Espresso…Can’t start the day without it!!

What’s better than two shots of espresso to start the day!?

There’s one thing I have to do every morning so that I can function like a normal human being throughout the day.  And that is to make myself an espresso.  It’s funny, if I don’t have that jolt of caffeine I feel like a zombie.  Until recently, I always had to break out my little 1 cup Bialetti Moka Express stovetop espresso maker.  Don’t get me wrong I love my stovetop espresso makers.  In fact, I have more than one.  Besides the 1 cup maker, I also have a 6 cup Ilsa Napoletana espresso maker and two 6 cup Bialetti Moka Express makers (one of them even plays music when it’s ready).

2 of my Bialetti Stovetop Espresso Makers

Anyhow, I do love the old-schoolness of using the stovetop makers.  I mean that’s what everyone in my family has ever used.  But, I have become a convert to the “automatic” espresso machine.  I’ve actually had one of these “automatic” machines sitting on my bar for close to 3 years, but I was always nervous to use it.  I was just comfortable with the stovetop maker.  I knew it always produced a great product.  As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

My Ilsa Napoletana Stovetop Espresso Maker

About 2 months ago, my good friend Alessio Troia came over for dinner.  Alessio is one half of the husband/wife team that owns Bella Cucina Gourmet Italian Deli in Lake Hiawatha, NJ.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, these two make some extraordinary Sicilian specialties.  Alessio is also a talented barista.  He pulls some of the best espresso this side of the Atlantic.  So, I worked up the courage to ask him to teach me how to properly use my “automatic” espresso machine.  My machine is a Krups.  It’s a small household espresso/cappuccino maker.

My Krups Automatic Espresso/Cappuccino Maker

Before giving me the reigns, Alessio showed me the proper way to use the machine.  He said you couldn’t just put the coffee in the filter and attach it to the machine.  He explained that the grinds need to be leveled off.  He showed me how to tamp the grinds.  This is actually one of the most important steps.  You have to use a tamper and exert about 30 pounds of pressure to pack the espresso grinds tightly into the filter.  Once he had the filter ready, he attached it to the machine and turned the knob, which forced the water through the filter making espresso.  There was a thin golden brown stream of liquid that slowly trickled out of the machine.  Once the espresso was about halfway up the small cup, Alessio turned the knob off.  He explained the importance of the crema, which is the foamy looking mass that sits on the top of a good espresso.  This crema has the oils that are extracted from the ground up coffee beans.  I took a sip of this perfect cup of espresso and was surprised that my little machine made this wonderful elixir.  The crema was sweet and the coffee was strong, but with no hint of bitterness.  I was impressed!

Beautiful crema!! (Barbera Caffè from Messina, Sicily)

It was then my turn to try my hand at using the machine.  And with Alessio’s patient assistance, I went through a couple of cups of mediocre espresso before I finally pulled a cup worthy of an Italian bar.  (In Italy, bars aren’t just for boozing.  You can get your espresso there, too.)  I was ecstatic to finally be using this wonderful machine.  Since then, I’ve also slowly started to master the art of the cappuccino using the machine.  But that’s another story.  Now my mornings start off by pressing the button to warm up my “automatic” espresso machine, although now and then I do get nostalgic and break out the Moka Express!  Enjoy!

Here’s a short video of Alessio pulling a beautiful shot of espresso.  To experience Alessio’s awesome barista abilities firsthand, make sure you stop at deli.

Bella Cucina Gourmet Italian Deli
33 North Beverwyck Road
Lake Hiawatha, NJ, 07034

Living to eat,
Tony Mangia

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