After 4 trips to espresso-gulping Europe, the $20 machine from Walmart seems, well, too cheap. Encouraged by the fantastic deal and result on the Chef’s Choice 667 slicer, we went to Marshall’s and happily found this cool red Koala Espresso machine.

Now only if making a Starbucks-quality (no I’m not asking for Parisian cafe quality) espresso is half as easy as making perfect lamb slices. I’m overwhelmed by just browsing through the manual. Spent almost an hour running water through the machine to prime it and get a sense for its operation. Then this morning about 45 minutes got me a sour cup of coffee and a late commute.

Hopefully knowing and practicing the following won’t take longer than the machine’s warranty. Most info is from Koala’s website:

  1. Coffee bean: let’s not deal with different kinds of beans for now. There’re generally 3 kinds of roast: light, medium, and dark. Light isn’t good for espresso. Dark roast has a oily (high gloss) surface and tends to stick together.
  2. Coffee ground: grinded as close to brewing as possible. Dark roast should be grinded coarser than medium roast. The grain should feel slightly finer than granulate sugar. Burr grinder is better than blade. Given that we’re using Illy and Masim’s for now, I only have the next two steps to worry about.
  3. Tamping: about 30lbs of pressure. This is probably why I failed this morning.
  4. Brewing: Double shot = 2 to 2.5 fluid ounces in 20 to 25 seconds

2nd time is much better. There’s definitely crema (golden foam). It tastes a little bit sour at first, but then some nice coffee flavor lingers in my mouth for hours. Tamping is probably still not enough (I can hardly press down to 20lbs, according to a weight), and I don’t like the tamper as it’s hard to hold and press down. Also I probably let too much water through. Will go to Starbucks today to taste theirs, and watch how they do it.

UPDATE 2006-08-18: I asked a guy in the restaurant downstairs in my office building, and he showed me that they use a tamper attached to the grinder so it’s very strong.

Also the Koala is the immediate reason for our kitchen renovation, since we don’t have any room for this beautiful machine…