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Is there such a thing as a good, well-priced cappuccino maker?

CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 08:28 AM

I'd really love to be able to make good cappuccino at home. From everything I've heard and read about the mass-marketed machines, I'm not even going to begin to experiment with them. I do understand that a large and important part of making cappuccino is learning how to make a good espresso -- how to grind the coffee correctly, how to measure and tamp it (if that's the right word), etc. In other words, it's as much a science as an art. I'm willing to put in the time and effort to learn how to do it correctly. But I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on equipment. What's the minimum amount I'd have to spend? What do I need to know in order to be a savvy shopper? Where should I shop? (One person told me that Chris Coffee Service has an excellent reputation.) This is uncharted territory for me.

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    theresah RE: CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 08:49 AM

    Great topic. I swear by Bialetti, but not the Mocha Mocha. Too hard to clean. I had a cup from a Faema this week and I swear this was the best cup of coffee I have ever had. I am going to purchase one on Saturday. I will keep you posted.

    http://www.faematoronto.com/frames.html

    1 Reply
    1. re: theresah
      CindyJ RE: theresah Jul 30, 2009 08:54 AM

      Are you referring to the stove-top model? I bought one of those several years ago, but it was impossible to use on my old Jenn-air electric cooktop. Now that I have a gas cooktop, maybe it's worth dusting it off (if I haven't given it away).

    2. c
      chuckl RE: CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 08:58 AM

      We were all newbies once, don't be intimidated or afraid to ask questions. Chris Coffee is a good resource, and so are sweet maria's and whole latte love. For information, I'd suggest home barista or coffee geek. First off, you'll need to factor a quality burr grinder into the equation, and those can cost nearly as much as the machine. From what I've heard, Gaggia makes a decent entry espresso machine. The Rancilio Silvia is widely considered a good entry level machine; they retail for around $600. You might consider one with a PID right off the bat. It will help you gauge the proper temperature for pulling a shot, which is one of the variables for making great espresso. Count on spending at least $400 on a good grinder like a Rocky. If you're willing to invest around $1,000 in the equipment as well as the time and energy to learn to operate it properly, you can get some very good results. But with espresso, it's about the journey as much as the destination. good luck

      2 Replies
      1. re: chuckl
        CindyJ RE: chuckl Jul 30, 2009 03:11 PM

        Can you please define: (1) PID, (2) "pulling a shot." Remember, this is a newbie you're talking to and I don't yet know the lingo. :))

        1. re: CindyJ
          alanbarnes RE: CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 04:31 PM

          PID: proportional–integral–derivative controller. A computer-controlled unit that, per Wikipedia, "attempts to correct the error between a measured process variable and a desired setpoint by calculating and then outputting a corrective action that can adjust the process accordingly and rapidly, to keep the error minimal." In this context, it measures the brew water temp and makes continuous small adjustments to keep it as close as possible to the ideal.

          Pulling a shot: making a cup of espresso. Based on the old lever-operated machines, where the barrista generated the pressure that pushed the hot water through the coffee by pulling on a lever.

      2. Politeness RE: CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 09:11 AM

        CindyJ, one of the last active not (too) spammed Usenet newsgroups, alt.coffee, is the place to find people who really know and really care about such issues. Alties, as the participants call themselves, are a civil and (most of them) knowledgeable group. What you will or would find if you visit there is the prevailing wisdom that the quality of the grinder is more important than the quality of the machine that actually makes the espresso. It is possible to go seriously overboard on a grinder; you will get serious disagreement about what the minimum level grinder can be. Personally, I would set the level at or near the Baratza Virtuoso, but if I made this suggestion on alt.coffee, immediately there would be multiple responses politely disagreeing with me, citing cogent reasons why I was wrong. As H.L. Menken used to say in his standard acknowledgement card to critics who wrote him to disagree with his writings, "Dear Sir or Madame: You may be right."

