Coffee guide for beginners by Avi Schneor

by Updated: Feb 2, 2021diy-coffee2 comments

The coffee guide

Methods and equipment for making coffee at home like a pro

What is coffee?

Coffee is the name of the Coffea tree that grows in thousands plantations in different countries across the tropics.
There are several species in which the most common are Arabica and Robusta.
In each species you can find hybrids and sub-varieties depending on the characteristics, place of growth and growing conditions. Each variety has dozens of types of coffee, each with a unique name.

The coffee plant produces cherry-like red fruits. The heart of each fruit contains 2 seeds called coffee beans.

After fermentation, removing of the fruit’s peel, of the seed’s peels and drying it, the seeds are called green beans. The color of coffee green beans ranges from green-yellow to light brown. Green coffee is the main raw material in the coffee industry and it is one of the ten most traded raw materials in the world.

The green coffee is roasted in various methods, from roasting in a pan to huge industrial roasters that roast hundreds of kilograms with a roasting grade that is determined by the coffee variety and the target market.
The roasted coffee is ground and the coffee beverage is produced from it using a machine / utensil designed to produce a coffee beverage.

Coffee beverage is consumed by humans from the first century AD in Africa and in the Middle East, and in the 15th century it was distributed to India and Europe and soon became a common beverage and was consumed by the masses around the world.
Coffee beverage includes many types of beverages, hot and cold, all based on aromatic oils, extracted from roasted and ground coffee beans by brewing, cooking or extracting with water in various and different methods.

Green and roasted coffee beans contain caffeine and antioxidants at various levels. There are studies that show that coffee has a preventive effect on certain diseases.
At the same time it is worth knowing that there are also studies that indicate health risks upon high consumption of coffee.

Decaffeinated / Decaf coffee
Is a product of an industrial process, involving organic chemicals, which removes most of the caffeine from the green coffee.
According to the European standard, decaffeinated green coffee should contain 0.1% or less of caffeine and roasted coffee 0.3% or less caffeine.

Common methods for making a coffee beverage:
Coffee beverage is prepared in many and different methods around the world.
Here are some of them:

  • Cooked coffee.
    For example, ‘Turkish coffee‘ or ‘Mud coffee’.
    There are many versions for preparing Turkish coffee that I will not detail here. If you went for a camping, or have visited an oriental restaurant, you are probably familiar with a number of methods for preparing it, including strange ceremonies that promise to enhance its taste.
  • Instant Coffee.
    Granulated or dry coffee powder that with the addition of hot or cold water produce a coffee beverage.
    Instant coffee is a product of an industrial process that causes liquid coffee to quickly dry out.
    This product has many advantages in terms of shelf life, relatively low weight compared to roasted beans, transportation costs, convenience and speed of use, zero residue and more.
  • Soaked coffee. For example French press / Coffee Plunger, or coffee bags (similar to tea bags).
    Pour hot water over ground coffee, mix and lower the filter disc / plunger towards the bottom of the container (which is usually made of glass) to obtain a relatively clear coffee beverage at the top of the container, above the filter.
  • Low-pressure coffee brew – with vacuum.
    Vacuum brewing is usually carried out in glass containers.  The principle is of transferring water in a central tube from an airtight bottom container to an upper container as a result of pressure created by heating the water in the lower container. The water passes through the coffee as they ascend to the upper container. The device requires a heat source that usually comes with a type of a burner that is part of the product. There are also appliances with electric heating.
    When the coffee cools down a bit, the pressure drops, a suction is created and the coffee returns to the lower container and is ready to serve. The resulting coffee beverage is clear and is produced in devices with / without a paper / cloth filter.

Note:
Stovetop Macchinetta / Caffettiera work in a similar way, except that there is no vacuum, the coffee does not return to the lower tank and it flows into the upper tank.

  • Drip Coffee also known as ‘filter coffee’.
    For example Chemex pitcher, Hario pitcher, Vietnamese coffee, etc.

Drip of hot water over roasted and ground coffee (in an upper container or in a special funnel) which passes through a filter made of paper / cloth / metal to the lower container.

With the right pouring technique and a suitable water to coffee ratio, it is possible to get a balanced and surprising flavored beverage.

