how to make espresso at home - its not working for me

lyndseyevelyn

New member
May 31, 2004
1
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Hello! I am a bit new to the world of making espresso. I have just moved into a household that has a cheesy espresso maker, so I am trying to produce some palatable espresso drinks. The machine is a Krupps IL Primo. I have been experimenting with the amount of water I put into the machine, the amount that I tamp the coffee, the number of seconds that I pull the shots, the amount of steam left for the milk. A few times the combination has produced great results, but it is extremely inconsistent. Part of the problem is using the machine a few times in a row - starting with a hot machine vs. cold.

My main problem is following that when I pull the espresso for about 20 - 25 seconds (with enough coffee in there for 2 shots) I get somewhere around 20 ml of espresso. I have tried looser and more compact coffee, but I always get a measly amount of coffee. The other problem has been an extremely bitter taste. I have solved that with stopping after 20 seconds, but even that isn't very consistent.

Does anyone have any hints for me? Can I hope for a consistently good cup of espresso with this cheesy machine?

Thanks for the help!
 

Coffee Guy

New member
Oct 19, 2003
874
0
Seattle,Washington USA
Hi lyndseyevelyn:

Truthfully no, you won't get the same quality of espresso from a home model machine as a commercial one. I don't really know much about home units other than they do not have boilers so they can't build the necessary pressure it takes to pull an actual good shot. They just more or less heat up the water and what little steam they can muster is not enough. I'm sure someone out here can answer your question better than I, but I just wanted to post you a reply 8)
 

rodw

New member
Jun 6, 2004
2
0
Home espresso

With respect to coffeeguy, I think (s)he is wrong in that you can make decent espresso at home, it's just not that simple, and the machines vary an awful lot in quality.
Firstly, some primers:
1. You must always let your machine get to its operating temperature. Good machines will alert you to this, and maybe even let you see what pressure they are generating. This is the most common reason for crappy home coffee - the commercial machines have bigger boilers with larger volumes, and therefore don't fluctuate in terms of their temperature or pressure as much. Us mortals have to get to know our machine and its thermostat.
2. The coffee handle and filter basket also need to be hot. This is most simply achieved by leaving the handle and basket attached while the machine heats up. If you don't do this, then the resulting coffee is less than optimal. Something to do with the thermal shock going from a cold basket to hot water ran through it if I recall.
3. Make sure the filter basket is dry. If you left it in the machine, it will probably be wet, so quickly dry it before use. Contact with water (or humid air for that matter) starts the extraction process. We only want this to happen when we tell the machine to start. This underscores the importance of using fresh ground beans, and keeping non-used beans somewhere cool and dry. Contrary to popular opinion, the fridge is fine as long as you let the beans warm up before use. (The freezer is OK too, but if you take beans straight from the freezer to the grinder, they're so hard that grinding won't work well, and may even damage your grinder. Let them thaw overnight in your fridge, and just have a handfull or so in the grinder basket at a time.)
4.Tamp the beans down quite firmly. This is where cheap machines that can't generate much pressure let you down. We're after about 20-25 mL of coffee to be extracted in about 20 seconds. Varying the coarseness of the grind alters how much water is 'let through'. If you stop the extraction process too early, then there's not much flavour. If you let it go on too long, then the coffee is too bitter (which by the way is how Italians prefer it, they simply compensate with sugar - different strokes....)
5. Make sure your cups are warmed. Good machines have an area to warm your cups up. On my beautiful Novitalia, this doesn't quite do the job, so I run a little water from the machine into the cup, swirl it around, and then make my coffee. Fiddly, but worth it.
6. Clean your machine regularly and frequently. You should clean the basket - check it up to the sun and you should have no blocked holes - use a small wire brush under running water, but don't poke things into the holes as this could enlarge them. If you froth your milk, clean it the steamer off immediately, and then run just a little more steam out to prevent capillary action from sucking milk up into the tube, hardening, and blocking your machine.
7. Have your machine serviced annually or so by someone who knows what they are doing. They should replace all the seals and O-rings, be able to tell you how much pressure it's generating, and what condition the boiler is in.
With all this in place, you'l never have to put up with that flavoured rubbish the coffee chains put out again. Coffee tastes good - anyone who adds flavouring to mask the espresso probably isn't making good coffee in the first place.
Good Luck,
Rod
 

Coffee Guy

New member
Oct 19, 2003
874
0
Seattle,Washington USA
Thank you Rod W...

I appreciate your take on assisting with this question. By the way I'm a he (not she) :evil: In any event, I agree with the maintenance program you are suggesting. I must admit that I'm not versed in home espresso machines and therefore wasn't aware of any home models that have boilers, but since you've cleared that up thank you. I'm sure lyndseyevelyn will find your post very helpful. Good job.
 

Zacateller

New member
Jul 12, 2004
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Reefers.

I am not positive about this, however, when Rod suggests that keeping the beans in the refrigerator or freezer is OK, it , I believe, rebuts his otherwise vbery correct comment on maintaining dry conditions of the filter basket, in fact everything, for that matter.

