How Do Espresso Machines Work? : Don’t Buy Until You Read This


How Espresso Machines Work

By Melanie Rose

It wasn’t that long ago that I bought my first espresso maker — a small semi-automatic that was a good machine in it’s price range, but not the best espresso machine to be had. I made the decision to craft my own espresso at home due to the fact that I was spending anywhere from $8 to $20 a day at local cafés. I would haul in my trusty laptop and camp for the better part of a day while savoring ambient conversation, sipping rich espresso and taste-testing scrumptious pastries. Between my pocketbook and my waistline it’s hard to say which was suffering the most.

I do have great fondness for a good coffee house. The place I will always love the most usually has the front and back doors open and brave pigeons waddle in to pick crumbs from the floor. The fragrance of brewing coffee and baking delectables permeate the air, mixing with the sounds of people coming and going. Ahhhhh, so sweet. Once or twice a week I still visit the local coffee house and relax or do some work so that I can sunbathe in the warmth and glow of a great café.

But whether you partake at home or at the local café, espresso has a way of pulling you into its rich world. It wasn’t long after buying that first little machine that I was grinding my own beans and experimenting with different blends of coffee. I began conducting all types of research on how to illicit the flawless shot from a machine with understandable limitations.

Along the way I’ve learned a lot, but creating a great shot of espresso is like living the Tao. Elusive, slippery, and an ongoing process. It’s an art form that you can play with for a lifetime, and I guess that appeals to me.

In my search for espresso perfection I’ve run across so much terminology that I found confusing, so I wanted to share what I’ve learned about how espresso machines work, what all that lingo means, and why it’s important if you are a true seeker as I am.

I’ve included some diagrams so that you can have a visual, too. These are very basic because there is so much variation between machines and manufacturers, but they give you a general idea of the workings of an espresso machine.

First Things First

Before I get into describing the inner workings of the machine, I want to run through the process of extracting (aka pulling) a shot. The term “pulling” comes from the old time baristas using their lever machines.

Essentially, the shot is produced by propelling between 1 and 2 ounces of hot, pressurized water through a firm bed of finely ground espresso coffee.

In order to extract the shot from your espresso machine, the first thing you need to do is to check the reservoir tank and make sure that it’s full. Some of the pricier espresso machines can be plumbed into the home, in which case this step won’t be necessary.

Next, you place the ground espresso into the portafilter and tamp it down in order to produce a tightly packed bed of coffee. The portafilter is attached to the machine by twisting it into a unit that contains the gouphead, a component which attempts to evenly distribute the water onto the coffee. The portafilter sits just below the grouphead.

Now you will turn on the machine and [Read more…]

Iced Coffee Recipes : Cold Brew #Coffee Tips : #IcedCoffee

iced coffee recipes

Iced Coffee Recipes

This video shows you how to make exceptional cold brewed coffee!How To Use The Toddy!

Making iced coffee is not only a delicious way to enjoy our beloved beverage, but it will also save you a boatload of cash! To make this process simple, learn how to cold brew coffee. You can either do this in a french press or with the Toddy. The Toddy will create a larger volume, which you can store in the fridge and use the concentrate for your daily iced coffee. Below, I have listed a few favorite iced coffee recipes. If you are looking to consume several glasses, I would recommend the ‘Skinny’ versions. Drinking several glasses that contain sweetened condensed milk and cream could have a negative impact on your bikini body!

Iced Coffee Recipes

Simple Iced Coffee Recipe

  1. Combine one part cold brew concentrate to three parts of either milk, cream, or water.
  2. Sweeten to taste with syrup or preferred  sweetner
  3. Add some coffee ice cubes (Make coffee cubes with either concentrate or regular brewed coffee, poured into an ice cube tray)
  4. Enjoy!

Vietnamese Iced Coffee Recipe

  1. Fill half of a glass with cold brew coffee concentrate
  2. Add some coffee ice cubes
  3. Add 3 TBSP of sweetened condensed milk
  4. Add a 1/4 cup of cream or milk

Healthy Iced Coffee (Skinny version)

  1. Combine 2 parts coffee concentrate and 1 part water
  2. Add skim milk (optional)
  3. Add coffee iced cubes
  4. If sweetener is desired, use stevia

Unofficial Starbucks Iced Caffe Mocha (24 oz)

This recipe is all about the chocolate! If you choose to use a lower end, grocery store chocolate sauce, you will be disappointed.

