It’s been a while since we published our guide to brewing your own perfect espresso at home. Since then, we’ve had numerous requests from readers to compare the merits of home-brewed espresso with café-brewed espresso.
In this article, we’ll try to offer some insight and reach some conclusions on whether the former can ever challenge the latter in taste and consistency.
Types of Espresso Machine
If you’re a coffee lover you’re probably already aware just how vast a choice there is in espresso machines for home use. They have exploded in popularity over recent years and the machines now run the gamut from manual to fully automatic, and cheap to wildly expensive.
Of course, no post on home espresso would be complete without at least mentioning Nespresso. The Nespresso brand of machine and single-use capsules is wildly popular and has captured a new demographic of casual, rushed consumers.
Although the Nespresso system has its roots as far back as 1976, the intuitive machines didn’t catch on fully until the 21st century. Since then, sales have skyrocketed and Nespresso has grown into a multinational behemoth.
The company is a pariah to many coffee aficionados who have become disgruntled at many aspects of the Nespresso model. These critics have pointed out the lack of control, cost, wastage, and even the litigious nature of the brand as reasons for avoiding the machines and capsules altogether.
Many of these criticisms are valid but, in truth, most Nespresso machines/capsules do produce reasonable quality espresso in a convenient way.
Sure, it’s debatable whether the machines can match the quality of specialty cafés. However, a Nespresso fix will meet the standards of most casual coffee drinkers.
There are many automatic espresso machines on the market other than Nespresso. While some have limited customization settings, many alternatives have a plethora of options. One of the best aspects of investing in a non-Nespresso machine is that you get to take full control of what goes into your cup.
We all know that quality coffee and proper grind technique are two fundamental aspects of brewing excellent espresso. When you take these steps in the process back into your own hands you finally begin to take control over brewing. It’s also an opportunity to learn about the importance of proper grind.
Manual espresso devices have grown in popularity because of their portability and novelty factor. Although still much less popular than their automated alternatives, a manual machine is capable of brewing quality espresso.
However, there’s a catch. Manual machines are tricky to master and the learning curve can be very steep indeed. You are in control of every step of the extraction and the margin for error that distinguishes a great cup from a bad one is slim.
Sometimes also referred to as a “lever machine”, the secret is to get the grind just right and then master the “pull”. Virtually everyone struggles at first to get the process just right, so trial and error is a valid approach.
How Do Cafés Brew Espresso?
It varies greatly from café to café but commercial coffee machines are usually much more powerful and durable than home machines. Starbucks source their unit from a small Swiss company named Thermoplan. The Mastrena machine was specially crafted for the needs of the Starbucks chain and was even tailored to be “shorter” than typical so that baristas can more easily engage with customers.
Smaller artisan and boutique coffee stores vary greatly in their sourcing of equipment. However, there are many factors that can elevate café-made espresso above your homebrew:
- The expertise of your barista
- The quality of the roast
- The sophistication of the machine
Of course, it is possible to create delicious espresso at home but most people will struggle to craft a coffee as good as they’ve come to expect from their local café. Naturally, if you need a fix when you’re outside your home then you’ll also be drawn to the convenience of a café over brewing your own espresso.
Some café chains have a less than stellar reputation when it comes to the quality of their coffee. Even Starbucks, which has long been billed as a premium choice, doesn’t meet the expectations of a growing number of educated and demanding consumers.
In this case, it’s always a good choice to sample independent stores to find the best options in your neighborhood and support small businesses at the same time.
Things To Consider
Naturally, there are both pros and cons to brewing your espresso from home. One of the biggest advantages is the potential for savings. People on a budget often find that brewing espresso at home saves them $100 or even $200 a month.
However, coffee is an indulgence and a necessity for many. Espresso can be part of an important morning ritual for millions of Americans or even an invaluable chance to socialize with friends.
When that’s the case it’s hard to argue that the money spent in your favorite café isn’t money well spent.
If you do choose to make espresso at home remember to invest in a highly-rated machine and use select coffee roasts only. Experiment with different techniques and learn as much as you can from experts to maximize the quality of the cup.
It’s hard to challenge the argument that, on average, a specialty café offers better taste and better overall consistency in espresso brewing.
Sure, a blind taste test comparing homebrew with Dunkin’ might reveal a different result. However, those who truly love coffee set a higher bar.
Practice makes perfect when you create espresso with your own machine. In addition, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t combine café-bought espresso and home-brewed espresso at different times of the day.
Sometimes our favorite café just hits the spot better than our homemade espresso. If that’s the case then an occasional trip out for coffee surely isn’t a crime!