Note from Margaret: For my first guest post this year, I’m thrilled to feature an equipment review from my dear friend Rosalyn Story!
As with most coffee lovers who came of age before the Starbucks revolution, my taste in coffee has evolved over time. From the tin of ground Folgers and Butternut in the kitchen cupboard of my childhood to the vending machine-dispensed swill in my college cafeteria, and eventually to the perfect cup of froth-rimmed brew in a Paris café on a trip abroad in my twenties, coffee has kept me alert, productive and happy. But it was never as much about the caffeine as it was about the flavor, and even in those days of canned, pre-ground grocery store roast, I always searched for the best tasting, richest coffee. When Starbucks came onto the scene, raising the coffee bar (no pun intended) it was hardly reminiscent of that perfect Parisian cup, but it was at least a cut above Folgers.Then came the third wave of young baristas – tattooed and pierced millennials mostly – flaunting their skills in crafting the perfect espresso, latté or pour-over. But as hard as it is to believe in these days of ubiquitous high-end coffee shops and passionate connoisseurs, good coffee is still too often hard to come by. One needs to be in a kitchen (equipped with state-of-the-art machinery) or in a shop that has joined the new culture of no-nonsense, quality coffee. Easy enough to find, except when it’s not.
I love to travel, and am constantly lamenting the lack of good espresso on the road. The Minipresso from Wacaco is a cleverly designed palm-sized espresso maker I ran across while cruising the Internet. Small enough to pack into a suitcase, backpack, or purse, and requiring only ground coffee, hot water and a little hand strength, it solves the problem I often encounter – I’m on holiday staying with relatives who either don’t drink coffee, or aren’t as picky as I am; I’m on a 15-minute break at work and there’s no coffee house within walking distance; I’m at a family reunion in the piney woods near Magnolia, Arkansas and – well, enough said about that.
When I got the machine, it took a minute to figure just how to produce a quality espresso. The water temperature had to be just right, parts required preheating, and the grind size had to be well-calculated. And then there was the technique itself. But in time and with patience I was able to ‘pull’ a shot better than anything I’ve gotten at coffee shops that use ‘push-button’ espresso machine, and as good as the coffee in my AeroPress. The technique is surprisingly simple: pour hot water into the 1.5 ounce tank, place 7 grams of ground coffee in the portafilter basket, assemble, and pump the piston about 5 times. Pause a few seconds (for proper infusion) then pump another 10-15 times. The result: a very nice shot of espresso with good flavor and an impressive crema.
There were a couple of things I learned in the process of honing my technique: the water must be at a rolling boil (at least 212 degrees), so when it hits the cool apparatus it will not dip below 190-205 degrees. The grind must be fine enough for espresso but not so fine that it puts too much pressure on the pump. The tank and group head should be pre-heated with a little of the boiling water.
If done properly, the espresso produced is as good as from any ‘pressurized-basket’ machine I’ve seen. While a pressurized portafilter, normally found in entry level espresso machines, may not deliver the subtle range of notes and complexity of flavor as shots from the more expensive non-pressurized portafilter machines, it also doesn’t require the level of finesse and skill. Still, you will get a smooth, consistent cup of espresso. While extremely well-designed, the Minipresso is still new, and improving.
A larger water tank is now being offered, and questions about cleaning and descaling are being addressed by the manufacturer. With a high quality but mostly plastic body, long-term durability is an obvious concern. I would love to see a Minipresso someday made of stainless steel, and at $59 total per unit when ordered from it’s manufacturer Wacaco (and $64 on amazon) I would happily pay a little more for such an improvement. That said, the Minipresso is impressive in sheer quality of engineering and smart design. While the shots can’t compete with a $800 Gaggia or Rancilio Silvia for complexity and depth of flavor, who in their right mind would expect that? For the convenience of portability and a very satisfying flavor, the Minipresso is a dandy espresso maker that holds its own again machines several times its size and price.
Rosalyn Story is a violinist and writer in Dallas, Texas.