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Espresso at a bare minimum, how to improve?
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budget_brewer
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Joined: 26 Aug 2012
Posts: 2
Location: NJ
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Sun Aug 26, 2012, 1:51pm
Subject: Espresso at a bare minimum, how to improve?
 

I have been brewing "espresso" from vacuum sealed espresso ground coffee in a Breville Cafe Aroma machine for about two years. I make a drink I believe is called a macchiato, I steam an ounce or two of milk (usually skim) in a coffee mug, dump in two shots and go.

I don't drink a lot of coffee shop coffees. I'd rather have my drink than what they sell at Starbucks and it beats the hell out of the drip coffee I used to make.

But I want to change things up. Consistency with my setup is an issue, I never know what kind of steam I am going to get from the Breville's wand and some shots will have crema and others will be pretty flat. The puck left in the filter basket is always a wet mess.

So then, questions:

1) A new machine (was eyeing the Gaggia Classic) will certainly help some of the issues I am having with my Breville, then?

2) How much am I missing out buying the pre-ground stuff? I'd love to have a swell grinder and fresh whole beans everyday but the Spanish grocery next door has Cafe Bustelo and El Aguila espresso ground coffees that are so cheap and easily obtainable.

3) If I did purchase a grinder are whole beans from the grocery store going to be a big improvement over the stuff I've been brewing? What other kind of sources (shops, online) would I have to look into? Convenience is a big factor for me =)
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GVDub
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Posted Sun Aug 26, 2012, 2:57pm
Subject: Re: Espresso at a bare minimum, how to improve?
 

Be careful, that first step is a doozy!

  1. Yes, a Gaggia Classic will be a step up from the Cafe Aroma. Not a huge step, but a start.

  2. You're basically missing out on coffee almost entirely by buying pre-ground coffee from the bodega. I admit to keeping a brick or two of Bustelo around, just as an emergency coffee supply when natural disaster strikes, but that's mostly because it can't get any more stale than it already is. Plus its carbon content is high enough to filter water ;-) You'll need to start exploring the world of fresh roast, whole bean coffee. You don't say what part of New Jersey you're in, but if you're close to NYC, go into Manhattan and check out places like Joe Pro on W. 21st, the Stumptown location on 38th St. and Cafe Grumpy on W. 20th. Have some straight espresso shots and talk with the barista (go when it's not a rush time) about the fact that you're just starting to get serious about coffee.

  3. Anything that doesn't have a "Roasted On:" date on it is not to be trusted. And that roasted on date had better be within the last two weeks if you want coffee fresh enough to make great espresso. There are many great online sources for coffee from leading roasters. Many of those roasters are sponsors here at CG. As far as a grinder goes, the best place to start, for my money at least, is with a good hand grinder that can handle espresso, or with a used commercial espresso grinder if you can't bear to spend a minute turning a crank. The quality of grind you'll get from a decent hand grinder easily rivals very expensive commercial grinders that are designed for shop use. They're just not as fast, but there is something satisfying in having put a little sweat equity into your coffee.

I'm sure others will be along to offer their advice. Enjoy your soon to be increasing coffee obsession.
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Coffeenoobie
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Posted Sun Aug 26, 2012, 3:51pm
Subject: Re: Espresso at a bare minimum, how to improve?
 

Yes, your next step will be down the rabbit hole. +1 to what he said.  Start with Fresh beans and a good grinder.  Then you can look at better machines.

 
Coffeenoobie

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frcn
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frcn
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Posted Tue Aug 28, 2012, 6:49am
Subject: Re: Espresso at a bare minimum, how to improve?
 

Two years of using pre-ground coffee is problematic for a number of reasons. You are now accustomed to that taste and may find that it will take some time to train your palate to like the taste of fresh, quality beans. pre-ground will taste bout the same regardless as to how you prep it for espresso. Whole beans that are fresh need more specific parameters for proper brewing.

First, beans from the supermarket are usually stale upon arrival, and there is no telling how long they sit there before they are sold. Rule of thumb: If the beans have a "Best if used by" date on them, don't by them. If they do not have a "roasted on" date, they are probably not worth buying. Coffee is best when it is no more than two or three weeks old from the time it was roasted. For espresso, most beans are well past their prime at 14 days.

Next, a decent grinder is probably going to be more expensive than you think. Knowing your budget is important.
Finally, what is your priority? Are you interested in the best coffee you can make or do you HAVE to make espresso?

Bottom line: A good grinder and quality, properly-roasted, fresh whole-bean coffee are a MUST.

 
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budget_brewer
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Joined: 26 Aug 2012
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Location: NJ
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Tue Aug 28, 2012, 10:29am
Subject: Re: Espresso at a bare minimum, how to improve?
 

Thanks for the great replies!

Since posting this I did shop some grinders and narrowly lost an auction for a Pasquini Moka, blasted last second bidders! (http://www.ebay.com/itm/140831735650 )

There is a decent coffee shop down the street and I think they'd sell me fresh beans, agree with the freshness thing since stock like that at the supermarket (my nearest doesn't even sell whole beans) probably doesn't move quick.

As to the pre-ground, yeah I guess I am accustomed to the taste but I can absolutely tell the difference between yesterday's shot with the end of the last package and today's shot with a freshly opened bag, so I am looking forward to trying some really fresh stuff. Also, I can detect variances in consistency when I brew. The shots I made this morning were not so great but yesterday afternoon I made what I thought was a great, or much better, drink. Not entirely sure what the difference between the two pulls could have been but I definitely see (taste) that there is room to improve with both my technique and equipment.

Back to it, thanks again folks!
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frcn
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frcn
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Posted Tue Aug 28, 2012, 10:52am
Subject: Re: Espresso at a bare minimum, how to improve?
 

Check the Baratza website for refurb grinders (or call them). The Preciso for $325 new, or the Vario for $469 new are both good choices. For used, look for a Mazzer.

 
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JasonBrandtLewis
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Posted Fri Aug 31, 2012, 10:17am
Subject: Re: Espresso at a bare minimum, how to improve?
 

budget_brewer Said:

So then, questions:

1) A new machine (was eyeing the Gaggia Classic) will certainly help some of the issues I am having with my Breville, then?

Posted August 26, 2012 link

Oh, hell yes.

budget_brewer Said:

2) How much am I missing out buying the pre-ground stuff?

Posted August 26, 2012 link

You will never make great coffee using pre-ground stuff.  Period.

Babbie's Rule* of Fifteens:
-- Green (unroasted) coffee beans should be roasted within 15 months, or they go stale.
-- Roasted coffee beans should be ground within 15 days, or they go stale.
-- Ground coffee should be used within 15 minutes, or it goes stale.

Your choice.

budget_brewer Said:

3) If I did purchase a grinder are whole beans from the grocery store going to be a big improvement over the stuff I've been brewing? What other kind of sources (shops, online) would I have to look into? Convenience is a big factor for me =)

Posted August 26, 2012 link

Look at the (in)famous List of Favorite Roasters

Cheers,
Jason

* OK, so there are very few hard-and-fast "rules" -- more like "rules-of-thumb."

 
A morning without coffee is sleep . . .
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takeshi
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takeshi
Joined: 12 Oct 2002
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Posted Thu Sep 6, 2012, 1:10pm
Subject: Re: Espresso at a bare minimum, how to improve?
 

(nm)
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