable grind size so I cranked it finer than my normal grind, down to the middle of the espresso range.

Grinding espresso
Grinding espresso

Next step was to tamp down the grounds, then lock the portafilter into the group head and hit the button to start the extraction. The machine took care of most of the work itself: heating the water to the right temperature and spraying it through the grounds at the right pressure. I watched the pressure gauge and tried to figure out if I was doing it right or not.

Making espresso with a Breville Infuser
Making espresso with a Breville Infuser

The final result was a shot that looked right, with the frothy crema on top. I used my Google San Francisco mug for the first shot, which seemed appropriate since I learned to make espresso while working at Google.

First shot of espresso
First shot of espresso

I drank the first shot straight to try to understand the pure espresso from my new machine, without diluting it with water or milk. This is where I began to worry about my last-minute choice of beans: the espresso tasted like the beans were beginning to go stale, and I wondered if they'd been sitting on the store shelf for too long. (The espresso machine manual included a comment about choosing the best beans: it told me I should only buy beans with a "roasted on" date on the package, and I should use them within two weeks.)

For my next cup of coffee I tried steaming milk with the steam wand, and I ended up with something that seemed to resemble a latte (and the milk diluted the bitter taste of the espresso). Then I tried making espresso with the medium-roast beans I'd been using for my French press, and I immediately saw how the different beans affected the taste of the espresso: the espresso was more sour and probably over-extracted; but overall I liked the taste of the latte once I added steamed milk better.

I still have much to learn about making espresso with my new machine, and I'm excited to get the chance to try.

class? uh... what class? .... but dad, it's a _net startup!_
- Scott J. Galvin, 19 November 1999