        Similarly, as to espresso machines, you may want to visit the site http://www.coffeegeek.com/reviews where many Alties -- and others far less knowledgeable -- post their reviews. There will necessarily be a process of separating the wheat from the chaff in the authoritativenesss of the reviews. The coffeegeek site also has editors' reviews (usually more in-depth than the consumer reviews), but necessarily they cover a narrower range of products, tending toward the higher end, than the consumer reviews. The base standard -- comparable to the Baratza Virtuoso and every bit as subject to spirited argument -- among espresso machines might be the Rancilio Silvia. You can check that out, then work up or down from there.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Politeness
          CindyJ RE: Politeness Jul 30, 2009 03:13 PM

          Another question from the uninformed -- how, exactly, do I get to alt.coffee?

          1. re: CindyJ
            Politeness RE: CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 05:52 PM

            CindyJ, that's a fundamental question. Your ISP -- the company through whom you buy access to the Internet and who bills you for it every month -- probably has a means to access "News" or "Usenet." Like the World Wide Web or email, Usenet is (newsgroups are) a component part of the Internet. Newsgroups were the predecessors of special interest boards on the World Wide Web like Chowhound, but the messages come through like email, and, instead of landing in your virtual mailbox, they end up in a newsgroup -- which displays the messages sort of in the manner Chowhound does. There are thousands of special interest newsgroups, some quite kinky, and if your ISP offers Usenet ("News") access you choose which groups you subscribe to, and will see nothing from the newsgroups you do not subscribe to.

            Most Usenet newsgroups are NOT moderated, which makes them easy to spam -- and that is what effectively has killed Usenet.

            How YOU can subscribe to the alt.coffee Usenet newsgroup is something that you need to ask your own specific ISP, because the newsgroup subscription procedure varies among providers. Most ISPs are happy to assist you to access newsgroups.

            OR. You can go to groups.google.com and look for group:alt.coffee (no spaces around the colon). That is a clunky way to access alt.coffee, because you get all the messages ever posted to alt.coffee, unthreaded. It is hard to follow a discussion that way.

        2. alanbarnes RE: CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 09:13 AM

          Check out www.coffeegeek.com. Lots of good info there.

          The first thing you'll have to decide is whether you actually want to make good espresso. Yes, the best cappuccino is made with really great espresso, but that's no small undertaking.

          You don't need to spend thousands of dollars, but you definitely need to spend several hundred. First you're going to need a good grinder. You don't need to drop $650 on a Mazzer Mini, but at a minimum you should count on spending at least $150 for something along the lines of a Barratza. Then there's the espresso machine; there are plenty of good units in the $600-800 range; the Rancilio Silvia is a classic favorite.

          But IMHO making really good espresso at home is best left to the true obsessives. For under $50 you can get the equipment required to make an acceptable cup of cappuccino. Rather than espresso, use coffee made in a moka pot or an Aeropress. Heat the milk in the microwave and froth it using something along the lines of an Aerolatte. $30 for the coffee maker, $15 for the frother, and you're done.

          Of course, a good grinder always helps. And then there's the cost of home roasting equipment... Did I mention the obsessives?

          13 Replies
          1. re: alanbarnes
            CindyJ RE: alanbarnes Jul 30, 2009 03:09 PM

            I've known an espresso-obsessed person or two, and I know from whence you speak. Fortunately, I'm nowhere near that place myself, so maybe my generally forgiving nature will make this process a little easier for me.

            Just this afternoon, someone recommended the Rancilio Silvia with a dealer-installed POD option to me. As I understand it, that would eliminate the need for a grinder, and, when my skills are better honed, I can remove the option and use it in a more traditional way. I do understand that the tradeoff is that my coffee won't be freshly ground. Maybe for now, though, it's a worthwhile tradeoff. Don't even get me started on home roasting machines!

            1. re: CindyJ
              alanbarnes RE: CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 04:17 PM

              Oh, God, no. Bad idea. Bad, bad, bad idea. Let me go a step further, at the risk of being downright offensive: anybody who puts a pod portafilter on a Silvia is a philistine. A poseur. A palate-impaired consumerist hack who's doing nothing more than putting bling on the kitchen counter in a lame attempt to impress the neighbors with the ability to pay $600 for a coffeemaker. Because it sure as hell won't make good coffee.

