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To Milk or not to Milk… That is the Question

Cow Milk

My basic philosophy as to adding anything to a cup of coffee has always been, “Add it because you want to, not because you have to.” If a cup of coffee is such that you cannot drink it without adding [fill in your amendment here] then it should not be consumed.” But there are times and reasons for adding or not adding to your cup.

One of my favorite coffee treats is Turkish coffee. Adding a little sugar to the ibrik with the finely-ground coffee and water makes for a very special treat. Cardamom or cinnamon added to that makes it even more special. I think of it as a cup of liquid dessert. Not something to do every day, but as a special treat.

By definition, a cappuccino or latte would not be if it were not for milk. Milk is half the definition of those beverages, literally. These beverages are comprised of espresso with steamed milk added. The quality of the milk is important for either. The ratio of fat to protein is what allows a barista to create the micro-foam that enables them to pour latte art. While the various hearts and flower shapes are beautiful to behold, they are an indicator of the quality of the milk as well as the ability and dedication of the barista.

But milk is not for everyone. Depending on the source of information used, anywhere from about sixty to seventy-five percent of the population is lactose intolerant , with figures over ninety percent in East-Asian populations. Lactose intolerance is caused by lactase deficiency. Lactase is an enzyme produced by your body that breaks down lactose (milk sugar). Without going into the clinical details, suffice it to say that lactose-intolerant people suffer various levels and types of gastrointestinal distress from mild to severe a short time after consuming products containing lactose. To the best of my knowledge, humans are the only species who consume milk after being weaned. Theories state that we lose some of the ability to produce lactase after weaning because we do not need it any more. But there are other causes of lactose intolerance. Moving on..

So odds are good that you are lactose intolerant to some extent. If so, what to do? There are alternatives:

There are lactose-free bovine milk products available. An enzyme is added to the milk during processing to break down the lactose for you before consumption. Depending on your location there may be numerous choices. I suggest checking a store that carries natural or organic products since these are often from cows which are usually fed a better diet which can lead to a higher quality protein.

There are also milk-free milks. For numerous reasons, including lactose intolerance, some people do not consume dairy milk. For those folks the most common alternatives are almond and soy “milks.” These are made by grinding the almonds or soy beans, cooking them in water, then filtering the liquid out.

To an even greater extent than bovine milk, the quality of these alternatives varies widely. Some are rich and sweet while others are thin, watery, and almost tasteless. Assuming that most of our readers are in the United States, three brands I have tried that work quite well in a cappuccino or latte:

Kikoman Pearl (either plain or vanilla).
Kirkland Vanilla (Costco brand)
Pacific Foods Soy Blenders

These all will work well for latte art and all are slightly sweetened although unsweetened are also available in some flavors (other than the Kirkland).

My limited experience with almond milk in coffee was not as positive, but tastes vary, so give it a try and find out for yourself. Some of the supermarket house brands of these milk alternatives we have tried were of low quality, but give them a try as they might be to your liking.

But as I stated from the start, if you are adding anything to a coffee beverage, do it because you want to, not because you have to. Quality coffee, whether it be espresso, drip, press, or whatever, should be good on its own. Whatever you add should just make it better.

