- The Four M's
The principle elements of making espresso are captured in four Italian words:
1. Mano dell'operatore (hand of the operator)
2. Macinadosatore (grinder-doser)
3. Miscela (blend)
4. Macchina espresso (espresso machine).
Each of these elements plays an important role and the strength in one rarely compensates entirely for the weakness in another.
I've ordered these factors by what I believe are their relative importance. You may be surprised to see the espresso machine ranked last. This isn't to suggest it isn't important-- it obviously is --but rather recognition of your ability to adapt your barista technique to obtain the best result. To put it another way, above a certain level in espresso machines, the majority of improvements are more about quality of materials and workmanship, capacity, and ease of producing the desired result than an "absolute potential." What further proof does one need than sampling a half-dozen commercial cafes? Practically all cafes purchase from among the best equipment available, but invariably a few outshine their peers thanks to their superior baristas.
Does that mean you must drop three grand to have a great espresso machine? Most certainly not! At today's prices, a prosumer espresso machine starting at around a grand will reliably and quickly deliver good results without an undue amount of effort. That isn't to say that higher tier equipment isn't a joy to use -- indeed they are! -- rather it's analogous to the audiophile world where the cost rises faster than the "absolute potential" of the result. And especially in the realm of commercial equipment, capacity and consistency under load is the name of the game and much of the reason behind higher sticker prices.
On a related note... There's a lot going on behind the scenes of HB. The site moderators and potential writers are hashing over future articles. Looking at the list that's planned to come online, it's frightening. There's only so many evening hours and all of us have full-time jobs and other responsibilities. But for me and others who've joined "Team HB", the excitement of doing something new and innovative is pure fun, albeit frequently exhausting.
One particular article has been on the radar for months, even before the domain existed and long before forums were even a consideration. I don't want to spoil the fun (or build up unjustified excitement), but it's jokingly entitled "It's the Barista, Stupid". Partially an equipment showdown, partially an opinion piece, it strikes at the central core of what defines this website: The people, the barista, the human experience.
We hope you enjoy many hours reading about very cool espresso equipment, barista toys, and how to refine your espresso preparation skills. But remember the tools of the trade are secondary to you. What you learn and share here is what makes the difference, whether your equipment costs $500 or $5000. Take advantage of the human knowledge at your fingertips. Participate. Join the HB experiment!