              You will never, ever get good coffee from beans that aren't fresh. You know how good fresh-roasted coffee smells? What you smell is their the flavor dissipating into the air. You know how much that smell intensifies when you grind the beans? Same deal. And every bit of flavor that ends up in the air will never make it to your cup. Roast whole-bean coffee starts to deteriorate markedly after ten days; at two weeks it's marginal. Once ground, it goes rapidly downhill in minutes, not hours.

              There are lots of places to cut corners. But you're drinking COFFEE. The coffee itself is the last place you want to settle for a third-rate product. And coffee pods are a third-rate product. At best.

              Use an Aeropress. Or a moka pot. Or a cold-brew system. Or a vac pot or a filter cone or a Chemex or a French Press. Hell, use a used Mr. Coffee from the Goodwill or your grandmother's percolator if that's all you can swing. But please, please, please grind the beans fresh.

              1. re: alanbarnes
                CindyJ RE: alanbarnes Jul 30, 2009 05:16 PM

                Okay! Okay! I promise I won't use the "P" word again! :)

                1. re: CindyJ
                  alanbarnes RE: CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 06:37 PM

                  I get a little carried away sometimes. ;-)

                  1. re: alanbarnes
                    CindyJ RE: alanbarnes Jul 31, 2009 09:06 AM

                    Not carried away -- just passionate about your coffee. :))

                    1. re: CindyJ
                      Samuelinthekitchen RE: CindyJ Aug 10, 2009 04:51 PM

                      now my Nespresso system has me embarressed

                2. re: alanbarnes
                  Politeness RE: alanbarnes Jul 30, 2009 06:00 PM

                  What he said.

                  1. re: alanbarnes
                    c oliver RE: alanbarnes Jul 30, 2009 07:35 PM

                    Wow, Alan, why don't you tell us how you reallly feel??? Got me nervous and I don't even make the damn stuff!

                    1. re: alanbarnes
                      r
                      RGC1982 RE: alanbarnes Jul 31, 2009 01:52 PM

                      Funny that you use the word "bling". I have ogled (literally) the Francis! Francis! models now, in all of their beautiful colors, almost any of which would look great on my counter, for a couple of years now, but the pod thing is what seems to be what prevents me from doing it. I only grind beans fresh, and I think I can taste stale coffee beans from a mile away. I also, of course, have no idea if this kind of coffee maker is good one, but it IS expensive and darn pretty. Bling!

                      1. re: RGC1982
                        scubadoo97 RE: RGC1982 Jul 31, 2009 02:46 PM

                        remember milk covers a lot of sins. How do you think Starbucks got as big as they did?

                        1. re: scubadoo97
                          Fritter RE: scubadoo97 Aug 11, 2009 01:47 PM

                          "How do you think Starbucks got as big as they did?"

                          By only grinding fresh beans for every other cup and only serving 50% of their customers what they paid for?

                          1. re: Fritter
                            c
                            chuckl RE: Fritter Aug 12, 2009 09:31 AM

                            are they using pods all over for their espresso based drinks?

                  2. re: alanbarnes
                    scubadoo97 RE: alanbarnes Jul 31, 2009 12:46 PM

                    Baratza Vario Grinde is Baratza's only real contender for an espresso grinder and it ain't cheap. I paid less for my Mazzer Mini but that was a few years ago.

                    This is one of the lowest price espresso machines that is getting good feedback from coffeegeeks.
                    http://www.coffeegeek.com/reviews/con...
                    http://www.1st-line.com/machines/home...

                    Better to buy this type of machine and spend more money on a grinder. The grinder will be the most important component of the whole set up.

                    Two lower price grinders with good feedback from coffeegeek
                    http://www.coffeegeek.com/reviews/gri...
                    http://www.coffeegeek.com/reviews/gri...

