Is making good espresso really hard?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
egghead

#1: Post by egghead »

I am thinking about getting an HX machine, and a grinder. Specifically, a Vetrano Rotary, and a Macap M4 stepless.

After reading the post entitled "Understanding Espresso (five major steps)" and numerous other posts for the last few days, I am getting scared. I understand that I won't be a top-notch barista when I pull this thing out of the box, but does it take months/years before I am producing stuff that won't make my wife run for the local Starbucks?

Are these subtle differences, or am I likely to not produce anything drinkable until I understand the Zen of espresso?

Please reassure me that I won't be spending $2000 to produce swill.

Would I be better off buying a super automatic?

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Compass Coffee
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#2: Post by Compass Coffee »

I understand the feeling, felt much the same way 4+ years ago. Are you teachable? Are you a decent cook? Different people have different aptitudes but I was pulling drinkable shots the first day with a lesser machine and grinder than you're proposing of getting. (Rancilio Silvia and started with Solis Maestro grinder I already had.) Shots today are far far better than when I began my espresso journey but even so *$ was never a goal I aspired down to or achieved down to. Of course, fresh beans that aren't roasted to charcoal is very important part of the equation.

Worst case scenario you turn out to be a totally incompetent bumbling clod and exercise your 30 day buyers remorse return. :!: :shock: :lol: However don't be alarmed, that's not something I've heard of happening! :wink:

Edit PS:
Also don't be alarmed or confused or intimidated by some of the posts. Often they have nothing to do with pulling good or even great shots. That is not the goal but rather those elusive shots that'll make time stand still, the heavens open and the angels weep in joyful chorus.
Mike McGinness, Head Bean (Owner/Roast Master)
http://www.CompassCoffeeRoasting.com

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malachi

#3: Post by malachi »

It depends on your definition of "good"

If your current definition is starbucks (as is implied by your post) that you should feel no fear
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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another_jim
Team HB

#4: Post by another_jim »

If you've never made espresso before, expect to spend a few weeks to months (depending how long you practice) getting solid, consistent shots.

Read the how tos on coffeekid, coffeegeek and here (shameless self advertisement: including mine, please) in that order since that is the beginner to intermediate progression (advanced always starts where the guides end, the forum posts here are good advanced reading); this will get you off to a faster start.

Expect to beat Starbucks in about a week, get quite tasty in a month, and have your first godshot within about 3 months. And that will be were all your real espresso problems start!
Jim Schulman

egghead

#5: Post by egghead »

Thanks for the reassurances. I was getting a little uneasy.

Yes, I am a reasonably good cook, and I can sort of follow directions...although patience is not my strong suit.

Sadly, Starbuck is right now the bar that I have to aspire to. If I can do that, I'll not regret the decision, but I hope to do better than that.

I am hoping that my wife will be the true barista in the family. While I can cook, she is a phenomenon. She is, oh what's a nice way of putting it...ANAL RETENTIVE!!!

We have a local roaster in town, and good, fresh beans should not be a problem.

Thanks

Larry

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HB
Admin

#6: Post by HB »

I agree with Jim's rule of thumb definition. The benefit of an online forum and reviews specifically for a given espresso machine can cut months off your learning curve.

I recently spent an hour giving a barista lesson to a friend (he was considering a super-auto and I was trying to talk him out of it). He's very analytical and took to detailed directions. His first shot was acceptable and he was pulling consistently good ones in a half hour. He borrowed an espresso machine and grinder for his vacation at the beach. Upon his return a week later, he asked more detailed questions, questions clearly about diagnosing the quality of the extraction. What I learned from that mini-experience is that he'd picked up the mechanics very quickly, but diagnosis still eluded him.

His initial positive experience did however banish thoughts of super-autos from his mind since he's now confident he can master the skills while enjoying the journey. Mission accomplished. 8)
Dan Kehn

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cannonfodder
Team HB

#7: Post by cannonfodder »

HB wrote:He borrowed an espresso machine and grinder for his vacation at the beach. Upon his return a week later, he asked more detailed questions, questions clearly about diagnosing the quality of the extraction. What I learned from that mini-experience is that he'd picked up the mechanics very quickly, but diagnosis still eluded him.
That is why I taste all my shots, defective or not. You can not diagnose a defect if you don't know what that defect tastes like.

