Don’t tell friends you’re writing about home espresso machines.
“It’s like a suit, buy the most expensive one you can afford,” said one friend whom I’ve never seen wearing a suit.
“The grinder is just as important,” another instructed.
“Make sure you say, ‘It’ll save money over Starbucks,’ ” suggested a third. Okay, all good points, but a bit off the main idea.
“It is very difficult to find good espresso in the U.S.,” explains Giorgio Milos, master barista at Illy, a preeminent maker of espresso coffee (illy.com). Milos, who favors a Cuban Montecristo No. 1 with his caffé, adds, “One way to make good espresso is to make it at home.”
You can spend a lot for a home espresso machine. In fact, you can spend a lot more for a “super-automatic” that makes worse, harder to customize espresso than many simpler machines. For your first, we wanted to stay around $600.
I like to create my own, affordable, blend of espresso (Italian and French roasts). Each double espresso (doppio) I make runs 20 cents, not counting the cost of my long ago amortized 16-year old macchina. That’s much less than the $2.00 at most coffee bars.
So, absent are some less messy machines that use only pre-filled capsules, like Illy’s gorgeous Francis, Francis X7 ($.76 a capsule; Cigar Aficionado, Mar/Apr 2008) and the Nespresso makers ($.55 a capsule, nespresso.com). Good espresso, but not mine.
At $649, the machine I like is the Rancilio Silvia (rancilio.it), a “semi-automatic.” It doesn’t grind the beans, but gives you push-button control and the ability to make the espresso your way.
The Silvia is a beast, heavy and almost all stainless steel with a brass boiler (this is good). After I experimented with grinds and the right water temperature, the Silvia noisily delivered espresso into the cup at 178°F. The Silvia is powerful, quickly frothing milk for cappuccino to 190°F.
Experts say water in the boiler should be between 190°F and 204°F to be able to deliver a properly hot, around 170°F, espresso into your cup. With any machine in the U.S., which runs on the weaker 110 volts—Europe runs on 220—you will learn “temperature surfing.” Google it, dude.
If you’re only half convinced that you can live without the lines and expense at your Starbucks, start with the Saeco Aroma at $300 (saeco-usa.com). Built well, but lighter and less powerful than the Silvia, the Aroma delivers hot espresso, though with thinner crema.
Ultimately, homemade espresso is all about great quality and not going broke. Oh, and how well it goes with that cigar.