                    But bottom line. Don't skimp on the grinder

                  3. c
                    chipman RE: CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 10:21 PM

                    First of all Chris Coffee service is better than great. I trust their advise 100%, they are the best. As for buying a machine, don't forget save an equal amount of money for your grinder . You won't be sorry. Coffeegeek has a really great tutorial on how to buy a machine.
                    With all due repect, I really recommend
                    you sign up and post this question on their forum.
                    Any way here is the link to coffeegeek on how to buy an espresso machine.

                    http://coffeegeek.com/guides/howtobuy...

                    http://www.chriscoffee.com/

                    1. PBSF RE: CindyJ Jul 30, 2009 11:19 PM

                      I think if it is worth making espresso and cappuccino at home depends on the individual. I have a Gaggia, a $125 Solis burr grinder and after some practice, have been making acceptable (for me) espresso and cappuccino. One thing I have to keep in mind is not to compare my homemade espresso to anything closed to what I've enjoyed in Italy. In the morning, it is a big convenient for me not having to head out to the nearest cafe for a generally a poor cappuccino. I also have friends who have bought expensive machines and gave them up after awhile because it was just too much trouble for them.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: PBSF
                        CindyJ RE: PBSF Jul 31, 2009 08:51 AM

                        And therein lies the challenge for me. I've just returned from 10 days in Italy where every morning began with a wonderful cappuccino. That's what started me off on this quest -- a seemingly simple question with a very complex answer.

                        What I DON'T get is why the process of making a good cup of espresso is so complex. What do the Italians do for at-home espresso/cappuccino? I can't believe they've all got high-tech machines in their kitchens.

                        1. re: CindyJ
                          PBSF RE: CindyJ Jul 31, 2009 09:04 AM

                          Most Italians go out for their espresso/cappuccino. Besides getting a great coffee, it is part of their everyday life. If they need caffeine in the morning, it is usually a mokka pot on top of the stove. I don't know any of my friends in Italy has a home espresso machine or ever considered getting one. If you noticed the big commercial machines used in the cafes, it is one reason for the wonderful cappuccino that you experienced.

                          1. re: PBSF
                            alanbarnes RE: PBSF Jul 31, 2009 09:52 AM

                            Don't underestimate the mokka pot! (Ditto for the Aeropress: http://www.sweetmarias.com/aeropress/... .) They don't make espresso, but they are certainly capable of making a very good, very strong cup of coffee. And unless you have a local spot with absolutely top-notch ingredients and very talented baristas, you can use that coffee as a base for cappuccino that's as good as or better than what you get when you're out.

                            1. re: alanbarnes
                              CindyJ RE: alanbarnes Jul 31, 2009 01:33 PM

                              I checked out that link, and I'm sooooooo lost! Is the Aeropress a variation of a French press?

                              And, can you please say a little more about using coffee-that's-not-freshly-brewed-espresso as a base for cappuccino? Would that still be considered cappuccino? (How could it be?) Assuming I could use my French press to make a decent cup of coffee, could that then be topped with steamed, foamy milk and be called cappuccino? I have one of those Bialatti things -- is it worth playing around with?

                              1. re: CindyJ
                                alanbarnes RE: CindyJ Jul 31, 2009 02:55 PM

                                The Aeropress is something like a cross between an espresso machine and a french press. It forces the water through the grounds under pressure, but it's a lot less pressure than an espresso machine. The grounds steep in the hot water, but for a lot shorter period than in a french press. It's really its own kind of thing.

                                The key is that you end up with extremely concentrated coffee that will stand up to a large quantity of milk better than what you get from most other methods (french press, drip brewing, vac pot, etc.). You can also get very concentrated coffee from your moka pot. The manufacturers of both systems occasionally call the stuff they make espresso. It isn't, but IMHO it's close enough to make a pretty darned good cappuccino.

                                I would definitely give the Bialetti a try. Get some good beans and spend some trial-and-error time getting the grind just right. With that and a way to froth your milk, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you can do.

                              2. re: alanbarnes
                                PBSF RE: alanbarnes Aug 1, 2009 01:48 AM

                                Believe me, I don't underestimate the mokka pot. We have three of them in our apartment in Venice. We use them every morning before head out.