Ten reasons why you should buy a Jura Automatic Coffee Center


Jura Impressa Z9

Jura Impressa Z9

  1. Jura Automatic Coffee Centers make the freshest, most aromatic coffee, espresso, cappuccino, and latte completely automatically. It’s like having a professional coffee Barista in your home!
  2. Each cup of coffee is made on demand. All you have to do is press a button!
  3. Coffee is ground fresh for each cup just before brewing, preserving more aroma than any other brewing system. No expensive pods or capsules!
  4. A high pressure pump easily forces hot water at high pressure through the grounds extracting flavor and aroma in less than 30 seconds, leaving behind all bitter chemicals which are normally extracted during a longer brewing methods. The coffee can’t taste better!
  5. Jura Automatic Coffee Centers have an extra large brewing chamber, which holds up to 16 grams of ground coffee… more than any other system on the market. This design allows you to brew up to 16 oz. of coffee at a time. The choice is all yours: One or two espressos, one or two double shots, two double shots, a 12 oz. mug or any other combination of up to 16 oz. of coffee at a time.
  6. The high-wattage stainless steel lined ThermoBlock heating systems deliver unlimited amounts of steam for frothing and steaming milk for cappuccinos and lattes. Some Jura models even froth the milk and brew the coffee with just one push of the button (look for our One Touch Cappuccino models Z9, Z7, J9 TFT,S9 One Touch, C9 One Touch and GIGA 5).
    Making cappuccino and latte was never this easy!
  7. A hot water dispenser is ideal to quickly pre-warm cold cups or prepare a large cup of tea in seconds. Tea anyone?
  8. All Jura Automatic Coffee Centers can be operated in stand-by mode all day long, ready to make a cup of coffee in seconds. During brewing you can even change the strength and the coffee volume without changing your regular setting. The 60-second cappuccino, anytime you want it!
  9. User friendly and informative alpha-numeric displays inform you when its time to refill water and beans and to clean your machine. It’s as easy to clean as it is to make coffee!
  10. Made in Switzerland: Jura Automatic Coffee Centers are made of high-end quality materials. The built-in commercial conical steel burr grinder with its class leading low-noise design is manually calibrated during assembly to assure highest precision grinding.
    You can’t buy a better, more reliable machine!

Lay the Percolator to Rest

Through the ages all factors related to coffee have advanced. From ground upon a rock to highly-advanced grinders capable of adjustment as small as 0.0005”.  For pan roasting to computer controlled roasters that give precise control over every batch. We new even know now the genetic structure of the coffee plant itself. Much the same can be said of methods of coffee preparation.

Espresso machines can easily be said to be the most advanced form of coffee-making. Some commercial machines have three separate computers inside just to control brew temperature and water delivery. But here in the West, Percolater.

That statement will likely rankle some, and the reasons are simple. The percolator began its life in around 1814 or a bit earlier. The first US patent for what we now know as the “modern” percolator was granted in 1889. These were designed to be placed on a stove or other similar heating source. After W.W.II the electric percolator came into vogue as the movement to “modernize” the American home took hold. But some modern conveniences have their drawbacks. Let’s take a look at why:

The percolator is just a pot with a spout. Usually it is taller than it is wide. Placed on a heating source , the water inside begins to heat and rise. It flows up the center tube (1) where it splashes against a clear dome (2). There are variations to that, but this is what most people think of as a stereotypical percolator. After the splash, the water trickles into a basket suspended in the pot. This basket contains the ground coffee. It flows through the grounds (4) and dribbles back down to the bottom of the pot to begin its journey again. It does this over and over. As the coffee brews the wonderful aroma of the beverage fills the home as vapors and steam are emitted through the pouring spout (6).

It is that last fact that makes the percolator a favorite method in some households to this day but is also one of the reasons that this method is best put to rest. That wonderful aroma makes an excellent “air freshener” for the home, but that aroma is, to a great extent, the flavor of the coffee being boiled off. Brewed coffee should normally not get over about 202 to 203F. degrees, and that as a maximum. Depending on many factors, coffee brewed at around 196 to 198 can be fantastic. The heat from the stove will cause the liquid in the pot to approach the boiling point as the brewing process progresses. While it may not actually reach 212 F., it certainly has great potential of  surpassing 205F.

The other problem is the nature of the process itself. As the coffee is passed through the grounds, over and over, the potential for over-extraction is multiplied. Anyone who has ever had a bitter cup of perc’d coffee knows this as a fact.

There is also the difficulty of knowing when to stop the brewing process by taking the pot off the burner. A timer can be used or the color of the coffee splashing in the glass dome on top can be used as an indicator. Being that so much of the flavor has the potential of being boiled off throughout the process, precision is a minor factor in brewing time here.

But that aroma, the evidence we use to show what is bad about a percolator is also a big reason why it is still used today. That aroma is more than enough to get most folks out of bed in the morning. The aroma says “good morning.” The device is also simple to use and easy to clean.

