This is the first post of a few that will detail my experience so far with the Cuisinart EM-200. Most of you aficionados won't learn anything new here, though you may correct me on a few things (I'm still new to this!), but this quick guide is mostly for the person who owns this machine and cannot find anything online about it worth knowing. I had to learn almost all of this the hard way, so this will hopefully be a good resource for budding espresso enthusiasts.
My goal here is to write up a full scale review of the Cuisinart EM-200 espresso machine. This machine can be a powerful entry into espresso when used correctly, and for its price, it is close to unbeatable. When I first started, I was having a difficult time getting good espresso out of it, and I assumed that it was because the machine wasn't working properly. I almost returned it, but decided to stick it out. This review is what I learned, and some quick tips to help you get good espresso as well!
I want to start out by saying that I am new to home espresso, so I've not been doing this for years, but I do live in Seattle and have been to all the major boutique coffee shops, so I know good espresso, and I can tell you that I'm getting much closer to good espresso than I ever could at Sbux or other similar chain shops. One of my hopes is that this can be the ultimate guide for the Cuisinart so that the average consumer can begin making great espresso with the Cuisinart (who shall be referred to as "her/she/etc" from here on out). There are some challenges when using her, but they can be overcome with a little patience and an enthusiasm for great espresso!
Some quick and dirty tips for getting great espresso out of the Cuisinart.
1.) Get a good grinder- this will shock you, but the grinder is ABSOLUTELY more important than the machine. I didn't believe this until I upgraded to a good grinder, but it really is. Here is a relatively inexpensive grinder that will serve you well for a long time (will likely outlive your Cuisinart!). http://www.1st-line.com/machines/home_m...t/PL53.htm If this is too much, cost wise, do your research and make sure you avoid "fake burr grinders" at all costs. I started out with one of these and it was a failure. Cuisinart does not make a good grinder, so you'll have to go with something else.
2.) Ditch the froth aiding sleeve immediately! I didn't even use it. It's messy, and useless. If you just use the bare wand, you can get microfoam good enough for latté art (this takes practice and patience).
3.) Get new filter baskets! The Cuisinart only comes with pressurized portafilter baskets. This is a huge detriment to good espresso and I suggest you get some non-pressurized baskets from somewhere. You won't find this ANYWHERE else online, but the Cuisinart uses a 51mm portafilter- the exact same specifications as Breville's lower end models, so you can order some non-pressurized filter baskets from here: http://bit.ly/cmuvIu (Seattle Coffee Gear's custom, non pressurized Breville baskets, should the link ever break).
4.) Only use fresh beans. When I say fresh, I mean roasted within two weeks (that's pushing it for fresh), and sealed in a vacuum tight container until ground immediately before use (this means you need to go to step 1 again). You'll have to order online or go to a specialty roaster to get beans this fresh. Starbucks won't do it. Your grocery store won't. A great bean, carried by Seattle Coffee Gear, is Zoka's Espresso Paladino, which is a lighter roast espresso blend.
5.) Get a better tamper. I'm talking about a nice metal tamper. You'll need a 50-51mm tamper, but it'll be more than worth it. I bought a cheap one, http://amzn.to/IFoGrq, but I plan on upgrading soon. The plastic one is pointless- throw it out.
6.) Learn the Weiss Distribution Technique. A simple Google search, or searching on home-barista.com can show you what it is. Basically, you use a thin object to stir the coffee grounds in your portafilter basket to break up clumps and properly distribute the coffee throughout the whole basket. I use a toothpick to stir the grounds around before tamping.
7.) Remove the plastic insert on the portafilter. There is a plastic insert in the portafilter that is held in by a screw. Remove the screw and the plastic insert. This will leave you with three holes from which espresso will drip, but more importantly, it will stop rancid coffee from building up beneath the insert and ruining future shots. But, you can also use these three holes to diagnose channeling in your shots better than if you just left the plastic insert in.
I also want to point out some benefits that Cuisinart never really advertised for the Cuisinart.
-Pre-infusion (presoaks the coffee grounds so they can expand and release delicious oils and yummies)
-An automatic pressure relief valve (a blessing and a curse)
-An automatic shut-off (After non-use for an hour and a half, the machine shuts itself down)
-Removable froth aider
Some of these things, like the automatic shut-off and preinfusion are features typically found on higher end machines (even the famed Rancilio Silivia doesn't have pre-infusion!). The pressure relief valve is both a blessing and a curse, but I look at it mostly as a blessing. The problem with a lot of single boiler machines is that it is difficult to balance temperature between pulling a shot and steaming milk. Properly pulled espresso, for the most part, should be extracted at 195-205 degrees, whereas steam requires temperature over 212, and most machines get to around 240 degrees. When you steam your milk first (which you should always do with this machine!) you build up a lot of steam pressure and thus raise boiler temperature. In order to bring boiler temperature back down to manageable levels, the excess steam must be removed from the boiler so as not to scald your espresso. In most machines this is done by running the boiler and the steam wand simultaneously, but in the Cuisinart, the steam pressure is automatically released as soon as you turn off the steam wand. This is a blessing because it automatically regulates temperature for you (one very annoying thing about this machine is that they don't include a thermometer in any way, shape, or form- granted, I don't think any other machine under $300 offers one either. I've yet to try modifying it myself to install a PID or anything), but it's also a curse because once you turn off the steam wand it automatically flushes all steam from the system. This means that when you try to purge the steam wand for a bit, the whole steam function must be restarted, and that can be time consuming and a pain in the butt. I will come back and finish this review/guide at a later time, but the wife thinks I've devoted too much time to it at the moment. I hope this helps someone in their quest for great espresso!