There are three basic components to an espresso maker: the coffee holder, the water heater, and the high-pressure pump. After the coffee is ground to an appropriate fineness, it is added to a holder (portafilter) and tamped down to remove any air pockets. Heated water (190º-200º) is then forced through the coffee to create the espresso drink. We have two fully automated machines (Jura Z7, Gaggia Vision) in our office which take care of everyone's daily coffee needs. The automated units make pretty decent espressos, but how do they measure up to drinks made from the single-purpose espresso units? We have always wondered, but we will wonder no more.
The interns did some research, and found (and acquired) two espresso machines (Gaggia Classic, Saeco Aroma) that are perfect for our little taste-test experiment. Both the Gaggia and the Saeco look to be very well-constructed units. The Gaggia was from Importika, an awesome source for caffeine-related machines and accessories. The Saeco we got from EverythingKitchens.com. They have a fantastic low-price guarantee, free shipping, and are our first stop for all kinds of kitchen-related gear and gadgets.
The Gaggia Classic is about as simple an espresso machine as there can be, exactly what we were looking for. It has a substantial filter/coffee holder (necessary to withstand the pressure). While the water tank is situated in the middle of unit, refilling is easy due to the port at the top of the machine.
The entire Saeco Aroma is wrapped in heavy-gauge stainless steel. It has a smaller footprint than then Gaggia. The Saeco unit's portafilter is quite substantial. Its water reservoir is in the back, so checking the level will be easy.
If we are going to go to all the trouble of manually making the espresso, we might as well roast and grind the beans, too. It has been a while since we last used the iRoaster, but now would be a good time to fire it up again. We do have a burr grinder in-house, but decided that we should get one which can dispense coffee directly into the portafilter. The only non-commercial grinder we found with this feature was the Gaggia MDF. We'll have more to say about the Gaggia grinder at another time.
Green coffee beans can be purchased from a lot of local and online sources. We had a good experience with Sweet Maria's when we last tried roasting our own beans. So we thought we would go back to them and order a sampling of espresso-specific beans for the taste test project.
While we will certainly share our thoughts on these two units in the FirstUse write-up, the sample size in our office is pretty small. So for the InTheWild report, we have decided to gather data points for a year. This means asking for comments whenever we serve an espresso at a RainyDayEvent (FirstGrill, SausageFest, etc), folks over for meeting, prospects in for interviews, everything. The FirstGrill event is coming up in June. We will ask our guests to rate the drinks made from the manual and automated machines. Of course, this also means that anyone who wants an espresso must actually drink two! We will post the results after a year or when we feel we have compiled sufficient data points to make statistically significant conclusion. Hey, it is better than guessing :-) [Permalink] - Manual Espresso Machines: FirstLook