How to make espresso at home

You can't easily. But you can do something similar, enjoy a rewarding experience, and have access to a tasty brew at a reasonable price and only a moderate level of fiddling. A while ago I bought a Cuisinox COF-M4 Milano 4-Cup Espresso Coffeemaker. It is a modernized version of the early 20th century "moka pot," which is designed to make an espresso-like beverage. The original moka pot is made of aluminum, which is an excellent metal for this job given it's heat conductive properties, but it also provides an undesirable addition to the taste of the final product. And, aluninum is not exactly biologically inert, and though the scientific evidence for the toxic effects of aluminum is weak, I tend to avoid it where I can so I can feel OK about using it when needed (i.e., no aluminum cooking pots so I can use it in grilling).

The Cuisinox COF-M4 Milano 4-Cup Espresso Coffeemaker is made of stainless steel which eliminates the aluminum problem. It appears that the heat conductivity issue is settled by designing the pot so that the base is very thick. This seems to cause the heat to take longer to transfer to the water initially, but to produce the same effect that the aluminum moka pot produced. (Yes, I used a traditional moka pot for about a year prior to its handle breaking off).

This is a very sturdy pot. Sometimes the handles fall off the aluminum versions. Not this one.

Neither this device, nor the traditional aluminum pot, makes true espresso. True espresso requires a machine that will pressurize the water passing through the coffee grounds to a level nearly an order of magnitude higher than what happens in these pots. Also, these stove top machines will not produce the closely related "cafe creme" coffee (which is, much to my chagrin the first time I ordered some of this in Amsterdam, NOT coffee with cream!). But almost. If you play your cards right, you can get it to foam and sputter just enough to see foam form on the top of the liquid.

My 'espresso' always ends up in a latte, so I don't need the tactile effect, just the flavor, and I mostly get it. There are a few tricks.

The grounds are espresso roast and ground to espresso level. A regular el-cheapo counter top grinder will not do this nicely: You need a burr grinder. For my part, I grind the coffee at the supermarket and/or purchase Archer Farm brand espresso grind at Target.

You need to fill the basket that holds the ground coffee full, but don't pack it. There should be no gaps. If you keep your coffee frozen, shave it with the spoon you are dishing it out with to avoid lumps which may cause air gaps. If this does not make sense to you now, don't worry, it will later when you are actually doing it.

If you keep the handle of the pot off the side just a little while it is cooking, you'll be able to use it without a potholder. But maybe not so be careful.

After the coffee starts to spill out to the upper chamber, you can stop the process earlier or later. If you want that nice burned-coffee flavor, wait until the sputtering has been going for a while then take the pot off the stove and pour the coffee. If you want only a tiny bit of burned flavor, remove the pot the moment you hear sputtering and either place a wet towel against the pot or run water on it right away, then pour. If you want just "moka" without the burn, stop the process before the puttering. This will take some practice. No problem, you'll be doing it every day, you'll get good at it.

Meantime, there are variations you can try. The grind need not be roasted to espresso level. Or, you can use half Colombian (or something) and half espresso. If you try this or any other variations and have interesting results, let us know!

The specific pot I am using (see links above) has a device that lets you put in half the coffee into the basket. I tried it once, did not like the results, but have not tried again. I'm glad I got the smaller of the two pots so I get the right amount with the full basket. THere are electrical versions of some of these pots. That's a tempting alternative. However, I decided to go for the stove top version because a) I've got no room for another electrical device in my kitchen and b) If Imma spend 90 bucks on something like this I want it to last forever. This pot will, but one with an electrical element won't.

OK, I'm getting a hankering for another cup now. Gotta go.

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Bialetti has been making good quality stainless steel moka pots for awhile. I've had mine for about 6 years, though I've had to replace the rubber seal a couple of times. If you want true espresso, crema and all, you need a good quality machine that maintains constant pressure.

In other parts of the world (the USA is a bit backward in this regard) folks can buy a domestic espresso machine. Unfortunately I got a 'Sunbeam' brand one which turns out to be a heap of crap. The anticavitation valve is made of plastic and breaks on its own; my machine sprayed water all over its 240VAC circuitry. If I can't get a buddy to manufacture a brass or bronze replacement valve I'm-a throwin' the thing out and getting a good brand machine. 'Sunbeam' in Australia charge a fortune for repairs and they'll just put the same crap part in. It's a pity - it would be a great machine if their engineers weren't such dopes (unfortunately it's a costly machine too).

By MadScientist (not verified) on 14 May 2011 #permalink

I am addicted to my Nespresso machine. The drawback is, you are also tethered to their 'pods'. I have had mine for a long time, it makes a great espresso for lattes. It is tiny... doesn't take up much precious counter space.

I think your comment about aluminum pots making an undesirable addition to the water taste is not correct. I don't think it is that aluminum pots add something, rather they facilitate the removal of dissolved O2 by presenting higher temperature surfaces where O2 solubility is lower and where bubbles of air can nucleate.

Dissolved O2 is desirable in water used to make coffee and tea because the O2 oxidizes polyphenolic compounds and makes them less astringent.

That is why the best way to heat water for tea is in the microwave, so it can be heated not in contact with a hot surface so it retains as much dissolved O2 as possible.

daedalus2u, maybe. But I can taste it. But, I can also "feel cold" in my refrigerator, but that's really air lacking heat. So perhaps the effect you are describing is what happens.

In either case, the recommended way to limit it is to not clean the pot so it gets a layer of coffee film on it. That, however, does not work for the lower part of the pot in which the water is heated.

At least it's not filter paper taste!

My wife and I are both addicted to our Saeco machine. Grinds, pressure-pumps, steams (as a separate but simple manual ritual). She gets her morning fix with one button press.

By GrayGaffer (not verified) on 14 May 2011 #permalink

I'm a fan of the Aerobie Aeropress (half the cost and more packable too).

By Judy Carlson (not verified) on 14 May 2011 #permalink

I have started thinking about what coatings you might be able to use to remove the aluminum effect. "Seasoning" it with oil might work, but doing that on an aluminum pot is a lot trickier than doing on on iron. I am not sure it is even possible to do it. Maybe "seasoning" it with sugar.

Do you have a gas stove? A slightly lower heat flux might work but I still need to think about it.

Oh, I didn't know a cabin was involved. In that case screw the nice plug-in espresso makers; the ol' style that sits on the stove does a good job.

I can't recall whether it's oxygen or CO2 in the water which is the issue with over-boiled water. At any rate, don't boil the water very long. Due to the slow diffusion of gases in water, overboiled water can take a long time to get its taste back (and by that time it'll be too cold for tea or coffee).

By MadScientist (not verified) on 15 May 2011 #permalink

daedalus2u, you can season aluminum. Someday, however, the seasoning might decide to just flake off and start adding carbon to your food.

A very special, really hot biomed grad student gave me this sexy coffeemaker this sexy coffeemaker for my birthday. Bar none, it makes the best coffee of any coffee maker I have ever used and I have used what must be nearing every coffeemaker known to humans. Ok, I will admit that the results aren't all that much better than other cold brew systems, but it is really damned cool...

In any case, it makes very flavorful coffee and that extremely strong - much stronger than espresso. Cold brewing reduces the acidity of the coffee, most efficiently extracts the caffeine and really brings out the flavor. It is also possible to brew coffee as soon as it has been roasted (as apposed to waiting for it to degas). It also makes an excellent base for coffee drinks...