To make your espresso machine useable at home, it's best to set up a little station with your espresso machine out of the way of your cooking area, and perhaps out of the kitchen. If you have a dining room, setting up your machine on a counter in there is best. Same for in a den, or on the counter in a breakfast nook.
This way, you won't detract from the useable cooking space in your kitchen. And if someone is cooking in the kitchen, you can operate your espresso station without getting in their way.
Yes, but what about the mess? And what about the water? And the used grounds? How do I set up a "station" in the dining room without these things?
The answer is that with a few other inexpensive supplies, it isn't hard to set up an independent, professional "Espresso/Cappuccino Bar" in a space outside your cooking area (such as in the dining room, or even in your living room) without access to a sink or to a garbage can. I'll explain how.
First, you'll have your espresso machine - obviously. You should not use tap water in your espresso machine, unless you know that the water is filtered and softened. I use bottled spring water to fill my home espresso machine. I buy it in the grocery store. It comes in gallon jugs for about $1 per jug. Very worthwhile!
It makes excellent espresso without wearing out your espresso machine, and it's very inexpensive. So near my espresso machine, I keep a plastic, store-bought, gallon jug of filtered spring water.
Use Bottled Spring Water and a Doserless Grinder
Next is the espresso grinder. Note that you can buy preground espresso, in which case you won't need a grinder. But if you use preground espresso, you will need a "dosing spoon" to fill your portafilter basket with the right amount of coffee.
If you do have an espresso grinder, then there are a few other things that will help you to use your grinder efficiently, and neatly for personal consumption.
Most of our Commercial grinders have a "dosing chamber" (at the output on the side) in addition to the coffee bean chamber (on top). The chamber on top of the grinder holds the coffee beans that are to be ground. The "dosing chamber" is a second chamber into which the ground coffee goes, which has internal compartments that will measure a "dose" of ground coffee so that the operator can dose the output quickly.
Why Use a Doserless Grinder at Home?
You probably DON'T want a grinder with a doser for home use. Why? For the doser to work, the dosing chamber needs to be about half full of ground coffee - say enough for a dozen espresso drinks. If you are a coffee shop, that's great; you'll move that. If you are making 1 espresso for yourself, you do NOT want to grind a dozen shots of coffee.
The whole point of having a grinder is so that you can grind the coffee right before using it to maximize its flavor. If you're making an espresso for yourself, you want to grind 1 dose. Period. Coffee is expensive! And grinding exactly the right amount of coffee for 1 dose will save you money over time - especially if you use expensive beans.
How do you grind "exactly the right amount of coffee for 1 dose"? Simple! Use a scale. DON'T fill the bean chamber in your home grinder. Instead, put a small bowl or cup on your scale, and fill the cup with beans until the scale registers 14 grams. Then pour the cup of beans (14 grams) into the grinder, and grind them. This will make exactly the right amount of fresh ground coffee with NO waste. The scale is well worth the investment.
Measure a Single Dose of Beans with Your Scale. Use a Tamping Mat.
To make your espresso, you'll then put the ground coffee (ALL of it: 14 grams) into the portafilter of your espresso machine. You HAVE TO tamp the coffee firmly into the portafilter to compress it and get a good extraction. You cannot simply use your machine without tamping. You want your extraction to take 20-25 seconds. If it is not tamped, it won't extract correctly.
Therefore, you WILL need a decent tamper. Many espresso machines come with a flimsy plastic tamper. You can tamp with this, but it isn't as natural or easy as with a real tamper. You can get a real tamper without spending a fortune. It's well worth it.
Note that to tamp the coffee, you put the portafilter down on a surface, hold it level, and compress the coffee with your tamper. There are two things that you should note here.
First, you need to tamp the coffee so that it comes out LEVEL in your portafiler. You want the espresso to extract uniformly, so the tamped coffee needs to be level. The easiest way to make your tamp a level one is to rotate your hand while pushing down on the tamper, so as to twist the tamper. If the coffee is not level, the twist will make it level, and it will be very obvious to you (while twisting the tamper) that the surface is or is not level, because the tamper will wobble.
Second, the portafilter is hard, and the spouts on its underside will scratch your furniture. It will especially scratch your furniture if you tamp correctly! So you need to get a tamping mat. It's a thick, hard rubber mat. It's inexpensive - only a few dollars. Again, it's well worth it. It allows you to tamp firmly and correctly without damaging anything.
So far, we've measured out 14 grams of beans, ground them, put them in the portafilter, and tamped them into the portafilter. Now you'll lock the portafilter into your espresso machine, and you are ready to extract your espresso.
