I have been lurking the forums on and off for some time now and have learned quite a bit. Today, I figured I'd post my progression through the levels of learning about making coffee into "good" coffee. I hope some of you find this enjoyable.
For years I really did not like coffee. I owned a $49 Mr. Coffee and used ground beans from the supermarket that sat around in the store for many months at a time. I only made coffee when I really needed to stay awake, which was maybe twice a month. I mixed my coffee with plenty of cream and sugar to make it taste decent.
A few years later I received a Cuisinart blade grinder and started buying whole beans from the supermarket. I would only grind as much as I needed for one brew at a time. I still used plenty of cream and sugar to taste, but I also started enjoying coffee. I began drinking it once or twice a week, sometimes more. I lived with this setup for quite a few years. I finally thought I was drinking good coffee.
About three and a half years ago my fiancee and I took a trip to Costa Rica, and happened to catch a glimpse of some local coffee called Paos from a company Cafe Britt. The beans were grown on Lava soil and I thought it would be interesting. So we bought a few bags of whole beans to take home. To my good fortune, these beans were excellent! I continued to grind away on my Cuisinart, brewing a pot almost every morning. Who knew a bean could make such a difference! I finally thought I was drinking good coffee.
A few months later I was gifted a refurbished Breville 800ESXL, and continued using my blade grinder. Per the instructions, I would start the Breville and let it heat up, grind coffee, add to that little cup thingy (which I now know is called a portafilter), press the ground coffee down a little and let it flow. I would fill up an 8 ounce cup to about 6 ounces. I would still add a little cream, but this would make my coffee too cool and would have to heat it up for 30 seconds in the microwave. (I know now I was making double shots) I spent the next 2 and a half years feeling like I have been making the best cups of coffee ever.
During this past summer I began getting frustrated regarding my need for the microwave and started reading up on how to make a better espresso. I found this forum, coupled with a few other sources, and came to the understanding that I needed a burr grinder. In October, my (amazing, she says as I write this) fiancee got me a Gaggia MDF grinder. I was so excited that I immediately hopped on the internet to research what setting to grind and made my first cup of coffee. I continued with the same strategy as before; grind it up on setting #6, pat it down and pull 6 ounces. I still had to use the microwave but now instead of 30 seconds, 20 seconds was enough to get my coffee nice and hot. My fiancee and I, who were both extremely skeptical that a more expensive grinder could make that much of a difference, were completely amazed. I was now becoming addicted, having 1-2 cup of coffee every day for the next 2 weeks. I was loving it.
Although those 2 weeks were great, I still lurked the forum and kept learning. This time I learned that proper tamping is crucial. I had no idea until it was explained to me scientifically. I began adding some weight, trying to get 30lbs of pressure putting a little twist on it. Once again, the coffee has progressed by something so simple. I felt I was really starting to learn the skill and could make good coffee consistently. Nice, thick creme with all the taste. Maybe now I can say that I make a really good cup of coffee, knowing perfectly well there is still room for improvement.
This brings me to today. Alas, my Breville has taken a turn for the worst. Most times it works fine, but on several occasions it takes a long time to get hot. I have turn it off and then on again sometimes more than once to reach proper temperature and pressure. On several occasions, it didn't get hot at all, forcing me to visit the dreaded Starbucks. I have cleaned the unit out twice now with no resolve. It is time for me to turn the page and purchase a new machine. Although I liked the Breville, I feel that it did not stay hot long enough to make my Americano, and the puck would always come out wet on top. I am ready to spend some money and go for another semi-automatic.
This all brings me to my questions:
1) Is there anything wrong with making these 6 ounce cups instead of just 2 ounce shots? I really like the taste of the shot diluted, and I am not too interested in Lattes, although I enjoy a cappuccino now and again.
2) Do you have any advice to my technique?
3) I am willing to spend ~$1000 on a machine....possibly more if given a convincing argument. However, despite all of my reading, I honestly don't know where to go. Please help me in my continued coffee adventure.