Ordered my very FIRST Espresso Machine from Amazon about 2 weeks ago.  Sold under the ‘Gastroback’ brand, it’s really a Breville ‘Barista Express’ made to work on European 220v power.

The machine took a while to get here because I ordered from the German store (Amazon.de), but it’s finally arrived!

Now I can be my own barista and learn the in’s and out’s of pouring that perfect shot!  I’ve really been looking forward to the experimentation side of it.  I’ve always liked changing ‘the recipe’ while making Siphon or French Press coffee.  Now I’ve got MANY more variables to play with.  I can’t wait!

For those that enjoy unwrapping Christmas presents s-l-o-w-l-y, I’ve made a large series of photos so you can enjoy every step with me.

Setting up the machine for the first time was a breeze! Everything is labelled (in German, mind you.)  But it’s quite simple to figure out.  The only thing that sent me scrambling for the instruction book was a piece of the plastic inside the filter head.  It looked like it was meant to be removed.  I was sure it was there just for shipping.  Nope, it stays in.

Next I wash all the included parts.  Probably not necessary.  It all looks spotless.  But just to be sure!  Soak the charcoal water filter for 5 minutes, rinse it.  Insert it into the tank.  Fill the water tank.  Install the bean hopper.  Done.  Add beans.  Wow, I think we’re ready to go!  Oh wait, now we have a choice to make.  Included in the kit are two sets of filters.  Single Wall, and Double Wall.  Not knowing the difference, I read a bit online about them.  They say that “for beginners” the double wall filters are best because they “easier” to use.  Ok, sold.  I drop in the double wall 2 double shot filter.

Ok, ready to go!  I power up the machine.  Let it sit for a few minutes to warm up.  Run it once, just to get the portafilter (which is made of chromed brass and is *seriously* heavy) up to the proper temperature.  I set the grinder dose to double shot and grind size “dual wall”, which I believe is pretty much the largest grind size.  There is only ONE tiny hole for this type of filter and I’ve read about people clogging them up with too fine a grind.  Ok, put the portafilter under the grinder and gently insert into the holder.  You’re supposed to push it straight in until you hear the click and then release it to get a measured dose.  I’ve also set the dose to the “dual  wall” setting.  Wow, they’ve really made this easy for the Espresso Noobs.  Which today, IS ME.

Now comes the tamping.  Their magnetic tamper stores neatly up and away, right beside the grinder.  You’re supposed to be able to use it in the stored position, but I find it awkward.  I easily remove it and attempt my first tamp.  They’ve put a clever line on the tamper to show you about where you need to press to, in order to do a perfect tamp.  I clean the portafilter a bit, as there is a little bit of spillage.  Then pop it into the machine.  With a careful twist, like I’ve seen a million baristas do, it locks into place.  Ok, the machine’s built in cup warmer has warmed my mug (no fancy espresso glasses yet!) so I place it under the dual spout and press the double shot button.

WOW…A very nice crema on my first shot!  (Luck that wouldn’t last long…)

I noticed that the pressure indicator has not moved.  Not at all.

After playing with milk frother, as it’s too late in the day to consider a latte or cappuccino, I decide to pull a few more shots just for practice and see what happens with some minor adjustments to grind size/dose/tamping.  A long story short, it was highly successful!  Most of the shots gave some level of crema.  Although some were a little bitter or sour.  But not bad.  I decide to try the ‘single wall’ filter.  And that was the end of my luck.  No more crema.  No matter what adjustments I made, it was thin or non-existent and the shot tasted horrible.

I cleaned up the machine in disgust and went to bed.  Unlike most people, I have ZERO problems going to sleep after drinking coffee.  In fact it relaxes me so much that often have a cup if I’m stressed and it chills me right out.  Now *staying asleep* is a very different problem.  I’m quite an early riser and a large quantity of coffee the day before will have me out of bed even earlier the next morning.  Which gives me more hours in the day to drink coffee and the cycle repeats.

The next morning I hopped online to seek out some answers to what I was doing wrong.  Nothing major, as far as I could tell.  Another Barista Express owner suggested that when starting to ‘dial in’ the machine for new beans, he starts with a general setting of 3 & 3.  Meaning a 3 o’clock position on the dose dial, and a #3 setting on the grind size (quite large, but not the biggest).  Then fine tuning from there.  I had assumed that you should start with the finest grind and work your way down.  Hmmm.  Ok, here goes…  I set it up like the guy suggests and I see right away that I’m right at the line I should be on for proper tamping.  Previous attempts had a WAY larger dose.  I warm everything up, make sure it’s all clean and ready to go.  The result?  An ‘ok’ crema, but nowhere near what I had the day before.  I’m tempted to pop the dual filter back in.  But I’m stubborn and determined to learn and push my way through this.  I find a simple instruction sheet on Intelligensa Coffee that tells me to grind finer if it’s too bitter.  I leave the dose the same, and turn 2 clicks finer.  I pull the shot.  NICE….  Still not as much crema as the day before, but the taste is much sweeter and very much to my liking.  I fire up the steam wand and 30 seconds later I’ve made myself a really nice Latte.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

I then sit down to write a letter to the seller of the machine to inform them of the broken pressure indicator on the machine.  I think it’s a bit of a gimmick, but if it’s and easy fix, I’ll do it.  If not, I’ll probably just live with a broken gauge.  I’m not about to ship the machine back.  Let’s see what the salesman says.

[UPDATE:  Surprise!  They shipped me a new gauge.  It took a bit of work, but it’s all good now!]

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