You bought a pod machine because you don’t care about drinking good coffee right? Ah, no. You bought a pod machine because you’re not a cafe and you don’t churn out endless coffees. Pod machines are what Italian families use every day in their kitchens because they make reliably good coffee in seconds without having to fiddle with anything. But there is an art to it. It’s not just chuck in the pod and collect the stream of black gold that pours out.
Start with good coffee
Makes sense. You can’t make good coffee without good coffee beans. But we have plenty of friends who refuse to drink espresso coffee because they think it’s bitter. Italian espresso is actually naturally sweet. If you think the opposite, you’ve never had a good espresso. Since Italy never colonised any coffee growing countries, they’ve always had their pick of the best beans from all over the world. Our coffee comes direct from them and is grown by farmers who know their stuff – they’ve been doing it for generations. The green beans are packed and shipped to the Gimoka coffee roasting house on Lake Como. Before they even get near the flames, they’re inspected one by one to get rid of “stinkers” – mouldy or spoilt beans that can ruin everything.
Roast, my pretties
Good coffee isn’t just about the beans. The roasting technique can ruin even the most luscious raw ingredient. Espresso coffee beans aren’t roasted until they’re scorched – that makes for a bitter and unpleasant coffee. Our beans are roasted in small batches and in their individual varieties. From there, they’re immediately sealed in their capsules. Ground coffee or loose beans start oxidising the minute you open the packet. That amazing coffee smell? That’s actually your coffee losing its flavour bit by bit. For espresso, the coffee shouldn’t have been roasted more than a week ago. The packets on the supermarket shelves are already weeks old, which is why capsule coffee is a far better alternative. The little plastic containers mightn’t look authentically Italian, but they create an oxygen and moisture free environment, ensuring the coffee stays fresh and has a much longer life than ground coffee or even loose beans. It’s a bit like snap freezing vegetables and it means you can enjoy authentic Italian coffee for weeks and months without it losing flavour
Cups at the ready
Your moment has arrived. It’s time for you to make the perfect espresso. Turn your pod machine on and let it heat up for 10-15 minutes. You need to warm your cup too. There’s not point pulling the perfect espresso if you dump it in a cold cup the moment it pours out. If your machine doesn’t have a heating tray, fill the cup with boiling water and let sit for a few minutes.
So what’s the perfect espresso cup? It’s not a cup at all, but a tiny little shot glass with or without a handle. It can be made from glass or ceramic, although at the moment, the Italians are loving those double insulated glass that keep your coffee warm without burning your hands. It doesn’t matter what kind of cup you use as long as it’s small.
One tablespoon please!
With pods, you don’t have to worry about grinding the beans, putting the right amount in the filter holder or tamping it down right, but you still have to worry about how much coffee actually pours out of your machine. Even if your coffee has a one shot espresso setting, it’s usually set for non-Italian tastes. In other words, it makes a coffee that is so long and watery, the average Italian would throw it in your face.
The perfect espresso is 25 ml (about 1 tablespoon), syrupy in consistency and should have a layer of light brown crema on top. To get this you might have to stop your machine before it finishes. A good espresso shouldn’t take more than 18 seconds to pull. After that, STOP!
Jeffrey Steingarten, who is obsessed with espresso, says a good crema should support a spoonful of sugar for 2 seconds before it disappears into the dark depths below. The easiest way to get it right is to tilt your glass as the coffee pours out. This way the coffee pours down the side and isn’t broken up by the stream of coffee behind it. Wait a few seconds for the crema to form before you drink.
This will break your heart, but a real Italian espresso is actually served without a grain of sugar. Not one. Obviously it’s hard to take. Our tastebuds love sweet because all the best foods are sweet, whereas they hate bitter because that’s usually a sign that you’re eating something poisonous.
Our advice? Wean yourself off it. Slowly work to reduce the amount of sugar you have in your espresso until you’re drinking it pure. A perfect espresso is naturally sweet and syrupy. Sugar messes with the taste and aroma. It covers up those notes that the growers and roasters worked so hard to get. There are two hundred flavour components in raw coffee beans, more than two thousand in roasted ones. So think of your coffee in wine terms. Dodgy grapes are mixed with heaps of sugar to make the wine drinkable (and cheap). We all love a sweet wine, but it’s no Moet. So save the sugar for the rubbish coffee and channel your inner Italiano. Bottoms up!
Coffee is 98% water, so if you want to start getting pernickety, use filtered water. Or boil up a batch in the kettle, let it cool and then pour it into your machine.
Clean your machine regularly. It’s a good idea to wash all the bits and pieces in warm soapy water at least once a week and use a food-safe coffee solvent at least once a month. All that muck building up in your machine will make your coffee taste rancid.
If you can’t live without sweetness, try a macchiato. That’s an espresso with a drop of milk in it. Froth full cream milk, keep warm and add a drop to the top of your finished espresso.