Espresso Tutorial Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - Your espresso machine is sitting on the counter in your kitchen. Now what? Chances are your machine runs on 110 volts AC or standard house power.

Bigger machines have more work to do and as a result, they use 220 Volts AC. Needless to say, your machine is going to be within a few feet of a power outlet. It is going to be pretty close to a sink and some running water too. There is one thing that espresso preparation is not: it is not neat and tidy. As you get up to speed on the physical aspects of espresso making, you are going to generate messes and plenty of them!

Take heart. It will not always be this way. In my little kitchen I can prep my Saturday morning beverages with little more than a few dry coffee grounds left to wipe off of the countertop. Take note: this kind of cleanliness is achieved after much practice and patience of kitchen mates! What are the other ingredients that need to be handy in maintaining a reasonably clean coffee area?

Your machine should be on a dry and stable surface. It does get hot so keep it clear of flammable materials and children. It is powered by electricity, so keep it away from sinks filled with water. A roll of paper towel, a chopping board (I will explain that later!), and some light-duty spray cleaner usually round out the complement of accessories.

Espresso coffee is ground prior to brewing. I know that this is an obvious statement but it deserves some advanced discussion. I will be spending a lot of time talking about the grinding of the coffee, but not in this chapter. I am going to assume that you have the espresso coffee ground to the suitable specifications.
At this point I will state that the finished product; espresso, cappuccino or latte, depends entirely upon the quality of the main ingredient.
That ingredient is the coffee of course! Espresso coffee is brewed when water, below the boiling point, is passed through finely ground coffee. This coffee is in the portafilter. This espresso coffee has been packed into the portafilter in such a way as to create pressure that restricts the flow of water through the coffee. The pressure is created because the coffee is finely ground and the water is not free to flow quickly through the coffee.

This is where I reintroduce the term BAR pressure. In order for hot water to be pushed through the ground coffee, the pump has to be able to generate serious pressure to overcome the resistance created by the packed coffee. In the world of the coffee barista, or bartender, the term tamp is most commonly used.
The coffee is tamped into the portafilter with a downward force of up to thirty pounds of pressure. This seems like a lot, doesnít it? Well, it does not always have to be that high. In fact, we can reduce the tamp pressure by using a more finely ground coffee.
These two factors are always hand in hand. The coarser your espresso coffee is ground, the more the coffee has to be tamped in the filter basket.
The finer the grind, the lighter the tamp pressure. Now do not get me wrong. There is not going to be a very wide margin or range of grinds with any one given machine. In fact, if your grinder has calibrations or settings from 0 to 100, you might find that the functional range for your machine is 75 to 85.
What does this mean for me, the average home consumer? The short answer is: If you are new to home espresso, find a local coffee roaster who is capable of grinding your coffee to your exact specifications and buy a few days supply at a time.

Coffee fact: ground coffee is only fresh for a few hours if left in the open air. If you select this option, buy a steel canister with a latching top. It is will be fairly airtight and coffee will keep for about three days. Oxygen is coffees enemy.
Whole bean coffee is at its best three to five days after leaving the roaster. If you decide to go down the road of grinding your own coffee, you will achieve a new level of coffee sophistication. This relationship comes at a price. While an inexpensive coffee grinder might be just the thing for your drip pot, the rotary or blade grinder is not cut out for the precise nature of espresso coffee milling.
The next step in grinding technology is called the burr grinder. Unlike the cheap rotary, that uses a blade that macerates or cuts, the burr grinder uses tearing surfaces to rip the beans apart without raising the temperature of the beans too significantly.

Okay, at what price? A basic burr grinder, like the Braun KMM-30, will lighten your wallet by about sixty dollars. The Braun is great for quality drip brewing and French press applications. An espresso ready grinder, like the Solis Maestro, will set you back about one hundred and thirty dollars. If you wish to spare no expense, there are a myriad of choices in the price range of three hundred to five hundred dollars. We are now talking about cafe grade grinding that would not be out of place in the corner java joint. Final Chapter Six!