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By novocaine
Handpresso or minispresso are worth a look if you dont want to spent the equivilant of most people monthly on a machine that fills most of your kitchen side. :D
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By Harbo
I use a Rancilio Silvia, a Mahlkonig Vario grinder and a calibrated SS tamper (bought in the States).
I buy hand roasted beans from Monsoon Estates who do a great tasting decaffeinated as well as other types. Buy 4 or more packs and delivery is free.
The have the dates when roasted on the bags so can use them at their peak taste.
However I freeze them so that aspect dose not count for me.
I use water from a Brita filter but descale periodically and back flush the portafilter regularly.

I used to dabble in the Coffee Forum but that is another very expensive slope to follow.

I’ve tried all types of coffee machines and appliances but as somebody else has pointed out, you can only get an expresso from an expresso machine.

By gregmcateer
I think all espresso afficionados will enjoy this guy:

In pursuit of the 'God shot'

Determined to make perfect espressos at home, Tim Hayward squandered absurd amounts of time and money on gadgetry most of us have never heard of, only to produce cup after cup of average coffee


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On the espresso trail ... Photograph: Getty/Vegar Abelsnes Photography

I bought my first espresso machine in the 1990s. It was a La Pavoni Europiccola, a small, retro-looking chrome job with a big lever you yanked down to express the coffee. It looked great on the counter but made vile coffee, was a pipper to clean and constantly threatened to explode in a shower of steam and shrapnel. When, one glorious day, it blew a gasket, I seized the opportunity to upgrade, but I needed advice.

A reasonable person might assume that coffee obsessives would gather in coffee shops, but these days they lurk in the labyrinthine OCD souks of internet chatrooms. In pursuit of the perfect home espresso - what they call "the God shot" - I gleefully joined their ranks, kicking off the most expensive and pointless addiction of my life.

The ideal espresso (according to the Instituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano) is a 25ml beverage extracted from around 7g of finely ground coffee, using water at a temperature of 88C, passing through the grains at a pressure of 9 bar. See, dead easy. It should be thick-textured, having emulsified many of the oils, retain most of the volatile aromas and flavours of the bean and be capped with a thick colloidal foam layer - "crema" - reddish, creamy and messed. Each one of those factors is minutely variable, potentially causing thinness, bitterness, under- or overextraction or - the ultimate humiliation - a thin or patchy crema.

My first mistake, according to my online coffee-nerd chums, had been to buy a manual machine - they are spectacularly inconsistent. So I invested in the legendary Rancilio Miss Silvia (£310), the cheapest acceptable electrical-pump machine and, for a few blissful weeks, I chucked in a couple of scoops of ground Illy every morning and got out a nice little espresso. Then, one day, the crema failed to appear.

I returned despairingly to the chatrooms, where it was suggested that my problem was with the grind of my beans. Who knew? After much debate and guidance, I purchased a Rancilio Rocky (£180), one of the cheapest grinders operating with "burrs" rather than blades, which give a consistent grind without compromising the volatile oils. It was still expensive and took up as much counter space as a small shed. The fresh-ground beans definitely improved the flavour, but now the texture of my "shot" was inconsistent.

Millions of people probably get great coffee every morning with a standard home machine and ground coffee from a supermarket. I was starting to worry that, with a process that has as many variables as pulling an espresso, once you're daft enough to go off piste, things get monumentally messy in a way only explicable with chaos theory.

Emails flew, recommendations were exchanged and argued. I could, they suggested, work on my "tamp pressure" - that bit where the barista scrunches down the grounds into the "basket" on the machine is crucial to the brew. I was, they said, going to need a tamper, custom-made for my machine and tamping hand by Reg Barber in Vancouver. After shelling out £75, and hours of practice with my new tamper on the bathroom scales, I got the hang of applying consistent pressure when packing the grounds, but still the perfect crema eluded me. "Temperature,", suggested the Nerds. "The mechanical thermostats on the boiler of your machine can be inaccurate to at least 10 degrees either side - you need to "Pid" your machine," wrote one.