There are a variety of hand-held appliances without heating and there are also electric appliances that prepare the beverage, i.e. dripping water, or just appliances that retain heat . These devices are called ‘filter coffee machines’ and are very common in the United States and Europe.

Cold brew.
A family of devices for making a cold coffee beverage by drip method.  Most of them are made of glass and some look like devices coming from a chemical laboratory. This is a trend that has recently conquered the cafes in the world, especially in summer time.

Percolator.
Additional family of devices that relates to the drip coffee method.
These devices operate on the principle of raising water in a central pipe as a result of pressure generated by heating. The water rises up and flows into an upper basket with ground coffee and returns down to the same container by dripping through the coffee using gravity.
There are percolator devices that work on a heat source such as a stove, or electric ones. and there are electric devices that also include heating and even mixing the coffee over time.

  • Low-pressure coffee brew – Macchinetta .
    A stovetop (or using other heat source) Coffee Pot that is called Macchinetta or Caffettiera that is found in every Italian home, and not only there.
    Macchinetta makes a concentrated coffee beverage, about 25 cc of a beverage per serving, called Moka.

Macchinetta is a metal pitcher, made of several parts that by low steam pressure (up to ~2 bar depends on the device) created by heating water in a bottom sealed container that passes through a basket filled with ground coffee into the top container as a coffee beverage.

There are a variety of devices on the market, with different sizes and from different materials, usually aluminum or stainless steel.
It is important to mention that Macchinetta is designed to serve the number of cups which the device was designed for and the coffee basket must always be filled to its full capacity.
For example, a 4-cup Macchinetta is designed to serve 4 cups, it can not produce 2 cups.

One of the known macchinetta on the market is called Brikka, manufactured by Bialetti. This is a patented product that uses a weight or a silicone valve (depends on model) to produce a pressure of about 2 bar (which is slightly higher than a regular macchinetta) that increases the creation of Crema. (= The oily foam layer on top of the coffee beverage).
See my guide to Brikka including how to clean and repair it.  Read also my Brikka 2020 model review.

In this category you can also find a variety of handheld and portable devices that brew low-pressure coffee beverage by applying pressure using a kind of a piston. For example Aeropress etc.

  • High pressure coffee extraction known as Espresso.
    A coffee extraction that produces a concentrated coffee beverage at a high pressure of 9 bar.

I will expand on this method below since it produces a coffee beverage that has become a hit in recent decades and because nowadays everyone can prepare their espresso at home using affordable equipment.

Which of the many coffee brewing methods produce the most delicious coffee beverage?

As known, there’s no accounting for taste‏‏‏‏.
Because each of us has a different palate, no method can be recommended.
They’re all legitimate and they’re all good if you like your beverage.

I recommend experimenting.
Try different types of coffee and try brewing using different methods. Only you are able to know and feel what you like and it is really okay to occasionally change both the coffee and the brewing method depends on mood, ability and conditions.

Any recommendation coming from so called ‘expert’ is unmatched and will not be the same as your personal taste.

Espresso

Espresso is a coffee beverage, about 25 cc of a concentrated and thick beverage known as Espresso shot.

Espresso is a whole world that has taken the western world by a storm in recent decades and moved beyond Italy where it was invented and published in the late 19th century.

This guide will focus on espresso machines that target the home coffee market.
Coffee machine manufacturers have identified the great potential of the home market (according to a report published in 2013, about 18 million coffee machines are sold in Europe alone) and they have developed machines for the home market that match the features, dimensions and price, allowing anyone to make coffee in their home with a quality that does not fall short of that served in the cafe.

The espresso making market has undergone a shake-up and a significant change of direction from consuming espresso only at the local cafe to preparing it at home as well.
This change of direction is similar to the changes the photography market experienced in the early 20th century where due to technological developments, marketing moves and more, the market took a significant turn from photography done only in photography shops with large and cumbersome equipment, to photography that anyone could do with their own affordable camera.

The method of making the espresso coffee beverage was invented and developed in Italy starting late 19th century and unlike most other coffee brewing methods described above, this method produces a beverage which is smaller, more concentrated, with a clear body and a layer of fatty foam called Crema.
In 1884, a patent for a steam-extracting coffee machine was registered by Angelo Moriondo from Turin, Italy, who is considered the father of espresso developers. In 1903, Luigi Bazzera patented an improvement to the espresso patent  which was acquired by La-Pavoni, who began manufacturing espresso machines commercially.
Many machines and technologies have been developed in the field, all of them try to conform to the exact formula for the preparation of this beverage, a formula that is zealously preserved to this day.

