Melissa Floreani has been in the business of beans and caffeine for nine years, the last three of these spent starting and running her own company, Gravity Espresso Coffee. There're people who know their coffee and then there's Melissa. Here she takes us through the essential tips for the perfect homebrew.
Why this way?
The stove top espresso method is what you need for two main reasons. First up, it's the way it was meant to be. Like cigars, wine, barbecue shapes, sex and whisky, there are a lot more tastes to be enjoyed if you do it right. You get a better quality coffee - all the bits and pieces, tastes and flavours the coffee maker intended you to get. You're also getting a healthier coffee because unlike plunger coffee, you get all the flavour without the overload of excess caffeine.
Why not my domestic espresso machine?
Unless you're prepared to spend upwards of a grand and you know what you're doing behind the wheels of one, Melissa reckons there's no need to buy an espresso machine. You can get as good, if not better, a latte from a stove top pot than any of the commercial machines you get under that price. So scrub the bells and whistles machine off the bridal registry now and let's move along.
Well what about my plunger?
Nup, no good either. As for all those plungers you collected through the early 90s, they don't actually make espresso coffee. You see, espresso actually means "made under pressure." When it comes to coffee, it's the process of extracting the oils and essences of the coffee - all the good stuff the coffee dudes intended you to get. By making it with a plunger, you'll only get a one-dimensional taste because you're not extracting anything except a lot of caffeine. In fact, by leaving the coffee soaking with the water, you're only extracting more and more caffeine and less and less taste. Hey, if you dig a plunger brew, go forth and plunge, we just reckon there might be something a little tastier for you to enjoy.
Righto you got me, what do I need?
A Moka pot, a stove top espresso maker, a caffe tierre - different names for the same type of thing. Turn to page 78 for a pick of the best. When buying your pot, a couple of things to remember. Get the right sized pot. I mean, if it's usually just the two of you, just get a two-cup pot. It just doesn't work as well if you get a ten-cup for the odd dinner party but fill it a fifth of the way most of the time. It's about the taste. Also, Melissa advises you get stainless steel, it's more expensive, but it'll last longer and is safer than aluminium. Finally, be prepared - buy an extra seal for your pot. These bits wear out but are essential for a good coffee.
Coffee. You need to get coffee that is ground specifically for stove top espresso machines. This is a medium ground coffee. If you're buying a vacuum pack (those shiny brick like things) from the supermarket, look at the back where it indicates what type of machine its ground for. There's usually a picture to make it easy. Stuff for commercial machines is too fine and plunger stuff just won't do. If you're getting it ground from a coffee specialist shop, make sure you get them to grind it for a stove-top machine. As for which taste to buy, that's entirely up to you.
Milk. Fat or skinny is fine.
Sugar. Again whether you use brown or white, finely ground or chunky crystals, this is just personal preference.
(tips to a top brew)
1. Fill the bottom with clean, fresh, cold water. Any crappy tastes in the water will come through in the coffee. If your tap water is a little tainted, run it till its clear or move to a house with better plumbing. If you really wanna take this to another level, use bottled water.
Fill so it's just under the valve that sits on the inside of the pot just under the rim. Don't fill past the valve - it needs this little bit of space at the top to release pressure and do its thing with the coffee.
2. Now, fill the filter with your ground coffee. Teaspoon it in until the level is near the top of the filter. Tap it a couple of times to settle the coffee. Top it up if needs be and if you're after drug strength coffee, whack a couple more teaspoons in.
3. Once the filter is back in the bottom bit of the machine, wipe your hand over the top of the filter to get rid of any loose coffee. Loose grains can damage the rubber seal and the amount of pressure that builds up. This is bad. Avoid it.
4. Put the lid on it, seal it, make sure you sealed it, then whack it on the stove on high. The flames only need to be the size of the base of the pot. Make sure no wily flames arc round and melt your plastic handle. It'll be here for five minutes so it's time to do the milk.
5. Half fill two glasses with milk. Nuke these on high for 45 seconds. Add an extra 20 seconds for every extra glass. Whatever you do, don't burn the milk, it'll make your coffee taste like shit. If you're heating the milk on the stove, it should be a bit more than hot, but not even close to boiling - that's burnt and that's bad.
6. If you need to add sugar, get it in there now. Adding it at this stage gives it an extra creamy affect and makes for a far more impressive coffee. If you don't take sugar, think about adding one anyway - it actually enhances the taste of the coffee.
7. Back to the stove for the espresso. This brew is just about good and here's the big money tip to make sure it is. Just before the coffee spills into the top of the pot, line the bottom of the pot with cold water. A dash is fine. You see, at this point the metal is hot and dry and the first bit of coffee to hit it will burn and make your final brew taste bitter.
8. When this coffee is done, it's done. If you keep it on the stove it won't keep brewing, it won't stay warm, your pot may eventually explode, but that's it. Take it off. There are two signs that let you know when it's done. First, it will make "an unmistakable choofing sound". When you hear this noise it's done. Also, if you look at the actual coffee you'll see the coffee that's coming out will look a little different - it'll be a caramel colour and a bit bubbly. This is the creme - the good oil, the icing on the cake, it's where you want to be. You've done well.
9. Now pour this coffee straight into your heated milk. Stir while you do this to make for a full creamy affect.
10. Serve and watch your guests wriggle and squirm with delight pleasure at the best homemade coffee they'll ever have.
Oh and when your guests are cleaning up after you, tell them never to use soap or detergent when cleaning your espresso maker - any soapy leftovers can build up, get in your coffee and detract from the final taste. Get them to just rinse it very thoroughly in boiling water.