Friday, March 21, 2008

Excess in pursuit of coffee

Considering that we just bought a new espresso machine, we read with amusement an article in this week's Guardian by Tim Hayward:
Espresso In pursuit of the 'God shot'

Admittedly, while shopping for our new machine, I only found it amusing that at Williams-Sonoma, prices for expresso machines ranged from $399 to $3659.99 -- the latter is a price which so astounded me that I carefully committed it to memory. Not to mention peripheral devices. We bought our new machine at Target for a fraction of the smallest price.

In our circumstances, the article, with its tale of one gadget after another, was doubly amusing. Favorite quotes:

"The ideal espresso (according to the Instituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano) is a 25ml beverage extracted from around 7g of finely ground coffee, using water at a temperature of 88C, passing through the grains at a pressure of 9 bar. See, dead easy. It should be thick-textured, having emulsified many of the oils, retain most of the volatile aromas and flavours of the bean and be capped with a thick colloidal foam layer - "crema" - reddish, creamy and flecked. Each one of those factors is minutely variable, potentially causing thinness, bitterness, under- or overextraction or - the ultimate humiliation - a thin or patchy crema." ...

"Today, my kitchen bench looks like a Bond villain's lair. I have invested hundreds of pounds and countless hours only to produce average coffee inconsistently. And what do the Nerds have to say? Apparently, the real pros are drifting away from espressos to experiment with syphon pots, those things resembling two spherical glass vases stuck together that put so many 1950s hostesses into the burns unit.

"I've learned a painful lesson. When Giovanni Gaggia filed a patent for an espresso machine in Milan in 1947, it was designed to make coffee in industrial quantities at serious speed. Professional baristas get results because they use huge machines that deliver a thousand shots a day. The hand processes like tamping become consistent after the first hundred. To become barely competent could take me years. The boys in the chatrooms will denounce me as a heretic, but I now know that, for me, the best espresso will always come from an Italian standing coolly behind a big machine, not an obsessive Englishman throwing money at a small one."

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