A Pid is a small computer used in labs and industrial-process control to manage temperature. To fit it, you need to find secret instructions written by obsessed academics, hidden deep in websites. You need to ignore all the disclaimers about blowing up yourself and your coffee machine, you need to persuade obscure component suppliers that you are not a bomb-maker, and then you have to take your machine apart and rewire it, thus invalidating any manufacturer's warranty. "It's like a Jedi building his own light sabre," the Nerds said. Which, in truth, is how it felt, until I switched the damn thing on and watched the entire PID unit quietly melt. Obviously Darth Vader never confused the blue and the brown wires.

Another hundred quid and a fortnight later, my machine was Pidded, accurate to within a hundredth of a degree and still turning out rubbish coffee, which was when they recommended I take an angle grinder to it. This is a fashionable new modification where you chop off the bottom of the portafilter (the bit you put the coffee in that attaches to the machine) so there is nothing between the bottom of the basket and the top of the cup.

This allows you to examine obsessively the flow for the characteristic "tiger stripes" of the perfect shot, but shoots half the coffee up the front of your shirt when you hit the "brew" button. Things were getting out of hand. In the following months, though I tried 18 different types of coffee, rebuilt the brew head and fitted an electronic timer to allow the machine to get up to temperature before I woke up, the God shot eluded me.

Today, my kitchen bench looks like a Bond villain's lair. I have invested hundreds of pounds and countless hours only to produce average coffee inconsistently. And what do the Nerds have to say? Apparently, the real pros are drifting away from espressos to experiment with syphon pots, those things resembling two spherical glass vases stuck together that put so many 1950s hostesses into the burns unit.

I've learned a painful lesson. When Giovanni Gaggia filed a patent for an espresso machine in Milan in 1947, it was designed to make coffee in industrial quantities at serious speed. Professional baristas get results because they use huge machines that deliver a thousand shots a day. The hand processes like tamping become consistent after the first hundred. To become barely competent could take me years.

The boys in the chatrooms will denounce me as a heretic, but I now know that, for me, the best espresso will always come from an Italian standing coolly behind a big machine, not an obsessive Englishman throwing money at a small one.

Then his follow-up article;

When I wrote in these pages about how I'd wasted months and far too much money in a fruitless quest for the perfect home espresso, the feedback I received was overwhelming. Coffee obsessives from all over the world sent advice and, after following their suggestions, I started pulling some really quite adequate espressos.

So when my machine recently melted down in the chromed equivalent of a teenage sulk, I was bereft. How could I make a decent coffee without an espresso machine?

I have spent weeks trying and perfecting other methods, including one for brewing "cowboy coffee" which was tweeted to me by a Texan caffeine addict and involves using a bandana as a filter. And I've learned that there are good cups of coffee to be had without the huge investment in a temperamental, steam-spitting appliance. Here are my top four methods - a couple of established stalwarts and two new discoveries.

All coffee brewing systems work by passing water through coffee grounds. The big difference is the pressure they can exert. An espresso machine does this at nine times atmospheric pressure, while the cafetiere, that fixture of the middle class dinner party table, does it with the pressure of the host's forearm.

You can get a great cup of coffee from one of these but you need to follow a few ground rules. The water should be little short of boiling and the coffee should be less finely ground than espresso or it will clog the filter mesh. The steeping grounds should be stirred immediately before the plunger is used, and if you find yourself having to fight to get the knob pushed all the way down, stop. Pushing against a clogged mesh can make the edges of the plunger deform and shoot boiling coffee up your arm - it's hard to do that and still look insouciant while handing round the Elizabeth Shaw Mint Crisps.

The cafetiere can't extract as much oily loveliness from the grounds as an espresso machine so its coffee is better drunk long, with milk. However, using more than the recommended "one scoop of coffee per person and one for the pot" will give you a stronger and better-flavoured cup.

Moka pot (caffetiera)
The familiar aluminium Moka pot - half-Dalek, half-Italian Futurist sculpture - is almost unchanged since Alfonso Bialetti designed it in 1933.

