Coffee Rituals

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollJan 25, 2010 7:17 PM


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We're long overdule for an open-type thread around here, so let me provide the excuse by asking one of the world's great questions: what's the best way to make coffee? I'm an eclectic coffee drinker; I like espresso but also enjoy a really good cup of American coffee, and I prefer coffee black but am willing to adulterate it with milk if I suspect the quality is not going to be that high. (Sugar under no circumstances.) For the past few years I've relied on the lowest-effort method I know of that is guaranteed to produce a good cup: freshly-ground dark roast beans, placed in a simple cone filter and hot water poured right in. Practically instant coffee, but a result that can be as good as the beans allow.

But I'd like to start mixing more espresso into my home coffee experience, so I'm in the market for a new espresso machine. If I were a physicist of means, I might go for a work of art like the Elektra Micro Casa Lever on right. Or would I? This is a spring-action lever machine, which is to be contrasted with the manual levers, not to mention the automatics and super-automatics, and then there's the matter of boilers, switches, heat exchangers ... a complete mess. The pumps are certainly elegant, but I'd also like something that is functional and doesn't require constant pampering. So I am in the unusual position of being frozen with indecision about what kind of espresso machine to get. Any opinions out there? The ground rules here are:

  1. There's no such thing as right or wrong; different people have different tastes, for which different approaches are appropriate.

  2. Answers with specific comparisons of advantages and disadvantages are more useful than simple insistence on truth.

I do understand that this is the internet and rules are unlikely to be followed, but I feel I should try. Obviously not all advice on such a topic is too be trusted. The Engineer's Guide to Drinks thread featured a sobering (as it were) number of people who think a "martini" should just be chilled gin rather than a proper cocktail, and were proud to admit it in public! So caveat lector. And if you want to talk about something other than coffee, be our guest.

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