Espresso shot formula by the Italian National Institute of Espresso is:

7 grams (plus-minus 0.5 grams) of finely ground coffee
Produce 25 ml. of beverage incl. crema
Extracted under pressure of 9 bar (plus-minus 1 bar)
At a temperature between 86-90 degrees Celsius
For 25 seconds (plus-minus 2.5 seconds).

This is the classic and traditional formula for making espresso that was used for many years when the common roasting degree of coffee was dark.

Defining the volume of the espresso shot (25 ml at a given time) used in the formula, created a problem because the volume of the espresso varies depending on the freshness of the roasted coffee beans. A serving of coffee made from fresh coffee beans will contain more crema, but will weigh less than a coffee made from older coffee beans, even though their volume will be the same. Accordingly there will also be changes in flavors.

In recent years, other roasting degrees have been used, and leading baristas have begun to use espresso beverage weight measurement for the outcome, instead of measuring the volume of beverage that was previously practiced.

The weight system calculates the ratio between the weight of the ground coffee in the basket to the weight of the coffee beverage obtained after the extraction.
An acceptable extraction ratio would be 1:2, or 1:2.5 and the like.
For example, in a ratio of 1:2.5, from a ground coffee weight of 15 grams we get 37.5 grams of espresso beverage.
In this method, one strives to reach the target weight determined according to the desired coffee concentration and the resulting flavors.

Notes:
A dose of coffee is called a Shot, similar to an alcohol shot , although the definition of a dose is 30 cc, or 1 fl. Ounce
A calibrated espresso machine usually produces 2 servings poured into 2 cups, a single shot per cup, or,  a double shot for one cup.
Using special equipment (another coffee basket) it is possible to calibrate the machine and extract a single shot.
The roasted coffee used in the espresso machine is without a doubt one of the important ingredients for a delicious beverage.
To make coffee, the roasted coffee can consist one species of coffee (single-species), or  a mixture of several species (a blend).
The degree of roasting varies from very dark to very light where each degree is suitable for a particular species, production method and depends on the flavors we will be able to get from each degree of roasting.
The roasted coffee should be fresh! It is customary to consume roasted coffee starting few days from the roasting day and until about a month after the roasting day.
For best results in taste and aroma, grind the coffee ‘on the spot’, seconds before the extraction.
This approach is called On demand, which means grinding the coffee right when the customer orders. Ground coffee prepared in advance is no longer used as was the case years ago in cafes. Ground coffee that stands without immediate use quickly loses its flavor and properties.

Simple, isn’t it?
Around the formula for making espresso, there is an extensive industry that rolls in billions of USD per year.

And who does not want to make a good espresso at home? One that will be similar / identical and even better than the beverage we get in the cafe?
This is certainly possible with a little knowledge, desire and at a price that over the years becomes more and more affordable for consumers.

Espresso is consumed in a short sip as soon as it is extracted from the espresso machine.
Espersso is also served combined with milk (or other liquid such as soy / almonds, etc.) which is usually heated and frothed, in various quantities and forms of preparation that produce many styles of coffee beverages.
Each coffee beverage has a unique name such as Cortado, Galão, Macchiato, Longo, Americano, Latte, Cappuccino and more.

Many coffee machines, in addition to espresso extraction, are capable of frothing in a serial process or in parallel to the coffee extraction. The frothing is usually done by steam that heats the liquid, adds air into it and mixes it to create a frothy / creamy liquid.
There are also stand-alone, manual and electric frothing devices on the market that are not part of the machine and are intended for the home use.

Espresso production:

The production of the espresso beverage, which is used as a basis for many types of coffee beverage is done in several technologies, each of which has dozens of machine models designed for home usage.