A high quality espresso should extract in 20-25 seconds. Assuming that you've tamped it, if it falls out of this range, then your grinder needs adjustment. Extractions that take less than 20 seconds indicate that the grind needs to be finer, and extractions that take more than 25 seconds indicate that the grind needs to be coarser.
So to check this, you should have a timer handy (as shown in the picture).
A Timer and Shot Glasses will Calibrate Your Shots. A Knockbox is Essential.
Also, to calibrate the size of your espresso shots, you might want a pair of shot glasses - so as to be able to place one under each spout of the portafilter as the espresso extracts. For an automatic espresso machine, you'll only need to calibrate (as set the shot) once. But for a semiautomatic, you might want to extract into the shot glasses in general.
After making your espresso, you'll need to dispose of the spent "puck" of coffee grounds. So you should also have a knockbox. The knockbox is for holding spent pucks (used grounds). It has a rubberized handle across the top of it. The rubberized handle is for banging the portafilter on so as to dislodge the spent puck of coffee from it without damaging your portafilter. The knockbox should be able to hold a dozen or so spent pucks before having to empty them into the kitchen garbage.
Next, if you are going to make a cappuccino or a latte with your espresso, you will need to froth or steam milk. So you'll need a frothing pitcher. For home espresso machines, you will only need a small 12-ounce frothing pitcher. You will NOT use a large frothing pitcher. It won't fit, and home machines cannot froth that much milk at once.
And with small pitchers, there is no need for a frothing thermometer - the steam will froth up 2-3 ounces of milk too quickly for a frothing thermometer to be of real use. But you might want a frothing spatula.
Use a 12 Ounce Frothing Pitcher with a Frothing Spatula. Thermometer's Not Needed.
The purpose of the frothing spatula is two-fold. First, you should use the frothing spatula to hold back the foam when you are pouring the hot steamed milk into your espresso to make a latte. And second, you'll use the frothing spatula to pull frothed milk (a thick foam) out of the frothing pitcher to top off your latte or cappuccino. The foam tends to stick to the sides of the frothing pitcher, and the spatula is useful for pulling it out to finish your drink.
Professionals will NEED a frothing spatula when using larger frothing pitchers and more milk. But just like the thermometer, if you are using a 12 ounce frothing pitcher, you can do the same thing more easily with a tablespoon from your kitchen.
And finally, you'll need a barista towel - a clean cloth - so as not to make a mess with your frothing. This one IS a must. We do sell barista towels, but you can use a dishtowel or a washcloth just as easily. Paper towels will not work.
When you use the frothing wand, steam is blown out of it. When you shut the steam off, the steam remaining in the wand condenses - it returns to the liquid state (water). The next time that you open the steam wand, the first thing that comes out of it is hot water, from the last time you used it. You DON'T want the water going into your milk.
So when you are going to froth milk, the first thing you should do is hold your towel under the steam wand and open it so that the water (a few drops) drains onto your towel. (Bunch it up, and be careful not to burn yourself). When steam starts coming out, shut the wand off. Next, put your frothing pitcher with milk under the wand, and submerge the tip of the wand in the milk. Then turn the steam on again.
Shot Glasses Help Shot Calibration. Bar Towels are a MUST for a Clean Area
To steam the milk, you'll keep the wand fully submerged - you needn't move the pitcher downward. To froth it, you'll continuously lower the pitcher as froth forms so as to keep the tip of the wand about 1/2" below the surface, as the surface rises. This will cause the surface froth to continue rising.
When you're done frothing or steaming, shut the steam off before removing the tip of the wand from the milk. If you don't, the steam will blast the milk and make a mess when you lower the pitcher. After the steam is off, THEN remove the pitcher, and finish your drink with the milk.
But note: when you remove the pitcher, a small amount of milk will drip from the tip of the steam wand. So AGAIN, use your barista towel to grab the steam tip as you're removing the frothing pitcher, so as to catch any milk droplets in the towel and keep your work area clean.
And finally, hold the bunched-up towel under the steam wand and turn the steam on again. This will blow any residual milk out of the wand, just in case any had siphoned up into it when you were frothing. Then wipe the tip clean with the dampened towel. This will keep your equipment clean and sanitary.
Finish your drink by pouring the milk into the espresso, and use the barista spatula to pull the last froth from the pitcher to top off your drink. DONE!
With these handy accessories, you can put your espresso machine out of the work area of your kitchen, and make a small, professional barista station:
A gallon jug of spring water;
An espresso grinder (or a dosing spoon, if using store-bought preground coffee);
A small scale and cup (to measure 14-15 grams of beans if you're grinding them fresh);
An espresso tamper;
A tamping mat;
A digital timer;
A frothing pitcher;
A frothing spatula; and
A barista towel.
Essential Items Needed for a Home Setup