"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2011 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at EspressoMyEspresso@gmail.com
The Best Coffee for the Least Amount of Money
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Maybe it's the economy or maybe more people with computers are drinking coffee, but whatever the cause, I have seen an increase in the number of folks who have been asking how to make espresso, and they often include some maximum investment they intend to make to do so. More often than not, it is unrealistically low, such as, "I want to make delicious espresso but don't want to spend m,ore than $200 for everything." So, how much do you have to spend, or in the case of this chapter, how little can you spend to get good coffee?
Before we even begin to address that question, you need to ask yourself what are your priorities? Are you looking for the best possible cup of coffee you can make for the least amount of money, or do you have to be able to make (or just say you make) espresso for the least amount of money? For the later question, good luck. It is a very difficult one to answer because of the myriad of choices that need to be made. For the former question, that is a lot easier to address, and really, that is what this website is about - helping you make the best coffee possible. This chapter does not address every possible method to make coffee at home. For example, I do not mention moka pots. This article is aimed at methods that have to potential to make the best possible coffee with the least effort and widest range of preparation parameters.
BEANSIt is not at all difficult to make a great cup of coffee at home if you begin with quality coffee beans - not ground coffee, not coffee from the open bins at the supermarket with the oily windows, not the big red cans on the shelf, but high-quality, fresh beans, properly roasted. The best way to get that is from a local roaster. Often that can be found at a local coffee shop - either roasted on the premises or nearby for fresh delivery. Mail order from a reputable roaster is also a possibility if you shop carefully. But since we are discussing the brewing method and related equipment we will save the discussion of the beans for another day. Moving on...
THE GEARBeyond good coffee beans, three additional things will be necessary - A brewing device, a coffee grinder, and hot water.
Hot water is easy. A pan on a stove's burner, a microwave, or an electric kettle all suffice. Best bet for the money is use what you already have. Cost = $0. That's a good start.
For the water itself, if your water tastes good out of the tap then it should work just fine. It's already paid for, and the cost is nominal for the small amount used, so even at a few cents per week at the most, and fractions of a cent per glass for most of us, let's call this a freebie as well. Cost = $0 (or nearly so).
BREWING DEVICESNow we come to the heart of the matter. You got yourself some beans, and you got yourself some hot water. Let's work backwards now and begin with the brewing device. It can get ridiculously cheap here. After all, dumping the ground coffee into the pot of hot water then pouring it through a sock will suffice, but let's make believe that we are not on a cattle drive and consider some home-appropriate alternatives to socks.
Pour OverThe low end would be a pour-over cone. I say that only because they are low on the cost scale. These are easy to use, operate in a wide range of parameters so precision is not necessary, and they come in a wide range of sizes and materials from plastic to ceramic to glass. Place the cone over a cup or carafe (some even fit on a thermos bottle), insert a filter, dump in the ground coffee, and pour hot water over the grounds as the name suggests. While pour-over cones work in much the same way as drip machines, the problem with the drip makers is that they vary widely in temperature with few achieving or maintaining correct temperautre during the brewing process.
Pour over cones start at around $3 for a small, plastic cone designed to brew a single cup at a time, around $5 for a single ceramic cone, and go to about $50 for a larger cone with an included coffee pot. For a single cup, I would recommend the Swissgold pour over KF300 for about $17. This isn't the least expensive way to go, but since you do not have to use disposable paper filters, there is savings in the long run. Additionally, paper filters remove some of the coffee oils and that changes the taste. Some people are also sensitive to the taste of the paper, and after all, this article is about getting the best possible coffee for the least amount of money, so the gold filter is a nice compromise.
If you already have a larger size gold filter for your drip machine then you can also use that in one of the larger pour-over cones, once again saving the expense and hassle of using paper filters. If the filter basket assembly of your drip machine is removable you can even use that as a pour over assembly.
Do a Google search for "pour-over cone" or "Pour-over coffee maker" and see what choices there are for you.
Pess PotThe next Step in price is the press pot or "French press." These start at around $10 and go to $80 and more depending on size, materials used to make them, and their design. Bodum is a very popular brand, and that is good because most of these use a glass beaker and eventually you will break one and the Bodum replacement carafes are readily available.
Personally, I do not like press-pot coffee because of the amount of sediment in the cup. The solution to that is the Espro Press (reviewed on my website HERE http://www.frcndigital.com/coffee/espropress.html). It has a proprietary filter design that eliminates the bitterness which can be created by lesser designs. This device is at the top end of this method of brewing, costing $75.
Espresso MakerIf it espresso that you must have, the only affordable device that makes real espresso worth drinking is the Mypressi Twist http://www.frcndigital.com/coffee/twist.html . At $150 it is the least expensive espresso maker worth mentioning. While other machines are sold at or below this which claim to make espresso, most are made from inferior materials, are poorly designed, or do not develop the pressure needed to make "real" espresso.
GRINDERSOf all this, the grinder can have a major impact on the coffee. If there are any rules to all this, the basic ones are: - Get the best grinder you can afford. - The more gentle the brewing method, the more frugal you can be with teh grinder - If you want to spend less than about $75, get a hand grinder (such as the Hario Skerton). The electric grinders less than that are generally not worthy of the electricity they use. - Cheap grinders make lots of coffee dust, and that dust creates bitterness in the cup.
So, financially speaking, the bottom end of the grinder scale is the hand grinder, but if you are making more than a single cup at a time, these can be tedious to use. The Hario Skerton at about $45 is the most affordable worth considering. From there the Zassenhaus grinders start at about $75 with the models best suited for espresso at around $100.
If you read through my chapter called "The Cost of Grinder Frugality http://www.frcndigital.com/coffee/Coffee79.html you will get an idea as to why the "economy" range of electric grinders amount to not much more than noisemakers, designed to ruin coffee beans.
The opening of the electric contenders would be something like the Capresso Infinity or the Baratza Maestro, both at around $100 (but check the Baratza website for refurbished deals). Baratza has about the best customer service you will ever find, anywhere. While not suitable for espresso, they will serve the needs for the other methods of brewing mentioned above.
The next step up hits at about $200 with the Baratza Virtuoso and the Gaggia MDF. Both offer a range of adjustments for all methods of brewing, and are at the entry level for basic espresso brewing.
One exception might be that an "economy" electric grinder will work for drip methods that use paper filters. While these tend to remove some of the flavor elements, they also filter out much of the dust created by cheap grinders. In this case, you can get away with the low end tools, but it won't put the best of the bean into the cup.
Here is a table showing the various combinations in terms of cost. The prices were gathered from the Internet and some do not include shipping nor tax so some careful shopping will be in order to find the best prices. Prices and availability change in time, so this is just to give you an idea where to begin.