All espresso machines are facing in one way or another with the espresso formula.
The differences between them will be:
 

  • The degree of compatibility / proximity to professional equipment, for example the size of the extraction handle and more.
  • The ability to maintain a constant extraction temperature throughout the extraction process.
  • The ability to control pressure throughout the extraction process.
  • The ability to release the trapped pressure in the system after completion of the extraction.
  • The speed of return to the state of readiness for further extraction and maintain repeatability of extraction.
  • The time from turning on the machine until it reaches readiness for extraction.
  • The ability to extract and froth simultaneously to serve the beverage on time.
  • The ability to individually control each parameter involved in the extraction process.
  • Quality and reliability of the machine’s structure and its various components that affect the time until a fault occurs, the environment in which it is able to operate and the ability to access its components for maintenance and repair.
    Simple, basic and inexpensive machines will be made from many plastic parts, with simple and inexpensive components and are primarily designed for single production of a coffee beverage.
    As moving towards the professional level machines, we’ll find higher quality of materials, for example stainless steel chassis and casing, copper or stainless steel boilers, more reliable and high quality components, attention to details and components arrangement of internal space. These machines are  designed for continuous production  of coffee beverages.
  • Added features such as control and monitoring with a PID, direct water supply and drainage, silent pump, displays, timers, remote control and more.
  • Price. The higher the quality and the more professional the machine, the higher the price. If we add the design and / or handmade production according to individual requirements, the sky is the limit in terms of price.

Espresso machines for the domestic market:
Below is a brief overview of the main categories and technologies used in this market.
It is important to note that as in any market segment, the coffee machine market also has machines produced in small quantities, with unique features and / or appearance, handmade or computerized, but this review is short of containing them as well.

In the home market for espresso machines, there are three main categories:

  • Espresso machines for capsules / pods
  • Automatic espresso machines
  • Semi-automatic / manual espresso machines
    All types of machines use roasted and ground coffee and after extraction (except for the capsule machines) the coffee remains can be used for compost, soil fertilization or for any other organic and natural uses.

    Note
    :
    Some of the coffee machines in these categories have adapters (sold separately) that allow the use of coffee pods (= a flat, compressed disposable coffee disk) or capsules, to be used instead of plain ground coffee.
    It is not clear why those who invest and buy a machine of this type and want to enjoy fresh and quality coffee like in the cafe, will want to use non-fresh coffee with a relatively poor result in the cup.
  • Espress machines for capsules / pods:
    These are relatively small and simple machines that the coffee fed to the machine comes prepared and pre-packed in one of the following two disposable package forms:
    Capsule = a plastic cone that is sometimes also made by combining layers of metal, with a lid that is made of metal or plastic foil, or
    Pod = a flat disk with filter paper sides that contains ground and tamped coffee.

     

    The extraction is automatically made by injecting hot water under pressure using an electric pump.

The capsule system became famous and conquered the home and office market due to the activities of Nespresso company, which in 1976 began with a brilliant and patent-protected marketing move that allowed anyone to make an espresso beverage quickly and seemingly without any effort. Nespresso has dominated the market and earned billions while controlling the price of the supplied coffee, without competition, but not really for the benefit of its consumers.

Starting in 2001 when Nespresso’s patents began to expire, more companies developed coffee machines and capsules with a similar principle and this market opened up to aggressive competition that resulted in a significant drop in the price per serving of coffee.

The taste of the coffee obtained from these machines is debatable and is not compared in my opinion to espresso coffee produced with dedicated equipment, from fresh roasted beans and by a skilled barista (= expert in making coffee beverage).

The capsules that remain after the extraction are a problem in terms of preserving the environment and recycling because they are made from plastic parts and even metal parts with no ability to empty the coffee remains and separating its materials is limited and problematic.

The price of the machine is relatively cheap, starting from few hundreds USD, depending on the model and the brand. The price of a capsule (= dose) is about 0.3 USD or more per unit.
Advantages of this method is the very fast preparation of coffee beverage, a small machine and a very simple and hassle-free operation.

  • Automatic espresso machines:
    These are coffee machines that have appeared in the market in recent years and were initially designed for the small office market. These are machines in which roasted coffee beans, water and even milk are fed into it, and at the push of a button using computerized control the machine automatically grinds the coffee, tamps it, extracts it and adds the frothed milk. ‘Press and forget’ is the slogen of these machines.
    The price of such machines starts from a few hundreds USD and goes up depending on many parameters. The ability to control the various parameters that determine the quality of the beverage is relatively limited and hence the obtained result is limited compared to a machine that allows full control for each of its parameter.
    These machines make a coffee beverage quickly, efficiently and are designed for anyone who needs high productivity and repeatability.
  • Semi-automatic / manual espresso machines:
    This is the closest category of making an espresso to making it in a coffee shop from a commercial machine.
    These machines produce the highest quality coffee beverage, and many purchase such a machine for their home to enjoy an excellent coffee beverage.

