2011/2012 Festive Buyers Guide for Coffee Lovers - 3

In the last two sections we talked about the best things that you give your coffee loving friends - that will make the most impact... for the fewest dollars.

If you or someone you appreciate is into coffee, you might want to find out what they might need - by asking what they have. Chances are, there is something missing that is key to taking them to the next level... like a coffee grinder... one better than the one they have.
We mentioned two kinds of coffee grinders - the manual ones and the electric ones - and that you can spend $40 or $200 - and change the entire coffee game for the person or persons you are directing this gift to.

At $299 or so, the Gaggia Color is my top pick for < $400 in a great espresso machine.

Sometimes even that greatest things can be free or close to being free - like $20 drip coffee brewers. We talked about these in part-2 of the buyers guide.
I would like to think of this website as one of the best things you will find for free - information... learning... all for the price of internet access.
I digress.
We talked about coffee brewers, the cheap and not so cheap drip and pour brewers - and some of the accessories you might need to make it to your destination.

Now we need to talk about one of the favorite topics of coffee lovers - espresso machines!

Because despite the fact that I have a great love for drip coffee brewers and pour brewers, the reality is, still, that the espresso machine (in all its forms) is still the holy grail of coffee making. Why is that? Because at the base of all of this is the espresso shot. Books have been written about espresso. An entire culture circulates around espresso coffee - it brought us the cappuccino, the Latte, the straight espresso, the Americano and dozens of variations on that simple espresso shot.

People want espresso in their home. In over 30 years of coffee drinking (gasp!) this is one universal phenomenon in North America and in places like Australia, New Zealand - and most of Europe and the Middle East. Espresso is king. And people want to do it themselves.

So - how can you get commercial or cafe grade espresso in the home happening without breaking the bank? Well, there are a few machines (or should I say "There are few machines...") under $500 that are worth considering. So I will cut directly to them.

Top Espresso machine pick from yours truly! The Gaggia. Gaggia has been making espresso machines since 1938 when Achille Gaggia made his first genuine pump driven machine that could make actual espresso coffee under pressure. Gaggia, the company, was founded in 1947 and started putting machines in cafes by 1948. In 1977 the first home machines became available and they have with us ever since.
I get asked dozens and dozens of times each year, "Colin, I want a simple, yet reliable, espresso machine for the home to make a couple of cappuccino every day or a few times on the weekend. The espresso has to be good. The machine has to be reliable... ya da, ya da..."

I always point them to the same machine - The Gaggia Color. It's red. It's sexy. It's affordable. And it has all the commercial sized features that you might find in units (scaled up of course) found in cafes. It is a real pump driven espresso machine capable of brewing intense shots of espresso and enough steam power to whip up enough milk quickly for a couple of cappuccino or Latte.

If you are curious, I reviewed the Gaggia Dose over here. It is kind of a hopped up version of the Gaggia Color.

In Canada, the Gaggia Color is available from a company that I have been dealing with for over a decade - EspressoTec.com
In the U.S.A you can buy the Gaggia Color from a company that I have known about for a while - WholeLatteLove.com

Pod machines - I get asked about this quite often - "I want the convenience of the Pod system but I also want espresso coffee..."

Guess what, the Gaggia Color is also an ESE Espresso Pod brewer. Last time I checked, there were not a lot of affordable machines out there that let you have it both ways. The Gaggia Color is a machine that features a single basket for single espresso shots (challenging trust me!) A double basket for standard cafe style espresso shots - and a pod adapter. 

I have to point out that ESE Pods are great (for the convenience) but you will pay a minimum of 50 cents per double shot of espresso. For some that makes sense. For some, not so much. Just putting this out there.

The upside is, there are lots and lots of ESE Pod choices out there - lots of manufacturers and even decaf!

This upside is the downside of the Nespresso and Keurig system that use one-off proprietary coffee capsules - Additionally, many of these machines, like the Keurig are more like coffee brewers than espresso - keep that in mind if you are looking for an espresso hit.

I played with and reviewed a great Italian made dedicated ESE Pod machine over here - this one is made like a tank - and may or may not be available in North America - deep pockets required folks - it is around $600.

Over $600 (where money is unimportant!) Canada's top pick for classic espresso machines is still the Rancilio Silvia - Hand made by Italian artisans, the Silvia is the last espresso machine most people will buy. It delivers great espresso (and is a steam powerhouse for amazing caps and lattes...) and rightfully so.
The Silvia demands a great dedicated espresso coffee grinder. The Baratza Virtuoso works fine - but the matching Rancilio Rocky is a better choice. Yup, it is a few dollars more.

I could go on and on... and I probably will - but this should give you a few ideas for gifts for your coffee loving people. If this was not enough, feel free to send me an e-mail to determine what your needs are. Keep in mind, the closer we get to Christmas day, the more challenging it will be to take delivery of anything. So. Good luck out there! And Merry Christmas!


Colin Newell is a Victoria B.C. resident and lover of all things coffee - he has been writing and talking on the subject of cafe culture since the mid-90's - if he does not have the right caffeinated answer for you... well, no one does!