Is it the caffeine? Is it the ritual of making my morning latte? Is the smell of the freshly ground coffee as the coffee grinder whirls the whole beans into a magical powder. Or is it that first taste of a perfect blend of a freshly pulled double shot with its thick crema and the sweet, creamy and luscious steamed whole milk as it touches my lips and spreads over my tongue? Making a latte has become my morning ritual for the last 6 years.
Up until 6 years ago my morning ritual was to brew a pot of coffee. Sipping on large cups until I had enough and usually pouring out the rest. I like the taste first thing in the morning but felt bad for not drinking all the coffee I’d brewed. (That’s the growing up in a large family and not wasting things side of me)
I don’t remember what actually prompted me to decide to get an espresso machine? Maybe it was the fact I wasted about half of the pot of brewed coffee? So, there I was shopping for an espresso machine. I had a 20% coupon for Bed, Bath, & Beyond (this again I learned from my mom who raised a large family). I didn’t have the first clue what to look for, except to look for one that had a pump that could produce 15 lbs. of pressure. My purchase was going to influenced by price and this one fact. After weighing all my choices. I chose a Krups XP4030 Pump Espresso Machine and Cuisinart Burr Grinder. Simple to operate with its double wall pressured filter basket. The Krups machine worked well for me for the last 5 plus years. But, I knew I could make a better latte. I would have to learn to do so and in the process learn about another culinary experience. Learning espressos are the sum of lots of different steps. It is more, than just coffee.
This past January I was recovering from surgery. Coming down to the kitchen, turning on the Krups espresso machine, waiting for it to heat up, grinding the coffee in the Cuisinart grinder, measuring the ground coffee into the filter basket, tamping the coffee, heating up the cup with hot water and placing the portafilter in the hot water to heat it also, pouring and steaming the milk first, switching from steaming to priming, waiting for the pump to prime, pouring out the hot water from the cup, setting the filter basket into the portafilter and then into the group head, placing the warm cup underneath, turning the switch to pulling a shot, counting to 24 seconds, switching to prime to stop the pour, and finally pouring the steamed milk into the cup along with the double shot of espresso…..Whew! All this before I could have that first taste. I had been doing it this way and saw no problem until my partner made a simple statement, “Wow, that sure takes a while to make.” My answer at the time was “all good things take time.” But this exchange got me thinking? How do good Baristas pull shots, steam milk, and deliver a delicious drink in moments?
The answer: Get a better espresso machine and grinder. One that could preheat my cup and portafilter and filter basket at the same time. With a better grinder I could grind, dosed, and tamp the coffee into the portafilter basket. Steam the milk and pull the shot at the same time. This time I had somewhere to turn to for information, the internet and Zingerman’s Coffee Company. I quickly learned from companies like Whole Latte Love and Seattle Coffee Gear there was a machine that would give me the qualities of a professional machine for the home Barista who wanted more control, speed in recovery time, and skill development to produce the best tasting coffee drinks.
Breville’s Dual Boiler Espresso Machine BES900XL and the Breville Smart Grinder was my choice after exhausted research. The Breville’s Dual Boiler is compact for the home kitchen counter and contains all the features you would find in a higher priced professional machine. More than anything it give you the control to tweak the settings basic on your own taste. Everything from infusion water temperature (190°-205°F) , pre-infusion time, pressure, and extraction time. The LCD digital display is easy to navigate to change any setting. It also has a Clock with Auto Start so the machine is ready to go when you wake up in the morning. You’ll find 4 filter baskets, a tamper that is magnetized to lock into the machine, a steaming pitcher, water filters, 2 cleaning tablets, top loading water compartment, a drop down wheel that allows you to easy move the machine for clean up of access to the water tank, and a 58mm portafilter. The Breville Smart Grinder also comes with features that you typically find in grinders costing hundreds of dollars more. The Smart Grinder has an LCD display, 25 grind settings, and a removable hopper, and it comes with two grinding cradles for dosing directly into espresso filters, plus an air-tight storage canister. Your able to dial in and dose the perfect amount of coffee for your taste. Always after a bargain, I found I could get a 20% professional discount at the local William-Sonoma. Even with this it took a couple of months of prodding from my partner to make the purchase. I’m not one to part with my money very easily.
Opening the boxes and unpacking my shinny new toys, I felt like a kid on Christmas. Finding a place on the counter for the espresso machine, coffee grinder and knock box was the first priority. Second was to read all the instructions that came with the machines. I’ve learned the hard way at a young age “always read the instructions.” Now came the time to fill the tank and prime the machine. My excitement grew knowing I would soon pull that first double shot. Now, I turned to the grinder opening a fresh bag of Sumatra coffee beans and pouring them into the hopper. I set the grind and dose on the machine. I preheated my cup and portafilter with a blank shot. Wiped dry the filter. As I dose the coffee. The smell of chocolate, toast, and sweet aromas filled the air. I then level out the ground coffee, tamping, polishing, and then locking the portafilter into the grouphead. Pouring the whole milk into the steaming pitcher and then purging the steam wand before spinning and stretching the milk into a velvety foam. As the milk heated up, I poured the hot water from the cup, placed under the portafilter, and pressed the double shot button for the first time. I watched with fascination as the crema flowed oh so thick and creamy from the portafilter into my cup. A 24 second shot and this time I didn’t have to count. Just as the shot finished the milk reached 160°F. I cleaned and purged the steam wand, knocked the puck from the portafilter, purging and cleaning the portafilter and grouphead. As I poured the milk into the crema of the shot, two became one. Swirling together in the cup forming a thick blend of crema and micro-foamed milk rising to the surface. Lifting the cup, I could smell deep rich chocolate, sweet caramel, nutty, and toast notes filling my nose with those intoxicating smells. Placing my lips on the edge of the cup. I sipped that first taste. Rich, thick, sweet, and velvety texture is what greeted me first. Then the taste sensation of pure heaven. So satisfying. So delicious. So good!
I can say that I’ve been more than happy with my purchase. When friends or family come by I’ve offer them a coffee drink of choice. I secretly hope they want one so I get more practice time on the machine.
Every morning I wake up thinking about my morning latte. It is the learning, process, techniques, smells, sounds, and taste that I look forward to. All combining together for most satisfying experience of my morning ritual. A latte.