If you frequent any one of the high end specialty coffee shops around the country these days you have observed the popular revival of manual, hands-on brewing. The movement has spawned books and blogs and even contests world-wide, but I think that the most beneficial thing to come out of it all is the consumer education that happens when the barista shows off their methodology while talking about their technique and the coffee that they are serving. This in turn creates not only customer loyalty, but also serves to inspire people to want to create great coffee at home themselves using the same techniques and equipment that their morning cup is created with. I find that the simple design of the manual brewing devices adds an intimate connection to my morning cup and the brew time and technique myself encourages a more direct and sensory connection to the process. Unfortunately the manufacturers of these devices had somehow seemed to forget one of the fundamental café experiences,–espresso.
There have been home “espresso” machines on the market for a long time now and the refinement of their capabilities and the advent of “pro-sumer” machines have put the ability to pull a great shot into the hands of the home barista but the price tags are large enough to keep most impassioned coffee lovers at bay. The closest thing I had found to a manual, inexpensive, “espresso” brewer was the Mokka pot, which produces something close to espresso if you pay close attention to the brew cycle, but makes it very easy to accidentally produce a bitter, over extracted, beverage. Then a friend of mine introduced me to the Presso Espresso Machine. I was hugely skeptical when I first started playing around with it, but being such a coffee geek I couldn’t help but experiment. I was pleasantly surprised at the results that I achieved: authentic espresso.
The Presso is a well-made machine requiring no electricity and only a small dent in your bank account. It retails somewhere in the neighborhood of $150.00. It is light-weight and small enough to throw in a backpack to go camping and is attractive enough to keep out on the kitchen counter. I found that it produced a good ristretto shot of espresso but there is a method that I found personally to be somewhat essential to follow. It works well for me to consistently get proper extractions however I would highly encourage experimentation.
What you’ll need is:
- Coffee that was roasted no more than two weeks ago. I find that the fresher the better if you want really thick crema. I prefer to use coffees that have been roasted about two to three days prior to brewing.
- A burr grinder capable of grinding coffee fine enough for espresso. Not all grinders can grind fine enough no matter what the quality or cost.
- An electric or stove top kettle in which to boil water. The water should be cool or room temperature to start with and filtered if possible.
- An electronic scale is a nice thing to have around to weigh the dose of coffee but the scoop that comes with the Presso works well too.
The first thing you’ll want to do is preheat the Presso. Fill up your kettle and bring some water to a boil. Since the Presso is made of metal it will act as a heat sink causing the water to drop from the desired extraction temperature which is around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower temperature extraction produces sour tastes in the final brew. With the arms of the machine in the down position pour boiling water into the water chamber all the way to the top, being careful not to scald yourself. The chamber has small openings on either side of the levers so having a kettle with a small spout works better because it allows for more control of the water stream.
Place a glass at least six ounces in size under the portafilter. Next pull the levers all the way up in order to draw the water into the chamber. Do this slowly to avoid spilling the hot water out of the top then press the hot water out of the chamber by pushing the levers down. You have now successfully preheated the Presso. This step also serves to clean the Presso from any residue from previous uses.
Sometime between setting the water to boil and actually pouring the boiling water into the chamber to preheat the Presso you will want to grind your coffee. I use about 18 grams for a 1.5 ounce shot of espresso. If you don’t have or want to use a scale the scoop that comes with the Presso holds about 9 grams of ground coffee when you level it.
It may take several attempts to find the grind that works best for you. Too fine a grind will stop the water from going through the bed of ground coffee, and forcing the arms down in the face of such resistance may damage the machine. Too coarse of a grind will result in the water gushing past and under extracting the coffee and create a thin, bitter brew. What you want is a steady, narrow, tapered stream of coffee that appears thick and viscous.
Now that your Presso has been preheated remove the black handled metal brew-basket called the portafilter from the body of the machine, wipe it out with a clean dry towel and scoop the coffee in. Eighteen grams of coffee seemed to produce the best results and will most likely end up creating a mound protruding from the top of the portafilter, but you can use a finger to evenly distribute the coffee in the basket. Sometimes a light tap on the side may help as well. Now take the scoop, which doubles as a tamper, and use the back of it to evenly compress the coffee down into the portafilter. The scoop works okay for this step but if you find yourself attached to your new brewer you may want to invest in a 49 millimeter metal tamper, available through web sites like http://amzn.to/p7EDbg.
Lock the packed portafilter back in the machine securely and place a receptacle for the brew underneath. Add the water just off boil into the chamber only this time filling it up to the top of the two cups that are just above the fill line for a double shot. Filling it to the line just below the two cups didn’t produce the beverage that satisfied my taste and I believe that a bit more water helps to create more pressure during extraction and provides a bit more heat stabilization.
Now slowly lift the arms all the way up then press them down until you start to get some coffee dripping into your cup. At this point bring the arms all the way back up, and press then down all the way until you gotten the desired 1.5 ounces of brewed coffee. During the extraction you will notice that the stream of coffee lightens color and this is a great indicator of when you have extracted all the good tastes and aromas from the bed of coffee. I always stop the extraction when the stream starts to turn pale by stopping the downwards pressure and pulling the levers back up again, because at this point you are just getting a bitter brew and I certainly don’t want any of that in my cup.
This is, of course, not the only way to use the Presso. Let your inner lab rat get the best of you and experiment with every variable you can think of to find a way to produce a great cup of coffee that fits your palate and style. I think that the ability to do this with manual brewing methods is what makes these methods such a great fit for the coffee geek within as well as for those that just need a really good single cup in the morning to get up and going.
Clean up the Presso is simple, just knock out the spent grounds from the portafilter into you garbage can and rinse the underside of the machine that come in contact with the coffee and water and you are set to pull your next shot. I think for the price and the results you would be hard pressed to find a better machine to produce your morning shot whether it is at home or in some beautifully scenic state park.
For more information and tips go to: http://presso.us/