My New Espresso Setup

Espresso coffee is one of my favorite beverage. The above photo showed my present espresso setup.  The Krups super-automatic espresso machine on the left side has been the machine that I have been using for the last 7+ years. Super-automatic machine is extremely user-friendly and easy to use, with practically zero learning curve. Super-automatic machines do it all with the press of a button – grind, dose, tamp, brew, and eject the spent puck. The quality of the espresso is adequate and mediocre at best, and does leave something to be desired when compared to espresso made in a good commercial espresso coffee shop by a trained professional barista.

So recently, I have gone on the path of becoming a home barista and going after the elusive quality of premium quality espresso that one can only get with a combination of the right espresso making equipments and learning the proper espresso making techniques.

I’ll start with the essential equipments first. Although the espresso machine itself is important, if you go and do a search and read about espresso making at any serious espresso sites, they will all tell you that a good quality coffee grinder is even more important than getting a good espresso machine. Espresso demands a perfect coffee ground that needs to have very evenly and finely grounded. Only top quality and rather expensive burr grinders can give you grinds that is suitable for making espresso. Forget about getting cheap blade grinders and cheap fake burr grinders. None of the cheap grinders can produce grinds suitable for making espresso. The cheapest coffee grinders that you can buy that is adequate for making espresso starts at around US$150. However, good quality grinders for espresso starts at US$250 and over. Professional grinders can cost well over US$1,000.

After doing much research, the grinder that I ended up buying is the Mahlkönig VARIO (known as Baratza VARIO in North America). It is one of the best coffee grinder for home and light commercial use, with grind quality that can rival commercial grinders that cost a lot more. This grinder is easy to use and the grind quality is consistent and excellent. I am very happy with this grinder.

The espresso machine I bought is the Gaggia Baby Twin. The main advantages of this espresso machine compared to cheaper entry level machines are:-

  • large 58mm commercial grade chrome plated brass group and portafilter holder
  • 3-way solenoid valve that relieves pressure from the portafilter once the shot has been brewed
  • a twin boiler system, or straightly speaking, a brew boiler and a separate thermoblock for making steam
  • electronic dosing system

The ideal temperature for espresso brewing is between 88 to 92°C, whereas the temperature of the water required to generate steam for frothing milk is around 125°C. An espresso machine with a single boiler will need to alternate between these 2 ranges of temperature. After you have pulled a shot of espresso, the machine will need to raise the water temperature to 125°C before it can generate steam for frothing. Then if you want to pulled another shot, the machine will need to take time to cool down to brewing temperature again. All this takes time and can be quite frustrating if you want to make a few latte or espresso in a row.

The advantage of a machine like the Gaggia Baby Twin is that you do not have to wait between pulling espresso shots and frothing milk. The machine has a separate boiler system for keeping water both at brewing temperature and temperature for steam production.

Now let me show you the process of making a latte with this system.

We first weigh some beans before grinding. To make espresso, of course you need coffee beans. The quality of the beans is important. You should buy good quality freshly roasted coffee beans. Coffee beans are best consumed within 3 weeks after roasting. It is vital to remember that you can only make the best espresso with freshly roasted beans.

Put the pre-weighed beans into the grinder for grinding directly into the portafilter.

Make sure the coffee grinds are evenly distributed in the portafilter before tamping.

We can then tamp the grinds with a good quality solid metal tamper. The classic recommended tamping pressure is 30lbs of force, but any force between 15 to 55lbs should work just fine..

This is what a properly tamped coffee grinds looks. It is now ready for brewing.

The portafilter holder has been put onto the grouphead and brewing started. I used a bottomless or naked portafilter holder for brewing this shot. Note the classic tiger striping. Tiger striping is formed by the contrast of darker and lighter crema in the espresso stream. It is a visual indicator of good extraction.

Note the beautiful thick creama in the shot. It is almost impossible to get such a good thick creama with a super-automatic machine.

We then proceeded to froth some milk for milking a latte. Notice the smooth small bubbles. This may not be the best microfoam, but it is microfoam nevertheless. For making a true latte or cappuccino, there is no substitute for microfoam. Most super-automatic machines and cheap entry level semi-automatic machines will not be able to froth mcriofoam. What you will get is soapy looking foam with big bubbles. Not the right consistency for making a good cup of latte or cappuccino. If you want to do latte art, microfoam is a must.

A real latte finished. Sorry no latte art yet. I am going to hide and start practicing on doing latte art. If I am successful, I will come back later and post some photos of home made latte art.

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3 thoughts on “My New Espresso Setup

  1. Very good Roland,I’ll take you up on one when I get to H.K. thats if you will make me one. Not a big coffee drinker but 2 a day will do, and a latte is nice.The art of your pictures is like your art in making coffee but as sure as knowing you latte art is only round the corner.

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