Does home espresso invariably suck? I read Matt Duckor's piece, Why Your At-Home Espresso Probably Sucks, that Epicurious published a few weeks ago, and I had some immediate and surprisingly spiky emotions in response. At first, I just felt confused, then a little abashed, followed by defensive (Jeez, is my espresso really that bad? Hey, it's not that bad!). After some reflection, I've finally settled on my final takeaway: I don't care what Epicurious or Matt Duckor thinks.
But I do care what you think. If you love your homemade espresso, then I don't want anyone to knock you down for it. Here's my argument for you, and all of us who are crazy for our homemade espresso. Here's why I love my espresso — and maybe why you love yours, too.
Matt Duckor dismisses the pod-based espresso machines and waves aside the slightly more advanced steam-powered espresso makers, saying that the only way we can hope to make semi-decent espresso at home is if we go at it with single-minded devotion and a willingness to lay down enormous amounts of cash for a "real" espresso machine. In other words: Why bother? Just head to your local third-wave artisan coffee shop if you must have espresso in the morning.
But does homemade espresso really need to be an all-or-nothing affair? What if we don't happen to live or work down the street from a hip coffee joint? What if our bar for a wake-up shot of espresso just isn't quite that high? Well, here's what I have to say about that.
You Love What You Love
My cupboard is littered with the Ghosts of Coffees Past. I tried pour over, and French press, and then pour over again (this time with an iPhone app!). I tried programmable coffee pots. And the Chemex. And all sorts of other contraptions meant to guarantee a perfect cup of coffee every morning.
The simple truth was that they were all just too fussy for me — emphasis on for me. Plenty of people love the ritual of making their coffee in their own particular favorite way, but for me, it just never clicked.
Maybe it's because I'm an espresso girl at heart. If I go to a coffee shop, I inevitably order an Americano or a latte, and I skip whatever is being poured from the holding tank. Call it a leftover from college years spent barista-ing — no matter how diligent your barista is about setting timers and swapping the old coffee for new, it's never as fresh as a shot of espresso.
And I prefer making espresso, too. Both then and now. This realization — and befriending some neighbors with a home espresso machine — is what led to my coffee epiphany. I was never going to get on board with all those coffee gadgets because I'm just not that into coffee. Sorry, coffee. It's not you, it's me.
The Shift to Homemade Espresso
When we bought and moved into our first home this past spring, one of the first things my husband and I installed on the counter was a shiny new Rancilio espresso machine (a gift from our agent) and a matching burr grinder (a gift to ourselves). Neither machine was cheap and we are instinctively frugal people, but they didn't make me lose sleep the way buying a home in the Bay Area does, so I was OK with it.
Given my track record with coffee gadgets, I was admittedly a bit worried that my love for this espresso machine would wane over time. Happily for both me and my pocketbook, it has not.
Here is a ritual that I can get behind: turning on the machine and letting it heat while I putter around in my morning haze. Measuring out the grounds and tamping them down as firmly as my 5'3" self can do. Swinging the portafilter into place and positioning my Duralex glass underneath. Hitting the brew switch and my timer simultaneously and watching the glass fill with two ounces of espresso in 22 seconds. Mixing my espresso with a bit of water and a splash of milk, and then walking up to my office.
I also love the fact that this whole ritual takes roughly two minutes of work, and that I can duplicate it pretty easily morning after morning after morning.
Perfect Is the Enemy of Good
My homemade espresso is definitely not perfect. Yours probably isn't either, whether you have a fancy gizmo like mine, or you make espresso with a pod-machine, or however you choose to go about doing it. But is it good? Do you like it? Does its daily appearance in your life please you and deliver the kind of coffee experience and caffeine infusion you desire? Because, really, that's all that matters.
I'd also wager that our homemade espressos, as less-than-perfect as they may be, are still better than a large percentage of coffeeshop espressos out there. Sure, if we're comparing them to the shots pulled by a trained barista at Blue Bottle Coffee or Stumptown Coffee, then there's no contest. But have you had an espresso recently from the Java Hut Xpress off the interstate? You know what I'm talking about. Compared to that, our espressos are doing just fine. I look at espresso on a spectrum of quality, not an either-or, and most days somewhere in the above-average range is going to suit me just fine.
I'm a big fan of that expression, "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good." Perfection can become an obsession, and in some cases, I'm all for it. You want to geek out and retro-fit your espresso machine with pumps and temperature controllers? Go for it.
But along the way, just enjoy your damn fine cup of coffee, okay? Because really, it is — totally and completely fine, in the best possible way.