I was perfectly happy with my $1000 ($400 refurbished) Saeco Incanto Deluxe superautomatic. It made lattes that were much better, night and day, than Starbucks, even though I was using Starbucks beans. It is convenient, and fairly mess free. I tried a shot with it, and it was vile, but that's ok. Only crazies drink espresso straight.
So I read on here that beans were important. So I bought some beans freshly roasted from a local place. Wow! The coffee is much better, with no bitterness. I tried a shot, and it was decent. Not anything I would want to drink, but not vile either.
I read people here talking about how you need to find a really good coffee shop to compare to, to know what a great shot tastes like. I looked up one of the highest rated places in Austin (Houndstooth Coffee). They really seem dedicated, and I figured it would be a good place to test my hypothesis. I was pretty convinced that it was just a matter of good beans and "reasonable" equipment. I mean, it is just hot water and ground coffee? How complicated is that? Hypothesis: "Beans are significant, but equipment/barista is not" Experiment: "Order a shot from the best equipment/barista in town and see if it is different"
So I ordered a shot from Houndstooth. I watched the barista. She threw away the first show - she said it was too fast. She adjusted the grinder a tiny amount and then ground two shots worth to throw away to clear it out. Then she gave me my shot.
I took a tentative sip. Oh. My. God. I couldn't believe the explosion of flavor. It felt like there were eight different things all trying to compete for attention from my tastebuds. Like I was drinking a totally different drink from what I had been used to drinking. I was with a colleague who said coffee only varies "Gross, OK, or Good" and even she said it was amazingly rich.
So, hypothesis is in jeopardy. New hypothesis: "These are just really amazing beans" Experiment: "Order a shot with different beans" (they always have two varieties) I didn't like this one as much, but it was equally complex in flavor, and more importantly, it was radically different from the first one.
So, both of my hypotheses were rejected, and I blame you guys. I was perfectly happy with what I had and you led me down the path of questioning whether there might be something better. Ignorance is bliss and all that. Now I have a probably unobtainable goal to shoot for.