Since Starbucks first went International in the early 1990s, espresso has been the number-one item on the minds of those who need a quick pick-me-up to get their day started. It started out as a fad, but with the onslaught of Friends on NBC in 1994 and Starbucks reproducing like rabbits throughout the last decade of the 20th Century, it has morphed into a worldwide phenomenon.
But what is espresso exactly. To put it in the simplest terms, espresso is coffee’s more aggressive and strong willed little brother. Espresso is caffeine’s answer to a shot of whisky. Just as addictive in some cases, but will not get you thrown in jail.
Espresso is made by filtering 1.5 to 2 ounces of water through tightly ground, espresso coffee, roughly the caffeine equivalent of four cups of coffee. If everything goes according to plan, what you get is 2 ounces of compressed caffeine with a small layer of foam on the top. The resulting concoction looks like a dark German beer with a head… only a lot smaller.
But how do you make espresso? Is it as easy as Starbucks would have you believe? In a word… yes. So where do you start? Again, the answer is simple… right here. There are five basic types of espresso machines. Let’s take a quick look:
- Stovetop espresso makers are popular with hikers and tourists because they do not require electricity. But since the stovetop espresso maker is usually the “one-cup” variety, you won’t get the creamy foam layer top. What you will get though is a very concentrated shot of espresso.
- Steam powered espresso makers work a lot like the stovetop variety but is fashioned more like the standard pump driven espresso makers. Still convenient for tourists and hikers, the steam powered espresso maker is not as popular with this crowd because of its bulky size.
- The piston driven espresso maker is the grandfather of all espresso makers and the reason most espresso comes with a foamy top. Invented in 1938 by Achille Gaggia, the piston driven maker is still a good way to make espresso, though not often used. This kind of of espresso maker is sold as an antique as often as it is the caffeine junkie’s primary maker.
- Pump driven espresso makers are the offshoot of the piston driven variety and the most popular maker in commercial settings. Usually hooked up directly to the building’s plumbing, pump driven makers heat the water as it is filtered through the coffee and uses a built in shot timer to help insure every shot of espresso is exactly the same.