Written by Sam’s husband, also called Sam (Yes, it gets confusing!)
I’ve always loved coffee, but recently I’ve taken things up a notch. And today I think my eyes were opened, on just how much your coffee equipment changes the cup you drink every morning.
A drink from a good coffee shop has always tasted incredible to me, and I’ve slowly started on the journey to recreating it at home. I don’t think some people realise just how much work goes into a good cup, or just how different an instant coffee is to a genuine, fresh ground espresso. ☕️
A few years ago I stumbled into the espresso world when I was given a used espresso machine by my grandmother for Christmas. A beautiful stainless steel machine, she had obviously put a lot of thought into buying for me. I was so grateful and went straight to the supermarket for some ground coffee. It tasted beautiful!
But the more I read, the more I learned about just how much better it could be; It may have been incredible compared to the instant coffee I had been drinking, but I had a long way to go!
Unfortunately, the little espresso maker didn’t last long, and after a few months, the pump stopped working properly. It was a sad day, and I couldn’t afford to replace it just yet.
I settled for my next chapter in the life of a wannabe-home-barista. As I was going travelling around Europe with my wonderful fiancée (now wife!) I needed a portable option too. How would I survive in a campervan without good coffee? My boss at the time recommended something that seemed really interesting: An Aeropress!
Once again, I was buying ground coffee at the supermarket, and trying to make that perfect cup. Pressing as hard as I could, hoping it would match that impressive coffee shop flavour. It was once again, much better than an instant, but still wasn’t quite there. The next step was grinding my own beans.
I read that freshly ground coffee is always best and that it takes only 15-20 minutes after grinding for the oils in the coffee to dissipate. So when we returned from our Europe trip, I started buying roasted beans instead, and a Delonghi KG79 grinder. The difference was already incredible, and it tasted fantastic!
But it still wasn’t espresso. After months of drinking Aeropress coffee, as nice as it still was, I decided it was time to try again. A little disheartened from my last failed attempt, I picked up another espresso machine. A second hand Delonghi Dedica. I did some research beforehand and learnt a lot that I didn’t know last time! Apparently, this machine can pull a good shot of espresso and can be modded to be even better.
Once again, things started well! The coffee was great! I started filling the kitchen with more and more equipment from retailers like Coffee Mate – a better tamper, a tamper stand, a new temperature sensing jug (so you can steam the milk only to 60c and not burn it!) and a ‘knock box’.
The knock-box is a great little mini-bin I can put on the countertop to quickly dispose of the coffee grinds (plus it keeps them separate from the rubbish, so we can use them for the garden!) Getting lots of new coffee gear certainly made my life easier, and my espressos were getting better, but once again, there’s more to learn.
I wanted to use the milk steamer to start creating latte art – adding the pretty flowers and hearts into the top of the drinks I made. After several attempts, it became clear something was wrong. The steam wand was too wide causing too large bubbles, and I needed to replace it! I bought a Rancilio silva steam wand and spent a whole evening taking the entire machine apart to add the new modification. Hours later, I could create a nice, smooth texture in the milk, just like I needed!
Next, this machine uses pressurised baskets, which can ‘fake’ the crema in the drink, and be more forgiving with coarse ground coffee fines, at the expense of a full flavour. So the next step was to buy an unpressurised basket, and try and get a more fuller flavour. This turned out to be a bad idea – the Delonghi grinder just wasn’t up to the task, as it couldn’t grind fine enough! Even when combined with a beautiful coffee bean blend with 20% robusta (which allows for a better crema on your shots). So, I guess I need a new grinder to upgrade the flavour again.
I looked online, and after extensive research, decided on the Baratza Sette 270 – a wonderful little machine that grinds coffee so fine it floats in the air! It arrived this morning, and although it cost me a lot, the coffee it created was mind-blowing and full of deep, flavours! But… The espresso machine struggled to push the water through the coffee… Did I grind too fine? Did I tamp too hard? Is my coffee machine too low pressure to work at this level? Should I start trying pour-over? Do I need scales to weigh the amount of coffee I’m using?
There are so many variables to control and tweak before I reach that perfect cup. And with coffee equipment spanning tens of thousands of pounds, I’m not sure I ever will. But I’m willing to try! The journey and the learning process never ends. Or maybe I should just save my money and drink instant? I’m sure Sami would enjoy me not talking about every cup of coffee I make and how it could be improved!