Make Me a Cup
We North Americans love our kitchen devices, but we’re a fickle lot. Not so long ago, a food processor was the must-have du jour — legions of hostesses served pap to guests in the early stages with their new toy. Then the bread machine (or the dough hook) arrived on the scene. I think I made three loaves before happily passing that one on. Next came the ice-cream maker, churning out basil-tomato sorbet or decadent chocolate gelato. My initial passion cooled — today, it only makes an appearance on my counter in the dog days of summer or if I’m up to haute cuisine and want an intermezzo.
But the time seems to have come now to clear some counter space for … the espresso machine. We have finally caught up with our Italian cousins, who’ve had it in their kitchens for decades. They may not all own an automated machine, but you’re always guaranteed a good cup of espresso — and a biscotti, if you’re lucky — when you drop by for a chat.
The espresso machine is a relative newcomer (the early 1800s — recent when compared to the origins of coffee). The first contraption was made in France. The device was perfected in Italy, where it was first commercially manufactured. In the last century, espresso has become integral to our lives: there are over 200,000 espresso bars in Italy alone, and I doubt if there is a city in Canada where you can’t call out for a macchiato, an allongé or an americano.
In the 1940s and 1950s, percolated coffee didn’t often taste great — it became bitter as it was left to sit on the back burner all day. But the wonderful aroma wafted up the stairs to wake you. With coffee made using an espresso machine, the flavour and aroma of the beans stay in the cup. It’s a new way of waking up.
The late 1990s marked a revolution on the espresso-machine market. Manufacturers have pumped out a bevy of nerve-inspiring models with features ranging from exact temperature selection and cup-size awareness to instructions in a dozen languages. Some of these super-automated machines can only be programmed for grind/time/quantity/froth-or-no-froth by a ten-year-old or an MIT graduate. Of course, I may feel that way because I’m still puzzled by how to stop the light blinking on my VCR!
The one thing that isn’t complicated is the coffee itself. It was first grown in Ethiopia at least 4,000 years ago: North African warriors en route to battle mixed ground coffee beans into their rations. Today, it helps us prepare at the breakfast table for our own wars. Over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year — the business employs more than 20 million people. Coffee as a commodity ranks second only to petroleum in terms of dollars traded worldwide. (With the explosion of coffee outlets like Tim Horton’s and Starbucks, the bottom line is growing.) Still, many would agree that coffee is best when prepared at home.
I have tested all of the coffee makers below — some I own, some I definitely want to own!
Bodum’s Chambord French Press $30
While North Americans love the convenience and speed of an automatic drip-coffee machine, the manually operated French press is one of the most popular coffee makers in Europe. The brewed coffee is steaming hot and the plunger creates a great aroma. Just remember to grind your coffee very coarse: if you grind too finely, you will overextract the beans, resulting in a bitter flavour. Only drawback? Once brewed, there is no way to keep the coffee warm.
chrome-plated, stainless steel frame and Bakelite handle supporting a glass carafe
traditional dome top with built-in plunger
Bialetti-Mukka Express Stove-Top Espresso Maker $99.95
Bialetti must be doing something right: they’ve sold over 200 million coffee makers worldwide. While this item is selling like hotcakes, I still love my Bialetti Moka Express (around $20), which accompanies me wherever I travel. I heat the milk separately, whip it with my handy $15 battery-driven whip, and top my espresso for a tasty latte. I thereby avoid any messy hot-milk residue that needs scrubbing out of the coffee maker.
the same unit heats milk and makes espresso
Nespresso Romeo automatic espresso machine $1,099
The ultimate in integrated coffee systems, this model creates quality espresso beverages in seconds. Its extraction system, with a CD-like drawer, automatically loads and ejects the signature Nespresso coffee capsules — only exclusive Nespresso “grand-cru” coffees, packaged in hermetically sealed aluminium capsules, can be used in this machine. No muss, no fuss, all pre-measured. The price of one capsule works out to approximately 65 cents. While definitely cheaper than picking up a coffee at Starbucks, the capsules can only be purchased by members of the Nespresso Club and need to be ordered directly from the company. The good news is you can order seven days a week — orders are delivered within 48 hours.
polished chrome with an aluminum front panel
hot water and steam nozzle with cappuccino/latte controls
programmable in 12 languages
automatic rinsing/cleaning program
Nespresso Essenza D90 automatic espresso machine $295
This sleek, functional espresso maker is my new best friend. It features Nespresso’s state-of-the-art technology and operates with a simple touch of a button. It’s so small, you can store it or move it anywhere (I never put mine away). In one mere minute, you have a perfectly brewed espresso or lungo (five-ounce cup of coffee) topped with thick crema (foam), using the trademark Nespresso capsules.
available in coral red or metallic silver finish
removable 34 oz water container
storage tray for used capsules
Jura Impressa F50 automatic espresso machine $2,195
This made-in-Switzerland machine is definitely on my wish list. And it’s not even the most expensive machine Jura produces. It’s compact, functional and fabulous-looking. The machine weighs 20 pounds, so can be relatively easily moved to the patio, the dining room or your bedside!
coffee strength pre-programmable
rotary knob and clear-text display guide
holds both beans and pre-ground coffee; containers can be removed for cleaning
solid-steel grinder preserves maximum aroma — 16 grind settings
connector system allows regular and steam jet for milk foam or hot milk
height of coffee dispenser can be adjusted to fill espresso cups or bigger mugs