  1. Add 1.5 oz. (6 pumps) of Fontana Bittersweet Chocolate Mocha Sauce
  2. Add 5 oz. of cold brewed coffee concentrate
  3. Add milk to the 3/4 mark of the cup
  4. Stir
  5. Add coffee iced cubes to just under the rim
  6. Top with REAL whipped cream

Alcoholic Iced Coffee (Adults Only!)

  1. Add frozen ‘Coffee Cubes’
  2. Add 2 ounces of half n’ half
  3. Add 4 ounces of Cold Brewed Coffee Concentrate
  4. Add 1 ounce Coffee Liqueur
  5. Add 1Tbs Kahlua
  6. Add 1Tbs Irish Cream
  7. For best results, blend all ingredients for 10 seconds in a blender

Iced Coffee Tips

  • I always use coffee ice cubes, as they will not water down my drink, like the water based cubes do. If you find that your cubes are too strong, simply mix in some milk, cream, or water before freezing!
  • Mastering the perfect iced coffee is part of the fun! Try variations of these recipes to find your magical mix. Coffee is all about personal preference, so please mix it up!
  • Start with fresh roasted, specialty coffee! You will never create your dream beverage with instant coffee or store bought beans. These coffees are all stale and trying to revive them is a pointless endeavor.
  • Cold brew your coffee to eliminate the burnt flavors. When coffee is cold brewed, it highlights the natural sweetness of the coffee.
  • You can store the cold brewed concentrate in your refrigerator for up to 4 weeks. Be sure to tightly seal your cold brew concentrate. Failing to do so will result in your beverage absorbing flavors from other items in the fridge. Nobody likes onion flavored coffee!

Have a favorite iced coffee recipe? Please share it in the comments!!

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Reviews of Exceptional, Affordable Coffee Makers


Hario Pourover Image

The majority of people believe that making exceptional coffee requires an expensive collection of equipment. In most cases, the saying “You get what you pay for”, is accurate. This isn’t necessarily the case with coffee brewers. If we were talking about coffee grinders, it would be another story, but today we are going to focus on a selection of my recommended coffee brewers, and most of them are less than $100. Some of them are even less than $30! If you already own an outstanding brewer, you should consider adding to your collection. Every brewer mentioned, will highlight different characteristics of the same coffee. This truth is one of the reasons that I fell in love with the art of making coffee!

Brewing the best coffee in town requires 3 components…

  1. A quality coffee brewer
  2. A burr type coffee grinder (uniform coffee particle size)
  3. High quality, fresh roasted coffee

While all three are vital to the brewing process, we are going to tackle numero uno, ‘A quality coffee brewer’. When you choose any of the following coffee making devices, it ensures that you are using one of the most reliable and repeatable coffee brewing methods. This is important because there are other outstanding coffee brewers out there, but the level of involvement and preparation required to use them properly, is more than the typical coffee drinker is willing to invest in. If you want a simple method of creating the perfect cup of coffee, then the following coffee maker recommendations are perfect for you!

You will notice that all of my recommended coffee brewers have something in common, no internal/inaccessible components. The reason is simple, TASTE! Water contains several minerals, and the build up of these minerals causes poor brewer performance, inadequate brewing temperatures, and plain ole’ bad tasting coffee. In addition, coffee consists of oil. These oils cling to surfaces, and quickly turn rancid. Choosing a manual coffee maker will provide you with piece of mind, knowing your equipment is clean, as well as control of the brewing process.  Here we go…

Bodum Columbia French Press Review

buy bodum columbia stainless steel french pressThe Bodum Columbia stainless steel french press is my absolute favorite french press, for two particular reasons. 1) I have children 2) The filter/plunger quality. While you will pay a bit more for this press, when compared to the fragile glass/silicate versions, the Columbia is extremely durable. I first bought this, based solely on durability. Between my wife and children, we went through 3 glass ones within a 6 month time period. Now that’s expensive! The second reason I love this french press, is the single piece filter design. Most press pots have a multi layered plunger assembly, with two metal plates and a wire mesh filter screen between them. Coffee grounds get lodged between the plates and the screen, necessitating the user to disassemble the entire plunger unit after each use. Most people fail to do this, resulting in old coffee grounds and oils being infused into the fresh brew. Not good for flavor or your stomach. The Columbia is currently available for $79.95.