                          2. re: PBSF
                            c
                            chuckl RE: PBSF Jul 31, 2009 09:16 AM

                            if my sink could talk it would attest to my many early (and still occassional) espresso failures. There's a lot easier ways to make coffee and each of them can be quite satisfying and easier to master than an espresso machine. There's a lot to be said for a good cup from a French press or one of the other methods AlanBarnes suggests. But once it clicks for you and you have your grinder locked in properly to your machine and use freshly roasted beans ground moments before making espresso, it's almost a magical moment. It also helps if you can find a coffee shop that truly makes great espresso so that you can educate your palate to what you're aiming for. I really didn't know how good espresso could be til I tried Ritual and BlueBottle here in San Francisco. Most of what you get in the chains, sad to say, is dreck.

                            1. re: chuckl
                              l
                              latindancer RE: chuckl Aug 2, 2009 10:53 AM

                              I agree with what you're saying and....
                              BlueBottle is superb.

                          3. l
                            latindancer RE: CindyJ Aug 2, 2009 08:26 AM

                            I was where you're at over 30 years ago.
                            I've owned (3) excellent machines, including the one I own presently.
                            My advice to you is to shop like you're buying a car. There is a wide variety of espresso makers on the market now and it makes purchasing more difficult than when I started out.
                            My first machine was a mid-range machine that is still going strong on the market; Ranchilio Silvia along with Ranchilio Rocky grinder.
                            These machines, each, lasted 10 years and they were wonderful, well built, quality machines. I highly recommend both for the beginner. I maintained them and they performed well for me.
                            Over the years I have simply upgraded and I now own a home machine made by a company named Expobar...with the grinder by the same company. Again, I love them both.
                            My advice is to shop and shop until you find the machine that suits your needs. Starting out, in answer to your question, you do not need to spend thousands in order to make good espresso. Make sure you've got someone in your area who does repairs, if the need arises, so it precludes you from having to ship your machine out if something goes wrong with it.
                            Buying beans to grind is very subjective and it varies from person to person. I find it no different than buying wine or great cheese.
                            Everyone's palate is different. The choices, once again, for beans is widely varied and one person's favorite bean may be another's least favorite.
                            Have fun with it. Narrow down your favorites by going online or shopping at a reputable retail outlet. Shop at places where someone can demonstrate the machine, how it's made, what it's made of, how it performs, how powerful the frothing wand is, etc. This part of purchasing is vital. The same goes with the grinder you purchase. You've got to feel good with the machine and understand how it works.
                            Enjoy the process!

                            20 Replies
                            1. re: latindancer
                              l
                              latindancer RE: latindancer Aug 2, 2009 08:32 AM

                              As a footnote...
                              The Rancilio espresso maker and grinder I owned and my next espresso maker after that never quit or broke..I simply gave them away in order to upgrade. They were all built to last.
                              Just to let you know that a quality machine can keep going for decades if you maintain it and take care of it.

                              1. re: latindancer
                                c
                                chuckl RE: latindancer Aug 2, 2009 10:08 AM

                                it's hard to drink regular coffee or sub-par espresso once you've made the real thing. there are flavors in coffee that come out in good espresso that you can't get in any other method.

                                1. re: chuckl
                                  alanbarnes RE: chuckl Aug 2, 2009 10:26 AM

                                  I've found the opposite to be true. Espresso's high pressure and quick extraction times are better suited to fairly simple, robust coffees or blends. Especially if you use a traditional "espresso roast" (well into the second crack), espresso just can't exhibit much varietal character. A delicate, complex coffee, like a Central American Gesha or a quality estate-grown Kona, needs to be brewed more gently for all the flavors to come through.

                                  Don't get me wrong, I love good espresso. And a well-pulled shot has intensity of flavor that you just won't find elsewhere. But in terms of delivering the full range of flavors in a coffee, espresso is near the bottom of the list.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes
                                    CindyJ RE: alanbarnes Aug 3, 2009 07:31 AM

                                    The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. Help me out, please, with this very basic piece of information: when shopping for coffee for making espresso, is "espresso" a roast, a grind, or a type of coffee bean?