So the basics are there but there have been improvements. The drip coffee maker combines the convenience of  this simple brewing method and has the potential to control over the process. The biggest improvement over the percolator is that the water is heated and then released through the ground coffee just one time. That gives the potential of  alleviating over-extraction, but the majority of drip makers create another by having a brew temperature that is too low. As mentioned earlier, brew temperature is critical for the best cup of coffee. Whether this low temperature is due to design flaws, cost-saving measures in design and production, or lawyers attempting to avoid having their clients sued is unimportant. The taste of the coffee is important. No home drip brewers had true adjustable brewing temperature until now.

The most advanced drip coffee maker ever offered for home use is now in its second generation. Invented by Joe Behm, the Behmor “Brazen Plus” eliminates all the problems of the percolator and has advanced drip brewing into the realm of science. It has even earned European and American certification by the SCAA and the SCAE. Brew water is held above the coffee in a stainless steel reservoir where it is heated to a preselected temperature chosen by the user, controlled by electronics using a sensor that is in the water itself. Once the water reaches that selected temperature, only then is it released through the coffee held directly below. If desired, the Brazen can pre-soak the grounds, allowing them to become pre-saturated which eliminates uneven extraction. When the brewing begins, the water is released in a slow, on-off cycle, which allows the water to drain through the coffee and not flood and disrupt the bed of grounds. Water is distributed evenly over the coffee by an advanced shower head with many moles instead of just one small nozzle over the coffee. The machine can even be set for your altitude and the boiling point calibrated to compensate for that. This also compensates for electronic drift over time.

This does not mean that older methods of coffee preparation are obsolete. Turkish coffee is one of my very favorite methods, and that way method of coffee preparation is the oldest in the world still in use today.  Even cowboy coffee has greater potential of making a better cup than a percolator. But the majority of households use drip brewers today and there is no more advanced home drip brewer than the Behmor Brazen.

The Bean Counters

beethoven coffeeThis is not about chartered accountancy or the standard bookkeeping practices employed therein. It is about coffee. In a “competing” blog entry entitled “Coffee!!!” By Mason Currey

(and also found all around the Internet in some 118,000 thousand other places according to Google),

Beethoven had a cup of coffee for his breakfast each morning. To make it he would count out 60 coffee beans. As a fellow musician, although not up to Ludwig’s standards of creativity, I decided to investigate. Yes, I counted out 60 coffee beans… twice. The first time was from a random scoop of beans. The second time I choose only “full size” beans (no peaberries). I found a mass of 7.2 and 8 grams respectively.

Next step was to research what the recommended ratio of coffee to water should be. I found the following recommendations:

30 grams : 16 ounces (63 grams:liter)

1.63 grams : 1 ounce (55grams:liter)

7 grams : 125ml (56 grams:liter)

30 grams : 420 grams of water (71 grams:liter)

65 grams : liter (self explanatory)

After going through a few pages like that I felt like searching for how many inches in an hour. But as you can see, there is a range that is generally agreed upon that if you are making coffee using one liter of water (which is approximately 33.81402 liquid ounces, if you care) you should use between 55 and 70 grams of coffee. That is scientific accuracy that an art major can appreciate because it decreases the science and increases the art. But the science gets more confusing.

Beethoven was not making a liter of coffee, he was making a cup of coffee. The volume of his cup was what? Students? Anyone? It’s a trick question because I don’t know the answer, and even if I had access to his actual cup as authenticated by the Franklin Mint, we don’t know how much water he used. He could have been using a six ounce cup which he filled to 80% of its capacity. Anyone? That would be approximately 0.1420 of a liter. ENOUGH ALREADY with this!

