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The Perfect Cup: Espresso

Good espresso is hard to find in U.S. coffee bars. While a trip to Italy is one solution, another may lie closer to home
Sam Gugino
From the Print Edition:
Vince McMahon, Nov/Dec 99

(continued from page 3)

Illy eliminated the need for grinding and tamping by creating espresso pods, carefully measured amounts of espresso in packets, each with enough coffee for one cup of espresso. Illy notes that grinding your own beans, even with a mill, can be irregular. And Forster says that the compactness of the grounds minimizes exposure to the air and loss of freshness. Other companies, like Starbucks, also make coffee pods. Starbucks' home espresso makers can use pods as well as loose ground coffee.  

I made a few dozen cups of espresso with an Euromatik machine supplied by illycaffè. I found it easy, clean and handy, especially for a dinner party of six, since it required no recovery time from one cup to the next (much like a commercial machine). At first, I didn't think the Euromatik (which retails for up to $800) measured up to espressos I've made with less expensive machines in which I used fresh beans ground just before the espresso was made. But after letting the machine heat up longer and wasting the first cup of espresso, things improved.  

However, the most dramatic improvement came when I switched to illy's 2-ounce espresso cups, instead of my normal 4-ounce ones. But mere volume wasn't the only improvement: the illy cup was at the bottom and not too wide at the top, so the crema held nice and firm (the thick walls retained the heat well). Even the handle was perfect, just a small thumbprint that allows one to pinch the handle rather than trying to put a finger into a hole. Most important, the rich, bittersweet flavor made me think I was back in a café in Turin.

New York City-based Sam Gugino is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.    


More Tips for Making Espresso at Home

Start with cold tap water. Let the tap run for a while to get any stale water out of the pipes. Filtered water removes some unwanted chemicals such as chlorine, therefore bottled water isn't necessary unless your tap water is unusually soft. Hard water makes the best espresso but can break down machines.

A standard serving of espresso takes 20 to 30 seconds to make.

A crema that is dark brown with a white dot or black hole in the middle is a sign that the espresso has been over-extracted and will taste harsh and bitter.

A light crema indicates an underextracted espresso. Make sure you have enough coffee in the filter and that it is tamped down sufficiently.  

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