When you remove beans from the refrigerator, or worse, the freezer, something bad hapens - condensation. Waiting for the beans to hit room temperature exacerbates the situation. (If you're Catholic, ingnore the exacerbation reference.) I don't think Rod wants us to ignore his comment on humidity. More humidity -- more condensation. More premature extraction.

If you live in Telluride or Phoenix, it may be not so bad. If you live in NY, "fuhgettaboutit."
 

topher

Super Moderator
Staff member
Aug 14, 2003
3,747
19
Boca Raton
sigh..been a while but had to chime in...this is just my .02 you are not going to get a quality espresso off a il primo...sorry you can pre-heat your port-a-filter all you want but the boiler machines are not going to do as well as a pump machine. As to refrigerating coffee...coffee is destroyed by sunlight, moisture and air... :? so if you put coffee in the fridge or freezer...umm...moisture
 

rodw

New member
Jun 6, 2004
2
0
Humidity and moisture are the enemy. The freezer is the driest place in your house - even if you live in Arizona, but perhaps not isf you live in Antarctica.
I agree that condensation is the enemy, and on removing from the freezer you should then allow the beans to come up to temperature in a dry (= airtight) manner. All the beans I buy are sold in a vacuum sealed pack, so letting them warm up this way is no problem. Of course if you left them in an open jar underneath a leaky soup bowl, ...
 

topher

Super Moderator
Staff member
Aug 14, 2003
3,747
19
Boca Raton
hmmm..vacuum sealed pack...you say eh? If you where such and expert in coffee....you would know that coffee degasses...guess your coffee was stale before it was packed...if not the package that was vacuum sealed would blow up like a ballon. See that is why coffee is best sold in packaging with valves on them....but hey you know better than coffee guy and myself :roll:
 

phaelon56

New member
Sep 25, 2003
74
0
Syracuse NY
If you can't use your fresh roasted coffee up within ten days of the roastign date (it does hapen to some of us), best bet is to freeze it in tightly sealed ziploc bags with each bag havign about a one or two day supply. Wrap 'em all in a bigger bag or container, freeze as cold as possible and take them out one bag at a tiem when you need some coffee. CRUCIAL: allow the bag to thaw for a few hours or better yet overnight BEFORE you open it. That will avoid the condensation issue. I'm not suggesting that freezing coffe is in any way a desirabel optrion but if you have no other choice, freezing by use of careful methods does have some merit and it's way better than stale coffee. I have done actual A/B tests and base my opinion on experience.

Good espresso at home: to even hope for a decent result one must spend about $200 - $225 for an espresso machine and about $175 to $275 for a grinder. If you go much cheaper than that you're better off getting a Moka pot (aka stove-top "espresso-maker"). Good moka coffee ain't the same as good espresso but it's way better than bad espresso.

To have a chance at getting really good espresso cafe quality (I'm talking about cafe's that do it the right way - not Starbucks) expect to pay about $450 for a machine and $275 for a grinder (the revered Rancilio Silvia/Rocky combo). If you're not a serious tweaker/enthusiast but just want absolute top shelf quality at home with relative ease and consistency spend about $600 - $1200 for an E61 style machine and get the best gridner you can afford (the Rocky grinder is again a good choice but a Mazzer is even better).

You get what you pay for and the upgrade patch can get expensive - been there and done that.
 
Humidity and moisture are dangers - but there are others: oxygen is the worst. Vacuum is just as bad.

On vacuum packaging... If you survived the truth about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, you should be able to handle this. If not, stop reading. The process of vacuum packaging produces stale coffee. It sucks the aroma right out of the coffee. So where does the coffee smell come from when you open one of those blue or red cans or even one of those vacuum packed coffee bricks? They inject it. They have a big drum of "coffee smell."

Exposure to oxygen makes coffee go stale. There is oxygen in freezers, even in Arizona. Heating and cooling causes expansion and contraction and oxygen moves in and out of the beans. All modern freezers with auto defrost cycles have temp swings. Wine cellars aim for constant temperatures so the thermal cycling doesn't pump air into the bottles and stale the wine.

It is best to buy fresh whole bean coffee in good packaging and use it right away. Use up one bag before opening the next. If you go through a bag of coffee in less than a week and squeeze the air out after use, most people are not going to notice a big difference in taste. I work with an SCAA certified "Super Taster" so I know that some people can. If you're one of them, that's great.

If not, lighten up.
 

NW JAVA

New member
Keep the beans cold and air tight as much time as possible. If the beans are delivered vacuum packed; remove from bag, place into airtight container, place into very cold freezer and never let the beans set on the counter to get warm. Keep beans in very cold freezer when you are not removing for use. GOD what a hastle…. establish a report with a local roaster, that’s the best! my .02, but ten again goto the SCAA website, jion as a member and read the Library. If interested I'll e-mail a .pdf that adresses this responce/post.
 
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