We could keep going, but it is becoming less humorous and more pointless as it continues on. There are a few useful coffee bean counting tips that can assist you in making a better cup of coffee, and they can be simplified:
Weighing your coffee is a better method than using a scoop. Weight is more consistent than volume. The roast level and the age of the coffee affect its density (pound of Styrofoam vs. a pound of lead). So weigh the beans before grinding (beans will likely be easier to handle than ground coffee).
Measure the water accurately using a good measuring cup. Even better, weigh the water. The metric system was created as a true system. 1cc = 1ml = 1gram of water.
How much coffee to how much water? Begin with a ratio of 6 grams of coffee : 100grams of water, or about 1:17 in weight (yes, I could have started this article with that statement, and no, I do not get paid by the word).

The art is that if the coffee is thin, or tasteless, or bland to you, use more coffee, or a finer grind, or both. If the coffee is overpowering and “in your face,” causing you to  hold onto the edge of the table like it’s a safety bar on a roller coaster,  use less coffee or grind a bit more coarse, or both. And once again, yes, I could also have started with that statement. The point is that coffee is food, and the food you like the best is the food you like the best. Whether you like a cup that looks like thin broth or coffee that pours like molasses, taste is subjective.

The science of this is that unless you control the variables as closely as is reasonably possible, when you get a great cup of coffee, how will you be able to reproduce it unless you know how much coffee and how much water you used?

So we can guess that Beethoven’s 60 beans to an 8 ounce cup of coffee, was a ratio of 1:26 (beans to water by mass). If it was 6 ounces of water, the ratio would be 1:22 Compared to the recommended ratio of 1:17, his coffee actually seems a little weak compared to today’s standards. Maybe he liked it that way. He was an artist, after all.

Coffee Education By The Cup

At one time or another, we have all likely spent time searching for a good, independent coffee shop which prides itself on serving a quality product. It can be difficult to find in some communities, but they are out there! But these shops very often offer more than just a clean cup, a drinkable beverage, and friendly service. They can be a good source of coffee education.
An independent coffee shop is very often operated by someone who is passionate about coffee. Some even roast their own coffee to be able to create a taste that is just their own. The passion is there and it shows in the product as well as in the employees. Time is spent training baristas in order to ensure that the product meets the shop’s standards. The employees areas educated and you can be as well.

coffee shops

When I go into a coffee shop I try to get there in the off-hours, avoiding the morning and lunch rushes. I always start by ordering a straight espresso. If a shop has put enough effort and training into making good espresso then the rest of their offerings will usually fall into line. Additionally, few people ever order an espresso straight and so it often make you stand out from the rank-and-file crowds.

If it is not busy I like to hang around the counter and watch my shot being pulled. While I am no master barista, I know enough about espresso to be able to examine the process as well as the product as it issues froth from the machine and be able to make a friendly comment or two; a conversation starter. A word or two usually is enough to know if the conversation should continue. Something as simple as, “That flow looks good,” or possibly, “It looks like the grind could benefit from being a little finer.” That might lead to commenting on the taste of the espresso. The response I receive dictates where I go from there.

While it will not always happen, in most of these shops with a dedicated staff you will find employees who are more than willing to share some of what they know. That is the whole point of starting the conversation. I go in assuming that I might learn something that can make my home espresso production better, or more efficient, or just different. I once befriended a commercial roaster who has since moved on, but I learned a lot about coffee roasting from him. Learning about coffee, like any other knowledge, is cumulative. A small tip here, an idea there, and eventually it comes together for you. I started out as a home enthusiasts and now work in the coffee industry. You just never know where the road may lead. But back to the coffee shop..
If the espresso is good the rest of the visit is easy, particularly if the opening conversation was friendly. I usually then order something to eat and a cappuccino. But what to do if the espresso is not good? What do you say? What do you do? A friend who worked as a professional waitress once told me never to upset your server (to put it politely). It is good advice to not be rude to people who are preparing food for you. If the espresso was close then I might go back again. Sometimes my comments, with some thinly veiled advice, are taken to heart and the barista will try again. But if not, if the conversation is curt or unfriendly, then next time in town I try a different shop.

There are small towns may only have two or three coffee shops so your choices are limited if you are avoiding the chains (which I generally do). If that happens, you can always fall back on your home barista knowledge and your ever-improving coffee making skills.

