Talking about signature coffee drinks, perhaps the most common of them all is the espresso. The Italians have made an art out of making them; and learning how to make the perfect espresso takes practice but it is totally doable.
The traditional way of making espresso is by using the moka pot: that little teapot-looking boiler made of a metal. It works quite differently from a drip coffee machine because the hot water, instead of going downwards, is made to go upwards. The bottom part, filled with a little bit of water (ideally in level just below the little steam hole) is covered by a re-usable funnel shaped metal filter which is then filled with your preferred coffee grounds. Getting the perfect amount is where the trick is at: you want the filter to be completely full and partially pressed to brew an awesome cup of coffee; but pressing too much coffee grounds in it can result in water not being able to pass and burning the whole batch. Coffee ground size also plays a vital role in this: a fine mixture will require less pressing, while its rougher grainy counterpart will come out better if pressed more. It takes a lot of practice to get it right. I’ve had my own troubles too when I tried it out the first several rounds. Anyway, once the coffee grounds are placed, you can twist the top on and place it on your burner or cooker. Because moka pots are relatively small (most make 2-4 little cups) it doesn’t take long to brew; but keep in mind that the slower the fire, the better the taste, the stronger the aroma, and the more dense the crema (the thin layer of coffee which looks foamy).
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While a couple of decades ago, manual espresso machines were only used in bars (how traditional Italian coffee houses were, and still are, called) because of their bulky size, there are now smaller versions which are widely available for home use. The basic principle is still the same: as the water boils it creates pressure which pushes the water upwards and into the coffee filter, giving it lots of time and heat to concentrate the whole load of coffee grounds into a little shot of espresso. The benefits of using these machines is that the water doesn’t have to be loaded each time, as there is a larger compartment available for it: all you have to do is occasionally take it out, clean it (Italians say that they never use soap as it can affect the taste of the coffee and only rinse it thoroughly with warm water – but whether you want to use soap is your call), and load it up with water again. When you want to brew, you twist the arm to set it loose and place your coffee grounds – directly from the package or, for an even better coffee, after grinding the beans yourself. Here, it’s your decision once again on how much you press it, just like with the traditional moka pot. Most machines nowadays have various options, such as a single shot or double shot (which can be drank by 1 person in 1 cup, or two people in two cups if the machine allows it) – press the desired option, and enjoy your espresso. Maintenance with these machines is pretty minimal: apart from the controversial water tank, the twisty arm’s filter can be easily removed and washed after every several uses, and the drip tray needs only to be wiped whenever a little drop ends up coming down too late. Dont forget to check out our page about the best milk frother available, to truly enjoy your espresso experience, especially if you’re looking for a great cappuccino or latte.