Tips Sought For People With Steam Coffee/Espresso Machines

Q: I am seriously interested in information that can help my wife and myself, and others who use steam operated coffee/espresso machines. We know it is entry level, but that is the level we are at (and probably will stay). Before anyone uses the term "steam toy", I have researched it. Across the world and across the Internet that term refers to toys such as steam boats, model steam engines, model steam fire-engines, and model trains. This news group, and a handful of member's web pages, are the only places using the term to describe steam operated coffee/espresso machines. Thus it is NOT an accepted definition in the English language. Also, it has been noted OFTEN over the last eight months (possibly more) on this very news group that the term is intentionally a put-down, or insult. Let's keep peace with the THOUSANDS of people who own these machines. Paraphrasing someone else from a few days ago: "Don't say anything, unless you have something good (positive) to say."

A: Many of the same rules apply for both pump machines and boiler machines: 1: Use fresh coffee (gloria jean's is generally not fresh). 2: Use good tasting water; doesn't matter where it comes from as long as it doesn't have off odors or tastes. 3: Grind the coffee immediately before use. 4: Limit shot size to approximately 1/2 or 3/4 oz liquid for every tablespoon of grounds. This is roughly equivalent to the generally recommended shot size of 1 to 1-1/2oz for 7 to 8 grams of coffee. your machine WILL NOT make four shots of anything you'd particularly enjoy drinking. 5: Do not brew into the glass carafe that came with the machine, and do not believe the markings on the carafe. Evil, evil carafe. 6: Find some small containers to brew into - shot glasses with a line at 1 oz or 1-1/4 oz are great. 7: Even better - learn enough about espresso to be able to judge when to stop the pour by the color of the espresso. 8: For references, get Kenneth Davids' book on Espresso. 9: Read and re-read everything you can find about what constitutes "good espresso" (including Bogie's faq and, let steam toy references pass without comment, and try to coax as much as you can out of your machine by following the "rules". In a nutshell, though: fill your portafilter to the '4' line with coffee grounds, tamp firmly (but not hard), and brew into two 1 oz shot glasses. Many people in this group (myself included) started with a steam toy. Due to the misinformation provided by manufacturers, and the low cost of steam toys which puts them in a suitable price category for gift giving, an awful lot of people have these machines. However, just because you start out poor and ignorant doesn't mean that you have to stay that way your whole life. Without intending any insult, it is the "local" jargon in this group to call such machines steam toys. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Anyway, "toy" is a relatively neutral term... its not like they're being called "steam junk". When I post on alt.doug, I will call them "steam operated coffee/espresso machines", which BTW is quite a mouthful and one reason why we call them steam toys - its a lot easier to type. Cost really has very little to do with it... my pump espresso machine (Melitta Cafe Express) cost less ($67) than many steam toys (although I admit that this was a special closeout deal). The real problem is that manufacturers lump all "espresso" machines together, when really steam toys and pump machines are two entirely different methods of making coffee. People go into the store looking for an espresso machine and walk out with the cheapest one with the name "espresso" on the box. If there was truth in labeling, your machine would have been called a "strong coffee maker" or a "moka coffee maker" or some such, since it does not make "true espresso"... i.e. the beverage you would get at a (good) coffee bar- a viscous bittersweet drink topped by "crema" foam. If there was truth in labeling, you probably would have said to the sales clerk, "Well, I really wanted an espresso machine, not a moka coffee maker (especially since I have no idea what moka coffee is). What's your cheapest espresso machine?" and walked out with a low end pump machine. As I said before, this happens over and over due to ignorance and is the way many people in this group got started, so don't feel bad about it (but feel free to be angry at Krups for lying to you). Really, the best thing to do is to chalk it up as a life lesson, give the steam toy to your brother-in-law as a Christmas present and go out and buy a real (pump) espresso machine and a burr grinder, after reading up on the subject. As I said before, as a result of super careful shopping armed with good information, my machine/grinder combo cost under $125 total, so cost is not the issue. Knowledge is power. What often happens though, is that people such as yourself, due to stubbornness, cheapness, cognitive dissonance (basically the desire not to appear foolish) or whatever, deny that they have been misled and insist on hanging on to the steam toy and a whirly blade grinder (if any), which will never produce true espresso, no matter what. What makes it worse, is when they see others in this group talking about spending $400, $600 , $1000 or more on a machine and grinder.... "NO WAY am I spending that much money on a cup of coffee", they say. Keep in mind that this group reflects a spectrum of coffee lovers all the way from newbies to "advanced hobbyists" and professionals, so the cost of their gear will vary accordingly. Nor are the people who are spending what seems to be a lot of money necessarily "yuppie scum"... some are just poor students and working folks who are coffee obsessed. Viewed in the light of other hobbies (say sports car racing, or even skiing or golfing), the equipment cost is really quite modest. As in other hobbies, there is a certain minimum cost to get started and after that, the sky is the limit.