Espresso is an Italian word describing a coffee drink in which a small amount of nearly boiling water is forced under pressure through finely ground coffee. The word espresso is said to convey several meanings beyond the name of the drink as in, expressing the flavor from the coffee beans, or creating an express (fast) cup of coffee or making one cup expressly for an individual.
In many European countries, and in Australia, espresso coffee is the most popular method of brewing coffee.
In coffee shops you may hear the terms espresso beans, or espresso roasts, or espresso grind. All of those are misnomers. There are no beans or roasts or grinds that are exclusively used for espresso. While most espressos are made with dark roasted, heavy bodied, finely ground coffees, any coffee bean at any roast level can be used for an espresso. For example, espressos made in Southern Italy use very dark roasted coffee beans, while espressos made in Northern Italy use lighter roasts.
The number two selling coffee in the world is Nespresso. In many five-star restaurants, if you order an espresso, the coffee will be made in a Nespresso machine.
Nespresso machines use pods with finely ground coffee. Near boiling water under pressure is forced into the pods to create an espresso coffee. The process is like the Keurig except the Nespresso uses near boiling water and high pressure.
The advantage of Nespresso is that it creates an average tasting espresso quickly with little fuss. In addition, it will create the same espresso each time where a barista’s espresso will vary based on grind, tamping, water temperate and pressure. The disadvantage is that it cannot create the great espresso, that the barista just might.
Home Espresso Machines
If you want to make espresso at home, there are three types of home machines, manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic.
- Manual machines require the user to manually pull a shot. Unless you are a pro, we do not recommend a manual machine.
- Automatic machines do it all, grind, tamp and pull. Push a button, go do something else and your espresso is done. Very convenient, better than Nespresso but still not top-quality espresso.
- Semi-Automatic machines require the user to exert more control, resulting hopefully, in better quality espresso. Some semi-automatic machines allow you to manipulate the strength of your espresso with an adjustable pressure gauge and/or multiple froth settings.
The home machines range in price from under one hundred to several thousand dollars. Expect to pay between $500 and $1000 for a quality machine and up to $2000 if you want all the bells and whistles. The differences are in the quality of; the construction, the built-in grinder (if there is one), the tamper, the temperature control, the pressure control, and the number of water boilers. You have to balance the cost and convenience against the $3.00 with tip at the local café.
Wanna Be Espresso Machines
There are several devices on the market that claim to produce an “espresso style” coffee, including Moka Pot, AeroPress, Prismo and the Pipamoka. While each of them can make a heavier bodied coffee, none of them can create a true espresso. Some of them are compact coffee makers that are useful for camping or travel.