Ok, well not all posts need to be about technology. This one is about my favorite drink and how you can make it yourself and save a bunch of money. Let's face it, Coffee is an essential fuel source!
UPDATE: Wet grinds "problem" solved! See end.
My impression of espresso machines was either that they are cheap and don't work well (had one and sold it at a garage sale), or are rediculously expensive ($1000 or more). Well, a friend of ours (thanks Ron!) found a machine that is easy to use, works great and is inexpensive. It also doesn't hurt that it looks great on your counter.
If you are like me, you like coffee and while you make your own drip coffee, you don't mind getting a drink at Starbucks, Peet's or your favorite shop. Those coffee drinks are habit forming and sure do put a dent in your wallet. $4 per drink, 5+ days a week adds up to about $1000 per year! That is quite an expensive habit!
Breville 800ESXL espresso machine review
I've been using the Breville 800ESXL espresso machine for almost a year and it has more than paid for itself. While it is probably worth full price, it is a fantastic buy for half-price when purchased refurbished. I've had no problems with my refurbished unit and I couldn't tell that it wasn't new.
Coffee drinks are surprisingly easy to make, let me show you how I make my perfect Cappuccino... for cheap!
Step #1: Grind enough coffee for your drink
If you really want to go-all out and want the freshest drinks, get yourself a good coffee grinder. The best coffee grinders use "burr grinders" (v.s. blades like in a blender) so that the grinds are not burnt by the grinding process. This way you can buy your beans whole at your favorite local coffee shop that roasts them. You can even buy Starbucks whole beans at your local supermarket to get the same beans that they use.
Of course, you can always buy pre-ground coffee, but these grinders aren't expensive and look great and guarantee you the freshest drinks.
I've been using this Cuisinart DBM-8 and have had no trouble with it. Just make sure you set the grind to "fine" and clean out the grinds bind every once in a while. I've been told that grinds (and coffee) can spoil over time due to the oils in them.
Step #2: Pack the coffee into the espresso machine handle
You only need enough grinds to fill the handle about two thirds full. You use the tamping spoon provided by Breville to compress the coffee grinds. Try not to over fill it as it will make more of a mess by leaving coffee grinds on the machine. Don't worry, you can easily wipe them off. Then, simply lock the handle into the machine and you are ready to go.
Step #3: Brew your "shots"
After you turn on the machine, it will take a minute or so to warm up the water. Then simply turn the dial on the front to the right and it will start brewing your shot. Since this is a manual espresso machine, you need to watch the process and shut off the machine when it is done (just think of the $1000 you are saving by not getting an automatic machine!).
A single shot of espresso is one ounce and a double is obviously two ounces. You can use a shot glass or just remember approximately how full your coffee cup needs to be. Since I do a double shot, I stop when the coffee is about 1/2 inch or so full. If you let the machine run too long, your coffee will be more watery.
When you are done you will be rewarded by a great smelling shot of espresso with a nice layer of "crema" on top.
Step #4: Foam the milk
Since a Cappuccino is 1/3 espresso and 2/3 foam, all we have left is to top the drink off with about 2 times as much milk foam as we have espresso. Just pour a little milk into the stainless picture and use the steam nozzle to create the foam. It takes a minute or so, so be patient as the milk warms up and creates a nice think foam to your liking.
Then pour the foam into your cup and your are done!
Step #5: Add any extras
If you want to top off your drink with vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon or chocolate go for it! Do you prefer mochas instead ... just add some chocolate syrup.
Step #6: Cleanup
Okay, there is a little downside to making your own drinks. You do get to cleanup the mess too. This only takes a minute and I usually rinse out the foaming nozzle to make sure any milk is cleaned off.
If you want to get really fancy, you can even get a matching "Knock Box" for disposing of the grinds after each shot of espresso. This is totally optional (and a bit overpriced), but it makes a nice father's day gift (thanks honey!). What is nice about the knock box is that you can let the grinds dry out before dumping them in the trash (or composting them).
UPDATE: Wet grinds problem solved! I noticed that if I leave the shot handle in the machine after brewing the shot and don't take it out while foaming my milk, the grinds have a chance to drain completely. No more wet grinds! The shot handle drips a bit while foaming the milk (while it drains), so you can either leave your coffee cup underneath or just rinse out the tray (which you should do each time anyway). Either way you will have dry grinds. This is nice so that your knock box doesn't turn into a soupy science experiment.
Other than that, I highly recommend it!