a peek inside the fishbowl

02 Feb, 2016

Brewing cappuccinos like a BOSS

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Home/reno|Oh! Things!

Our espresso machine was given to us as a gift from my inlaws and for many years, it was truly the gift that kept on giving. Sadly, it was beginning to show its age and was dying a slow death. It was time for a replacement unit so we started to research a new one.

Coffee making is a science. I’m not even kidding. It is SCIENCE. This fact was hit home to me after reading a very long article in Scientific American about it this past summer. There are many factors at play when brewing a cup of coffee. It starts at the bean, scratch that, it starts before the bean. Soil, sun, shade: it is all part of the equation. Of course, the beans are picked and processed and packaged. And then they are shipped and sold. And then they are ground up and run through someone’s espresso maker in Ottawa. Chemistry plays a major role in the perfect coffee – heat, pressure – things happen on a molecular level to give us that Perfect Cup. It is truly alchemy.

As Mark and I poured over website reviews we realized that there is a very significant price range in espresso machines. You can spend thousands of dollars on a machine. Is this parallel to buying a Chevette vs. a Cadillac? I can certainly recognize a difference in the driving experience, but can my taste buds recognize the difference in the coffee experience?  I know what a bad coffee tastes like, but if espresso machine A is worth $500 and expresso machine B is worth $5000 and you make the same brand of beans in each one, could we be able to tell the difference? Somehow I don’t think so. Even if machine B’s coffee tasted 10% better than the cheaper unit, is it worth the extra money?

The marketing of espresso machines is designed to appeal to a person’s vanity and feeling of self-worth. You DESERVE the best coffee! You are a COFFEE CONNOISSEUR! One can’t help but nodding in agreement. I watched a YouTube video about the machine that we ended up buying. Sadly, the coffee experts concluded that our machine was good for entry-level espresso drinkers. To me, this suggests that if our tastes were more refined it wasn’t going to be good enough. The good news for us, we aren’t that refined. So we can spend less money in this department.

Anyway, this is the one we bought for ourselves at Christmas:

The new machine!

It’s the De’Longhi EC680 Dedica 15-Bar Pump Espresso Machine. (This link goes to Amazon if you want more info and read reviews.) What I like about it, other than the fact that it makes a stellar brew, is that it’s very slender, which was perfect for us because we don’t have a lot of extra counter space.

I think we all know by now that it’s cheaper to brew your own coffee at home. The question is: how much cheaper is it?

I like to buy our beans from Bridgehead. They’re fair trade beans, which means that farmers are being paid a fair wage and coffee harvesting practices are more sustainable than the norm. Unfortunately, Bridgehead just dropped their bean loyalty program, which was one of the things that kept me going back. They sell a brand of espresso beans and it only comes in one size, and it’s $14.00. The last time we bought a package we decided to keep track of how many coffees we were able to get out of one package.

Counting coffees

As it turned out, we were able to make 30 coffees from the one package: 29 doubles and one single. (I’m choosing to lump that singleton with the others.) By ‘double’ I mean I’m using more of the grounds to make a double shot of espresso for my beverage of choice: a cappuccino. (Related: watch this video if you’re not sure how to make a cappuccino. Be warned that after you watch it you may want to start planning your next vacation to Italy.)

At Bridgehead, a cappuccino costs $3.95. I’m sure prices are similar at our neighbourhood coffee shops (of which there are many in Westboro). Given that a bag of beans costs $14, this means that my home brewed cappuccino costs about 47 cents each. Sometimes I have two a day. I think this machine is going to pay for itself rather quickly, don’t you?

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  • Sam Mangrum: Hi Andrea, I just finished reading your article "Reno post #25: Tile city" and I wanted to say thanks. I found so much value in what you had to say
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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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