An Everyday Espresso Habit
If you're anything like me, espresso drinks are a comforting treat in cool weather. My drink of choice alternates between a cappuccino and a latte, and people-watching in a busy coffee shop makes for a lovely morning. Unfortunately, the cost adds up over the week ($4 or more for each drink!) and mornings outside the home can be tricky with a toddler and an infant, even at our very friendly local shop.
So, what's a caffeine-dependent mama working at home to do? Espresso machines have always seemed quite intimidating, a bias I developed as a child in Italy where my father purchased a La Pavoni machine. It was an elegant brass and copper staple in our kitchen, but rather loud and complicated. So, I assumed I was stuck with my French press and hand-frothed warm milk. Not exactly authentic.
Except, as I've come to find out, there is a whole slew of entry-level espresso machines, and some are quite capable of producing delicious drinks! I wanted to share my experience to inspire those of you out there who have an interest, but might still be a bit intimidated. Also, this would make a great gift for a coffee-lover!
Our Entry-Level Espresso Machine, De'Longhi
After reading many reviews, we ultimately chose the De'Longhi ECP3420 15" Bar Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Machine (link goes to Amazon). I'm someone who can take weeks, even months, to read reviews and still have trouble making a decision, but what I realized is that at this level every single option was going to have some nay-sayers. I had multiple close friends who have had some variation of this De'Longhi for a while with good results. And I'm here to tell you that we've had it for going on a month, and have made... way too many drinks, each coming out wonderfully!
This machine is at an excellent price-point ($110), at around the cost of 25 drinks out at a coffee shop. Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but that's only a couple weeks' worth of drinks in our house!
It's fairly compact, at 12" high, 9" deep, and just over 7" across, fitting nicely under our upper cabinets and not taking up too much room. It's not exactly the copper and brass beauty that my parents have, but it has a simple and unassuming design.
The machine is also extremely easy to use, coming with a handy little instruction booklet with pictures. This is a set of instructions you can truly glance at and then get started right away!
In the end, we wanted something that would help us get started with little investment, so we can decide if we really like making our espresso drinks at home. Right now, we are each having one or two drinks a day, averaging three in total. If we find we're still making them regularly in a year, then we'll likely upgrade - or I'll abscond with my parents' machine after a visit!
Choosing the Right Coffee
I am not a coffee connoisseur, but I was pretty excited about the idea of trying different espresso beans... until I realized my hand-grinder was not going to be convenient and I didn't want to invest in an automatic grinder just yet. I asked friends for recommendations and queried the hive mind of Instagram. Lavazza repeatedly came up, and it's a brand I recognized well from my childhood. Done and done!
Otherwise, I received many great specific recommendations, but the piece of advice that came up again and again was to buy locally and have them grind it in the shop. It's preferable to grind it at home, so it's as fresh as possible to really take advantage of the oils released, but having the shop grind it is the next best thing! We picked up a bag from Feine, our favorite shop in Conshohocken.
Making Lattes at Home
Having the right tools is great, but I'm sure you're wondering how easy it really is? Well, honestly, there was a bit of a learning curve - in the form of two mediocre drinks. Yep, that's it, folks, just two. After that, we had it figured out pretty well and I've even found myself thinking "I wish I'd just made one at home" when I buy one at a shop sometimes.
The hardest part (and I want to stress that it's not even hard) is properly pressing the espresso into the holder with the appropriate amount of weight (30lbs). It comes with a single or a double-shot holder, which you fill with the ground espresso beans and then tamp down. (I bought a separate staineless steel tamper after reading reviews that the plastic one can bend.) You pop that in, turn it on, and, once the water is hot and you get a green light (literally), you brew!
If you want to make a drink with milk, rather than simply drink the espresso, there is a little arm on the side for steaming. (I bought a little stainless steel pitcher, but that was partly for aesthetics, if I'm really honest.) After the espresso has brewed (I let mine go about 30 seconds, watching the color of the streams to know when to turn it off), you switch the dial to the steamer. After a few seconds, you'll get another green light, and you can steam/foam your milk. I've tried both cow's milk and almond milk with great results!
Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of this part, as it requires two hands. But it's very easy, and what's really convenient is that you'll learn your exact preferences and be able to match them. I find I like a little less steamed milk and more foam.
Great Gift for Coffee Lovers!
With Rise + Wander not taking orders through the holiday, I thought this was a great time to write this post - in case you still need to buy a gift for the coffee-lover in your life! This was an early Christmas present for my husband and me (from ourselves, ha!), and we're absolutely thrilled with it.
To be clear, this post is in NO way sponsored and all opinions are my own. I received nothing for free or a discount. I just love learning to do new things, and it's been a lot of fun for us here at home. I hope you enjoy it, too! That said, though the links above are the actual items I purchased myself, we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program through Amazon.com.
Have a great day!