I am convinced — based on years of observation — that most coffee drinkers who talk about espresso don’t actually like the drink. Espresso, that is.
Espresso has the reputation of being the absolute best coffee drink there is, and for espresso lovers that is true.
But when I observe people’s reactions when they are served a shot of perfectly good espresso, I can only conclude that few of them like it.
Mind you, I’m talking about excellent espresso — brewed by a seasoned barista using the finest coffee and top-of-the-line equipment available.
True, for most coffee drinkers espresso is an acquired taste. The drink is, after all, far removed from the kitchen variety ‘cup of joe,’ all or not adulterated with milk and/or sugar.
One has to grow to love genuine espresso.
Restaurant Quality Coffee
I say ‘genuine espresso’ because nowadays much of what is served as espresso is not espresso at all, but rather a poor (and often outright terrible) misrepresentation of the real thing.
The real thing used to be hard to get if you weren’t lucky enough to have been born in Italy (and lived in a relatively civilized area big enough to support a real espresso bar). Either that, or you had to be rich enough to be able to afford one of those huge, shiny, copper-clad and steam-powered machines so you pull shots at home.
Fortunately nowadays anyone can afford to brew restaurant-quality coffee, espresso and other coffee drinks at home.
Take, for instance, the Dedica — an inexpensive 15-bar pump espresso machine by Italian manufacturer DeLonghi.
It doesn’t just look good (the company is known for its design aesthetics) but it produces fantastic espresso and other coffee drinks. Restaurant quality, indeed — and that at a very reasonable price.
[Reasonable, especially when you consider how much money you save by no longer having to buy those outrageously overpriced drinks at Starbucks and similar stores].
Genuine Espresso vs the next best thing
The next best thing to espresso — and a fixture in nearly every Italian home — is the drink brewed in a stove top espresso maker. That’s the colloquial name for what the Italians (who invented the thing) refer to as a macchinetta (literally “small machine”).
Calling a macchinetta an espresso maker is wrong. Here’s why:
There is no universal standard that defines the process of extracting espresso. However, there are several precise definitions which describe the amount and type of ground coffee used, how finely it is ground, the exact temperature and pressure of the water, and the rate of extraction — the time it takes to force the water through the coffee grinds.
Though the definitions are not precise, stove top ‘espresso’ makers are not able to create the right amount of pressure to meet even the lowest standard for the creation of espresso.[ref]According to the Italian Espresso National Institute an espresso must be made using a precise extraction pressure of 9 bar. The maximum pressure which can be achieved with a macchinetta is 1.5 bar.[/ref]
This is why the coffee used in these machines must be ground a tad coarser that that used in professional espresso machines. If one were to use an espresso grind in a stove-top machine the machine either clogs or takes far too long to force the water through the grinds, resulting in a small amount of bitter brew.
While Italians refer to the machine as a macchinetta, elsewhere it has become known as a ‘moka pot.’
The best known moka pots are those by Bialetti Industrie (Italy), which calls the contraption ‘Moka Express.’
Of course their marketing department has been more than willing to accommodate the public’s perception, and thus the machines are sold as ‘Moka Express Stovetop Espresso Makers‘
But while, as noted, the Moka Express cannot brew genuine espresso, in my observation it turns out that most coffee drinkers prefer the ‘espresso’ created by this little machine over real espresso pulled using something much more expensive.
If you are among those coffee lovers who have tried espresso but didn’t like it, you will most likely enjoy the coffee produced by the macchinetta — particularly when you add sugar and/or milk as usual.
I use my moka pot at least once a day, adding a little sugar and foamed milk to the brew. Friends and guests who have tasted the result often ask for stovetop coffee the next time they visit, and a good many of them have bought the little machine themselves.
Try it yourself. You’ll be pleased!