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Espresso makers deliver big flavor in a small dose

Make a cup for National Espresso Day

Published: November 22, 2013 10:00 AM

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Apparently, this Saturday, Nov. 23, is National Espresso Day. We'll leave the business of coming up with these special days to Hallmark and corporate marketing mavens—what's next, National Half Caf, Half Decaf Soy Latte Day? If you're a genuine espresso aficionado, here’s how to make every day an espresso day.

Using premeasured, filtered pods is an easy way to get a consistently good espresso. But to get a delicious shot or cappuccino, you’ll want to grind your own beans and follow this advice we got a few years back from John Fischer, a professor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.:

  • Buy dark-roasted beans—you'll often see an "espresso" roast in stores. You can also use beans with a French roast. Stay away from beans that are shiny. A glossy coating indicates that the beans have begun to lose the essential oils that add to the flavor and color of the espresso.
  • Store coffee beans at room temperature in an airtight container out of direct sunlight. For optimal taste, buy only the amount of beans you will use within a couple of weeks. This will ensure freshness and create a drink with the vital crema.
  • Set your grinder to the extra-fine setting to grind the beans to the texture of beach sand or table salt, not to a powder. (Try different grinds before you find the right one for your machine and your taste.) Fischer recommends grinding the beans immediately before using them each time you brew espresso.
  • Don't overpack the filter with coffee.
  • If you're going to make a drink with milk, use skim or low-fat. You’ll save some calories and your froth will also be better. According to Fischer, your drink will taste better if you use whole milk.
  • Use a metal pitcher when frothing or steaming. It will allow you to sense the temperature, which should be 140° to 150° F.
  • Always warm your cups beforehand—the coffee will stay warmer.

Check our coffee reviews to find the best Colombian, Sumatran, and Ethiopian coffee as well as coffee blends and pods for several different types of machine.

We’ve tested five espresso makers, here in alphabetical order: DeLonghi EC155 ($100), DeLonghi EN680 ($600), DeLonghi ESAM 5500 ($1,800), Krups XP5240FR ($300), and Saeco Odea Giro ($700).

If espresso isn't your everyday coffee, you don’t need to have a separate drip or pod machine to make regular coffee. The DeLonghi BCO320T ($150) and Krups XP160050,  ($120) are multifunction models that can deliver both types of coffee.

With the holiday-shopping season here, you're bound to find deals on the aforementioned makers, as well as traditional drip and popular pod machines. We've rated more than 100 models that will perk up your celebration, including three newfangled electric French-press machines.

One thing to keep in mind as you savor a demitase of espresso: The idea behind espresso came from a man who wanted to speed up coffee brewing. Downing a shot surely has its place, but we think sipping the dark-rich brew during a moment of leisure, say with dessert after a holiday meal with friends and family, is the best way to enjoy an espresso.

—Ed Perratore

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