I remember growing up as a child, watching may dad (who passed away this past February) mix his coffee. My mom would pour coffee into his cup and it would come out thick, like tar. Then dad would add lots and lots of sugar into his coffee, stir, and drink. This is my first memory of coffee, and probably the reason why I never drank it very often.
When I went to Portugal 23 years ago, I was forced to start drinking coffee in the morning; mostly because of the terrible room temperature milk and the lack of orange juice. When I returned home from Portugal, not only did I long for my normal food, but also found myself in search of a good shot of espresso or a great latte. So, I started down the Espresso/Latte Road. On the first leg of this journey, I used instant coffee in milk heated in the microwave. Then I purchased a stove-top espresso brewer and still mixed the espresso in with milk heated from the microwave. Using the stove-top brewer produced an ok espresso but not the same as what I had enjoyed in Portugal.
Then one Christmas I received a small espresso machine (I can’t remember the make or model), and started to enjoy the taste and the brewing experience more. After time and much discouragement, the machine was retired to the "home for gifts received but not used much anymore" (a.k.a. the back of the cooking pot cabinet). The main thing I remember about this machine was the funky smell it developed after some time. This was due to the fact that my son had put milk in the boiler, and then put it back in the cooking pot cabinet.
Over the years I have tried various espresso machines. I then began to wonder how espresso machines and coffee brewers work and why they are made a little different from each other. Then by accident, I started to work as a commercial coffee equipment service technician, which gave me an opportunity to answer these questions.
If you’re starting out on the Espresso/Latte Road, I would advise to do your research. I am not saying you need take an espresso machine apart, but rather gather as much information as you can about what you are looking for in a coffee experience. Do you want a machine to make just espresso, just lattes, or both espresso and lattes? My advice would be to ask the professionals to aid you in determining which machine is right for you.