stovetop VS. espresso machines [moved from Not About Food board]
More specifically, I'd like to know what people's opinions are on the Bialetti Mukka versus a machine with a milk steamer option (probably a Francis!Francis! when I can afford to get one).
I drink lattes, and prefer my caffeine drinks on the stronger, richer, and sweeter/not-overly bitter side. Which produces better crema? Are they idiot-proof? Are they both relatively easy to clean? Would you suggest one type of bean over another, depending on the maker?
We use a stovetop bialetti on a daily basis in our home.
We have a Mokka Express which only brews the coffee(correctly pointed out above as not true espresso)...not the model which you also put milk in, which I think is what you're talking about.
I take mine black with nothing in it...but my husband does like coffe drinks, particularly cappuccino. We considered buying a more expensive machine for his needs, but we first experimented with a handheld milk frother in warmed milk and he's been pretty happy with it.
Total expenditure for the bialetti and the frothing wand less than $50. Both very easy to use and clean(just rinse the Bialetting...you want the seasoning that will build up over time).
Now admittedly we are not coffee snobs so this may not be a good option for you for lattes.
I learned to love Bialetti's when I lived in Italy. They were new to my husband but he likes the coffee we make in it. I work in a kitchenware store and we dont' sell many of these...people prefer the Nespressos, Francis!Francis!, and the Super-automatic like the Jura-Impressa but those are big investments. Depending on what you're looking for in your cup of coffee a Bialetti set up might be just right for you, or you may prefer a machine( I had a customer today looking at the super automatics...so "my husband can just push a button and deliver my coffee" for instance)
You can use any variety coffee. The grind is more important. Fine, like an espresso grind. I vary between Illy, a French Roast I buy here locally, and orders from Graffeo in San Francisco.
in that case, which company makes good frothers and grinders? I'd normally turn to Bodum for that sort of thing, but they have a rather large variety of both. Perhaps the next question should be: if I get a stovetop (probably Mukka, but maybe I'll get the Mokka at a fraction of the price), which grinder would work best? Not which model specifically, but should it be an ultra fine grind, or something coarser?
The stovetop moka pots make dark, dense coffee. Tasty (millions of Italians can't be wrong) but it ain't espresso. Moka pots are pretty idiot proof and easy to clean. Crema will be minimal.
Making decent espresso requires an espresso machine and a quality grinder (most espresso nuts feel the grinder is the more important of the two). Assuming you're after drinks a cut above your average Starbucks muck, espresso machines are somewhat finicky to operate and require you to pay attention to factors like bean freshness, grind, tamping pressure, water temperature and extraction time. (It sounds like quite a list but becomes second nature with practice.) Crema -- the real stuff, not the ersatz crema produced by pressurized portafilters -- can be abundant, provided you get all or most of the factors right.
With roasted beans, the number one rule is the fresher, the better. And for an optimal cup -- absolutely a requirement with espresso -- they should be ground within minutes of use.
If you haven't already, surf over to www.coffeegeek.com for detailed info on all of the above.
Everything carswell said is (as always) right on. I'm mostly a brewed coffee drinker and have a bialetti moka machine ("machine" doesn't sound right...). I like it very much and can attest to the fact that it is idiot proof. I'm always shocked when I hear real espresso afficionados say that to make excellent espresso at home, you really need to spend closer to $1000 on a good machine. coffeegeek.com is an excellent site for equipment info, as is the coffee discussion forum at egullet.
I have a bialetti that has some kind of moving mechanism that makes it more likely you'll get a nice crema on top than a standard one.
I would think that if you are usually not drinking straight espresso, a bialetti would be a better place to start (if only because they are very cheap).