Need to know how to properly use a French Press? Check out my easy to follow French Press Brewing, Video Tutorial!

Bodum Chambord French Press Review

buy bodum chambord french press coffee makerIf you aren’t clumsy, and don’t mind a couple of minutes of extra cleanup time to save $30, the Bodum Chambord is an excellent option. This press is the gold standard of French presses! The redesigned model is enhanced with more chrome and BPA free, plastic spout. It is important to select a high quality press pot, such as the Chambord or Columbia (above). There are cheaper models, and even more expensive ones, that simply cannot do the job. The lesser quality versions have faulty filter/plunger components, which do not create a proper seal, allowing the ground coffee to enter the finished product. This is unacceptable, not to mention frustrating. The Bodum Chambord is available in 3, 4, and  8 cup sizes (12, 17, 34oz), priced at $40, $45, and $50 respectively (free FedEx ground shipping). I recommend the 34oz size, as you can always brew the amount you need. If you purchase a smaller version, you will be brewing multiple batches when company comes over (which they will, due to your great coffee).

Need to know how to properly use a French Press? Check out my easy to follow French Press Brewing, Video Tutorial!



Bodum PEBO Coffee Brewer Review

buy bodum PEBO Santos vacuum syphon coffee brewerThis is starting to look like a Bodum commercial, but they truly have designed some high caliber coffee making equipment. The PEBO is no exception. Many people believe the French Press is the oldest type of coffee maker, when in fact it is predated by the syphon brewer (also known as the vacuum brewer). Most syphon brewers have a separate heating element, containing fuel. You can also take out a second mortgage to get a halogen element, but the PEBO is a stove-top version. Despite its funky look, it is very simple to use! You put the water in the bottom pot, ground coffee in the top. When the water is heated, the pressure from the steam produced, will force the heated water into the upper chamber. When you remove the heat source, the effect is reversed, and the brewed coffee ‘falls’ into the lower chamber. There is an included nylon filter, which allows the liquid to pass through, while retaining the grounds in the upper chamber. It is fascinating to watch, and it never gets old! The character of the coffee it brews, is stellar. If you like the flavor of the coffee produced by the French Press, but you would rather do without the sediment, the vac/syphon brewer is for you. The included filter is easily washed and reused hundreds of times, but you can alternatively purchase a glass filter rod, which can be reused forever (these can be found for $7-$10, on eBay by searching for “Cory Glass Filter”) The PEBO will brew 4-8 cups, and total brewing time is between 5-10 minutes. You can buy the Bodum PEBO coffee brewer for $79.95 (free FedEx ground shipping). There is a cheaper stove top vac brewer, made by Yama, but I prefer the PEBO, because I found the rubber seal of the Yama to be too stiff. This caused inconsistency in the results, due to an improper seal. I hate wasting good coffee…and time!

Need to know how to properly use the Bodum PEBO? Check out my easy to follow Bodum PEBO brewing, Video Tutorial!

AeroPress Coffee Brewer Review

buy bodum aeropress coffee maker espresso coffee brewerThe AeroPress coffee brewer (also incorrectly titled, “espresso maker”) is a shockingly outstanding coffee maker. The AeroPress is constructed with three, BPA free, plastics; copolyester, polypropylene, and thermoplastic elastomer. Each of these materials are approved by the FDA, for use in contact with food. It may resemble the property of Austin Powers, but it is a highly acclaimed coffee maker. There is even an annual “World AeroPress Championship” competition, where several of the most prominent coffee professionals face off! The AeroPress brews a single cup of concentrated coffee, which can be adjusted by adding hot water or heated milk to the finished product. Traditionally, the AeroPress utilizes paper filters, which produces a super clean cup of coffee (‘clean’ describes a coffee that has little or no aftertaste). It also tends to mellow the character of the coffee. I especially love the AeroPress brewer, when it is paired with the metal DISK filter from Able brewing. The metal filter allows more flavor to enter the cup, rather than those flavors getting trapped in a paper filter. Paper filters can also inject undesirable flavors into your brew. If you choose the paper AeroPress filters, be sure to thoroughly rinse them with boiling water, prior to use. This will lessen the negative impact. You can purchase an AeroPress for as little as $26!