Making Coffee At Home Is Bad For You

First it was aluminum and Alzheimer’s, then it was too much fat, and then too much protein, and then mushrooms that could help you lose weight, and now coffee? But this is not a health article unless you consider attitude a health issue (my wife does).Making Coffee

Making good coffee comes from perseverance and practice. Apply the scientific method of controlling variables to the best of your ability and make use of the as much of the potential of your equipment, all in the hopes of coaxing from the bean all it has to offer. Days, months, and then years pass. If you keep at it, all your friends discover where the best coffee is in the neighborhood. Some may even ask why you don’t open a coffee shop.

So you have created a foundation of what good coffee should taste like. Your know the difference between a wet and a natural processed bean just by the smell. You can taste whether there really is any Yigcheffe in that blend. Well, maybe not, but you certainly have made enough coffee to know the difference between a drinkable delight and swill.

So you head into town with a friend and drop into a coffee shop. What is your brain telling you? What mass of thoughts haunt your imagination?

  • The aroma in here is more disinfectant than coffee
  • Do I really have to drink a cup of coffee here?
  • That tattoo on her face must have really hurt

Or is it more like

  • Should I get a cup of the house blend or a cappuccino?
  • If I find something I like I hope they sell the beans.
  • Are the “roasted on” dates posted?

Two very different attitudes. If you are serious at all about your coffee and have visited enough coffee shops you likely have had more mediocre and bad experiences than good. It has a lot to do with personal standards. If you have been using pre-ground, canned coffee in big red jugs from the supermarket and brewing in a $12, plastic drip brewer, then just about anything at any coffee shop will taste as good, and likely better. But if you have been using freshly-roasted beans, ground per use (and you should be), then your reticence to enter a coffee shop is understandable.

But my advice is overcome the fear and try to find a shop that is worth visiting. Like finding a life’s mate, it takes time. Ladies know, you have to kiss some frogs to find a prince. There are good shops around. The best bet is usually the independent shops. Competing against the national chains with their centralized roasting facilities and massive advertising and marketing budgets, the small-shop owner has to offer more to compete, and that means offering better coffee.

So my advice is grab the phone book, look up coffee shops, and try one you haven’t tried before. You just might find better a place making coffee and get an education as well.

Stop and Smell the Coffee

Stop and Smell the Coffee
Coffee should be more than the morning drug or to gulp as you run out the door, briefcase in one hand and travel mug in the other. From its very beginnings as a beverage, coffee brought people together in the coffee houses in Vienna, Paris, London, and other great cities of the world. Friends, acquaintances, and conspirators alike gathered over cups of coffee to share, joke, enjoy each others company, and conspire. Here are a few tips that might help you enjoy your coffee more, some social and some not:

• A few quiet minutes in the morning can improve your attitude for the rest of the day. Sit and relax, even if just for a five minutes before you rush off into your hectic schedule. If you don’t have those few minutes, maybe it’s time to examine your morning schedule. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “Ten minutes earlier to bed, and ten minutes earlier rise time,” may be all that you need.

• Talk for a few minutes with your loved ones over a cup. Allow the coffee to cool just a bit. Why? A cooler cup of coffee should taste better than when it comes right out of the brewing device. Your taking the time to sit, talk, and enjoy will make your coffee taste better by allowing it to cool. If the taste doesn’t improve it is time to investigate your brewing methods or even the coffee you are using.

• Some calming music, playing softly in the background will help. Subdued lighting as well. We are not trying to put you to sleep, but a calming environment will allow you to concentrate on your coffee and think about the flavor.

• Learning to taste coffee is a skill worth developing. To begin, try concentrating on what it tastes like when it first enters your mouth, as it passes over and around the tongue, as you are swallowing, and the first ten or fifteen seconds after you swallow. Good coffee goes through a whole set of flavor changes through this process.

• Chew your food. One of the tips I give friends when they come to sample my coffee is to eat it- not just drink it. Take a small sip and chew it a bit. This forces you to move the coffee around in your mouth and also extends the time the coffee is on your taste buds.

