Get off my lawn.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Espresso machine up/running

Espresso machines are pretty cool, considering that they're kitchen appliances. They hiss and burp and buzz, and have nozzles on them that shoot steam and hot water at high pressure into the atmosphere. Just sitting idle, mine occasionally goes "Braaaap" and a cloud of steam rises up out of a grill at the bottom. They're typically a lot more expensive than normal coffee machines. I saw a La Pavonia machine for $3K once, and that's not even a commercial model. You can get a pretty good one for ~$500. Machines in that price range have cool paint jobs, and control panels that look like the instrument cluster out of a 50's-era Ferrari.

Mine isn't that kind of machine. It's a Mr. Coffee machine, and it lacks the style and cool pressure gauges of the expensive models. I got it for Christmas from my mother-in-law, and have enjoyed screwing around with it. It's a steam-belching machine that produces something I can drink to get a buzz. How can that be bad? It gets the job done, but a purist drinking espresso produced by this machine would most likely fret about the lack of "crema" (known to the rest of us as "foam"), and other lame stuff that latte-sipping whiners whine about.

Espresso is made differently than regular coffee. Regular coffee is made by allowing water to fall through a pile of grounds, through a filter, and into a carafe, espresso is made by grinding coffee beans really finely, and then packing the grounds into a small metal container with tiny perforations in the bottom called a "portafilter". This is attached to the "group", a high-pressure head that forces water at ~200 degrees through the packed grounds (called a "puck" by espresso nerds). The nozzles at the bottom of the portafilter direct the mixture into a small cup. Ideally, the liquid is a rust color, and is foamy. It's very concentrated. Comparing a cup of espresso to a cup of Folger's is kind of like comparing a 12-gauge shotgun to a BB gun. I can't drink it straight.

The next thing you do (which is optional) is to use the "frothing nozzle": You basically put some milk in a small metal container, and hold it up to the end of the nozzle so its tip is submerged. Hit the button, and it starts shooting steam into the milk and foaming it up. Once you've turned it into a cup of foamy stuff, you pour it into the top of the espresso. The milk takes the edge off, but I think you'd be nuts to drink it like this, too. I basically sugar it up at this point, and then it's pretty good. It's also not "espresso" anymore. There's "latte", "cappucino", but I honestly don't know the difference between them. I think it's something minor, like "latte has foam, cappucino just has milk" or something stupid. I don't really care.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was messing around with my espresso machine. I had read somewhere that the grounds should be packed into the portafilter with 35 lb. of force. So I did that, with some really finely-ground stuff. I started the machine, and it started pumping. Apparently, this n00b-oriented poseur espresso machine isn't butch enough to force water through the "puck" when it's packed that tight. It went "pow" and started rattling. I stopped it, waited a few seconds, and then tried the steam nozzle. More rattling, no steam. Oops!

Thinking the pump had blown a seal, I took the machine apart. I found that the insides of this thing are all Italian-made, and are the same models as those found in machines costing up to $300. (This is "bad news for the $300 crowd" and not necessarily "good news for me".) The group looks like a nuclear reactor vessel, and gets hotter than the dickens. The pump is an ingenious magnet-operated device. I took the pump apart, looked at how it works, cleaned it, and put it back together. I hooked a water source to it, turned it on, and it started spurting jets of water about 12 inches. It worked!

While I had it apart, I painted the metal shell bright red. I'm not sure why... It seemed like a dumb idea before I did it, but I still wanted to do it. Having done it, I think it looks a lot cooler than before (it was gray). Alissia said it looks cool too. I also polished the portafilter with billet polish and a Dremel tool, and now it looks like chrome.

I can't decide whether I want to make a cup of espresso with it, or jump on it and ride a wheelie down the street.

Between painting espresso machines and blogging every darn thing I do, I'm wasting a heck of a lot of time here... I wonder if it's the cold weather causing this. If I'm still doing this in May, I hope someone stops by to see what my problem is!


  • At 10:48 PM , Blogger Dale Cooper said...

    Dang, you are a espresso gear head. Just think what you could do with a CM system, some PHP files, and cron!

  • At 2:47 AM , Blogger flymarx said...

    I'm jealous, you have got to be the only dude in the metro area with a customized java contraption! I may have you stop by and pimp my toaster!


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