Espresso coffee for the absolute beginner

It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t about the coffee so much as it’s about having “a thing” … some people chew gum, others smoke. I like coffee, so coffee is “my thing”. In any sit-down-job, long periods of deep concentration really pays-off up to a point; once you hit that wall though, it  is very difficult to stay on top of things. That’s why deliberately stopping to “do your thing” really gives the brain a chance to get back on track.

Nowadays I can (and do) enjoy three to four very small coffee-breaks every day; you might think I get very little sleep, but did you know that espresso has LESS caffeine than a regular cup of java, especially in the super-sized cups we’ve grown used to? [Note: My Dad had a pretty high tolerance for caffeine, so some of my coping with coffee I inherited, but still: espresso has less caffeine is the real message!]

The right tool for the right job

If you’re a first time espresso machine buyer, simply: the first espresso maker you buy is never the last one you ever buy, so do not buy the biggest one with all the bells and whistles attached!

Buy something small that looks easy to use and easy to clean.

The only metrics you really need to see on the box is that it is capable of 15-bars of pressure and promises a consistent temperature.

Speaking of temperature: don’t go for the stylish stainless-steel espresso cups. They don’t retain heat very well. A tepid cup of espresso is a shot of disappointment so, buy the nice and thick ceramic ones. I’ll leave the choice of saucers up to you. =)

While you’re at the store, get a couple of those tiny coffee-spoons, narrow espresso cups won’t accommodate most of the spoons in your kitchen. A small sugar-bowl that is easy to open with one hand is good to keep near the espresso machine too.

Bean there, done that

Tastes will vary, so recommending a brand isn’t going to help. You can always ask at places where you’ve enjoyed espresso before. Some restaurants even have the brand on display. Grinding your own beans is an option, but starting with pre-ground will get you familiar with the consistency of espresso grounds which is finer than regular coffee grinds.

Try not to get something super-special or difficult to buy. Better to get used to a brand that is easy to find so you never run out. My brand is available at two or three grocery stores in my neighborhood so there’s always some around when I need to stock up.

Making your brew!

No matter what bean or machine you get, temperature plays a significant role in the actual taste of the coffee. Really. Cooled-down espresso just doesn’t pop and often tastes awful. The secret to keeping espresso warm is in the coffee cup. Remember I told you not to buy the stainless-steel ones? We’re going to nuke ours in the microwave so steel cups are definitely off the table for good espresso.

Here’s “my espresso thing”:

  1. Take a clean espresso cup, fill it with hot water from the kitchen tap. Microwave the cup for 25 seconds.
  2. Take 1 scoop of espresso coffee and put it in the filter, flatten the scoop of coffee, but don’t pack it down. Packing coffee too hard makes water flow difficult.
  3. Dump the water from your warmed espresso cup and run the machine, letting the brew go directly into the warmed cup.
  4. Add sugar. [I only use 1 or 2 coffee-spoons of plain-old white granulated sugar, but the only rules here are the ones you make yourself.]

Drink the espresso within 1 or 2 minutes at the most otherwise it will be too cool and won’t taste very good anymore.

Start slow

Now I know I said that I do this espresso-thing three or four times a day. However, you respond differently to caffeine than I do. So try to limit yourself to one or two cups per day at the most for the first week until you can gauge your personal tolerance level.

One more thing…



About rocjoe

Once a full-time software developer. Chances are if you've paid for a beer or a sandwich on any major airline in the past 5 years, code I wrote has reached you. I shifted to part-time software developing about a year ago, as a step towards a better quality of life. I still code but the 20-hour work days are a thing of the past. Lately I amuse myself by pretending I am a witty and insightful blogger. All three of those things ("witty", "insightful" and "blogger") are totally false. My promise to you: nowhere in this blog will you see source-code or technical speak. This is purely a blog for personal fun and discovery. View all posts by rocjoe

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