• Don’t brush your teeth before coffee time. Toothpaste will change they way your palate senses the coffee. Brushing after coffee may also may help prevent dental staining as well as help fight coffee breath when you head out of the door.

• Don’t use a travel mug. As with all foods, aroma is a huge part of the enjoyment and taste of food. Use a coffee cup with a large enough top circumference that allows you to get you nose closer to the coffee and take a “whiff” of the beverage before drinking. Scotch and wine sampling glasses are designed to do much the same thing and for exactly the same reasons.
It is stressful being part of the ever-increasing pace of today’s hectic Western society. Faster internet speeds, faster cars and transport systems, constant calls and test messages on a smart phone, the traffic of the morning commute, and more distractions than ever before all seem designed to raise ones blood pressure. It becomes more and more important to take the time to stop and smell the flowers.. and the coffee.

The Crema of the Crop, It makes Espresso, Espresso

The Crema of the Crop

It Makes Espresso, Espresso


(above image used here with permission from

Crema certainly is something special. “True” crema only is created when espresso is made. As seen above, it is a viscous ‘foam’ that floats above the espresso liquid. During the extraction of a two-ounce espresso nearly 100% of the beverage may appear as crema as the extraction ends. After that the crema breaks down and becomes the dark liquid espresso, but a good amount of crema remains floating on top.

The crema is a combination of a number of components. It is mostly a colloid, which by definition is a suspension of insoluble components mixed in with other components. Good crema takes time to settle out into a liquid. The insoluble component of this colloid are microscopic plant fibers from the coffee beans along with oils contained in the ground coffee. We have all seen the oils on the surface of dark roasted beans. All coffee beans possess those oils whether you see them on the surface or not.

Most of us know that coffee beans, once roasted, release carbon dioxide gas (and some other gasses). It is the release of these gasses that causes a bag or fresh roasted coffee to “inflate” or a storage jar’s lid to “pop” or “whoosh” when opened. Take the tiny bubbles of this gas which is released during the extraction process and mix it with the oils, plant fibers, water, and other trace components of the coffee bean and you get crema.

Why Just From Espresso?

There are two major factors that make the creation of espresso different from most all other methods. The first is the pressure used to create the beverage. No other method of coffee making uses 9BAR (about 135 PSI) of water pressure. A home water system normally has no more than between 40 and 60 pounds. Most espresso machines produce two to three times that.

The second factor is that the coffee is ground very fine with particle sizes held in a fairly tight range. The only common form of coffee making that uses a finer grind is Turkish. Now take that finely ground coffee and pack it very tightly into a little metal cup with lots of tiny holes in the bottom (the filter basket). Lock that into the espresso machine and force the high pressure water at about 198 to 202 degrees through it. The force and heat extract all those previously-mentioned components creating the crema and the espresso.

The Category is Beverages, and the answer is, “Crema Means Good Espresso.”

” ‘What is False?’ Alex.”

Crema is just a mechanical result of forcing hot water through coffee prepared as outlined above. We can say that if there is no crema on freshly-made espresso then that is a problem. No crema most likely means one of two things:

1 – Some of the necessary components did not exist in the beans for reasons such as :

  • The beans were old and stale
  • The beans were improperly stored
  • The beans were of low quality to begin with
  • The beans were not properly roasted

2 – The preparation method was lacking in some way, such as:

  • Too low or too high of a brew pressure
  • Coffee ground too coarse
  • Water Temperature far too low
  • Not enough coffee was used
  • Poor water quality

So while crema can be a delicious component of espresso, depending on crema as a definitive indicator of the quality of the espresso is something that you learn is false very early on. I have personally been making espresso for well over a decade and can assuredly tell you that I have made some crema-topped espresso that caused me to feel sorry for the kitchen sink into which I had to expectorate the first sip and into which I then had to pour the rest.

If you find that crema on its own does not taste pleasant to you, try stirring it back into the espresso before sipping it. The combination of the sugars extracted which reside in the liquid below should combine with the crema to create a complex tasting beverage you can enjoy.

