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  • Cherraldine Dayrit

Coffee Brewing Series 8- Espresso Machine

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Anyone who knows anything about coffee knows what an espresso machine is - they’ve been keeping us caffeinated since 1901.

History of Espresso Machine

Coffee was at the height of its popularity in Europe In the 19th century, but the brewing process was slow. Various inventors thus began exploring ways of using steam to reduce the brewing time, but it was Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy and his 1884 patent for a “new steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage” that would eventually lead to espresso and the espresso machine.

Unfortunately, Moriondo’s machine was lost to history, but Luigi Bezzerra and Desiderio Pavoni (considered now as “the Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs of espresso”) took Moriondo’s design and improved it. They eventually developed the first single-shot espresso, which only took a few seconds to brew. While Bezzera’s first machine was heated over an open flame, making it difficult to control pressure and temperature, it was Pavoni who invented the pressure release valve, and the new machine premiered at the 1906 Milan Fair.

It wasn’t until after World War II that the first machine to surpass the two-bar brewing barrier was invented. Milanese café owner Achille Gaggia, credited with the “birth of modern espresso” who increased the water pressure from 1.5-2 bars to 8-10 bars through the use of a lever, and standardized the size of the espresso. The next big revolution in espresso came in the 1960’s, with the invention of the motorized pump. The E61 machine by Ernesto Valentean “was an immediate success and is rightly included in the pantheon of the most influential coffee machines of history.”

Today they come in various shapes and sizes, with loads of features.


Are Espresso Machines expensive?

Yes and No - you can spend as little or as much as you want for an espresso machine. For the more artisanal inclined or old fashioned, a lever espresso machine that's pumped with your hand is a great way to brew exceptional coffee.​

For those who like it all done for them, super automatic espresso machines are a great option (although some are a bit expensive).



What to Expect?

Time: from Bean to Brew: It depends on your machine. A commercial machine may need 15-40 minutes to warm up, and a home-based machine may take only 3 minutes. Once warm, however, you’ll have your fix in 20-30 seconds.

Type of grind required: You’ll need a fine, consistent grind. Here’s a trick of the trade: pinch your grind and observe what happens (it should clump in your fingertips). Too coarse and it won't clump at all, too fine and it will clump excessively.

Resulting brew: A shot of espresso, when done right, is strong, sharp and full of flavor (it should not be bitter)

Skill level required: It all depends on your machine - some will make a great shot almost automatically, others (the more commercial, manual types) will require a high level or skill, hence the need for barista schools.

Best suited for: Persons who like a milky brew (e.g. a latte) or if you’re the type that likes a quick and sharp hit of caffeine. Espresso's are unique - no other machine can replicate a nice espresso shot.


PROS

Fast to brew (once warmed up)

Range in price (and quality) from relatively cheap to super expensive

Brew highly concentrated, sharp caffeine brew

CONS

Cheaper machines tend to give you less than ideal results

Take up kitchen counter space

Takes time to clean


People have been buying espresso machines for their homes, too. These machines are smaller than the commercial machines found in cafes, but they work on the same principles.

There are many different types of espresso drinks including cappuccino, cafe latte and cafe mocha. All are made with one or more shots of espresso.


What is Espresso?

A shot of espresso is made by forcing about 1.5 ounces of hot water through tightly packed, finely ground espresso coffee. If everything goes well, what comes out is a dark brown, slightly thick liquid with a small amount of crema (a foam, sort of like the head on a beer) on top.

There are many variables in the process of making a shot of espresso. The temperature of the water, the pressure of the water, the fineness of the ground coffee and how tightly the coffee is packed are just a few. The skilled espresso maker, or barista, controls all of these variables to produce a quality shot of espresso. Let's start with one of the most crucial variables: the coffee.


The Coffee

Espresso coffee is a blend of several different types of coffee beans from different countries. The beans are roasted until they are dark and oily-looking.


The beans are ground very finely, much finer than for drip coffee makers. The consistency is almost like powdered sugar. The more finely the coffee is ground, the slower the espresso comes out. Generally, for the best shot of espresso, it should take about 25 seconds for the water to pass through the coffee. Sometimes the grind is adjusted to control the brewing time.


To steam some milk for example, a cafe latte, you place a container with some cold milk under the steam wand so that the wand is submerged. Then, you turn the valve to the steam position. This energizes the resistive heater, which quickly boils the water in the heating vessel and opens the valve, starting the flow of steam out of the nozzle. The pump runs intermittently to keep the heating vessel supplied with water. The steam quickly heats up the milk, and, if you hold the steam nozzle near the surface of the milk, can be used to make froth.


There are dozens of different espresso based drinks that you can make with an espresso shot. With the help of an espresso machine, you can explore your own coffee. This is also a way to find quality time with family and friends like making latte art or making your best espresso shot.


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