You cant ask for a better support group than the above responders. You are getting capable equipment, now practice is what you need. There is no magic trick, just work on sound fundamentals and everything else will come. Most importantly, don't get discouraged and enjoy the journey.
Dave Stephens

egghead

#8: Post by egghead »

Jim, thanks for the suggestion about coffeekid. I went over there and felt like a kitten being gently petted. I know that it is going to take work, but I can do this. I am sort of glad that I won't have the cash to buy this stuff for a couple of months (although I am chomping at the bit to get started). I will be doing a lot of reading.

Which board is yours?

Thanks

Larry

mtnwoman

#9: Post by mtnwoman »

I am thinking about getting an HX machine, and a grinder. Specifically, a Vetrano Rotary, and a Macap M4 stepless.
I bought the same set up back in March. It took me about 2 weeks to get comfortable that everything was dialed in correctly, and I was having some second thoughts and frustrations during those 2 weeks. But I have discovered Intelligentsia Black Cat, and espresso freezes during the warmer days (espresso, ice, milk, flavoring syrup), and the whole family is totally enjoying the drinks every morning. Quite frankly, I don't know if I'm pulling great shots or not...none of us drink straight espresso. But my milk drinks sure taste good to me, and everyone I serve them to seems happy. All I did to achieve this was figure out how to hit the temperature range (the hardest variable for me) and dial in the grinder to produce a double shot of 2 oz. in 28 seconds. And from what I'm seeing on other posts, it sounds like the hard core espresso drinkers prefer 1 oz. extractions!

BTW, we don't have a starbucks within a hundred miles of us, but my big city friends that frequent the coffee shop say mine are better...

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mrgnomer

#10: Post by mrgnomer »

egghead wrote:I am thinking about getting an HX machine, and a grinder. Specifically, a Vetrano Rotary, and a Macap M4 stepless.

After reading the post entitled "Understanding Espresso (five major steps)" and numerous other posts for the last few days, I am getting scared. I understand that I won't be a top-notch barista when I pull this thing out of the box, but does it take months/years before I am producing stuff that won't make my wife run for the local Starbucks?

Are these subtle differences, or am I likely to not produce anything drinkable until I understand the Zen of espresso?

Please reassure me that I won't be spending $2000 to produce swill.

Would I be better off buying a super automatic?
I just recently upgraded to a Vetrano and an M4 stepless after cutting my teeth on a Silvia/Rocky combo. I can definitely say, next to what I went through to get good shots from the Silvia, the Vetrano's such a good and forgiving machine it actually helps me make good espresso. The Silvia used to kick my butt and humiliate me when I was just the least bit off with satisfying even extraction variables.

If I had to do it all over again I'd have started with an excellent HX machine like the Vetrano paired with a very good grinder like the Macap M4. Sure, you probably will spend some time getting to know your machine and getting to understand espresso and developing good barista skills but the learning curve is pretty steep if you're dedicated to research and practice and getting advice on good forums like this one.
Once you do pick up some skill the shot's you'll get from the Vetrano will blow away any franchise coffee shop and be head and shoulders above espresso from lesser machines. I've found that a good HX machine is a joy to use. Your courage in choosing a Vetrano and Macap M4 will be rewarded.

I can assure you that the Vetrano is more than capable of pulling deep charactered, profoundly layered espresso of a much finer and higher quality and with greater consistency than a lesser machine like the Silvia. It took less than a week for me to get wonderful espresso and most of that time was dialing in the grind and getting to know the best grind for my different single origin roasts and blends. Yes, the Silvia was a harsh and merciless teacher and satisfying her made it easy to take advantage of the Vetrano's potential but I can say that the Vetrano's potential is very high and learning to tap into it should be much easier than with a lesser machine.