    Semi-automatic means that the roasted coffee is ground in a separate grinder (some models have a grinder integrated in the coffee machine, but manually operated), tamped and fed into the machine in a basket installed into a special handle called a Portafilter. The extraction water is injected by an electric pump through the ground coffee in the basket at the appropriate temperature and required pressure.

    Manual means that the coffee is fed in the same way as in a semi-automatic machine, but the required water pressure is generated by manually operating a piston propulsion lever (with / without the help of an internal spring) and this piston produces the pressure for extraction where the operator has full and sensitive control over the process.
    There are dozens of models on the market from small and basic machines to more professional machines similar to commercial machines.
    Manual machines allow complete control over small nuances at the time of extraction and are considered to be the ones that produce the finest espresso.
    In the prestigious and traditional cafes in Italy and around the world you can find manual machines operated by a skilled baristas. These are machines that are suitable for those with patience and feel who are willing to invest a lot in learning and experimenting.

    Note:
    In this section we can also find manual appliances without a water tank nor a water heating element. Ground coffee and hot water are fed into the appliance per serving and using a piston that is usually manually operated, a pressure of 9 bar is built for an espresso extraction.
    For example, see the Flair, Handpresso, Cafelat Robot, and more. These appliances are completely portable and do not depend on electricity. Their price starts from about 100 USD.

The differences between the types of machines in the semi-automatic and manual category:

Semi-automatic and manual espresso machines include devices for heating the water required for extraction and frothing.
The water heating devices are the most significant in terms of component size inside the machine and they are the ones that will determine the nature of the machine, the form of use, the quality of the coffee beverage, the size of the machine and more.
The difference between the machines will be reflected mainly in the structure of the heating device and the water heating method.
These machines have 4 main technologies for water heating, each with advantages, disadvantages and differences, including the price level.

1. Thermoblock 

Will usually be found in relatively inexpensive machines, the so-called entry level to coffee machine world.
A thermoblock is a metal block with a maze-shaped channel inside it that creates a kind of coiled tube. Water passing through this coil heats up and exits at the temperature required for extraction. Water heating takes seconds and the size of the device is relatively small.

Models with frothing will usually come with 2 thermoblock units, one for extraction and one for frothing. These systems have had a limited lifespan and many malfunctions, but in recent years this technology has been upgraded and more reliable and stable systems can be found today.

The frothing capacity of these machines is limited and relatively weak and they are not intended for the production of coffee beverages in sequence.
The price of such machines ranges from about 250 USD.

2. Single Boiler known as SB

Machines of this type are common in the domestic market because of their convenient size and because of their relatively low price tag. They are also defined as an entry level for the coffee field.
The water for extraction is heated in a single boiler with a heating element inside it that is controlled by a mechanical thermostat or a PID system with electronic control that can be found in more advanced models, or by improvements that coffee lovers add to these machines.

There are machines that are only for making espresso, that is, only for extraction, and there are machines that are for both extraction and frothing.

Machines of this type that are designed for both extraction and frothing are called SBDP – Single-Boiler-Dual-Purpose.

Since this is a single boiler, it can be at a given time at extraction temperature or at the frothing temperature. When switching to the frothing mode, the heating element is controlled by another mechanical thermostat, or a PID that allows the temperature to be raised to generate steam.
Such a boiler requires time to reach the desired temperature and to heat the extraction head.  Switching between extraction mode and frothing mode, and return to extraction mode take a few minutes.
Control done by mechanical thermostats produces variability and large fluctuations in water temperature that requires good operator’s control to make the extraction at the optimal point.
A single boiler machine with a PID overcomes this disadvantage and allows for superior and more stable temperature control.

Single boiler machines are mainly suitable for those who often drink espresso, for those who produce a small amount of coffee beverages and they are not suitable for the continuous production of beverages with frothing liquid.
The price of such machines starts from about 280 USD for cheap ones to about 1,000 USD for higher quality machines.