Bitter or Sour Espresso? There’s A Reason

Bitter or Sour Espresso? There’s A Reason Espresso is a very complex beverage. There are more identified taste elements in espresso than in wine, and we know how wine connoisseurs can be. Anyone who has spent any time studying espresso, even on a basic level, has read that there are tastes like chocolate, blueberry, citrus, leather, oaky flavors, and so many more in coffee.

SCAA Espresso Flavor Wheel

SCAA Flavor Wheel

You can check the SCAA flavor wheel for the vast variety of language used to describe espresso’s flavor and aromas. But taste is what I am discussing today.
The two described extremes of taste on the taste side of the wheel are “sour” and “bitter.” Sour is fairly easy- lemon juice or citric acid (often sold as sour salt) works as a good household example of that. A good example of bitter might be unsweetened chocolate or, if you have some handy, gentian root extract. The interesting thing about these two flavor extremes is that they both exist in coffee, and even more so in espresso because of the extreme level of extraction that is necessary to create an espresso beverage. So how could we even drink it?
Jim Schulman, a member at, recently created a thread called, “Balance in Espresso is Intense Bitter and Sour Cancelling Each Other Out.”

In this article he discusses an experiment he used to demonstrate to his students the relationship between these two flavors. He showed that when these two flavors are present and relatively well balanced, and particularly when accompanied by an amount of sugar, they cancel each other out. When something is wrong in the process (and the list of ways to get it wrong is tremendous), one or the other flavor dominates and an unpleasant taste is the result.
As an example, a very light-roasted coffee that was meant to be used as a pour-over will have a dominant acidic flavor that might be pleasant, like unsweetened oranges, when mixed with the other coffee flavors. But that same coffee, used to create an espresso, might be overwhelmingly sour and may be unpleasant to drink. That same coffee, roasted just a little darker to mute the sourness of the acid and develop the bitter taste a little further might work well as an espresso. Roast, blend, age of the roasted coffee, brewing temperature, the quality of the water, coffee:water ratio, and more can all affect the flavor balance between bitter and sour. Even culturally, some peoples are brought up to enjoy bitter flavors more than we tend to be in western cultures.
A local acquaintance, when I told him I was making espresso at home, said, “Ewww… That’s really bitter, isn’t it?” It is clear that his earlier (and maybe his only) exposure to espresso was not a good one. Has it happened to you? Don’t forsake espresso for a massive, fat-filled, hot milkshake. Seek out other local coffee shops and try again. Your best bet is a small, independent shop and not a large chain store. The independent shops cannot depend on wide scale advertising, Their existence depends on the quality of their espresso.
On the other hand, I often hear from home baristas statements like, “I can make espresso as good or better then any shop near where I live.” Like any culinary skill, it takes time, practice, and patience to hone your skill and amass the experience needed. But like any other fine skill, it will be time well spent because you will have that ability the rest of your life.
So, if you have been avoiding espresso, or know someone who has because of what they have heard or experienced, there you have the reason why as well as a solution. Get an espresso machine, practice, and invite them over!

Types of Home Espresso Machines

Home Espresso Machines – Operation, Benefits, and Handicaps

Stove Top (Moka Pot)
The stove-top espresso machine, also known as a moka pot, is a two-chamber device that, as the name suggests, sits on a stove burner to operate (there are also some that are self-contained electrical appliances). Water goes in the bottom chamber and coffee is held between the two halves. The steam pressure created by the boiling water in the bottom forces water up through the coffee and into the top chamber.
Benefits – Few moving parts to worry about, easy to use, inexpensive to purchase. Small and easy to transport.
Handicaps – Tends to overheat the coffee, does not make a “true” espresso since the pressure generated by the power of steam is not that great.

Steam Powered
These generally look like a home espresso machine but they have no pump. They can be identified by a large knob-like cover on top that seals the water chamber where steam is trapped. The electrical cord is only for the heating element to boil the water. Steam pressure pushes the water through the coffee.
Benefits – Doesn’t need an external source of heat, just electricity. Have few moving parts to worry about, easy to use, inexpensive to purchase.
Handicaps – Tends to overheat the coffee, does not make a “true” espresso since the pressure generated by the steam is not that great.

