Tony Simon is a writer and editor with TooMuchCoffeeMan Magazine which is pretty much a must read for any serious CoffeeGeek. Listen to him as he finds the smaller version of coffee
Coffee has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. Try as I might, however, I can’t recall where or when this symbiotic relationship manifested itself. It’s just always been there. I remember a daily coffee routine as well as I remember my own mother’s face. And my mom is hot, too.
Coffee has seen me through thick and thin. Whether it was studying, practicing music, writing, sitting on the bus, staring at the wall, staring at the computer, mourning a loss, or celebrating a victory, there has always been a mug shellacked to my hand. The diplomatic, unassuming aura of a coffee shop enhanced countless first dates, eased breakups, and provided the stage for numerous strokes of creative genius.
My relationship with espresso, however, will be exactly one week old in two days. Sure, I’ve quaffed mochas, cappuccinos, lattes, and fancy, sticky, dessert-like beverages that claimed to contain espresso. Hell, I’ve even crashed two coffee conventions and sipped the best straight shots that some very reputable roasters had to offer. The difference is that espresso never occupied a place in my consciousness the way coffee has. Rather, espresso has always been that “other” coffee drink designed by and marketed to all those non-coffee-purists who don’t have the attention span to appreciate a good, old-fashioned cup of coffee. The largest demographic of espresso drinkers is made up of people who don’t even like coffee. Let’s face it, many espresso drinks have so much other crap in the cup that you can’t even taste the good stuff. People named Chad and Margo—who drive BMW SUVs and push their daughters (Arianna, Alexis, Riley, Mercedes, etc.) around in Cannondale, carbon-fiber, full-suspension strollers—would rather not even drink caffeine. Their Yoga instructor says it misaligns their chakras. But when you add copious amounts of steamed milk, chocolate powder, whipped cream, and gooey caramel, how could anyone not love espresso? In the ultra-rare instance that one of these ninnies orders a straight shot, it’s because a straight shot contains less than two ounces and they can finish it in one gulp, thereby curbing their entire coffee experience to its shortest possible duration. I thought espresso was pretty silly.
That is, until last weekend.
At a flea market I spotted a Krups Espresso Novo with Perfect Froth (the 964 model). The merchant assured me of its newness and even produced the original box from behind his table. Despite not taking espresso very seriously, I have, for some twisted hypocritical reason, always fancied having an espresso maker in my kitchen. Some of the espresso ninnies I described earlier might be friends of mine (or girlfriends of friends of mine) and a good host does not judge, he just serves his guests what they want. The only other rationale I could come up with would be that, despite the erroneous logic inherent in judging espresso based on the performance of a “My First Latte” Krups machine purchased at a flea market, everyone must start somewhere. It was time I gave espresso a chance. I wrinkled my nose like something smelled afoul, cocked my head to the side a little, and in a way that sounded like he was frivolously wasting my time, I asked the merchant how much he wanted for the machine.
“I dunno. How’s ten bucks?”
I can’t remember if I shouted, “sold” or not. Mouth gets more excited about low prices than Brain does. As Brain weighed some pros and cons, Mouth seized the opportunity and, with some enlisted help from Hands, pulled two Abe Lincolns from Wallet, snatched up our new espresso maker, and by the time Brain actually decided to buy the machine, Mouth had just finished saying, “I didn’t know the zoo had a work release program,” to a very large, very tattooed gentleman who appeared to be selling knives and a dune buggy. Mouth should never be left unsupervised.
After a very narrow escape, I got the machine home and quickly set about my quest to become the best barista in the world. Based on limited observation of other baristas and my own ability to learn new things, I figured mastering espresso and espresso drinks would take me the rest of the weekend. It’s just coffee, only smaller, right?
A few quick minutes on the old porno box…er…internet is all it took to show me how grossly I underestimated the world of espresso, especially on the home-consumer level. I thought machines were either little plastic department store toys or $10,000 4-group commercial behemoths with little or nothing in between. How wrong I was. It’s as though God loudly scolded, “Tony, don’t be such a dumbass!” This Divine Ridicule actually happens more than I care to admit, and, luckily, I’ve grown accustomed to it. I just keep telling myself what a great sitcom it would make. I had no idea that so many people take their espresso so seriously, or that the equipment and marketplace justify such seriousness. 53mm or 58mm portafilter? Brass or Chrome-plated Brass grouphead? Rocker switch or push-button? I kept asking myself, “Who cares? This is stupid. I have so much other stuff that I should be doing. Who would spend so much time on all of this minutia?” But I kept reading. And I found I was using my Krups every day, sometimes two or three times.
Needless to say, the sheer enormity of the body of information I have uncovered is almost indescribable and almost overwhelming.
Rather than crumble under the intimidation of such vastness, or grow bored with the hyper-detailed analysis of something as simple as water and coffee beans, I have been fully sucked into the world of espresso whether I like it or not. So far, I love all of it. The craft, the equipment, the lingo, the aroma, the flavor, the sheer art form—all of it. I still drink drip coffee in the morning, and my espresso intake consists mainly of an afternoon experiment or two on my Krups Easy-Bake espresso machine, but the whole experience has breathed new life into my relationship with the little burned brown bean. I’m pretty sure that even the best concoctions I can muster from my machine are certifiably crap, but I certainly don’t know any better, so it can only improve. The more I read and the more I drink, the more I want to read and drink.
In two days I will celebrate my one-week anniversary with espresso. The celebration will consist of me standing in the kitchen complaining aloud to my wife in the other room about how we’re never going to have good coffee if we don’t first get a quality grinder and how $500 is not even near too much to spend on a machine that will make great espresso for years to come.
She thinks I’m crazy.
I’m probably crazy.
I can’t be that crazy.
After all, it’s just coffee only smaller, right?
Tony Simon, 25, is a writer/editor for Too Much Coffee Man Magazine in Portland, Oregon where he lives with his wife and their two cats. He is a Cancer. His hobbies include chewing ice, biting nails, splitting hairs, swearing, and making sure his Krups 964 get plenty of "outside time" (see photo). Please do not visit www.tonysimon.org or email Tony at firstname.lastname@example.org.