Saturday, August 25, 2007

Word of Warning to new owners of expresso machines

Just a word of warning to owners of new expresso machines, don't do like I did and have 12 shots all at once if you are not used to having coffee. When you finally fall asleep 2 days later you'll be sorry. Not to mention that my heart felt like it was someone else's heart.

So just plan your tests, keep good records and then you can spread your testing out.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Unpacking Miss Silvia - a good expresso machine

When I got my Rancilio Silvia it came in a huge box along with a stand with drawers, a bunch of coffee accessories and a grinder. More about the grinders later, they are second only to the espresso machine and only just barely second in importance.
So after getting the big box in the house, cutting it open and finding some place to put all the little bits of styrofoam that were packed around it we had a gleaming sturdy Miss Silvia daring us to use her. The name Miss Silvia isn't one I made up by the way, that is the name that the company uses in their instruction material.

So Miss Silvia stood there on her stand with the grinder next to me, waiting for us to get up the nerve to make our first cup of espresso. Luckily there was plenty of help available, there are loads of videos about how to make espresso so you know what it should look like when you are doing it right. You can see one here.

So armed with the knowledge gained by immersion in postings and watching the videos over and over the journey to the first cup of espresso from our new machine began.

First you have to grind the coffee. You can cheat and get some alredy ground, but the coffee is not nearly as good as coffee that was recently roasted and ground just before using it. However, for the first cup, we used some of the already ground coffee that was shipped to us with the expresso machine. It was not bad, we were just learning after all.

Anyeay, having decided not to learn to grind while learning how to operate Miss Silvia we still had to actually learn to work the machine to make good coffee. It isn't so simple. Well, ok, it is simple, but there are many factors that have to be considered to get the absolute best coffee out of the machine.

We poured water in the tank, switched the power switch on, ran some water through the systems to make sure all was working before it was filled with high pressure super heated water.

Having verified that all systems were functional and finding nothing else that would delay the eventual first shot from Miss Silvia we began. Openning the bag of ground coffee we scooped out the requires amount of coffee (2 scoops for the double basket in the portafilter). Tamping it and fitting the portafilter to the brew head we looked at each other and then flipped the switch.

Miss Silvia hummed and vibrated and soon some thick, dark brown, wonderful smelling espresso began to emerge from the portafilter into the two shot glasses placed strategically. Watching the clock and the espresso pouring out we got almost exactly one ounce into each glass in 20 seconds. Perfect!

So far so good, it looks like espresso, it smells like espresso, it came from an espresso machine filled with coffee, but how does it taste?

Well, let's just say that first shot was not the best that I ever made, but Miss Silvia is great for learning how to make a really great espresso consistently. She patiently tells you when you got it wrong and rewards doing it right with a great shot.

I cannot say enough about how right the choice was. Getting a Rancilio Silvia was the best thing I ever did for making good coffee with an expresso machine.

My favorite expresso machine

I thought about giving you all the science and philosophy behind what makes a great expresso machine for a beginning coffee lover. There is a lot to say about how you intend to use the machine, what makes a great as opposed to just an so-so machine, the volume of coffee that can be made, etc. This is even before we try and decide between the super-auto versus the regular auto versus the manual machines! There is a lot to choose from and there are reasons that one may be better for any particular application.

So to spare you that, and become instantly useful, I’ll just let you know what is perhaps one of the most popular machines purchased by people that are serious about coffee and want to learn how to make good espresso the proper way. This machine is a low-end commercial machine, designed with sturdy components and not many bells and whistles. This is a well made truck, as opposed to a sleek luxury car, but if you want something that will get the job done without much fuss and teach you what you need know, then nothing beats the Rancilio Silvia. There are lots of places to get one, you can just look around, but you cannot go wrong starting out with this machine. Another place to get one of these great little machines is here.

This is not the be-all end-all expresso machine, but it will be a sturdy reliable companion that makes fantastic coffee once you learn how to be a good barista.

expresso machines

This is a new blog I made to write about expresso machines. Yes, I know that the Italians spell it differently, but hey, this is the 21st century, language is a lot more flexible.

Anyway, there is so much information and misinformation about these machines out there that I want to help make things more simple for people starting out or thinking about getting a new machine. You can always become an expert by reading some good places, like, but there is a lot to read there and if you are a busy person, like me, you really don’t want to invest that much time becoming an expert when what you want is to find a good new machine to make good coffee.

So hang on, expresso machines, however you spell it, are coming soon to this blog near you.