Manual Lever
For making “true” espresso these are the most simplest of espresso machines machines. Much like the two entries above, there is no pump. The pressure to force the water through the espresso is created by you! A lever arm is operated and either a heavy spring forces a piston down to force the water through the coffee or you pull on the lever to force the water through. Many consider this to be the truest from of espresso since you are, literally, physically involved in the entire process.

Benefits – Simplest machine design for true espresso. Many are quite visually stunning. No pump to worry about. Great potential for fine espresso production.
Handicaps – Have a steeper learning curve at first, are very sensitive to the grind of the coffee. Temperature control also must be learned with most of them as they tend to overheat when left on and unused for a while. Will be more expensive than the previously mentioned designs.

All the rest of these machines in this list depend on electrical pumps to force the water through the coffee. Most machines have vibratory pumps that work using a strong electromagnetic coils to move a small piston back and forth. More expensive machines have a rotary pump powered by an electric motor that is generally quieter.
Benefits – With electrical power pushing the water there is no overheating as found in steam machines. Greater consistency for most users than the previously mentioned designs. For most home machines prices range from around $250 to well over $3000. Have $10,000 to spend? You will find what you are looking for!
Handicaps – The widest range of prices and hundreds of models from dozens of manufacturers can make selection difficult. Prices start at around $250 or so, and incremental steps into the thousands for a machine can be a real temptation to move up just one more step… again and again.
Pump machines can be divided into separate categories as follows:

Semi Automatic
Most of the home espresso machines on the market today fall into this category. After all the preparatory steps (grind, dose, tamp, etc.) *1, just press a button (or flip a switch as the case may be) and the machine starts pumping water through the coffee. Turn the switch off and the machine stops.

Benefits – Less electronically complicated than the following designs and so are potentially more dependable. Makes “real” espresso.
Handicaps – Require a quality grinder and preparation accuracy is required for the best results. A good amount of “hands-on art” in the preparation.

Automatic (volumetric programmed)
These machines are much like the semi-automatic machines with the addition of a control system that can be set by the user to deliver a certain amount of water to the compacted coffee, and then automatically turn off the brew cycle. These also allow manual control of the brew cycle as well.
Benefits – Helps control consistency by delivering a predetermined amount of water for brewing then automatically turns off the brew cycle.
Handicaps – More expensive than the Semi-automatic machines. Additional electronics and sensors make them more complicated and potentially have higher repair expenses.

Super Automatic
Imagine a machine that allows you to touch a button and have it create the beverage of your choice. That is a super-automatic. These machines have built in grinders that grind on demand when a beverage is chosen. The machine dispenses the ground coffee into the brew group, tamps it, starts the brew cycle and your beverage is dispensed into your cup. Many even have the ability to froth and dispense milk based on your preferences, and some have built in cooling units that keep the milk fresh. They even tell you when it is time to empty the waste tray, when to descale, and when a cleaning cycle should be run, and much more. They do just about everything except drink your beverage.
Benefits – A good choice for those who don’t want to deal with all the preparation steps of other machines (grind, dose the coffee, tamp, etc.). Depending on the model chosen, many take up less counter space than a traditional espresso setup of machine and grinder.
Handicaps – The most complicated of all espresso machines. Can be costly to repair. Their range of adjustments can deliver a good beverage, but they are generally not as capable of delivering great espresso as an experienced user can with the previously mentioned machines.

How do you choose? A few things you can do. You first have to assess you level of commitment to the beverage. Then do some research on the various coffee forums and websites and ask questions. Finally, contact your retailer and share your needs and desires and discuss the various home espresso machine options with them.

*1 – Be aware that there are a number of machines now in this category that can use pods. These are coffee pucks which are pre-packaged, individual servings in a sort of pressed, circular tea bag sort of thing. These eliminate grinding, tamping, and other preparatory steps and do not require the user to have a grinder. While convenient, the biggest problem is that they are quite a bit more expensive per cup than using whole coffee beans.