The generic pump-powered espresso manual

Minor updates to this article: January 19, 2005

Okay so you are one of hundreds, if not thousands, if not millions of people with a basic pump espresso machine like the Barista or Estro Vapore or Estro Profi that seems to have become separated from the manual after purchase. Here is the skinny on this popular little machine. Although not on a par with the Gaggia Classic or the Rancilio Silvia, the Barista, and Estro Profi,  are capable of brewing espresso from most any fresh coffee bean. Here is the good news: They are easy to use and almost impossible to screw up.

This tutorial covers and any and all pump machines by Gaggia, Saeco, Krups, Braun, Pavoni, Delonghi and Starbucks. They really are all the same other than a different plastic or steel skin. All the same rules apply. These machines have some pretty basic features so I will highlight them here and now:

Rule number one. The unit must be plugged into a functional 110 Volt A.C. socket to work, preferably in the kitchen and not too far from the sink.

Fill The Reservoir!

Before using the Barista espresso machine, pull out the water reservoir. After filling the reservoir with water, slide it into place while making sure that the water intake tube is inside the tank. Failure to do so will result in an unhappy and humming machine.

Turn it on and warm it up!

The button on the left  (identified with a [1]ONE) turns on the machine. Depress the button, and the button turns red. Wait for approximately 15 minutes for the machine to warm up. The water temperature has been achieved when the green light on the right side of the machine is illuminated. That said, the unit should have warmed up, and I mean, the whole unit! Superior espresso will be achieved when everything in the unit is comfortably warm and toasty. This is called seasoning the machine. Trust me. Better espresso will be acheived with a warmed up machine as well as warmed cups and saucers. More on that later!

Foam the milk first!

If you are going to make Latte or Cappuccino, you will want to prepare or foam your milk first.
Frothing milk is the fundamental component in Cappuccino, Latte and other espresso based drinks. The pump powered espresso maker is more than capable of producing great foamed milk for drinks so start practicing. Before you start burning litre after litre of 2% milk, invest in one of those great TAYLOR Cappuccino thermometers. It will save you money and a scalded tongue too! Get a stainless steel frothing pitcher. Glass does not work well. Pour milk into the frothing pitcher. Wait! Half-way only! If you fill it up, it will overflow!

Steaming the milk.

Depress the steam button on the Barista (marked as (3) on the photo upper-right). The green light will turn off. Wait a few seconds and the light will illuminate again. With the steam button depressed and the green light on, place the steaming wand just below the surface of the milk and then turn the knob on the left side of the machine. This will allow steam to come out of the wand. It may be loud so watch your ears. Trained baristi (professional coffee makers) can tell a lot about the sound of the milk being steamed.

The early stages of heating the milk are critical. It is during this time that you can control the density of the froth. The best froth is dense with tiny bubbles. When the milk reaches around the 80∫F mark, slip the steaming wand down the side of the metal pitcher, deep into the milk. The milk should start swirling around the wand. Continue heating the milk into the 140∫F - 155∫ mark. If you heat the milk any higher than 160 ∫F, it will scald and be worthy of nothing.

Brewing the espresso!

When you are finished foaming your milk( and it is always important to do the milk first! ), switch OFF the Steaming Switch (3) and press the brew switch to flush some hot water through the empty portafilter and brew head. Some people call this practice Temperature surfing. I call it keeping everything warm and toasty, an important thing in espresso making. Okay. That is enough water through the brew group and portafilter!

Of course you have coffee ground appropriately for espresso making and your coffee is fresh isn't it? Do not expect good results with stale coffee, because coffee is a food product. You wouldn't make a salad with wilted lettuce now would you? Hey, while we are at it, let's identify the two major types of coffee; arabica coffee and robusta coffee. 100% Arabica coffee is generally used in all gourmet blends. Robusta, the cheap stuff, is used in most bad-assed instant coffees and bagged-binned and tinned stuff that you buy in the superstore for $1.99. This stuff will simply NOT make good coffee, so forget about it. Remember, fresh coffee is good coffee and Arabica coffee is the ONLY coffee!

Okay, so you have ground your coffee or had someone grind it to spec for you. I will not go into the issues of ground coffee here. I will assume that it has been ground appropriately for your machine. Spoon the espresso coffee into the portafilter as shown in the photo above left. Before you tamp it down, it should be more or less level with the top of the coffee portafilter. You can tamp it with a variety of gidgets or gadgets. I like the hand-made Reg Barber tamper, but whether this unit is right for you is beyond this basic discussion. Use the device that comes with the unit and if you do not have one, us the bottom of a shot glass or some suitably flat surface.

As shown in the next illustration on the right, the custom Reg Barber tamper compresses the coffee to restrict the flow of water through the coffee and create a consistent and even layer of resistance to the flow of hot water. I will not go into why this is important here. The bottom line is; you do not want the flow of coffee(espresso) to be so quick nor do you want it to be too slow. In a perfect brew cycle, you want to draw 1 to 3 fluid ounces of espresso coffee from the machine into your espresso cup within about 25 seconds after pressing the brew switch on. If 3 fluid ounces of espresso coffee blasts into your cup in 3 seconds then the coffee is either too coarse or it is not tamped hard enough. The coffee, if ground and tamped the right amount, should stream out of the portafilter into the espresso cup much like honey dripping from a spoon. It should at least look intense and slightly syrupy. Nice analogy, huh?

The Barista, and machines like it, have a slight variation in the design and operation of the portafilter. It is fully adjustable during the brew phase. The flow of espresso can be constricted by adjusting the portafilter handle to the left or right. In this way, some pretty fancy shots of cremalicious espresso can be pulled on the fly. Once again, this technique can be something like squeezing the throttle on an old British Motorcycle...Okay maybe that is not a good analogy!

As I have said, this is not the best machine on the block but it is capable of brewing a shot of espresso with a rich head of crema and it is more than capable of foaming milk to perfection. In summary, your Starbucks Barista or Estro Vapore, Estro profi machine is very capable of brewing great shots of espresso provided you given a turn or two to this simple guide. Ask questions or e-mail if I have missed something or some aspect of this tutorial is not clear. There is a steep learning curve in the world of better coffee and espresso. Do not expect to be brewing perfect lattes, cappuccinos or espressos within the first few hours. Practice, practice and more practice makes for a better experience. Golden rule: Better beans means better coffee! Do not scrimp on the main component. Good coffee and fresh cold water, 2% milk is pretty much all you need. Good luck.

Colin Newell has been writing about Coffee since 1994. The CoffeeCrew team have been featured on CNN, CTV, CBC, WTN and CBS as well as numerous local, regional and national newspapers. We are always available to talk or write for your next gourmet coffee feature.