Technique Post: Making Espresso

You're not here because you need to make espresso in a cafetera. You could use a freestanding espresso machine, or instant coffee packets, or espresso K-cups. You're here because you have dreams of being an old Cuban lady living alone in Miami with an balcony overlooking the boardwalk. You're here because you want to be an art student in rural Italy with a folding table on your front porch. You want the coffee experience.

Let me make clear: coffee is my favorite. This is listed as a Technique post rather than a Basics because you will be one with the coffee by the end of it. So get yourself something that looks like this and let's go to the stove.

The Ortiz family, from whom I am descended, are a Bustelo people. The Cangas side, my other Cuban lineage, swear by La Llave coffee, which has a green label. I'm using Bustelo for today's walk through.

Take the coffee maker, or cafetera, apart - it will be in three pieces like this.

You put water in the bottom part (on the right), coffee in the middle part, and when you heat it and the water boils, it boils up through the ground coffee and into the top part (seen on the left). The traditional drip coffee makers boil the water up - onto the ground coffee - which then drips down into the carafe, via gravity. This one is defiant, and triumphant. Like a volcano.

Fill the bottom part with water, to just below the little knob.

The knob helps steam escape, and if you put too much water in it, it'll seep out when you start brewing the coffee.

Put the middle part - the funnel looking guy with holes in it - into the bottom, and it'll rest right at the cafetera's waist. Take the ground coffee and, using a small spoon, fill the funnel and pack the coffee down.


Now take the top part and screw it on, tight. Then tighten it some more. Now put it on the stove on medium-low. It'll take a while to start boiling, but don't turn it up above medium, or it will brew too quickly once it starts.

I use something like this to get the sugar going, which you'll want in place before the coffee boils.

You can use whatever, though. A measuring cup would have the same pouring ability as this, so feel free to use that instead. And add some sugar. I have a 6-cup espresso maker, so I use 3 Tbs sugar to start.

Now, we wait.

Stand close the cafetera. It will simmer. Water might escape through the knob on the bottom part. Then you'll hear it. It will build up like it's about to erupt - and then it will sigh.

I'm not embarrassed to quote the Bible here: "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper." (1 Kings 19:11-12 NIV)

That's all you need. Take the cafetera and pour those first few drops into the carafe where you have the sugar. Then return the cafetera to the stove and start to stir the sugar in with the espresso.

First, it will resist.

Then, it will fight. You'll get a brown sugar type consistency. Add another drop of coffee if it's too dry. But keep stirring. And then, it will melt.

It will look like a dark, foamy caramel. Remove the cafetera from the stove, and it should be about done brewing by now. And pour the rest of the espresso into the carafe and stir.

That's it. You're done. Your toiling, your patience, your attention to detail, has all been worth it. I got these tiny little espresso cups in Spain, but they sell sets at plenty of stores in little kits. Now, coffee is social, so share it.

And for those who feel alienated by my hagiography of coffee, a quote from my mother: "Oh good Lord, it's coffee, not gold!"

Mix it up:
Don't trust yourself with the stovetop method? Click here for an electric moka pot. Everything's the same except putting it on the stove - so no judgment here :)

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