                                    1. re: CindyJ
                                      scubadoo97 RE: CindyJ Aug 3, 2009 09:06 AM

                                      It's a method of preparation or brewing

                                      1. re: CindyJ
                                        Politeness RE: CindyJ Aug 3, 2009 10:10 AM

                                        CindyJ, what scubadoo97 writes is correct. To expand a little:

                                        You will often see the phrase "espresso roast" bandied about; what the speaker or writer means to say is "dark roast." Aficianados of espresso will tell you, however, that the dominant flavor of any coffee bean roasted too dark is the taste of ash, not coffee, and so the best espresso is made from beans that are not taken too far into the roast; so the expression "espresso roast" is not only ambiguous, it is misdirected.

                                        Proper espresso preparation does require a finely ground coffee -- not as fine as Turkish coffee requires, but considerably finer than the grind usually aimed at for drip brewing. Again, however, the word espresso refers to the method of preparation as a whole, not a subcategory of the method.

                                        There are at least three types of coffee bean, but only two, robusts and arabica, are sold commercially. (Side note: one difference between the two types of bean is asexual reproduction vs. sexual reproduction of the plants; put THAT in your Funk & Wagnalls.) Almost all specialty coffee beans, and perforce, the beans used to make almost all espresso, are arabica, though skilled blenders will sometimes include a bit of robusta in a blend to achieve a certain flavor note or to boost caffeine content. (If you are studying for an examination, the stuff you should be drinking is robusta.) But espresso definitely is not a type of bean.

                                        As for shopping for coffee for making espresso, there are two major factors, one objective, one very subjective. The objective one: fresher is better, where "fresher" refers to the time from the roast. (If you are home roasting, the concept of degassing time enters in, but degassing time is never an issue when shopping for already roasted beans.)

                                        The second factor is varietals and blends. It is possible to become every bit as passionate about varietals of coffee as it is about varietals of wine, and for the same reasons, and it is possible to blend varietals to produce new tastes just as it is possible to blend wines (almost all Bordeaux are blends; almost all Burgundies are blends) or to combine ingredients in a marinara sauce. People can become very attached to specific flavor notes, but no two palates are the same. The good news is that there is no enduring penalty for selecting the "wrong" varietal or blend; you get a whole new fresh choice the next time you buy coffee beans, and many of us think that the journey is ever so much more fun than any eventual destination possibly could be.

                                        1. re: Politeness
                                          CindyJ RE: Politeness Aug 3, 2009 11:56 AM

                                          "Perforce" -- can you explain that term, please?

                                          So now, let's see... I can buy, let's say, arabica Kona coffee beans, freshly dark-roasted (but not burnt) grind them fine (but not as fine as for Turkish coffee), maybe blend in some finely ground, dark-roasted robusto beans, and use the ground coffee for making espresso. Am I getting close?

                                          1. re: CindyJ
                                            Politeness RE: CindyJ Aug 3, 2009 03:26 PM

                                            CindyJ, "perforce" means "by force of circumstances." In this case I was saying that almost all specialty coffee is arabica. Because I've not heard of anyone going to the trouble of making espresso and then using supermarket preground for the coffee, those circumstances dictate that most espresso coffee will be arabica. All Kona coffee is arabica, so "arabica Kona coffee" while correct is probably overkill (or, in the spirit of "perforce," it is "otiose"). However, a member of the KCFA (the "good guy" association -- Google: KCFA coffee -- of mostly mom-and-pop Kona coffee growers who are fiercely protective of their product's reputation) would wince at your suggestion to roast their beans dark: Kona is one of those varietals that takes best to a somewhat lighter roast.

                                            [Aside: we visited Kona last year with some relatives from Japan who wished to take lots and lots and lots of Kona coffee back to Japan with them as omiyage. My relatives thankfully were patient with me as we stopped at several shops while I inquired whether the coffee sold there was KCFA-grown, and, when it wasn't, thanked the shop person and left without buying. Finally we found a true KCFA store and bought the needed huge quantity; that shop owner was very pleased that we had taken the trouble.]

                                            A good portion of the robusta coffee produced in the world -- and a hefty percentage of coffees like Maxwell House and Folger's -- is grown in Vietnam, which had no coffee growing industry at all until a very few years ago. One reason why those brands' coffees taste so different now than the same brands' coffees did in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s is that then they were composed of South American arabica, whereas now mostly they comprise Asian robusta.

