The strange white growths inside my espresso maker
Call me ignorant. My husband and I just purchased a nice espresso maker - the traditional Italian type that can be purchased anywhere and is composed of three parts that sits on the stove top and percolates water through a sieve filled with coffee into a container at the top. What is it that is found gathering in the lower part (that you fill with water) after its been sitting around for awhile? My husband suspects its mould but I think its probably mineral/calcium deposits from the boiled water. An Italian told me never to look in there or clean it, but I just can't help myself - it looks too suspect. Thoughts from experienced espresso lovers please...
Those deposits are really nothing to worry about. They are just mineral deposits and do not affect the taste of the coffee (after all, they are sticking to the pot rather than leaching into the water--in fact, they are being leached *out* of the water, it seems to me). They would be a problem in an electric espresso maker, where they could restrict the flow of water through the system, but in the pot you have it does not matter.
I'm guessing that the type of espresso maker you've got is made of aluminum. The top and bottom are flared and faceted, right? with a little black plastic peg-like thing on top? The mineral deposits are harmless, but they are the result of aluminum being a "reactive" metal, that is it mingles, in a microscopic way, with the stuff you put in it: coffee. A stainless steel espresso maker (also inexpensive but not quite so inexpensive) will never develop these deposits.
re: Erica Marcus
I use a sponge on a stick to wipe out the inside of the coffee maker. Never put it in the dishwasher. Don't worry about the deposits, they won't hurt you or the coffee.
A friend asked me a bunch of questions about how to make cuban coffee in the italian espresso machine. Here are my responses. Warning: cuban coffee is extremely addictive.
Q: Do you need to use Cuban coffee or does espresso roast or Jamaican work just as well?
A: I have had the best results with Cuban coffee.
Q: is there a brand you prefer?
A: Bustelo Supremo is the best (black can). Regular Bustelo is good. You can find it in Mexican markets.
Q: How finely do you have it ground?
A: Very fine, almost powdery. (if you buy a can of either bustelo, you will see)
Q: What is your ratio of scoops of coffee to water.
A: What size machine do you have? I have the 4 cup maker and I fill it so that the water goes halfway up the screw on the side. I fill the coffee recepticle with grounds and tamp it with the weight of the spoon.
Q: For brewing, do you low or high heat?
A: High heat, but be careful with gas, i accidently burned off part of the handle one time.
Q: I have read a couple of articles on mixing in sugar and creating foam. What is your technique?
A: This is the tricky part. For a 4 cup maker, use 4 to 5 tsp of sugar. Put the coffee on to brew; put the sugar in a measuring cup; leave the lid of the machine open while the coffee brews; right when the coffee begins to brew, add about 1/2 to 3/4 tsp of the first drops of coffee to the sugar (too little* is better than too much**); use a spoon to mix the coffee/sugar together to a paste; keep mixing while the coffee finishes brewing; add the rest of the coffee and stir so that the paste is completely incorperated. It should look like guiness.
*If you add too little liquid at the beginning, you can always add a bit more coffee so that all of the sugar is dissolved.
**If you add too much, add sugar until it thickens, and then scoop out some of the sugar paste so that the coffee isn't too sweet. you sort of have to eyeball it.
The paste is the key to good cuban coffee. if you do it right, you will get a thick foam and rich/sweet coffee. do it wrong and you will have sickly sweet watery coffee.
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