For those who love espresso, there has never been a better time to enjoy it. With excellent micro-roasters located throughout the country, and numerous wonderful coffees available from established coffee roasters through subscription or by distance ordering, there are wonderful coffee options available to suit every taste. And the possibilities for developing a solid, no-compromise home espresso system have never been better.
The home espresso equipment industry has changed significantly over the last few years, with many manufacturers offering equipment with standards of performance and capabilities that would have been nearly unthinkable just a few years ago.
But the journey to a high-quality home system can seem bewildering. Websites are full of pictures of beautiful, shiny espresso machines, all of which look like they could do the job, but the terminology can be a little confusing until you become more familiar with it. What kind of espresso machine to buy – dual-boiler or heat exchanger, manual, automatic or semiautomatic – the list of options and choices is immense. As if the options for the type of espresso machine to buy were not enough, it turns out that the choice of grinder is just as important. The purpose of this blog will be to take some of the mystery out of these choices and explain them in language that any user can understand. Whether you are just starting out on the journey to a high quality home espresso system, or whether you’re an experienced user trying to take your capabilities to the next level of flavor and performance, I hope to share information that will help illuminate the path and take the mystery out of your choices.
For those who are new to the world of home espresso, it is often surprising to hear experienced home baristas say that the grinder is as important or, perhaps, even more important than the espresso machine. Why? Many home burr grinders offer “espresso” as a setting for the grind, and those who’ve invested in the move from a low-cost blade grinder to a more expensive burr grinder with “espresso” as one of the options might scratch their head about why a different grinder is needed. The answer is actually very simple. Superb home espresso depends on several things:
- Using freshly roasted beans
- Being able to grind the coffee to a uniform and very fine particle size, and to do so repeatedly.
- Being able to make extremely fine adjustments to the size of the grind.
Entry level burr grinders lack the capability the home barista requires when it comes to number two and three above. When a pinch of ground espresso coffee is rubbed between the fingers, it’s consistency is often compared to that of powdered sugar. While some of the coffee ground through an entry level burr grinder might have that consistency, the particle sizes will have too much variation. Attempts to pack the coffee into the portafilter will still result in an extraction that is too fast, leading to a bitter or sour flavor. If you’ve savored the rich, nuanced flavor of a good espresso shot, you’ve experienced the difference that a capable, high-quality espresso grinder can make.
This series of blog posts will explore questions such as:
- Why is grind consistency and particle size important?
- What are the key differences between different types of grinders?
- What type of grinder is the best fit for you, and
- What features, performance and price point make the most sense?
Ultimately, a high quality espresso grinder allows the home barista to experiment with different coffees, explore the flavors buried with those precious beans, and dial them in to produce great shots quickly and efficiently, with a minimum of wasted coffee. Please join me as we explore the fascinating world of home espresso going forward.