Chemex Coffee Brewer Review

buy chemex coffee maker coffee brewerThe Chemex coffee brewer is a must for any coffee lover. This brewing method is simple, yet refined. 😉 It’s single piece construction, consists of a glass pitcher, and a glass funnel on the top. Here are the basic steps; the filter is placed inside of the funnel portion, add ground coffee, then slowly pour hot water onto the grounds. It takes some trial and error to get your timing/grind size/dosage to their optimum levels, but within a few attempts, you will be an expert brewer. I’ve created a Chemex coffee brewing instructional video, to get your started. There are special paper filters for the Chemex, but I find it works best when paired with the Able Brewing, KONE filter. Can you tell that I’m not a fan of paper filters? Haha! Using paper is perfectly fine, if that is what you prefer. I enjoy coffee that’s flavor is influenced by the way it is cultivated and roasted, and experiencing that in the least obstructive way. That is why I favor glass and stainless steel, neither of which have any impact on flavor. The Chemex is versatile, in that it can also be used as a serving pitcher, or as a decanter, to cool your coffee. The Chemex is available in various sizes, the popular 6 cup version costs about $37, while the hand blown, 13 cup beast that I own, will run you about $90.

Moka Pot Review

buy moka pot coffee brewer onlineThe Moka Pot, often referred to as the ‘Italian Stovetop Espresso Maker’, has a similar brewing style as the syphon/vac pot. Put water in the bottom, the ground coffee into a funnel piece, which is between the top and bottom chambers. The top chamber has small holes in the center of the bottom, which acts as the filter. The water is forced from the bottom, through the bed of ground coffee, and through a spout in the top chamber. The finished product is a rich cup of deliciousness. Most of these pots are made of aluminum, and are quite durable. You do have to purchase the proper size, as you must brew the maximum capacity, each time. You can find single cup ones, but these are ‘demitasse’ sizes. A one mug size is actually 3 cups. A 9 cup Moka Pot can be usually be snagged for under $25.

Need to know how to properly use a Moka Pot? Check out my easy to follow Moka Pot Brewing, Video Tutorial!



Affordable Coffee Maker Reviews

Leave your thoughts in the comments below, either Facebook commenting or Disqus, and I’ll reply 🙂

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Coffee Chat With Mike Crimmins, of “Daily Shot of Coffee”

life is too short to drink bad coffee

“4 ounces of burnt ashtray water”  Listen for this quote in the podcast below!  I had the honor of being asked to do a podcast about coffee by Mike Crimmins, from, back in February.  I ended up getting pretty sick the day before we were going to connect, and my cough just hung on forever!  We were finally able to get together and chat about….wait for it….COFFEE!   From how people can start the transition from industrial preground coffee to better coffee, our angst towards the ‘healthy coffee’ people, and why I started, we covered it all.  We also talked social media marketing, and what we’re currently up to.

I’d like to thank my friend, Mike, for inviting me onto his show, and allowing me to simul-post the podcast!  Mike is someone that I had never spoken to before this show, but we’ve been ‘talking’ online for more than 3 years.  We launched our coffee websites at nearly the same time, and Mike has always been an encouraging force in my business.  You can connect with Mike on Facebook and Twitter.
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Podcast resources:

GoCoffeeGo– A great place to buy excellent coffees from several different quality roasters.

I want to hear from you!

What did you think of the podcast?
Where are you on your coffee journey?
Do you have a coffee related question?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below, either Facebook commenting or Disqus, and I’ll reply 🙂

Here are some products that I love…

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Say something!

Please leave a comment or ask a question

Keurig K cups : Pros and Cons

kcups pros cons

K-cups Pros and Cons

Do you know what a Kcup is?  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but by the time you finish reading this, you will know more about K-cups than most people do!  Kcups are the ammunition for the Keurig single serve coffee brewer.  The concept and design were birthed by Green Mountain Coffee in Vermont.  These brewers pump out one cup of coffee
at a time, and they do it by way of a unique brewing cup, known as the Kcup.  Each Kcup holds a single serving of coffee grounds, and a filter that is nestled inside of a cocoon of plastic and tinfoil.  The Kcup is placed inside of the brewer and when the brewer lid is closed, a metal spout pierces the foil lid of the kcup.  Hot water is then injected into the K cup and out comes the coffee.  Seems like an ingenious concept. 

The Keurig brewers are enjoying a huge wave of popularity, with the estimated total sale of Kcups to be in excess of 5 billion units this year!  But is the Kcup the right choice for your daily brew?  Here are some pros and cons to help you decide… [Read more…]