“It’s the poor craftsman who blames his tools.” -Dad
This is saying my dad uses whenever I begin to complain about any product, whether it is the dullness of the carving knife on Thanksgiving or the lawnmower not starting on a cold day.
While that saying might apply if you’re building something with hammer and nails, it doesn’t quite extend to espresso machines. Sorry, Dad.
In the espresso world, quality tools do matter. Even if you are a pro barista, you are only going to get so far with low-grade tools.
In fact, quality tools can make up quite a bit of ground for users with less-than-pro skills and help you brew and froth a solid latte.
To get you started, below are the tools I use and love everyday at home.
The Breville Barista Express is my workhorse. Every morning I wake up walk into the kitchen and fire it up. I have been drinking a lot of Americanos lately, so I use the hot water spout to fill up my mug. I grind a double-shot’s worth of grounds into the porta-filter, lock it in and pull a double shot on top.
I then pull out the double shot filter and pop in the single shot filter, grind some beans lock in the shot and pull it into a separate mug for my wife. I then turn on the steam wand, froth some whole milk and slowly pour into her mug and serve it hot.
It’s more ritual than routine for me and is my favorite way to start the day (my wife agrees!).
I use The Breville a lot in the afternoons too if I get home from work early. It is an easy-to-use machine and the pressure gauge really helps with dialing in your shots. This can be tricky for beginners without a lot of experience.
I highly recommend this machine for anyone starting out in home brewing espresso. It has a decent built-in burr grinder so if you do not have one yet, there is no better machine to get.
A pod machine? That is not real espresso!
For the espresso snobs out there, maybe. While you won’t get the same quality as buying a freshly roasted bag of beans, grinding them yourself into a porta-filter and pulling a shot, Nespresso is good for what it does. A easy to clean, no mess, quick and convenient shot of espresso.
It tastes pretty good too.
I use my CitiZ every afternoon at the office. I found myself going to Starbucks (I know, shame!) in the middle of the day to get my coffee fix. Now with the Nespresso machine, I get way better quality coffee at a fraction of the price. This little guy is going to save me a couple hundred dollars a year.
At work I especially value the no mess clean up the CitiZ offers. I don’t need a sink nearby to wash my porta-filter and there are no grounds spilling out from the grinder. It is awesome for the office.
That said, I do prefer a cup of espresso from my Breville Barista when I’m at home.
By far, my favorite easily accessible bean is Koffee Kult dark roast. Once you get a bag of this in your hands and sniff it, you know it is something special.
It is rich and chocolate-y and strong enough in flavor to bust through the milk in a latte and give it some seriously delicious flavor. It is the best if you are into dark roasts like me. I have experimented with a ton of beans and I just keep going back to this one.
Some of my other favorite, more local roasters are Blue Bottle, Equator and Temple. When I have time, I love to pick up bags from these guys. I really encourage you to explore and try fresh local roasted beans in your area, there’s nothing like small-batch local.
Arpeggio is by far my favorite of the Nespresso capsules. I am partial to darker, richer roasts and Arpeggio is the one I keep ordering over and over.
After blasting through all of the sample capsules from when I first bought the machine, I immediatly selected this one for re-order.
If you like dark roasts, this is my preferred pick.
There is nothing like a good frothing pitcher. The VonShef 20oz is my my go to for lattes and cappuccinos. My Breville came with a pitcher, but for my needs it was just slightly two small. You could really only make one and a half lattes with it and some mornings my wife and I both want one.
This was annoying because instead of pulling two shots, one for me and one for my wife, and then frothing a large pitcher of milk for both lattes, I was frothing the milk for one, pouring the latte, adding more milk to the pitcher and then frothing again for the second latte.
Having a 20oz pitcher makes morning latte making so much easier.
The VonShef feels great in the hand and performs well every morning. It is not fancy and has no bells and whistles, but you really don’t need anything extra in a frothing pitcher. It’s also really reasonably priced.
This tamper by Rattleware is by far the best I’ve come across. A tamper is one of the home barista’s most important tools. To brew excellent espresso, you need to carefully compress your puck at about 30lbs of pressure. The pressure needs to be applied at an even amount across the whole surface area of the puck for optimal extraction.
Having a weighty, well-balanced tamper will change your life, especially if you are using one of those cheapy sub $10 aluminum or plastic tampers that comes with some of the lower-end espresso machines.
This is one of those inexpensive upgrades that provides a ton of bang for your buck, without having to invest in a more expensive machine or grinder.
When you first get your espresso machine, you’re probably knocking the puck out into the trash. This works for a while, but eventually you will want a dedicated knock box. The convenience is just too good.
The Breville BCB-100 is the one I have next to my espresso machine.
I knock 2-5 pucks into this box a day and it works great. It has a rubberized middle bar that you literally knock the portafilter against and it easily pops the puck out into the container.
It also has a great plastic inner container that is easy to remove to dump the pucks when it fills up. I have been dumping it on my blueberry plants lately to acidify the soil.
It also makes it easy to wash and clean. I just pop out the inner container and put it in the dishwasher when it gets dirty with grounds. If you are serious about upping your espresso game at home, this is a must have.
I don’t own the Breville Smart Grinder Pro, but when I upgrade my home set up to have a dedicated espresso machine and a dedicated grinder, this is the one I am going to purchase.
While the built-in grinder on the Barista Express does a pretty good job, it is not the best grinder out there. If you look closely at the puck, there will be some larger chunks mixed in with the smaller grounds. That inconsistency isn’t huge, but the grinds aren’t perfectly uniform.
A really pro level grinder should grind a uniform puck and you should expect to see no variation. While this is detail stuff, it does affect the general quality of the shot. There is a reason in craft coffee shops they are using large, expensive grinders.
The Breville Smart Grinder Pro is the best bang for your buck and when I get around to saving up for a dual boiler system, this is the one I am going to buy.