After filling the bottom half with water and the central basket with grounds, it is heated on the stove. The enclosed bottom half acts like a pressure cooker, raising the temperature of the water several degrees above boiling so it extracts far more caffeine as it blows through the grounds with that burbling sound.

Real aficionados know to pull it off the heat when it's only halfway through its gurgling cycle and the truly obsessed (OK, me) can purchase a small weight that sits on top of the delivery tube inside the pot, increasing the pressure-cooker effect and producing an almost correct crema - that slick foam that coats the surface of a freshly-made espresso. Purists say that a Moka pot can't produce a proper espresso but served with hot UHT milk (its sweetness compensates for the slightly burnt taste the high temperatures give the coffee), in a cornflake bowl with a pain aux chocolat to dip in, it tastes so much like being on a French holiday that it has an authenticity all of its own.

Syphon pots
Syphon pot coffee makers were briefly popular in the 50s and 60s. They looked like a school physics experiment involving two spherical glass flasks and a spirit lamp, but they make the very best jug coffee (as opposed to strong shots produced under pressure). The bottom globe is half-filled with water and the top is dosed with ground coffee. As the spirit lamp heats the water the air above it expands, pushing the hot water up through a central tube and over the grounds. Once the top globe is full of coffee, the heat source is removed and the cooling air in the bottom chamber sucks the liquid back, under pressure, filtering it through a plug of its own grounds.

It's fiendishly clever, strangely fascinating to watch and produces coffee of an entirely different character to the previous two; a gentler and more subtle brew. For this reason, these retro machines are fiercely competed for on eBay with ridiculous prices (I've seen up to £200) being paid for original boxed versions, which is a little unnecessary because they're still made to the original specification by the company in Surrey that invented them in 1910.

The syphon pot is a thing of beauty. It's the gentlest way to make sensitive brews of costly single-estate coffee for considered appreciation amongst aficionados. For me, however, it hasn't the necessary raw caffeine power for my morning jolt.

A beautifully engineered gadget that marries the bicycle pump with the filter mechanism of an espresso machine for a truly portable shot. The ads, of course, show tanned and lithe French couples knocking out perfect demitasses on the deck of their yacht, but could it work for a groggy Englishman standing in a Camden kitchen in his pants? Amazingly, yes. Even the shakiest hands can drop in one of the convenient ESE pods - the European standard coffee equivalent of the teabag - top up the reservoir from the kettle and pump ferociously. When the tiny pressure gauge in the handle reaches 16 bar (16 x atmospheric pressure), you line it up with your cup and push the button.

The Handpresso produces a real espresso without the big machine.
SUPERB post gregmcateer! Had me falling off me chair! Thanks.

There is always the Jura series of espresso machines that I linked to about a thousand pages back! Expensive yes, but doesn't take up half the kitchen of a Manor House, AND long-lasting, easy, quick, and cheap to service!

And yeah, I almost forgot, produces a decent espresso too!
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By nabs
my Gaggia Classic has arrived - a bit grotty, but working apart from a couple of leaks on the boiler and a broken steam arm.

The mating face on the top half of the boiler was rather pitted:


luckily years of pointlessly flattening perfectly good second hand bench planes meant I knew exactly what to do:


After the 4th day of this lot wife complained that "I had spent a fortune on a broken coffee maker, cluttered up the kitchen table all week and yet had not actually made any coffee cuts of coffee", which is typical the kind of nit-picking comment I have to put up with!


suitably motivated I have now finished the boiler and put the machine back together:



number of cups of coffee made is still zero, but I am getting there!
Interesting pix nabs. May I ask what the metal is on that flange you flattened please? From your pic it looks to me like pressure die cast "pot metal". Can't be surely, cos AFAIK that contains a lot of zinc which I understand (perhaps incorrectly) is almost "instead death" around pressurised steam?

Anyway, nice clean up job Sir (& if that flange is "pot metal I bet it flattened off a LOT quicker than a steel plane body). ;-)
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By marcros
good job nick. I have the same strip down to do, but am waiting on a screw to arrive so that I can test the machine before I start. I have a full set of seals ordered from eBay for a tenner, some chemicals from eBay, and a couple of upgraded parts to replace the grottiest of what is on the machine.
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By nabs
AES wrote:Interesting pix nabs. May I ask what the metal is on that flange you flattened please? From your pic it looks to me like pressure die cast "pot metal". Can't be surely, cos AFAIK that contains a lot of zinc which I understand (perhaps incorrectly) is almost "instead death" around pressurised steam?

