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"Cheap" Home Espresso Machines

Q: I have hesitated to post here because I am a newbie coffee/espresso/cappuccino drinker. I have been reading this newsgroup for a few weeks now and have realized I am out of my "coffee league", but, if someone out there can help me anyway, I would appreciate it. I just got a "cheap" at home machine. (To spend $200-$500+ on a home machine is not a possibility right now.) It is just a Mr. Coffee Details cheapo machine, but are there any tips on how to make a better cup of cappuccino? I am not so great at the frothing or on the right amounts/proportions to make either. I have read the manual, but it is about as helpful as a tech support line suring peak hours. ;) Any hints until I can upgrade to a better machine?? (Or to get a different cheapo machine?)

A: First, save your money and don't buy another cheap machine. It's not worth it. I was in your shoes for awhile, and recomend you just wait 'til you can afford a good machine. As to making a better cuppa, try playing around with your grind. Read the FAQ for proper proportions, and practice on your frothing technique. Although I just sent you email, I want to put up a suggestion to the group anyway. For those of you with steam machines, try drinking only the first half of the pot. Set up the machine to make a full pot. About halfway through, when the roaring noise starts that indicates the machine is shoving steam through the coffee instead of hot water, swap the pot out and put a cup or something under the spout. When you're done, taste the stuff in the pot and the stuff in the other container. Amazing difference. I have a Details machine with a combo coffeemaker/espresso maker. I'm not a great "frother" either, but even a dummy like me can do it right if I pay attention and exercise a bit of patience. Here's what I do: (1) Use a well-chilled metal container. A large metal measuring cup or stainless-steel camp mug works great. (2) Use very, very cold milk. I'm told skim milk works best, but I hate it, so I use half and half or regular milk. Use whichever you prefer. (3) Turn on the steam and insert steam nozzle into the cup. Make sure the nozzle is fully immersed and contacting the bottom of the cup. Don't press too hard. (4) Slowly move the cup around so the steam heats all the milk on the bottom. This is what makes the bubbles start up. (5) If you want a LOT of froth, follow above steps, then slowly move the cup so that the steam nozzle dips repeatedly in and out of the milk. You'll practically have a bubble bath on your hands. (6) If you want just a LITTLE froth, repeat step 5 only two or three times. Again, it depends on your preference. (7) If you want no froth, never let the nozzle above the surface of the milk until the steam runs out. This is what I usually do.