3. Heat Exchange known as HX

These machines are considered as prosumer level i.e. the more professional level for the consumer.
The hot water boiler in these machines is relatively large and is heated to the frothing temperature, meaning that part of it will be constantly with steam.
Inside the boiler passes a section of the extraction pipe (which is a separate pipe) and when cold water flows in it (during extraction for example) they are heated by the steam and boiling water around which bring the water to the desired extraction temperature.
A ‘heat exchanger’ means a unit within a unit, a heated and controlled boiler with an inside pipe that is a passive unit that constantly strives to balance its temperatures with the surrounding water of the boiler as a result of the laws of physics.

After a certain period of inactivity, the temperature in the extraction pipe will balance with the water and steam temperature in the boiler and it will be too high for extraction, therefore, in these machines it is customary to perform a cooling flush procedure before starting the extraction. This is done by releasing some water through the extraction head to lower the temperature.
The heat control in such a boiler is usually done by a Pressurestat, a component that controls the pressure in the boiler and indirectly on the temperature. There are also models with PID control. Keep in mind that any change in pressure causes a change in both the intensity of the frothing and of the extraction temperature since both are related to each other and affect each other.
The extraction and frothing temperatures are very stable allowing extraction and frothing to be done at the same time.
These are physically larger machines and their price will usually be higher than single boiler machines.
Some of these machines will contain an extraction head called E61 which is a professional extraction head that maintains a very precise and stable temperature and flow and is found in most commercial machines in cafes.

HX machines are especially suitable for those who produce beverages with the addition of frothy liquid such as milk and for those who produce coffee beverages in a row. Producing espresso in sequence is more complex because it is more difficult to get repeatability of the extraction temperature.
The price of such machines starts at about 1,100 USD.

4. Double Boiler  known as DB

These are the high-end machines for making the coffee beverage for the home market, ‘the dream’ of the serious coffee lover. They combine all the benefits of the machines I have reviewed so far and are similar to the commercial machines that can be found in cafes.

These machines have two boilers, a boiler for extraction and a boiler for frothing, and therefore it is possible to control each of the boilers separately and achieve the highest accuracy in temperatures and steam intensity for frothing. The technology in them is similar to the commercial machines except for the fact that they are designed for the domestic market which requires a smaller size, a lower price and maintaining high performance. Most of them will have an E61 head and the advanced ones will also include a PID for computerized control of extraction and frothing temperatures, advanced and quiet pump, stainless steel chassis and extra features such as water meter, timer for extraction, timer for turning on and off the machine, direct connection for water supply and drainage and even controlling the machine parameters via a smartphone and app and / or via a local screen on the machine.

These machines are suitable for those who often produce beverages with the addition of frothy liquid such as milk and especially for those who produce coffee beverages in a row.
The temperature repeatability for espresso extraction is excellent.
Technology and high level are accompanied by a high price tag and these are the most expensive machines for the home market and are probably intended for professional hobbyists and those who can afford it.
The price of such machines starts at about 2,100 USD.

General notes on all types of machines:

  • All machines, devices and related equipment, without exception, require filling, emptying and cleaning of a water tank and coffee container, cleaning after use, periodic cleaning to remove scale and oil, periodic maintenance and sometimes, depends on machine model, maintenance by a lab technician.
  • Failure to clean and maintain will speed up malfunctions, disable equipment, lead to financial expenses and may even cause health problems due to the grow of bacteria and fungi in an environment that is humid, hot and with organic materials.
  • Every machine and every equipment breaks down sooner or later as a result of component failure and / or improper operation. The cheaper the product is and contains cheaper and lower quality components, the sooner it is likely to break down. Learning, knowing how to operate the machine, proper operation and routine maintenance in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions will delay the occurrence of the fault.
  • The higher the level of the machine, the larger the dimensions of the machine and so is the space required for it, the longer the learning curve and greater power consumption.

Additional equipment:

Beyond the coffee machine, whatever it is, additional equipment is also required.
Ignoring the additional equipment will make you realize sooner or later that it is needed. You should know this in advance and consider it to avoid surprises.

