Purchasing a Home Espresso Machine

Those who are in the market for the perfect espresso machine obviously want to do their homework prior to making a purchase. With many varieties and price ranges, it is necessary to get a grasp of what is needed and how those needs will be best filled. Understanding a little about how machines are made will help give an idea of what will work best for any given situation.

Automatic/Semi-Automatic or Super-Automatic

As making espresso requires several steps, various machines are categorized by whether they will do some or all of the steps on their own. An automatic or semi-automatic machine will do the brewing, but require the operator to grind the beans, fill the portafilter, tamp the grounds, start and stop the brew, and empty the used grounds. An automatic machine has a pre-set amount of water, while a semi-automatic requires the operator to manually turn the pump on and off.

A super-automatic machine, however, takes care of basically all of the steps. Grinding, tamping, brewing, frothing, and even disposing of the used grounds is done automatically in many machines. The operator simply needs to fill water and coffee beans periodically, and choose whatever settings are preferred. While a novice operator will likely enjoy the convenience of this super-automation, hard-core coffee lovers–who believe in coffee as an expression of art–will want the ability to adjust many of these steps to their liking.

Boilers and Heat Exchangers

Brewing espresso and steaming milk happens at two different temperatures. When there is only one heating element, such as a single boiler, there is some lag time between pulling shots and steaming milk. Double boilers, which contain double the mechanism and are often double the price, are able to pull shots and steam milk at the same time. A nice cross between the two is a heat exchanger (HX) which has a single boiler but regulates the water temperature with a copper tube, but some of these models do require a cooling flush to keep them from becoming too hot. Thermoblock is one other viable option, if it is combined with a boiler (steer clear of cheap Thermoblock only models). These may allow for more steam than a single boiler and it is a slightly less expensive option than a heat exchanger.

Quality

Another part of the machine to understand prior to purchasing is the quality of the machine. Instead of thinking of an espresso machine as a small kitchen appliance such as a toaster, think more along the lines of a larger appliance such as a stove or refrigerator. Durability is key. Purchasing a plastic-y machine for around $100 is possible, but it is almost always regrettable. Instead, think of the lifetime of benefits that come from having a quality appliance which can last for ten years or more if well taken care of. Quality machines will be made with high-grade stainless steel which is durable and easier to keep clean than lower quality metals. The working parts, in particular, need to be the most durable and well maintained.

Now that you know many of the basic things you need to know about choosing an espresso machine, take some time to consider your needs, your budget, and your preferences. Comparing and contrasting various machines will give you a great idea of exactly what kind of machine will create the best espresso drinks for you.

Best London Coffee Shops

In London, it’s no longer just all about tea. Coffee shops have become trendy and hip, a great place to meet up with friends. But they’re not just for backpack toting college students. They can be a great backdrop for pecking out the next great novel on your laptop. They can be alternative office space away from the kids or other co-workers. Or they can just be a great place to sit and enjoy a memorable cup of joe.

Nude Espresso on Hanbury St

Everyone’s criterion for what make a great café is different. Hopefully, the top reason is that it has a spectacular cup. But customers develop a loyalty to their espresso bar for a lot of other reasons. It always nice to go to a place where they know you by name. It’s even better if they know your “usual” order. The best London area coffee shops might be the ones that remember to add those little personal touches. That can sometimes cause you to overlook the fact that they may not have the best java in the city.

And, of course, location is important. When you can walk a few steps to indulge in your favorite brew, you’re not likely to trek a long distance just to try out something new. Don’t forget atmosphere. Your favorite café might be your preference because it makes you feel comfortable and relaxed, exactly how you want to feel when enjoying your down time. Or it might feel vibrant and bustling, which is more suited to someone totally in love with the city vibe.

Some of the best London locations are the ones that diffuse your stress level the minute you walk in the door. The décor is warm and comfortable, the people friendly and the drinks great. Ginger & White is one of those places. The owners support local business by only using beans from a London coffee company. The Hampstead location is just a street away from the noise and traffic and a great place to enjoy one of their outdoor tables. Inside, the couches and communal tables give off that friendly, neighborhood vibe.

Dose Espresso, located on Long Lane, rates a place on the list of best London cafés for its excellent espresso. The passion of the barista has customers raving about this place and their ethical policies satisfy the even the most Eco-conscious patrons.

