Articles From Whole Latte Love

Purchasing Coffee & Brewing Espresso PART II

Posted: 08/20/03

Recap From PART I:

"With a good espresso we extract the good flavors and aromas from the coffee and leave the bitter flavors behind. That is the goal. The information below will show you how to do it."
1. Golden Rule
2. How to buy pre ground (PART II starts here!)
3. Location, Location, Location
4. Why is a Grinder so important
5. Choosing a grinder
6. Don’t blame the machine, Yet
7. Helpful hints and Summary

2. How to buy Pre Ground
These are three scenarios that you may encounter when buying pre ground.
1. Name brand, packaged for long lasting freshness.
2. From a café that brews espresso
3. From a store that does not brew espresso

1. Name brand, packaged for long lasting freshness
These are coffees like Illy and Lavazza that are that sealed with Nitrogen to keep them fresh. Illy pre-groundThey can last for a couple of years if you don’t open them. Once you open them they start to loose their freshness. Most pre ground coffee is a little coarse to get a perfect 20 to 25 second shot with a 30 pound tamp. So go ahead and tamp harder to slow down the shot. Our Illy pre ground has been very popular with both commercial style and pressurized style portafilters. It comes in a Regular (medium) roast, Scuro (dark) roast and Decaffeinated.

2. From a Café that brews espresso
When purchasing ground coffee from a café that brews espresso it is always a good idea to have them brew you a double shot to see how well they do before you put your order in for some ground coffee.

The following are two types of cafés that you will come across when purchasing pre ground coffee
A. Well Run Café
B. Not so well run Café

A. Well Run Café
1. Get coffee from the grinder that they use for their own machineespresso shop
Go to you local espresso shop and if they are brewing a good espresso, give them your warmest smile, tell them how good their espresso is and of course compliment their hair. Then ask them if they would, pretty please with sugar on top, sell you the coffee out of the grinder that they are using for their own espresso machine. With some luck, they will be so flattered that they will give the only proper humane response and sell you some coffee out of that grinder. This should work wonderfully in your commercial style portafilter but will still require variations in tamp pressure to achieve the proper extraction for your espresso. Only purchase what you can use in about three days as once the coffee is ground it looses it freshness very quickly.

2. Get coffee from a separate grinder because you don’t want the type they have in their grinder.
In this situation they will be using a grinder that is designated for ground coffee to go. Since they are brewing a good espresso somebody there knows what they are doing and you have a decent chance of getting it ground close enough to being correct that you can do the fine tuning with tamp pressure. Tell them you have a commercial style machine that needs coffee that is ground the same as the big beautiful machine that they are using. In a perfect world they would grind enough for a double shot and do one out of their machine to check for accuracy. It is rare that you can find someone who has the time and energy to do this. Remember, in a well-run café with people that know what they are doing, they may know how to adjust the grinder perfectly the first time. If you take the ground coffee home and create the espresso you desire, please be sure to go back and thank the people at the café for their expertise. This type of praise will stroke their ego help keep them from going to the “dark side” as many cafés before them. Also please tell all of your family and friends to support those great people down the block. Lets keep these people in business.

B. Not so well run Café
Good luck
Lets say for the sake of discussion that the café you are going to is not brewing a good espresso and you see that the double shot you ordered takes around 10 seconds or so. I have found that there is always a way to casually position yourself to see the shots that they are brewing. Since the shot is not good, you don’t want coffee out of the grinder that they are using for their own machine. You are kind of in a pickle here and should just ask them for a grind that is finer than what they are using for their machine. They may try to prove their expertise by telling you that it will be too fine for your machine, but smile and say “Thanks for the advice but please grind it a little finer anyway”.

3. Store that does not brew espresso
Don’t expect much
Most stores that don’t actually brew espresso and grind coffee will have a tough time doing it right. If the coffee is stored in a large bin and has been sitting around for a while is not worth your time and money. If you are desperate and want to give it a try or if you just want to prove me wrong, here is how to do it. Grind it really fine, almost to a powder and hope for the best. If you are successful please e-mail me.

