Yochai Benkler’s conceptualization of commons-based peer production informs us that affordable tools + love of a topic + people connected across the world creates unusual and interesting innovations. Affordable espresso solutions + the internet (and love of espresso) means that we can expect to see some wonderful innovations in the espresso world, not just in our wonderful cafes, but also in our homes. A cottage industry of espresso makers discovering and sharing all sorts of different possibilities is pretty exciting.
Affordable tools for espresso making are a relatively recent innovation: the internet and love for coffee are a bit older. Let’s discuss the newly affordable tools, specifically the hardware.
The players: <💵 🛠⚒⛏⚖✂🔨🔧🧰
Player 1: Affordable Grinder
Not long ago, one would need to purchase an expensive grinder meant for a cafe to get a good grind to get great espresso. Not only would this set you back 💰💰💰💰, but it would be a tool designed for a different context: too unwieldy for most home counter tops, such a grinder would retain a lot of stale coffee along the grind path, a problem irrelevant in the cafe context. Such coffee wouldn’t go stale but once a day in a cafe, and could be dumped first thing in the morning. In someone’s home, this could cost a lot in coffee wasted relative to coffee consumed, to the tune of perhaps $100’s per year. So we have 3 strikes against this approach: high cost of initial investment, difficulty in finding physical space for the grinder, and high ongoing cost of purged stale coffee.
For this reason, low-retention, electric-powered grinders with decent burr sets and of a reasonable size appeared. These grinders are a good compromise, and might cost $300-800, and could be anywhere from adequate to fantastic. Baratza is an early pioneer in this consumer space; projects like the Niche Zero are interesting upstarts.
Co-arising in this space are people-powered grinder. Although to be fair, people-powered grinders have been around as long as coffee. But a newish idea is to take expensive burr sets, fit them into a low-cost, human powered platform, an idea meant to bring the cost for a high quality grinder down even lower than an electric powered unit, both in initial and maintenance costs. Below are the two grinders I currently own: a 1ZPresso JXPro (which will soon find another loving home) and the Flair Espresso Royal Grinder. They are both light, create a good grind, and are relatively affordable. There are a lot of really good choices in this space, and after a few months of it being difficult to get grinders due to COVID-19, it’s getting easier to add a good grinder to the home set-up.
Player 2: Affordable Espresso Makers
Whether the venerable mocha pots, AeroPress, or one it’s many copies, making strong, espresso-like coffee has deep roots and a long history. The history is even longer when we consider coffee making practices in the Ethiopian, Arabic, and Turkish and related traditions. But, those traditions are beyond the reach of this post.
A recent and much appreciated addition to espresso making, and a core topic in this post has been “portable” espresso machines like the Cafelat Robot, Handpresso, Nanopresso, Cafflano Kompresso, various Flair Espresso machines, and many others. These are critical component #2: they develop enough pressure to make proper espresso, but are quite affordable. In the case of the Flair and reputedly the Cafelat Robot (which I haven’t tried myself), the quality of the espresso can be quite as good as you might get at a specialty cafe.
⚖The Balance of Tools⚖
The remaining (non-coffee) ingredients for this recipe are a good set of scales precise to 0.1g and accurate to about that same amount, a way to heat water, and the patience and joy of discovery.
Is that all?
Is that all it takes to make great espresso? Yes. Those tools, which is an outlay of $300 to $600 will make specialty cafe quality espresso in your home. Although, be careful: you might then be disappointed by all other espresso from then on.
This covers much of the hardware needed for espresso. In a follow on post, I want to discuss the software side of espresso. There’s much in place already in this space, and much more space to grow to help connect the community of home espresso makers in new ways.