We used to be happy, jitter free owners of a lovely Gaggia Titanium - a bean to cup machine that made reliably good coffee - whenever you pressed a little button!
But woe...it died (ruptured boiler - ouch!) and the thought of sending it off to Gaggia to be fixed (on Italian time) for a second stint was too much...it was time for a change to something that didn't need a four month holiday in order to get sorted.
The trouble is the blasted alternatives ...having decided that we had progressed in our coffee appreciation enough to 'go manual' it opened a real can of worms - there are SO many choices and variations - all the coffee forums are frequented by complete anoraks who wax lyrical about buying commercial machines...and spending thousands of pounds!!!
They fiddle and tune their machines to get stronger and stronger brews...they must be sky high in the process.
One Ristretto and I can actually feel the caffeine coursing through my veins!
In the gorgeous Anthony Capella book "The Food of Love" the barista takes this to extreme heights...and kills himself in the search for the perfect espresso!
We do not intend to go this far!!!
So, with difficulty we trod a path through to find a good 'prosumer' machine (for this read heavy duty, almost commercial but not quite, and fixable by the Engineering minded Husband when it plays up ( because it will) and a grinder ( for those of you who haven't met the geeks - the grinder is apparently more important than the machine!).
Can you see my eyebrows raising from here?
So...ta dah! I reveal our choice... we've called her 'Sofia'
Sofia is an attractive, temperamental and passionate Italian...
...and my Husband is now 'on call' to tend to Sofia's every need / whim.
He can't wait for an excuse to get her insides out and have a good fiddle!
Sofia is like a F1 racing car...she needed setting up and tuning before Gavin and Carolyn at Another Coffee would declare her ready to 'drive'....they are on standby in the pit lane as we speak... ready with spares!!!
And does all this gadgetry produce better coffee than the the nice reliable Gaggia bean to cup machine....
Mmmm....sometimes! The trouble being - we are having to make excessive amounts of espresso to learn to be decent home baristas!
The variables for making the perfect coffee are complex and elusive...and frankly enough to make a girl's head hurt.
You need to...
- Have the machine on for the right length of time to be properly warmed up.
- Grind the coffee to the right grind setting (this is so much harder than it sounds)
- Fill the head with just the right amount of coffee.
- Tamp the coffee ...not to hard, not too soft (crucial and can result in choking the machine)
- Bleed off some water from the machine, so as not burn the coffee.
- Count while the coffee comes through the group head apparently a good espresso starts trickling through at 7 seconds and you shouldn't let anything after 25 seconds into the cup. It should be 1 fluid oz!
- Flush through machine and clear it up
Ok - so this doesn't sound so hard - but it jolly well is - because into this equation - for no apparent reason the blasted coffee comes through not at all (choked machine) or gallons of the stuff...and yet it feels like you did everything just as you had for the previous cup with miraculously different results!
And I haven't even mentioned foaming the milk yet!!!!
Sofia does not possess a 'panerello' (cheats device for making perfect froth) so my frothy milk is looking distinctly lacklustre and 'latte art' is definitely out of the question (thank goodness for that).
Is it all worth it? I hear you cry....well....that might be a tricky question to answer...
...for the good coffee Sofia and I make is absolutely fantastic...
....the bad, sadly is unspeakably so!
And this is the worst bit...when I make a coffee for a friend - will they 'fess up if it's a vile one?
It's a Stephen Hawkingesque thing....is the perfect coffee possible every time?...is it a question of time and space?
Or in a parallel universe is there another me whose Gaggia is still going strong....and the other me is looking seriously smug and jitter free?