Additional equipment / instruments usually required for a coffee machine:

  • A coffee grinder that is suitable for the machine.
    It is a necessary and important device no less than the coffee machine and can cost even more than it.
    Without a coffee grinder suitable for the coffee machine, you will not be able to get a drinkable espresso and there is no point in buying a coffee machine.
    There are several technologies for grinding coffee and dozens of models and more in each technology. It is advisable to study this topic well and make an decision that is appropriate for the coffee machine.
    Note: Espresso requires a fine grind. A spice grinder is not suitable for grinding coffee.
  • Water softener or other solution that will provide softened water.
    The water in many places is usually hard and contains elements that produce scale which is the number 1 enemy of coffee machines. The scale clogs water pipes of the coffee machine and accumulates on the heating element. Using softened water greatly reduces its accumulation and saves a lot of money and maintenance later on.
    Note: Mineral water and water from various filtration machines are not softened water and are not suitable for use in coffee machines!
  • Water piping for feeding and drainage.
  • Power sockets and power cables if needed.
  • Extra portafilter and an additional basket if you want convenience in using a single shot serving.
  • High-quality tamper, suitable for the diameter of the basket and with a metal base, preferably made of stainless steel.
  • Tamping station or mat.
  • Knock-Box for temporary removal and storage of used coffee pucks.
  • Frothing pitcher, preferably made of stainless steel.
  • Cleaning equipment and cleaning materials, brushes and materials for removing scale and coffee oils.
  • Air-tight storage container for coffee beans.
  • A scale with an accuracy of one tenth of a gram and in such dimensions that will allow it to be used while extracting . Preferably combined with a timer.
  • Froth thermometer. Helps reach the recommended temperature for frothing and prevents the breakdown of milk fats.
  • Cups and saucers for different types of beverages with / without reference to tradition and / or brands.
    This issue can be significant and expensive for whom it is important to serve coffee in the best tradition of the world.
  • Machine on / off timer if not built into it. Recommended especially for machines that require pre-heating.
    There are many types, from simple to daily / weekly timers and even those controlled by smartphones and apps.

If you read so far, did not panic and decided to purchase a coffee machine, I will try to guide you and offer you an effective and focused way to understand what you need and want when you come to look for your coffee machine.

Recommendations:

1. Make a list of requirements, preferences, limitations and budget for all the equipment!

With an organized list it will be easier to make an intelligent decision and understand what is more important to you.
The preferences, demands and constraints, both objective and subjective, are personal and will be different from others, so there is no point in asking general questions in forums and coffee groups because the answers you’ll get will not suit you, it will only confuse and not to mention that some will be from sellers that will try to sell you something that you don’t need.

Since the decision to purchase a coffee machine depends on many factors, most buyers will eventually compromise. It is easier to compromise when you know clearly what the requirements, characteristics and constraints that are relevant to you, what the priorities are and what you will be willing to compromise on.
Next to each item on the list, indicate the degree of importance for you from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest).
This is your compromise metric and it will help you a lot in the decision making process.
Take the list with you to the coffee shop, present it to any consultant and expert who will try to help you.

Check List, list of questions to ask when buying a coffee machine/maker:

I have put together a sample list of questions (in no particular order).
You are of course welcome to add to your list any additional questions that you find relevant.

