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Espresso at home: An essential guide (Part 1)

All across the world, there is an increasing number of people that are choosing to prepare their coffee at home. From affordable, small and automatic pod machines to expensive, high-tech espresso machines, there’s an ever-growing number of ways to prepare espresso without leaving your house.

As a Barista Trainer, I get in touch with a lot of coffee passionate people that want to improve their home barista experience. Most of the time my students are very frustrated, as they do not seem to be able to get a consistent result and feel like coffee is always a ‘hit-and-miss game.

That is why I want to talk about the basics of how to extract great espresso at home (without getting frustrated). In the following, I provide a quick guide to how to set up your ‘coffee corner’ at home, covering what I believe are some essential items and knowledge to get your home brewing to cafe standard.

Knowing the difference between espresso machines

The decision to buy an espresso machine often comes out of passion, love and the romantic idea that you can serve latte art heart cappuccinos to impress all your friends and loved ones. The market is currently full of a range of espresso machines, starting at 100 Euros up to 6000. Before you go out and spend all of your savings, it’s important to know the difference between the two main types of espresso machines: the single circuit system and the dual circuit system.

If you are a strong believer in espresso, black, no milk and no latte art needed, then you will be fine with a single circuit system machine. These machines are usually cheaper as they have only one boiler that heats up the water. You can set this boiler, which is usually quite small (about 300 mL) to two different temperatures. Either around 94 degrees for your espresso extraction, or if you have a guest that insists on milk foam, you can set the boiler to just over 100 degrees to make some steam.

This temperature change will take a couple of minutes and will only produce a very limited amount of steam. Another downfall for the latte lovers is that the pressure of the steam is quite minimal and might dilute the milk. However, if you are interested in making a solid espresso, this machine will be perfect for you.

On the other hand, the dual circuit system machines have a steam and hot water boiler, as well as an additional heat exchanger (or in some cases, two boilers). The water that you will need for making espresso will only come through the heat exchanger and will be heated to 93/94 degrees.

The boiler is much bigger that the one in the single circuit machine (usually more than 1 litre), and is able to constantly produce steam. You will have a separate manometer for your steam pressure that shows 1.2 bar for your steam and 9/10 bar for the group head. With this machine you can simultaneously pull espresso shots and steam milk, which is perfect if you want to create some beautiful milk beverages.

What should I pay for my home machine?

Unfortunately, owning an espresso machine can be a pricey hobby. I would recommend machines above 1300 Euros, as they are just built better (in my experience) and the price tag reflects the quality.

This doesn’t mean that you need to buy the most expensive machine available. Remember, you also need to calculate other purchases, such as a grinder and extra equipment like a tamper, a tamping mat, a knockbox, cloths and milk jugs (more on this in the next post).

When shopping around for a machine, I would recommend checking the materials used in the machine. What material is the boiler made from? Anything with aluminium is much cheaper, but also a no go because it corrodes and can be harmful to your health. I would go for stainless steel boilers as they are durable and high performing - but of course, they’re also more expensive.

Decalcifying: Urban Myth

Contrary to popular belief, you can NOT decalcify your two circuit system Machine!!! If you add a decalcifier to your water tank, the machine will suck this water into the boiler that always has a level of water in it. That means you now will always have decalcifier in your hot water boiler and that is probably quite toxic. These machines can only be decalcified by a proper technician with an ultrasonic bath (which can be expensive).

You should bring your machine for a small maintenance to a workshop once per year, and every five years it needs a big service. When using a two circuit system machine, you should always use filtered water – I suggest a filtering system like the ones BWT are offering, otherwise some people use bottled water (but that is just wildly unsustainable).

To read more about essentials in creating your home espresso set up, check out Part 2 of this guide here!

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