Getting a Taste for Espresso?
If you’ve ever had one of Starbucks’ signature coffee drinks, odds are you’ve had espresso, but what exactly is it? The short answer: it’s just coffee, though made in a very particular manner. For starters, the coffee beans are ground especially fine, almost to the point of a powdered sugar-like consistency. It is then brewed by forcing pressurized hot water through the powdered grounds (as opposed to coffee which allows the hot water simply to flow over the grounds).
The result is a stronger, purer coffee flavor. Because of its concentrated flavor, espresso is generally prepared in one ounce shots, which, due to its smaller size, actually has about half the caffeine of a typical cup of coffee. The lower caffeine content and strong flavor make espresso shots ideal for making drinks as well (exactly why Starbucks uses espresso in its drinks).
Making the Perfect Espresso Shot:
Picking the right espresso maker has a significant effect on the quality of the espresso, perhaps just as much so as the quality of the coffee bean. You may think that an espresso maker with a long list of fancy features is evidence of a quality machine, but there is a lot more to it than that. Believe it or not, the most important features are going to be ease of use, build quality, and temperature stability.
A great espresso shot starts with a tight seal around the filter, and a steady temperature of about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Having an espresso maker that is simple to use and sturdily built makes that tight seal easier to achieve. Just a quick tip: be sure to run hot water through the system to heat up all of the components before brewing your espresso.
Here is a quick look at some of the best espresso machines on alaTest:
Delonghi EC 155
While its alaScore is not particularly high due the product age, its affordable price and quality construction makes it a great buy for a first-time espresso machine.
Again, not a very high alaScore, but it is still quite affordable and offers a few more features over other models in its price range.
The EM-200 has several fixed programming options, great for those who like to enjoy different types of coffee, like espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes.
Some Great Espresso Drink Recipes
Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha – this is a great drink for the holiday season, and with the extra sweetness of the white chocolate, perfect for any sweet tooth.
- 2/3 cup milk (whole milk preferred, but skim works as well)
- 3 tablespoons white chocolate chips
- ½ teaspoon peppermint extract
- 1 to 2 shots of espresso
Start by adding the chocolate chips to the milk and steam it until the chips are melted (note: some espresso machines may not steam hot enough to melt the chips. If this is the case, heat the milk/chip mixture on the stove until melted). Add the peppermint extract to the heated milk; feel free to use more for a stronger peppermint taste. Pour a freshly brewed shot of espresso (or two shots for a bit more of a kick) into a warmed cup and add the milk mixture on top of it. Stir gently, top with whipped cream if desired, and enjoy. You can also substitute vanilla extract for the peppermint if you don’t care for the minty taste.
Gingerbread Latte – Another perfect coffee drink for the holidays.
- 1 cup water
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup milk (steamed with foam)
- 2 shots of espresso
Begin by making a gingerbread syrup. This is done by combining the water, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla and bringing it to just under a boil until the sugar is completely dissolved (about 10-15 minutes). Next brew your double shot of espresso and steam your milk. Add the espresso to a large cup, followed by ¼ cup of the gingerbread syrup, and topped by the steamed milk. Stir gently, top with whipped cream if desired, and enjoy the warm taste of the holidays.