Friday 19 July 2024
  • La Cimbali

Dialing in a passion for coffee

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The aroma of fresh ground coffee, the whirling buzz of a grinder, the swooshing sound of steaming milk … ah. The familiar sights, sounds and smells of the local coffee shop? Not anymore. Welcome to my house.

There is plenty written about brewing espresso at home. And most of those doing the writing will tell you it is expensive and difficult to achieve this elusive elixir anywhere other than a fancy third-wave, hipster-loving coffee shop. I was in agreement before.

That is, until I recently discovered a couple of buddies from an online running community, who also happen to be self-acclaimed coffee geeks. Both also own home espresso machines. Neither one paid anywhere near the $1,000 I had thought was required to achieve success at home. I had my doubts. I freely admit I am a true snob when it comes to espresso. I take only a smidgen of milk (macchiato), if any, no sugar or any flavoring. If you are going to serve me espresso, well, it damn well better taste really good.

I had to give one of these machines a try, so we set up an in-home coffee play date (seriously. what else can you call it?). With his eBay-found $200 Gaggia Classic in tow, Steve arrived and, within minutes, we had brewed a tasty shot of espresso. Here in my basement, with an inexpensive home espresso machine, we brewed a better espresso than what is served at most coffee shops – at least franchise giants and independents not served by bow-tie and vest-wearing geeks. I was amazed. This machine new is only about $380 and is made with some pretty hefty components usually found in commercial machines.

I prepared for the arrival of my own Gaggia Classic found in the Amazon warehouse site by rearranging the basement counter. I polished and I cleaned. I found a new home for the Chemex and found a new spot for the Hario ceramic dripper. I put the AeroPress on display and dug out the old La Pavoni espresso grinder from storage. I was like a collector waiting to add the final piece to a long-sought collection. Oh, I also roasted three pounds of coffee, but that is another column – stay tuned.

When my Gaggia Classic finally arrived, I was in coffee-geek heaven. While I prefer sweatpants over skinny jeans, and slippers instead of Converse sneakers, I did weigh beans by the gram. I adjusted the grind and tamp pressure. I timed and weighed each shot, taking notes. I tasted sour shots and flat shots. Shots that dripped a couple of grams and shots that gushed way too fast. I tasted them all. And it wasn’t too long before I was hitting a sweet spot that I liked.

The journey continues

This was definitely a hallelujah moment in my coffee journey.

Is the machine perfect? No. At this price range, steaming milk and brewing have to be done separately. But the machine quickly heated up to steaming temperature. The supplied “Panarello” milk frother does not do milk justice and really needs to be replaced with a Rancilio Silvia steam wand. There are plenty of discussions online about how to do this. For me, steaming milk is of little concern, except I will need to be able to do so for friends and family.

For one who works mostly from home, having the ability to walk a few steps and brew a shot of espresso — one that is arguably better than I can get at all but the best third-wave shops – makes sitting in front of this computer at all hours of the day just that much more rewarding.

My coffee journey is dialed into a new milestone, but in no way is complete.

Dan Dean is assistant managing editor, former staff photographer and coffee shop owner. He is a devoted geek of the bean and lens. He can be reached at

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