So I bought an espresso machine.
The intention being that by having an espresso machine at home, I will save on the enormous amount of money I spend purchasing coffee when I am out and about.
Rest assured, Starbucks will not be going out of business as a result, and indeed, as I type I am sitting in Jo Jo's Coffee Club, with a latte not two inches from me. But I digress.
Buying an espresso machine is not the easiest thing to do in Korea, despite the varitable caffine-fueled orgasm that has erupted all over Korea in the last 10 years. (I can remember when there were only three Starbuckseseses in Korea) My current cafe latte aside, I generally drink straight espresso - not that common a beverage amongst Korean coffee consumers who are more interested in coffee with steamed milk or indeed various other blended and weird steamed beverages (Green Tea lattes? Pumpkin lattes!!?), or, if they really need a coffee hit, the simple Americano (Long black for my New Zealand readers).
This translates to a situation where most home brewed coffee solutions are drip coffee machines, reasonably priced, but not to my liking.
Thus a true espresso machine is a somewhat rare commodity, or if you do find one it is either a really good one at a price well beyond what I can justify spending, or simply pretty crap.
Enter the Philips Saeco Poemia.
At W290,000 its certainly not the cheapest option, but is far less expensive than, say, an Illy espresso machine which will set you back over a grand! The key to the home espresso machine is finding one that will give you as many bars of tank pressure for what you are willing to spend. The more bars of pressure the better the water will be pushed through the grinds, and, if you like that sort of thing, the better milk steaming experience you will have.
Plus It was my Christmas present to myself :-)
The Poemia will get up to about 15 bars, which is more than sufficient for brewing espresso, and if I am patient enough, will build up a good enough head of steam to steam and heat enough milk for about two cappuccino.
The shiny black and chrome of the Poemia fits the aesthetic of my kitchen quite well, but is a bit of a fingerprint magnet. While I am enamoured by the machine at the moment having recently purchased it, I can't help but think I will stop constantly wiping it and cleaning it down after every use as the novelty of fresh, home-brewed espresso wears off.
Operation is fairly simple with a power switch on the back and the control knob up front. Turning left will brew espresso, turning right will activate the steam wand. Green lights to the left indicate when the boiler is up to temperature or when a good head of steam has been built up. On the right side of the machine is the valve for opening up the steam.
The portafilter is a little disappointing, made mostly of plastic, the head and screen are made of reasonably cheap feeling aluminium as well. Nevertheless, the screens fit tight in the head. The Poemia comes with a single and double shot sized screen for the portafilter, along with a rubber insert for the single shot one. The extra screen and a coffee scoop, that doubles as a tamper fit in little niches on the back of the machine under a cover that also doubles as the cover for the water tank.
In terms of actual brewing, the length of time of the pour is entirely up to the user. Turn the knob to the left, water is pushed through the ginds. Return it to the central position it stops. If the grind of the beans is sufficient and I have tamped the portafilta properly, a 18-20 second pour will usually render a good couple of shots with good, rich body and a reasonably thick crema. Grind and tamp are important since the portafilter doesn't make the greatest seal when placed in the group head. I am scared that I am going to snap the plastic handle of the portafilter as I have to, quite aggressively, pull the handle to the right to really get the required seal. The chintzy spring loaded handle doesn't help either, snapping back to the middle after I let go.
What I wasn't prepared for was the noise that this thing makes! When brewing espresso the machine really chugs along as it pushes the water through the coffee. Using a couple of shot glasses to catch shots to put into a larger vessel results in a noise not unlike an earthquake as the glasses shake, rattle and roll. The steam wand is increadibly loud as well, but to my mind this confirms that this little machine can get a good head of steam up for milk.
And I like good head.
Sealing the deal for the Poemia was that it came with a box of Illy Espresso capsules.
These are not the best solution for decent espresso. Placing the pre-ground capsule in the single portafilter brews a pretty poor shot of espresso, that looks pretty weak and has very little crema in comparison to freshly ground beans, but in a pinch, like at 0630 in the morning, is a sufficient substitute.
There was an additional surprise when I opened the box - a free Andrea Bocelli CD, I guess to play while brewing, either to drown out the incredible noise, or to give you that true Italian feeling as you consume your espresso.
As for the whole "saving money on coffee" I am not sure how that is going. It doesn't help that I spend a good portion of my day right above a Starbucks and within 100m of various other (better) cafes. Plus beans are expensive. In 11 days I have already gone through one 14oz. bag of Starbucks Christmas blend, and am on my second. I will have to see how many shots I actually get out of one. Nevertheless I guess I have saved... a little.