Budget Barista Series: Espresso
Espresso is the foundation for many popular hot and cold Italian beverages, so by rights it should have gone first in my “Budget Barista Series.” But cappuccino’s more fun, and one of my all-time favorite drinks besides, so it got top billing.
WHAT IT IS
The Italian cousin to Turkish coffee, espresso is strong, dark, and not for the faint-hearted. It is made from a dark-roasted bean and served in precious little cups in portions usually of about 1 ½ ounces. It is produced in expensive espresso machines or in humble stove-top espresso makers. The serious espresso drinkers will use words like “tamping” and “crema” (and perhaps insist that the stove top maker does not produce true espresso), but not me! The humble Bialetti is what sat on the stove of the Italian family I lived with and made their after dinner espresso every night. If it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!
BRING IT HOME
Bialetti has been in the stove-top espresso maker business for about 75 years, and they know what they’re doing. Although they have added to their line, the Moka Express is their original stove-top maker and readily available in stores across the U.S. It comes in different sizes, from 1 cup to 12 cup; I have the 6 cup version.
The stove-top maker consists of three parts. Water goes in the base (there is a fill line inside to guide you). Coffee goes in the filter section. You should use a dark, espresso-roast coffee in a fine grind (but not too fine!) The finer the grind, the denser the coffee. The finest espresso grind would be used for an espresso machine (this is where “tamping” comes in), but a slightly coarser grind would be appropriate for a stove-top maker. You don’t need to pack in the grinds—they will pack in the process.
Screw on the top of the maker, and set it on high heat on your burner. If you preheat the burner while you’re filling your espresso maker, your coffee will brew faster. The espresso is made when the water in the bottom portion is heated to a point that it is forced up through the coffee filter into the top chamber. In a few minutes, you will hear the espresso bubble and steam, and at this time, it’s about done.
You can view the results for yourself if you take great care with a pot holder, because the top chamber is now full of hot, steamy, burn-potential liquid. (You see what I risk for the sake of this blog?)