When you think of “shots” it’s likely that you’re not imagining tiny cups of dark roast, concentrated coffee unless you’re around some big espresso enthusiasts. Now, mention to them that these shots will be coming from your stove top or other machine instead of an espresso machine and you’ll incite a debate with which you’ll never be able to keep up! You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s just coffee.” As you think this thought, millions of baristas around the world know and have made a collective gasp. Before you try the alternatives, go to your local coffee shop and order a straight shot of espresso. Sample a few varieties of the good stuff made with a professional machine by someone who knows how to use it. This will be your baseline for seeing what the alternatives taste like and if they’ll work for you.
1. What is Espresso?
For those of you who are still wondering what the big deal is about espresso, it may be that you don’t know exactly what is espresso. The classification is not in the type of coffee that is being brewed but in the method. The parts on an espresso machine make it a lot easier for this method to be executed and deliver you a gourmet shot of espresso the way you’re expecting it to turn out. Each piece is responsible for a different function. The portafilter holds tightly packed grounds and is attached to the machine in such a way to hold it in place while water of a specific temperature is pressurized and pushed through the grounds. Duplicating this process is difficult without a machine but there are methods that have been attempted.
2. Look for the Crema
Any well brewed, high quality coffee will have a thin layer of “crema” on the top, which is a fine foam that looks a little like many bubbles. When brewed with an espresso machine, the coffee’s crema layer will be thicker than when brewed with a regular machine or through other methods. This is the mark of good espresso! If you try any of the alternative methods of brewing, look for the crema on top of the espresso once it’s brewed. This will tell you that you have a high quality shot.
3. Steamers and Milk
You can purchase a machine that has only milk steamers on it or a cappuccino machine with attached steamers. The wands on the steamers emit hot, pressurized air that steams milk into foam. There are some alternative methods of brewing espresso that suggest you can use steamer wands to brew espresso similar to the way an espresso machine would do it but these methods appear to be very dangerous. Do some research on your own if you’d like to try it but it is not recommended for safe espresso brewing.
4. Coffee Strength
Any espresso machine users will tell you that you need premium and strong coffee beans in order to get the best product. While this may be true, there are others that suggest brewing strong coffee with alternative methods including pressurized steam without a machine can yield the same results. You can try making your lattes or other espresso drinks with a super bold blend of coffee beans but the fact is that probably won’t be the same. Strong coffee is not a substitute for espresso.
5. Other Machines
After you’ve tried the alternatives, you may come to the conclusion that there is no substitute for the espresso machine. However, you should also consider how often you want to brew espresso and if it’s necessary to have a machine at home at all. There are fully automatic varieties, cappuccino machines, pod machines, and others that may all suit your home brewing needs better than something you’re not sure how to use. Look through all of your options. Talk to people that own the different machines and find out what will be required of you to operate, clean, and maintain the machine. You may find that you love espresso so much that you have to have a way to brew it at home whenever you want it but you should also take into account that you’ll have to learn to operate the machine expertly before you can get the beverage you desire.
6. Researching Your Options
There’s a lot of information out there that makes learning about all your options overwhelming. Limit your search to the types of machines that will get you the beverages you want and research those. Ask yourself “Will I be able to use these features properly?” If you don’t think you can, then move on to the next options and ask yourself the same question. If you try to research all of the different kinds of espresso machines, cappuccino machines, pod machines, and others all at once, you’ll get overwhelmed fast and you might end up purchasing something that is not at all satisfactory or that you can’t learn to use.
The original question we were asking is, “do I really need an espresso machine?” If you’re looking to make quality espresso at home or lattes and other beverages that require espresso then yes, you do need a machine. The alternative methods may work to produce a beverage of lesser quality but many of them are unsafe and while an espresso machine may be costly, it will allow you to brew the drinks you want safely and with a lot less hassle and cleanup. The choice is yours in the end, because other machines can still give you a premium coffee beverage but to get that really good shot of espresso, the kind you’ll find in a coffee shop that will satisfy your taste buds and deliver the jolt you’re looking for, an espresso machine is the way to go.