Nothing is finer than the perfect espresso. Finely ground, dark-roast coffee, pressed and percolated into a strong, rich coffee drink can either start your day on a good note or give you a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. If you order a coffee in Italy, you are ordering an espresso. Italians go to their favorite bar multiple times a day for their espresso fix. But in the US it isn’t so simple to find espresso done well. Skills are needed such as getting the fine-powered grind of the coffee, the hot temperature, the high-pressure used to brew the coffee and, if desired, the foaming of the milk. These are skills that few people are familiar with.
However, with the new batches of espresso machines using coffee pods, the guesswork is taken out of making espresso — even in your own kitchen.
I learned to make espresso from the Cubans who made “Cafe Cubano” using what the Italians call a “machinetta”, which looks like a metal hourglass that has a top spout like a pitcher. It has 2 chambers. Water and finely ground espresso go separately into the bottom chamber. It is placed on the stove and is heated until the water boils, percolating the water at high pressure through the coffee grinds and into the top chamber. The pressure on the grinds between the two chambers insures that the coffee is pressed. The word espresso means “expressed” (but don’t ever call it “expresso”). The rich flavor comes from extracting as much out of the grinds as possible.
But it’s not hard to mess up this process. You can use the wrong proportions of water or coffee or have heat on too high or too low. One time I forgot to put the mesh screen in place and when the water started percolating under pressure, all the grounds came flying out of the maker and all over the kitchen ceiling, walls, and cabinets. We were cleaning coffee grounds for quite a while after that fiasco. I don’t think we ever got any espresso that day. Where were simple espresso makers back then!
Fortunately modern espresso machines make it easy to use the right steps each time you make a brew. There are a range of models to choose from, each with their own features and limitations. Some are high volume for use in restaurants or bars, but for home use these are overkill. Units for home use generally produce either one or two “shots” of espresso at a time. I use the Citiz but there are plenty of others to look through. And if you like your espresso with milk, or you want to turn your espresso into a cappuccino, you will want to get an espresso machine with a nozzle that lets you froth the milk. The Citiz espresso maker has a Citiz w/Milk but I haven’t tried that since I like good espresso without anything in it. The reviews on the Citiz with milk may indicate some issues with it so be aware of that possibility.
The pods for the Citiz are neatly packed in a small plastic perfectly portioned cup. There are also espresso makers that use pods look like large tea bags. Any of the pods contain the precise amount of espresso grounds for a perfect cup every time. Simply drop the pod into its chamber, close it, and start the maker. When it finishes, just toss the pod out. Cleanup is a dream.
If you purchase an espresso maker that uses pods, you may check into whether or not it also is able to take another brand’s coffee pods if that is important to you. Many makers work only with the coffee pods made by that company. Unless these machines become more popular, the pods likely will not be carried in your local grocery store. But that is a small concession for an early morning cup of espresso!