Category Archives: Brewing

Staresso Espresso Maker

The Staresso Espresso Maker is a very compact portable “espresso” maker.  It makes a surprisingly good shot provided you have your grind and coffee dialed.

It can use Nespresso pods, but there is no substitute for fresh roasted and ground coffee.  Here’s a video review and the device in action.

The Short Version

The Staresso is surprisingly good and easy to use for a $60 gadget.  However, I have a feeling my results have a lot to do with my accumulated knowledge of coffee and the coffee I used.  But, again, for $60, the compact size of the Staresso Espresso maker is pretty hard to beat if you are on the go and want decent coffee.

The Long Version

This is not a true espresso maker.  There’s no way that it is generating 9bar of pressure.  But, as many people are finding, you can make espresso with far less than 9bar.  So, the Staresso is going to be very sensitive to grind size.  You will need to play with your grinder quite a bit to dial this in perfectly.

The Staresso is really pretty simple to use.  The parts all come apart and re-assemble very easily.  Filling the brew head can be a little messy however because it’s small.  They recommend 7-10gr of coffee (you aren’t pulling a typical 3rd wave 18-20gr double with this device).  In my testing, I found it hard to cleanly get more than 7gr in the little cylinder.  I got up to 9gr in there by being very careful.

Once loaded, a quick “tamp” with the back of the included scoop, and you just screw everything together.  Add water and start to pump.  I have not yet experimented with this, but the pumping builds pressure in such a manner that a pre-infusion style shot is very possible…and will likely produce a very nice result.

The shot itself is as you might expect…decent, but lacking depth and body.  You can see in the video above the crema produced is substantial (aided by the valve in the brew head), but since the pressure and heat retention are lacking, the body of the shot suffers.  However, there was a surprising clarity to the shot and I was still able to taste the fruit in my blend.

The Verdict

If you are an espresso enthusiast and want to take control of your destiny while traveling, the Staresso is compact, produces a decent shot, and at $60 is hard to pass up.

VST Precision Filter Baskets

VST Espresso Filter Baskets

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  But, this is worth the time.  I’ve read about VST Precision Filter Baskets before and finally decided to see what this was all about.  I just picked up the 18gr VST STD Ridged filter basket and the difference it makes is crazy.

You can read all about the fancy holes and quality control elements of the VST Precision Filter Baskets on their site.  But, the main take away is that it’s not just a marketing gimmic.  The design of the VST baskets is superior to most stock filter baskets and the result is sweeter, better tasting espresso.  The main thing I notice instantly is that the side walls of the basket are not really tapered at all (like my stock Bezzera or Gaggia baskets).  There is a small curve near the bottom, but mostly, they look nearly straight by comparison.  This means that the coffee puck is a uniform depth all the way around.  This matters because even before you get to the precision holes at the bottom, the coffee is uniform leading to even saturation.

Now, this design also has the side effect of showing even the slightest error in your distribution and tamping technique.  So, be prepared to reset what you think you know how to do a little.  Also, I had to actually adjust my grind finer to deal get the same timing with my standard 18.5gr dose.

The result in the cup is a sweeter, more complex espresso.  Same beans, same grinder, same machine…just changing the filter basket made the espresso taste significantly better.  If you are serious about your espresso, it’s well worth the $30 for the VST basket.

FOOTNOTE:  For most home machines, you probably want the STD Ridged model.  This “ridge” is a small bump on the outside that catches the “spring” in the portafilter and locks the basket in.  The “ridgeless” models don’t lock like that…they rely on simple friction fit.  If you DO NOT have a bottomless portafilter, you might need to get one if you get the 18gr or larger basket.  They have the dimensions on their site so you can measure your gear for compatibility.

Gaggia Classic with a Mid Level Grinder

So far, we’ve had a budget grinder (Capresso Infinty), and a good grinder (Macap M2M).  What about something in between?  Here we have the Baratza Preciso.  This is a workhorse of a grinder that is easy to maintain, and I’ve had this one now for close to 4 years.

You really can’t go wrong with this grinder in your home set up.  Paired with the Gaggia Classic, you will be very happy with your home espresso.

Does the grinder really matter? Really?

Just how much does the grinder affect your final product?  And, does it really matter if you have a decent one or not?  I have been fortunate to be able to actually test this. I have both a Macap M2M and a Baratza Preciso. The Macap has flat ceramic burs and the Baratza uses conical steel. Both are really excellent grinders with the Macap about $100 more than the Baratza. I ran the same beans through both and dialed in an 18gr dose for my preferred 45sec run time to 40ml on a Gaggia Classic. By all accounts, the Macap shots are excellent…really good, But, the Baratza produced a significantly sweeter shot…like a WTF…did I use the right beans type of significance.
But, it doesn’t end there. I was able to pair these same two grinders with my other espresso machine, a Bezzera BZ10.  I dialed in the exact same shot.  18gr, 45sec, 40ml.  The Macap pairs with that machine way better than the Baratza did. The Baratza shots were always a little bit flat…really good, but lacking a little “pop”. With the Macap, the shots all of the sudden popped like I wanted them too.  I had a hunch that changing the OPV setting on the Bezzera would make it even better, and I was right (adjusted the OPV down to 9.5 bar).
So, there you go.  Yes, the grinder matters, and simply changing your grinder can improve your cup even if you use the exact same machine and beans.

Gaggia Classic Espresso Shot with Good Grinder

I did a video with the Gaggia Classic and a budget grinder to prove you could get a really nice shot with a setup that you could get out the door with at about $500.

Macap M2M

Macap M2M

So, now, here’s the reason you always hear people talk about the grinder, grinder grinder, when giving advice on making better espresso at home.  Here’s a shot with the Gaggia Classic and a good grinder, the Macap M2M.  This setup is closer to $1000 out the door new (machine and grinder).

Note that I did use a slightly different technique here and different beans, but that really made little difference to the overall outcome.  In the budget shot, I used a single origin, natural process Sumatra bean…which produces great crema.  In this shot I used a blend, but plain and simple, the better grinder yields a better shot.

Gaggia Classic Espresso Shot with Budget Grinder

So, you want to stay on the cheap, and you’re wondering if you can actually get a decent shot of espresso.  Yes, yes you can.  Keep in mind that “cheap” is quite relative your your situation, but the combo of a Gaggia Classic with a Capresso Infinity grinder can produce a very respectable beverage.

All told, you can be out the door under $500 and brewing cafe quality beverages at home.

Latte Art with the Gaggia Classic

Latte Art with the Gaggia Classic

Some people will tell you that you HAVE to spend at least $500 on the grinder alone, or to get a Rancillio Silvia.  But, your wallet is the deciding factor.  Yes, the grinder DOES make that big a difference even on a lower end machine.  So, if you can afford it, get a better grinder.  But, if you have a budget of $500, this solution right here is a damn fine choice. 

Time for a Gaggia Classic

I decided that the ROK wasn’t going to cut it anymore in my apartment in NY and I needed to upgrade to a machine that still had a budget price, but could keep me from missing my Bezzera BZ10 so much.  I picked up a Gaggia Classic espresso machine (review here) and I am happy.

Gaggia Classic and Capresso Infinity Grinder

Gaggia Classic and Capresso Infinity Grinder

I did the Rancillio steam wand mod immediately and I highly recommend you do it too.  This machine is small, but performance is superb.