                                            http://www.roastmagazine.com/backissu... "As anyone who has tasted a truly poor-quality robusta can vouch for, there is something about a bad robusta that just seems to make it taste so much worse than a bad arabica. And the majority of the world’s first taste of robusta is one of poor-quality. In the past, the most common robusta producers—Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines—were also the most common offenders in terms of quantity versus quality. Brazil and Ecuador, the two South American countries that produce a measurable amount of robusta, consumed the majority of it in-country."

                                            Others have suggested places to buy coffee. We are fortunate to live very close to the Kobos roastery in Portland, Oregon, and buy all of our coffee there; Kobos has an on-line presence, http://www.kobos.com as well. An excellent mail-order outlet is http://www.CMEBrewCoffee.com; the proprietor is a retired firefighter who roasts on order and has very attractive pricing.

                                            1. re: CindyJ
                                              alanbarnes RE: CindyJ Aug 4, 2009 09:55 AM

                                              You could, but...

                                              Although there is significant variation between the products of various farms, Kona beans are generally among the more expensive coffees in the world. What makes them special is their delicate, nutty, floral aroma and taste. Those flavors dissipate fairly early in the roasting process, so cooking them until they're dark just doesn't make a ton of sense.

                                              If you're interested in exploring the world of coffee varieties, check out www.sweetmarias.com . They have a great list of green beans available, with detailed tasting notes, suggested roast levels, and best uses for each coffee. Even if you aren't interested in buying from them and roasting your own, it's a fantastic source of information. And Tom and Maria are great people, too.

                                              1. re: alanbarnes
                                                CindyJ RE: alanbarnes Aug 6, 2009 04:34 PM

                                                I must say, I'm totally overwhelmed by the combinations and permutations of machinery/coffees/roasts/grinds/grinders. Where should the uninitiated begin?

                                                1. re: CindyJ
                                                  Politeness RE: CindyJ Aug 6, 2009 05:29 PM

                                                  CindyJ: "Where...?"

                                                  http://www.coffeegeek.com/reviews (Several of us -- pay attention to alanbarnes's responses -- have recommended it.)

                                                  CoffeeGeek is a watered-down, non-interactive, version of the alt.coffee Usenet newsgroup.

                                                  Or, go to http://groups.google.com/group/alt.co... for an inefficient entry to the world oof alt.coffee itself, which remains the very best source of information on coffee-making in all its forms.

                                                  (The alt.coffee Usenet group is much, much easier to follow as a newsgroup than through the filter of groups.google.com )

                                                  If you post in alt.coffee, you will get a broad range of helpful responses.

                                                  1. re: Politeness
                                                    c
                                                    chuckl RE: Politeness Aug 6, 2009 07:27 PM

                                                    as politeness says, the truth is out there. go to the faq section of coffeegeek or home barista. Also, Alanbarnes' link to sweet marias is very helpful and informative about coffee

                                                  2. re: CindyJ
                                                    alanbarnes RE: CindyJ Aug 6, 2009 09:07 PM

                                                    Don't sweat it too much.

                                                    First, get a decent grinder. I like the Baratza Maestro. It does a big job fairly well for a reasonable ($100) price. Yes, you'll want to upgrade if you get really serious, but then you can sell the grinder on eBay. It's a good place to start.

                                                    Next, find a source for coffee. If you have a local purveyor that roasts on site and has staff who actually know something about the coffee they're selling, you're in business. Otherwise, buy online for now. Find a great roaster (Intelligentsia, Blue Bottle, etc.), tell them what you're trying to do, and take their recommendations. At some point you may begin to develop preferences regarding roast levels, coffee styles, blends vs. SO (single-origin) beans, etc. But don't sweat that for now; just get good coffee that's appropriate for your application.

                                                    Once you have a good grinder and good coffee, the world is your oyster. Sure, a Pavoni machine on your countertop looks cool, impresses the hell out of the neighbors, and is capable of pulling a spectacular shot. But you can make a really good cup of coffee using far less expensive equipment.

