Have you ever watched the barista at your local Adelaide coffee shop and thought “I reckon I could do this at home!”. Have you gone out and bought yourself a home espresso machine? Have you forked out some serious coin in the hopes that making coffee at home will save you money in the long term? If you have, I’m willing to bet that your first reaction to trying your at-home creation was something along the lines of “Dammit…this tastes nothing like café coffee!”. In fact, I bet there’s a good chance that the espresso machine that you went out and bought from the department store is currently sitting in the cupboard, taking up space and gathering dust! Why? Making café quality coffee at home is really bloody hard! Many try and only a handful actually succeed.
So why is it so hard to reproduce café quality espresso coffee in the home? Can it even be done?
We’re going to explore some main differences between café vs home espresso set ups and go over a few tips and tricks to help you improve your home espresso!
Get a Good Grinder!
Most people don’t even think about grinders when they begin their home espresso set up. The fact is that your coffee will only be as good as your grinder!
Using fresh ground coffee is one the most important variables that go into making quality espresso. Cafes grind on demand; that is, they grind just the right amount of coffee to go into portafilter for that one coffee. Once you grind coffee it will begin to lose its freshness within minutes. After a few hours it will just about have lost all of its flavour.
Many Adelaide coffee suppliers will offer pre-ground beans as a means of convenience for their customers. They will usually provide these in a fully sealed bag with a one-way valve so that oxygen can’t seep in. Yes, this is convenient and no you won’t need a grinder, however the fact remains that pre-ground will never taste as good as fresh-ground.
So herein lies our first challenge; we know fresh-ground coffee is best, but have you seen the prices of grinders! You could easily spend more on the grinder than the espresso machine!
The main measure of a grinder is consistency in granule size. It’s in our best interest to have coffee granules that are consistent in size. Think about cooking diced pumpkin in the oven. If you chop your pumpkin to a vast range of sizes then the small bits will cook first and the bigger bits will take longer. The same basic principle applies in coffee extraction. The most consistent grind will be achieved from grinders with ‘burrs’ (either flat or conical).
Another question you should be asking when looking at grinders is: “does it grind fine enough?”. A lot of the cheap grinders will simply not grind fine enough for espresso.
Fortunately there have been some great entry level grinders pop up in the market recently that won’t hurt the hip pocket too badly. The Baratza Sette series grinders have been getting some good feedback within the industry.
How’s your steam pressure?
Ok, we’ve got our espresso tasting at least somewhat like our favourite Adelaide café, now we need to nail our milk. Milk steaming is a skill. Like any skill, we need to practice! Unfortunately, a lot of the entry level espresso machines simply don’t put out enough steam pressure to allow us to achieve anywhere near the silky, well-textured milk we’re used to from our local Adelaide coffee spot. If you’re stuck with an espresso machine with this issue there isn’t a hell of a lot you can do I’m afraid; short of buying yourself an additional steam unit. The Bellman Stovetop Steam Unit is a neat little inexpensive milk steamer that this author can personally vouch for. It’s a super simple design (essentially a pot with steam chamber and a steam wand) but I’ve personally been very happy with the milk it produces. Fill with water and place on the stove (just like a cooking pot) and she’ll soon start filling with steam.
Nice, well textured milk is a super important component of our coffee (it does after all make up about 90% of our drink!). Choosing an espresso maker with a decent steam unit will take a lot of the frustration out of making coffee at home!
Keep it fresh!
It is true for any culinary pursuit: fresh is best! Coffee beans, like any fresh food will go stale over time. A little tip once you open the seal on your coffee is to keep the bag in a sealed container. Oxygen is the enemy of coffee, so keeping it properly sealed will allow it to stay fresh for as long as possible.
Keep it clean!
Learning how to properly clean your espresso maker will not only allow you to get the best possible flavour from your coffee, it will also maximise the life of your unit. Using chemicals to ‘backflush’ your machine will effectively remove gunk from the internal parts of your machine. Oh, and nothing says ‘I don’t care about my coffee machine’ more than a steam wand covered in old milk- so purge and wipe thoroughly after every use.
Hopefully some of these pointers will improve your at-home coffee prospects. Reckon you’ve got a great home set up? Or even a handy hint for at-home coffee making? Is there a question you’d like answered? Comment below.