Highly regarded as the best of the best London coffee shops, Prufrock Coffee is ran by the 2009 World Barista Champion, Gwilym Davies. It’s been referred to as a “mecca for coffee nerds” and it offers a bright and inviting atmosphere. Longtime customers are perfectly willing to travel beyond their neighborhoods to enjoy a flat white. Their second location on Leather Lane has a barista training program to teach anyone how to brew like the pros.

Nude Espresso on Hanbury St. (and another location in Soho Square) is definitely a top contender for the best London Coffee shops. It’s considered to be the top micro-roastery in London. Because of their expert selection of beans from around the world and the fact that they’re roasted right there, it’s not hard to understand why their brews are so full of flavor.

With a trend growing toward micro roasteries, Notes Music & Coffee has joined those shops that roast their own beans. This assures that you get the freshest taste from their espresso based menu. They have three locations, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and Trinity Leeds as well as four carts throughout London that serve the same roasts that’s made Notes one of the best in London.

This is only a very small sampling of the best London coffee shops. The sudden upswing in the coffee scene over the last few years has created too many great shops to name. It’s apparent that the interest will only continue to grow, giving you the opportunity to find your favorite spot. Visit the local shops, try the java, sample the food, and take in the atmosphere. Whether you’re looking for a cozy, small shop on a quiet street or a sleek designed café in the center of the action, with a little shopping around you’re sure to find the perfect home and the perfect cup.

Best Coffee Grinder for Espresso

When you set your budget for your espresso machine, don’t forget to include a good grinder. Skimping on this part will make even your best efforts at achieving that great cup of espresso dismal, at best. When you talk to the pros, they’ll all tell you that getting the best coffee grinder for espresso is just as important as the actual espresso machine.

Grinder for Espresso

Why You Need A Good Grinder

A good grinder will grind your coffee beans to the perfect, uniform size that’s need to make a great espresso. If you have an inferior model you can end up with uneven particles which leads to extraction that’s too fast. You want to find a grinder that gives a very fine, consistent grind.

Features To Look For

When you’re choosing the best model for home use, there are a few features you want to look for. Manual examples aren’t really recommended for the grind you’ll need for your espresso. They don’t tend to give you a consistent enough grind and they take too long. It’s important to start the brewing process right away, 30 to 45 seconds after grinding is recommended, so spending two to three minutes grinding just doesn’t add up.

Other features to be mindful of are stepped or stepless models. This term describes how the grinder allows you to change your grind particle size. On the low price range, most units you find will be stepped. This means that there are preset positions for choosing your grind going from fine to coarse. The stepless models have no preset choices and allow you to change the grind in increments that you choose. Deciding on the model for your use depends on whether or not you want to be able to tinker with the grind until you find your perfect setting or just choose the desired setting and be done.

Another feature that should be taking into consideration is doser and doserless options. Again, when choosing the best unit for the home, this can be a matter of choice. Most users find doserless versions to be kind of messy, so take that into consideration. However, the doser equipped examples sometime trap old and stale coffee and are best for commercial applications where the beans can be used within ten or so minutes of grinding and where the machines are cleaned religiously. The merits of each type usually end up being a personal preference and depend on how much you actually use your espresso machine.

Burrs – Conical or Flat

Burr grinders come in two types, conical and flat. Most of the cheaper models have conical burrs but both styles seem to work equally as well for the espresso machine used in the home. Most users will tell you that it’s not whether the burrs are conical or flat that determine which product they choose, but rather the overall features.

Conclusion

You can find models designed for espresso in the high end range and those that are more budget friendly. Many of the less expensive products, such as the Baratza Preciso or Vario, can work great for home use, so don’t base your decision solely on cost. A lower priced model can be durable, quiet to operate and easy to clean. Reading online reviews can help you get some real world feedback on how well a model performs.

When it comes to the budget, consider the fact that veteran espresso makers are adamant about choosing a good grinder and that you should factor that into your overall budget. You’ll often hear that it’s better to have a high end grinder and a decent espresso machine than a high end espresso machine with a cheap grinder.

Overall, choosing the best coffee grinder should be your first decision, even before you decide on your espresso machine. Factor in the time you’re willing to put in to this process, the ease of cleaning, the space you have available and of course, your budget. Once you’ve thought about your overall needs, your research can help you find a model that will help make you and your espresso machine an expert at producing a great cup of espresso.