                                                    Again, I suggest trying to get the best possible cup of coffee out of your mokka pot. The finesse required to make the most of that device translates directly to the world of espresso. If you get tired of fiddling, then you can save the hundreds of dollars you would have spent on high-end espresso equipment. On the other hand, if you catch the bug, the cost of diagnosing your incipient obsession has been minimal.

                                                    1. re: alanbarnes
                                                      CindyJ RE: alanbarnes Aug 7, 2009 03:12 PM

                                                      Okay... so I begin with "baby steps." I'm guessing that there's a range of grinds with th Baratza Maestro. So if I begin with the mokka pot, there will be a bit of experimenting. Maybe I ought to get a job at a local coffee shop, just for the opportunity to learn how to operate the equipment. I wish I knew someone who lived near me who had a good espresso machine and who would be willing to give me some hands-on tutoring.

                                                      1. re: CindyJ
                                                        Politeness RE: CindyJ Aug 7, 2009 04:25 PM

                                                        CindyJ, Unless you need the work, getting a job at a coffee shop is far more effort than you need to expend, and you would be depriving someone else of gainful employment at the same position.

                                                        As it happens, we have a Maestro (Baratza imported it, but it was called a Solis Maestro when we got ours) as our main coffee grinder. We are not home espresso makers, but we use our Maestro every day for the coffee that we brew in our Hario Nouveau vac pot.

                                                        The owner's manual for the Baratza Maestro is available on-line: http://baratza.com/pdfdoc/3maestro%20... and you can peruse that to see how to grind for a mokka pot.

                                                        More than that, however, there is no penalty for getting the grind "wrong": you will just get one mokka pot's quantity of coffee that is a bit under-extracted or over-extracted, which you can correct on your very next pot. Experiment.

                                                        1. re: Politeness
                                                          CindyJ RE: Politeness Aug 10, 2009 07:35 AM

                                                          Okay -- I won't deprive someone of a job at the local cafe. But I do have a question. I looked at the manual and saw that there are 14 grinder settings just for espresso. Are there really 14 different gradations of grind? What I mean is, are these differences visibly noticeable? Do they really make a difference in the end result? And, if so, how can you ever decide which setting to use?

                                                          1. re: CindyJ
                                                            alanbarnes RE: CindyJ Aug 10, 2009 09:07 AM

                                                            The difference between #7 and #8 may not be huge, but the difference between #1 and #14 will likely be significant. As far as figuring out which grind to use, it's really just trial and error. If your grind chokes the machine, go coarser; if the water flows freely through without extracting much coffee flavor, go finer.

                                                            1. re: CindyJ
                                                              scubadoo97 RE: CindyJ Aug 11, 2009 01:28 PM

                                                              The grind can vary day to day for a particular bean. As the bean ages the grind will have to be adjusted as well as for the days humidity. Often the first shot is tossed and is used to make adjustments for the shot to follow.

                                            2. re: alanbarnes
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                                              chuckl RE: alanbarnes Aug 3, 2009 02:23 PM

                                              you're certainly correct in saying that the intensitiy of the espresso method will mask some of the nuances in coffee. I should have been more specific. It's precisely the concentrated flavor that I'm interested in when I make espresso, the intensity of it. I agree that with lighter roasts you'll likely lose some of the more subtle flavors, though. It's similar to what I look for in a good wine, like a pinot or burgundy. I've been experimenting with different combinations for making espresso. I like having a dark roast, like an Italian, with a more medium body, like a good Colombian. Dark roasts alone seem to taste mostly, well, dark

                                            3. re: chuckl
                                              l
                                              latindancer RE: chuckl Aug 2, 2009 10:38 AM

                                              I'm an espresso drinker so my bias lies in that direction.
                                              I'm very selective about how I brew my regular coffee and the type of beans I'll use and having come from a city where coffee and espresso trumps just about anything :), joking of course, I've learned from a master , truly, in this city years ago. I learned everything there is to know about pulling great shots and I'm very fortunate to have learned valuable techniques.
                                              He'll naturally agree with you, as I do because we love espresso, but that's not to say others will.
                                              I believe, as I mentioned, that wine followers will have the same discussion, don't you think? I know I do.

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