  • What do we usually drink? Espresso? Cappuccino? Americano? Both? If both, in what ratio?
  • How often do we drink what we like?
  • How many times a month / year do we host, serve coffee and are required to serve a relatively large amount of coffee beverages?
  • If the answer to the previous question is small, will we be willing to pay for the option to do so, hundreds of additional USD?
  • Are we supertasters and can notice tiny differences of taste and smell? (You can check this with a simple and cheap kit)
  • What is the real reason we want to buy a coffee machine?
    Do we want to enjoy a good coffee beverage at home?
    Do we want to upgrade our current coffee experience?
    Do we want to save on costs over time?
    Do we want to impress family and friends?
    Is it because our friends / neighbours have a coffee machine?
  • How much space is there in the kitchen, or in the space designated for the machine and other equipment? (width, height and depth in cm)
  • Is there a water supply point and drain near the location of the machine?
  • Is there a power point close to the location of the machine?
  • Is there space in the machine area to place water softener including the required piping?
  • Is the waiting time from turning on the machine to readiness for use important to us? If so, what time will we be willing to wait?
  • Is the complexity of the preparation, the number of steps required and their complexity important to us?
  • How soon do we expect to make and serve the coffee?
  • Is the price per serving of coffee on a monthly / annual basis a parameter that is important to us?
  • How much time are we willing to spend for cleaning the equipment after each use?
  • How much time are we willing to devote to monthly maintenance of the equipment?
  • Is it clear to us that there is annual / periodic maintenance in the lab? What does it cost?
  • How important is design to us?
    If so, try to define it and characterize the environment in which the machine will be located in terms of design.
    Is a glossy metallic-looking design right for us? Plastic appearance? In a certain color? Design in straight lines? round / arched design? etc.
  • How important is safety to us?
    A coffee machine becomes very hot, emits hot water and steam and can be dangerous to children and others. How do we protect them?
  • In case of local purchase, is there an official importer of the equipment?
    What are the reviews about him that can be found on websites, groups and social networks?
    * Beware of groups that have been established and / or operated on behalf of stores / manufacturers and take into account the disguised and fake profiles in these groups that operate on behalf of and market their products in sophisticated ways.
  • What is the maximum budget for purchasing all the required equipment?
    (I emphasize all equipment, so that we do not find ourselves without the needed equipment and without financial resources)

2. Visit coffee shops that specialize in coffee equipment, see the selection, get explanations and ‘feel’ the different machines. You should also make a tasting and it is recommended that you bring the roasted coffee you like with you, so that you have as much point of comparison as possible in terms of taste.
Keep in mind that a significant portion of sellers will try to sell you what is right for them and not necessarily what is right for you and your requirements.

3. If you have decided on specific equipment, conduct a market survey in stores and online, including overseas.
Read reviews on it online and look for reviews on non-sales sites and always compare the exact same model, not approximately, but exactly!

4. Have you decided to make a personal import and purchase from abroad?

  • It is important to check that the equipment you order is suitable for the local mains voltage and frequency.
  • If the plug provided does not conform to the standard used in your country, it can be easily replaced with a suitable plug.
  • If the machine is manufactured in Europe, there is a possibility that it complies with the European standard for energy conservation that requires switching off / switching to standby mode after half an hour of inactivity.
    Check and make a decision whether this feature is suitable for you and / or whether there is a model without this feature and / or whether it can be canceled / bypassed if you wish.
  • Consider the costs of shipping and transportation, taxes and customs clearance and consider that warranty and fixing faults / problems with a supplier abroad, if required, can be more complex than purchase in the domestic market.

5. Do not disqualify the purchase of used equipment.
Second-hand equipment can be found at great prices and in excellent condition in billboards, online coffee groups and coffee shops.
It is recommended to perform a comprehensive inspection of the equipment, visual, external and internal inspection (yes, ‘open the hood’, disassemble the top cover of the machine and check with a flashlight), and of course also perform a working test by making coffee, extraction and frothing.
It is important to look for leaks, old signs of leaks, rust, components and electrical wires with burn signs, etc.
A coffee machine contains water pipes, heating element/s, various electrical and electronic parts, it is desirable that these be faultless to ensure smooth usage over time.
If you have decided to purchase used equipment and do not have the knowledge to test it, you should purchase it at a reliable store / lab and request a written warranty on the purchase.

Conclusion:,

Deciding and purchasing a coffee machine is complex, it is a compromise between many factors, objective and subjective, requirements and preferences on various issues and also a considerable financial expense.
The more information you have about the specific requirements, preferences, limitations, budget and data of the machine that you think is most suitable for you, you will be able to make a more intelligent decision, one that suits you and the environment in which the machine will operate, a decision you will be happy with for a relatively long time.

Good luck, enjoy your coffee.
Avi Schneor

Cappuccino cup by Avi

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2 Comments

  1. Joe R.

    Thank you very much for this comprehensive guide.
    It helped me a lot in making the right pick for our family and I’m now very happy with my new heat exchange machine and burr grinder. We can now enjoy great espresso at home. Keep on with the good work

    Reply
    • Avi Schneor

      Thanks Joe for your warm words.
      I’m glad my guide helped you make the correct decision for you.
      Enjoy your coffee

      Reply

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