3. Location, Location, Location.
The area in which you live will guide your coffee purchasing habits. Every spot on the map has its own unique characteristics and the same will be for its coffee availability.

Rural: If you are lucky you will have some local entrepreneur that has a passion for coffee and excellence. If so, you will be in good hands. If not, then purchase some properly packaged pre-ground such as Illy or purchase a grinder and buy your coffee beans over the Internet. You can find a good selection of pre-ground and beans on our coffee page.

Suburbia: If you don’t have a great café in your little village you can open one, take the drive to the big city and pretend you are on a great adventure or purchase over the Internet or through a mail order catalogue.

City: If you already live in a city then you will have a pretty good feel for what is going on around you. Feel free to take other peoples advice but go out on your own quest for the perfect espresso. When armed with the information provided in this article and other places on our site you will be ready to think for yourself and be prepared to join in on the conversation of where to go for the best espresso and on how to do it at home. You may even be able to say, “See that new Lexus out front? I bought that with the money that I saved by brewing at home oh and this pretty girl next to me I hooked her with my special latte.

4. Why is a Grinder so important?
If you don’t have a grinder then you are putting the control of a significant portion of your life in the hands of someone else. Does this sound a little dramatic? I don’t think so and when I do relinquish control, the results are not usually favorable and can be very frustrating. If you want to learn everything you need to know about grinders check out my "Grinders 101" article. If you have read this article or have experienced some of the situations described here, you can easily see how much time, energy and money you can spend trying to get coffee ground properly for the espresso machine you have at home.

Espresso can be unique and as diverse as you want it to be. There are so many fine and unique coffees available that you can only enjoy properly if you can grind and brew it while it is fresh. After coffee is ground it immediately starts to lose its freshness and you can smell the aromas and flavors just evaporating into thin air so that only the angels can enjoy them. (maybe it is the key to heaven but I’m not betting on it). The key is to grind only what you need at that time. If you grind each time you brew the results will amaze you.

5. Choosing a grinderGrinders
It doesn’t cost a boatload of money to get a grinder that will allow you to grind properly for your espresso machine. We already have a plethora of information on the web site to help you learn all you would ever want to know. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us.

If you have the desire to learn all about the mechanics and why it might matter to you, check out "Grinders 101".

If you would like to read a quick summary on each grinder check out the "Coffee Grinder Buying Guide".

If you would like to read review customer reviews read reviews section.

6. Don’t blame the machine...yet.
Everyday I seem to get at least one call that starts off with this statement. “This machine you sold me does not make good espresso”. It is sometimes followed with “I have tried everything and there is something wrong with this machine”. Right away I am impressed with how hard they have tried, how much money they have spent on coffee and with the great lengths they have gone to get their coffee. With all this effort you would think it has to be the machine but in 99% of the cases it is not. A quick class on the Golden Rule and the crema starts flowing like warm honey. Yes there are many things in the machine that could cause the problem such as a dirty shower screen, mineral build up, poor pump performance, thermostats out of calibration, leaking valve seats, heat exchangers that are too hot and need to be cooled down etc etc. But the first thing, especially with a new machine, is to make sure you are adhering to the Golden rule.

7. Helpful Hints and Summary
To make your espresso and specialty drinks experience a good one just follow these few steps.
1. Learn, understand and follow the Golden Rule
2. Get a good quality burr grinder
3. Purchase coffee that is fresh.
4. Follow all maintenance instructions.
5. After every shot knock out the coffee right away and rinse the shower screen.
6. Keep the group gasket clean.
7. Most Prosumer and some home machines may be a little over brew temperature at times. Run water through the brew group before you brew just long enough to make sure that no steam is coming out. When the steam stops coming out then put your handle in and brew. Check out the following article for the inside scoop on the prosumer mahcines "Prosumer Espresso Equipment".
8. Learn to enjoy the whole experience of choosing the coffee to grinding, brewing, drinking and sharing with others.

Thank you for all of your support in the past and all of us here at Whole Latte Love look forward to serving you in the future. Let me know anytime that I can be of assistance.