Wednesday, September 1, 2010

From Zero to Latte in Five Minutes Flat!

In case you missed my earlier post about my new Expobar Office Pulser espresso machine, you can read that here.  I've had the machine up and running for about three weeks now, and wanted to report back about how much I love it!

I must admit; I was a little intimidated when I first unpacked this beast.  It's MUCH bigger than the old machine, and the instructions weren't much help.  Thank goodness for the supplemental instruction sheet that the distributor, Whole Latte Love, packed with the machine or I would have been completely lost.  That's me, up on the counter, peering down into the innards of the espresso machine to try to figure out what's up with the filter thingy and the little hoses.

But really, all I had to do before I made my first latte was plug the machine in and fill the tank up with water.  After that, the machine works exactly like my old Barista machine from Starbucks.  Except that it does its magic in a third of the time the old machine took, with no down time, and the coffee tastes SO much better!  I'm in Espresso Nirvana!!

Do you see that beautiful foam on my steamed milk?  The old Barista machine took at least 5-6 minutes to steam milk, and it was very finicky about which milk it would steam.  It had to be the Harris Teeter skim milk, pulled from the very back of the store's refrigerator, and it had to be ice-cold.  I tried the organic milk, 1% milk, or skim milk from other grocery stores, and the foam would go flat and disappear within 30 seconds of making it.  The new machine will foam every milk I've tried to frothy, fabulous perfection in under two minutes every time.

After steaming milk on my old machine, I had to switch the machine from steaming to brewing mode and wait for the machine to cool off before I could pull any shots.  It is such a delight (and an enormous time-saver) to flip the brew switch and pull espresso shots immediately after steaming milk on this machine.

Trickle trickle trickle...
 ...And there you have it: beautiful, flavorful espresso shots with gorgeous, caramelly crema, ready to combine with the steamed milk into a vastly superior latte, in less than 5 minutes from start to finish.  You can't even brew coffee in an automatic drip machine that fast!

Isn't that beautiful?  I don't get foam like that on my lattes at Starbucks; they have been doing a weird steamed slushy milk thing lately.  They got new machines at my local Starbucks and the refrain I keep hearing when customers complain about lack of foam or burning their taste buds off with the first sip is "but it's all automatic."  If Starbucks can't make a decent latte anymore, they are in serious trouble.

So, you'd think that my espresso dreams would have all come true now that the snazzy new espresso machine is up and running and cranking out amazing lattes to satisfy my every whim, but you'd be wrong.  This Latte Lust has not yet run its course, I'm afraid.  I've been using Starbucks Espresso Roast beans at home for years, and I always had Starbucks grind the beans on #3 for my Barista machine.  I wanted to try a slightly finer grind with the new machine because the shots were pouring a bit fast (ideally, it should take 20-25 seconds from the time you push the brew button until the espresso reaches the white lines on the shot glasses.  If the shots pour much faster, your beans are probably ground too coarsely and/or you aren't tamping firmly enough, and you won't get much flavor from the shots.  If the shots pour more slowly, then you're grinding too fine or tamping too hard, and the shots will be bitter).  The inexpensive blade coffee grinders that you find at stores like Target and Bed Bath & Beyond grind too unevenly, and expose the beans to too much heat during the grinding process, to be suitable for those seeking espresso bliss.  Fresh ground coffee is of course preferred, but we go through coffee so fast in my house anyway that having Starbucks grind the beans for me a pound at a time seemed to be a good compromise solution.

Except that they keep screwing up the grind, and I don't realize it until the next morning, at about 7 AM, bleary-eyed, stumbling blindly around the kitchen, knowing I can handle any hitch the boys might throw my way as long as I have that nice, warm latte in my hand...  You can't make even a halfway decent latte with just any old grind.  Last week I went to Starbucks, actually went INSIDE Starbucks so I wouldn't hold up the drive-through line, and talked with a Barista about how I wanted my coffee ground.  I told her that I had always asked for #3 in the past, but that I wanted to try a slightly finer grind with my new commercial style espresso machine.  I asked her specifically to grind my beans on the same setting that they used for THEIR espresso machines.  And then, to my horror, when I opened the bag the next morning, I saw coffee particles the size of sand instead of powder.  It looked like Folgers from the grocery store; it was definitely an automatic drip machine grind setting.  I was desperate, so I tamped it into the little portofilter as best as I could and tried to get some shots out of it.  The resulting latte tasted like a cup of steamed milk, like I'd forgotten to put the shots in at all.  So, mystery solved -- all those times when I've ordered a latte and it tastes like there isn't any espresso in it, now I know that the shots were pouring way too fast and the grind was too coarse.  I tried adding two additional shots of this sad excuse for espresso, and now my latte tasted kind of like that instant cappuccino stuff from Taster's Choice, but with real foam.  Blech!  Now Starbucks cannot even be counted on to grind beans properly!

The other thing to consider is that there are so many other espresso beans out there, waiting to be experienced, but I've been restricted to Starbucks beans since I have no way of grinding my own beans at home.  Whole Latte Love sent me a pound of interesting-looking espresso beans as a gift-with-purchase, and my father-in-law sent me a whole box full of different coffee beans from his recent trip to Costa Rica -- none of which I have been able to sample, since I have no way to grind the beans.  It seems obvious to me that the Universe wants me to take the next step towards Espresso Independence with the purchase of a commercial-style burr grinder to take its rightful place on the counter beside my espresso machine.  Even my husband, who is enjoying his homemade lattes now that I share, thinks I should buy a grinder.  So now the question is, which one?  I did lots of research and read through hundreds of reviews before selecting my espresso machine, and I know even less about the ins and outs of coffee grinders than I knew about espresso machines.  I'm going to head back over to Whole Latte Love and start my research.  I'll let you know what I come up with!

1 comment:

Ivory Spring said...

I am enjoying your latte posts! :)