When it comes to making espresso, there are a couple of different styles that you need to choose from: toddy, stovetop, manual, Semi-Automatic, Automatic, and Super-Automatic machines.
Toddy – This is a “brand name” for cold filtering process. Basically, you have a container with a filter/stopper in the bottom, you add regular, (or “drip”) grind of coffee beans in there, add like 10 cups of water, and let sit for 24-48 hours. Of course, the longer you let it sit, the more concentrated the end result. The result is the main ingredient when you ask for a frozen drink at the coffee place named after a Battlestar Galactica character. (Since it’s already cold or room temp, it doesn’t melt the ice and water down the drink excessively.)
This is what I like to call “coffee concentrate,” since you have to add water to it, (1:1 ratio,) to make espresso. You can make anything that you can with regular espresso, but it’s generally a different process. All in all, it allows you to make a iced drink really quickly and conveniently, and works ok on everything else.
Stovetop – These are exactly what they sound like. To make espresso, you make it on the stovetop. (In researching some of the prices, you can actually go into the hundreds of dollars with stovetop devices.) Believe it or not, when I was working, this was one of the more common ways for me to get my espresso fix. There’s a plastic “coffee maker” by the same people that make the Aerobie… they call it a coffee maker, however, it produces something that’s closer to a weak espresso. http://www.thinkgeek.com/interests/moms/8e3a/ You make it in the microwave, and it’s ultra convenient.
(In the main description, they say that it’s been compared to the Clover coffee machines, but that’s like comparing me to George Clooney. Yes, there is a comparison to be made, but it’s not exactly a favorable one…)
Manual – You know what, like I said yesterday, I don’t even suggest this for the first… heck, I have a hard time actually suggesting anything less than an automatic for most beginners, but hey, if you want to read more about manual espresso machines, go here… they have an excellent guide. And I won’t have to type out an exercise in futility…
Semi-Automatic – This is what you would find at a higher-end coffee shop. These provide a good combination of adaptability and automation. You do everything except the stuff that nobody wants to do. (control water temp and actually having to pump the water through the system.) These make a great second or third machine, but if you want to start off with it, it’s not so bad that you’ll not be able do make a decent latte. After this point in the style guide, you get into maintenance and complicated systems that break down more often.
Automatic – This is the beginning of pushbutton espresso. You can grind the beans, dose, tamp, and press a button and boo-yah, shot or two of espresso. These are nice for a beginner because they have a really short ramp-up time, (the time it takes from purchase to consistently making acceptable espresso,) and yet, you still get to mess with all of the other variables. Another nice thing with these is that you can actually get some that have timers so that you can have your morning latte when you get up and steam the milk…
Super-Automatic – These are for the absurdly wealthy and lazy person who really doesn’t care what the espresso tastes like. (I say this, not because the espresso tastes bad, on the contrary, I have heard great things about some of them, however, it is increasingly difficult to “tweak” the variables to make it “your” coffee… so most people just use the default settings.) These marvels of technology you put in the whole beans, (and some of them have refrigerated tanks for the milk,) and press a button for cappuccino, and boo-yah, it grinds the beans, tamps, steams the milk, adds the espresso, and disposes of the spent coffee grounds. www.coffeegeek.com describes them as “about as hands-off as you can get and still have espresso.” And I have to agree.
In summary, I made up a little chart to easily describe what the differences in styles are in espresso makers.
Well, See you later in Part Three. (This is taking longer than I thought it would.)