"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
2712/10/00 - In Chapter 26 I mentioned how consumers who continually purchase the least expensive espresso machine they can possibly find with no concern as to whether it will actually make espresso or not merely continue to drive the manufacturers to develop more cheap machines instead of machines that actually work. Here's a good example of that:
Mocha Ice Cream and More
Wifee likes to watch some of the cooking shows on the Food Network on the satellite dish. We were watching the one where a crew goes into the home of some lucky person and a chef goes through their kitchen cabinets and make a wonderful meal from whatever they find there. "I found this bag of white rice, a can of Sterno, some unsweetened chocolate, and a bottle of maraschino cherries and I have made this filet mignon steak dinner for fifteen with homemade truffles." Well, something like that...
On this particular episode they were at the home of some fairly wealthy folks (their kitchen would make a nice vacation cabin and the house took up a couple of zip codes). The wife was a decorator and it showed in the entire home. In the middle of the kitchen was a cooking island and along the center of this island was a row of white, small kitchen appliances that matched all the other white appliances in the kitchen- refrigerator, stove, etc., etc.
There, in the middle of this row of appliances which included a Kitchen Aid mixer and a bread machine was an espresso machine. The first thing to catch my eye was the steam wand. I then honed in on the machine and saw it was one of those steam driven toys- easily spotted by the large, screw-on cap on top of the machine. It also had a coffee maker built in. I kept thinking that here are some folks who could buy a machine for wallet-cash that would cost more then most of our cars are worth (ALL of my cars together, actually), and if necessary they could have a crew come in to remodel a part of the kitchen so that this thing would have a little home of its own, decorated in early "Italian Barrista," yet there on their counter they proudly displayed a bottom-line espresso machine. Did I mention that it was steam driven?
Why should I care? Well, the fact that these people who could afford better bought from what I can only assume to be out of ignorance. They didn't know better, or maybe it was a gift, but still- there the machine sat. Were they actually using it to make espresso? Of course not. How do I know? We all know that a steam powered machine, by definition, cannot make espresso. The point here is that we, as informed, educated espresso makers and consumers- we all need to continue to get the word out. As long as these companies can sell $75 machines and call the brown liquid that comes out of them espresso, then they will continue to do so and we will continue to be forced to pay inflated prices for the real machines.
We have all discussed that machines like the Solis SL90 and Rancilio Silvia and Gaggia Classic should not cost as much as they do. Well, until that level of machine is considered mainstream in its features and performance, their sales will not allow them to be priced any lower.
12/12/00 - This morning I learned the secret to very dark crema and very rich, almost 'thick' espresso. I was nearing the end of my previous Monkey roast. I couldn't remember in which direction, but I knew that I had to grind the monkey one click different than the Donkey. I settled upon one click finer as I somehow remembered pulls that flowed too quickly. In twenty-five seconds I get a total of about half an ounce of very dark espresso with some very dark crema. I would say the darkest crema I have pulled so far. It dribbled from the portafilter like old latex paint at first, then thinned a bit and flowed like old honey. It sat in the shot glasses like mud.
I looked at it and decided to give it a taste- call it scientific curiosity- call it stupidity. It tasted over-extracted- very over-extracted. That's because it was extremely over-extracted. I took one sip and spit! I rinsed my mouth out three times with water and when expectorated into the sink, even the third rinse was dark with the color of coffee. This stuff was seriously concentrated- and seriously nasty! I think we all learned something here today. Just because the crema is dark and the pull is thick and rich looking, it doesn't mean the espresso is any good. Over-extracted is just as bad as under-extracted, and it can be worse.
Made up for that this evening, though. We decided to have some "mocha" ice cream. We had some vanilla in the freezer and Wifee had made some chocolate sauce from scratch. I pulled a double. Knowing that they were going on top of ice cream and being stirred about with chocolate sauce I wasn't terribly worried about how they tasted. I figured, 'anything close counts.' I just put two measures of Sweet Maria's Donkey decaf into Rocky, ground at the normal "6," tamped by touch without using the scale, and ran the pull in the pre- heated Silvia. Twenty-four seconds brought forth two full-ounce singles, Well, let me tell you. The crema was dark, reddish-brown and thick, the smell was heavenly, and I tasted a sip and thought to myself that it was a shame that these were going on top of ice cream- smooth, sweet on the tip of the tongue, and a chocolaty nuance that was.. well.. perfect. Sometimes you just get it right.
And the "moka" ice cream creation...? Highly recommended!