Espresso

As you may or may not know, I love coffee, specifically espresso.  You probably have seen my IG posts, and I get a few emails every single time asking me about what setups I have, what type of beans I prefer, what type of espresso, etc.  Figured it is worth a write up since we all love coffee, but we rarely know what good coffee is and/or why some coffee is better (or worse) than others.  This is going to be less of an opinion write up and more of an exercise in science.  If you cannot science right now, I suggest you go and drink some coffee and read this when you have a bit of caffeine in your system.

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I use a Bodum Bistro Burr Coffee Grinder, a Capresso 118.05 EC PRO Espresso machine and my go to cups for guests is the Bormioli Rocco Oslo Espresso Cup (3.5 oz).  I use an old glass cup I have had for a while which is roughly 5.5-6oz max filled.

My "go to" espresso coffee bean is the Lavazza Grand Espresso whole coffee bean and I sometimes alternate to the Lavazza Super Crema Espresso.  They are not the same, they do not have the same taste.  You can read about them, but basically you either want to stick with a whole bag at a time or you'll have to clean out your grinder and that gets tiresome when all you want is a quick cup of espresso.  If you come by a bag of non-US made, imported, Italian whole bean espresso, specifically arabica, I'd recommend getting a small bag of it to see how you like it, but I have found that for the average American coffee drinker this type of espresso is too bitter tasting, but does work well with a bit of whiskey or Bailey's.


Whole beans are preferred as they are going to be the most fresh and full of vitamins, minerals, taste and most importantly caffeine.  Once a coffee bean is roasted it goes through something called the Maillard Reaction.  The short description is heat does to a coffee bean what heat does to a braided slab of yeast (Challah bread), brings it to life.  Most coffee bags will have a one way air valve to release the pressure from an air tight seal of coffee beans, this is because CO2 is slowly released from the roasted coffee bean in order to naturally fight oxidation.  If the bags did not have these valves then the bags would puff up and possibly explode! (Coffee bag bombs?)

Once you grind the whole beans, you are in a race against the oxidation clock.  CO2 levels dissipate after a few minutes, but you don't have to worry about that for espresso, especially not the way I recommend making espresso.

On whatever grinder you choose to buy, make sure you set it on the most fine ground setting.  I know there is a grams per liter chart out there, but with the right setup it does it for you (within an acceptable range) and you do not have to worry about it too much.  You just have to make sure the grinder you choose is always consistent in its ground presentation.  This will mean you won't under-extract or over-extract your whole bean during the grind.

You have to find the right setting for your particular espresso machine.  For me on the grinder I use it is just above the 5 setting, and it produces just enough to not completely fill the cup filter.  You do not want it to be completely filled because it may cause overpressure with the addition of water and leak out of the top.  So you may have to mess around with your particular settings and ground.

The Capresso machine I use is designed for nearly zero thought use.  You put the clean filtered water in the tank, let it warm up, lock the handle with spout to the machine (after you packed the grounds in the cup filter), green light comes on and turn you knob.  Let it sit a few seconds and you are good to enjoy a cup of espresso.  The pressure and temperature is almost always the same or very similar in an acceptable range.  I can taste the difference between filtered tap water, unfiltered tap water and bottled water, so you should play around to see which you prefer.

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Now for the math.  The average cup of espresso is roughly 60mg of caffeine per 1oz.  Your average brewed cup of coffee you get from Dunkin Donuts is roughly 80mg per 8oz.  You get more for less with espresso due to concentration and you do not have to walk around with a large cup of coffee.  You literally get nearly the same from a "shot" of espresso as you do an 8oz cup of brewed coffee.  These numbers are generalized and you can find out the range if you choose to learn how to calculate it - do you need to know this? Absolutely not and unless you want to PhD in caffeine intake by coffee you do not need to know.  But you can go down the Google rabbit hole if you want to.

I prefer to serve guests somewhere between 1 and 2 oz as that will yield the best taste with the least amount of after-effects.

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With my particular Capresso machine, you have to turn the knob back to off about 3/4 of the cup being full to make sure it does not overfill.  You have to let the espresso sit for a few seconds as the head cascades up and you see the thick black bottom form.  I would recommend stirring the cup with a small spoon before drinking as the head is part of the taste and you want to mix everything up.  This also makes sure you do not exceed the 2oz as it is likely to cause a digestive reaction from most people very quickly.

I want to cover some of the things most people either do not know or simply do not understand about espresso.

I recommend drinking espresso over drip coffee for three reasons:

#1.  Bang for buck, you get a lot of caffeine without liquids in a very short period of time.  2oz (two shots in this case) of espresso will yield roughly 120mg of caffeine which is more than your standard cup of 8oz coffee.

#2. It makes you go the bathroom predictably.  With most people, 1-2oz of espresso will make them hit the head in about 30-45 minutes after the shot is consumed.  This is a good thing, especially when done regularly.

#3.  A jolt of caffeine through a shot of espresso will instantly (give or take 15-30 minutes) put you into a "do something" mood, with increased mental sharpness and visual acuity.  Sipping on an 8oz cup of brewed coffee may do this over the span of 30-45 minutes, maybe less if you consider an 8oz cup of coffee a shot, but that also provides a very substantial diuretic function which espresso does as well, but not to the level of volume addition/displacement of brewed coffee.  Especially when taking into account that the average "medium" sized coffee cup is between 12-16oz. (Starbucks breaks it up to 12oz and 16oz, while Dunkin Donuts is 14oz medium).


At the end of it all, this is about self-discovery and preferred taste.  I tell every guest that they should drink their coffee, especially espresso without any sugar, milk or any additives.  Coffee, especially espresso, is meant to be taken black.  I will say it again.

Drink your coffee/espresso black!


This is very important, specifically because the more crap you put into the coffee/espresso the more you dilute the taste, add calories and mess with your stomach even more.  Turning a 1-2oz cup of espresso into a 3-4oz cup of what I would classify as an espresso abortion, is tantamount to showing up to a 1911 enthusiast class with your high-speed RMR'd Glock.  If you need more convincing, the standard calorie count for 1oz of espresso is 2-5.  For an 8oz cup of coffee it is 5-10.  The moment you add sugar/milk/etc you bump it up to 100-300, respectively, all while killing the unique taste you just spent time in putting together.  So do not do it.

Many will probably read the above and believe that espresso is a wealthy man's game and they cannot partake, that would be inaccurate.  You can get yourself a 6-cup stovetop Bialetti espresso maker (buy the 6 cup instead of the 3 cup, you'll thank me) and a JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder.  You probably have cups and all you need a whole coffee bean.  Less than $50 for both the above items and probably another $25 in coffee which will last you a good month if you use it once a day, about 5 times a week (for a 2.2lb bag of whole bean).  It is slower and more involved, but what you get a very rich, old world espresso which people regularly pay upwards of $2 per shot, this is substantially less.  You also have to follow instructions on how to properly use the items.  Temp levels are important if you are doing it on a stove.

What do you get with more expensive machines? Time, you get the product faster, with less work and with more adjustability and digital consistency.  I used the stovetop espresso maker for years and was very happy with it, finally got the Capresso because I wanted it faster.  The taste is the same.

I will type up another write up on brewed/drip coffee later.  For now, remember, whole bean -> consistent grind -> consistent water pressure -> 1-2oz espresso -> stir = good to go.  If all else fails, just keep at it and/or get a book to learn from.

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