Anyway, nice clean up job Sir (& if that flange is "pot metal I bet it flattened off a LOT quicker than a steel plane body). ;-)

The top part is aluminium, and the base (the so called "group head" ) is chrome plated brass. You will not be surprised to hear that the best choice of boiler materials is the source of endless discussion amongst the coffee nerds. Woe betide anyone making the wrong choice as it will almost certainly explode/give you metal poisoning/create inter-dose temperature fluctuations/make not very nice coffee etc.
I'm approaching the making of a first actual coffee with a degree of trepidation.

And yes it was a *lot* less work than flattening the sole of a plane .
By AJB Temple
I use a Rocket double boiler machine. Italian. Fully agree about soft water. Mine will be plumbed in if I ever get my new kitchen finished, but for now I fill with filtered water from the fridge.

With Eureka grinder (which is excellent but a bit messy). The hopper is not very big, but that's not a bad thing really as the beans are always fresh from an airtight container.

Still also use a Nespresso occasionally if I am only likely to have one cup in the day.

Drink a lot of tea as well :-)

Beans are a black art. I know some people roast their own. Can't be bothered to do that. Still on the search for the perfect mild and creamy, flavourful bean.
By Rich C
AJB Temple wrote:Beans are a black art. I know some people roast their own. Can't be bothered to do that. Still on the search for the perfect mild and creamy, flavourful bean.

South American beans seem the best for a creamy cup. African beans are always quite "bright" which seems to be coffee nerd speak for battery acid.
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By nabs
I am now in for about 300 quid worth of kit so arguably this is quite an expensive cup of coffee! I am quite enjoying being a coffee snob though.

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By Bm101
I see you're an Apple user too Nabs.
:-" O:) =;
Just kidding! Glad you got the results you were after. :D

I just use a moka pot here. I can't be a*$@d to put in much more effort than that I'm afraid. I had a small machine the Mrs got me second hand but it was like trying to start a Morris marina on a cold February day and twice as noisy. When you get up at 4am that's not working out. It didn't last long and went back on Ebay.

Real reason for posting are twofold.

1. Has anyone tried a Brikka Moka pot? They have a different valve that is supposedly capable of crema. Anyone got one/ tried one?

2. What coffee do you like? I usually buy lavazza but interested to see if people can recommend a blue mountain type rounded bean that doesn't cost fortunes.
I know there's a whole black hole about grinder types etc but a decent bean, cheap grinder, beans in the fridge and the moka is about the price limit for me. I'd consider shelling out for the brika with evidence it's worth it.
I bought some Brown bear coffee for a lovely chap on here who gave me a small router table. I kept looking at it in my amazon list and got some of the blue mountain blend. It was lovely. My type of taste.
Any budgety suggestions from you expert cofficianados?
By samhay
Nabs - Yes, but the next coffee is essentially free.
By samhay
Chris. Don't know what blue mountain tastes like, unless it's menthol (eucalyptus).
What sort of flavor are you after?

I usually spend ~6 quid in a 250g bag of beans. Can get lots of interesting locally roasted options for that sort of price.
More expensive than supermarket beans, but I've decided I'm worth it.

Oh, and as someone who used a mocha pot for years, I find my espresso machine to be less faff...
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By Bm101
Not sure how I'd begin to describe it Sam. Mid flavoured, sweetish... erm..
I'm... struggling.
That's me done Sam. Sorry. Maybe just suggestions on individual choices then!

I think the moka/ mocha ? pots can make quite bitter coffees. I've been trying to take it off halfway through and I have a little bit of steel in my shed on the side that I keep meaning to bring up to the house to try as a weight. Apparently that can help?
I won't personally be going down the machine route though. That's a rabbit hole I'll be missing out on. I have enough problems.