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  1. #1

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    Overwhelmed:Newbie with an Espresso machine - HELP!

    Last week DH bought a ticket for a charity raffle and ended up winning a brand new espresso machine! It's not a fancy one, just a basic little home countertop machine, but I did some research on it and found out a few things about it. It's a Saeco Via Veneto, a model that is now discontinued (which is probably why it was donated as a prize for the raffle) but apparently it retailed for $250 - $350! I've found quite a few good reviews for it, describing it as an excellent starter machine for the newbie who want to learn how to make espressos, capucinos, lattes, etc. We're not big coffee drinkers, and neither one of us would know a good espresso from a bad one, but we do like cappies and lattes now and then, so I thought "what the hey! I'm gonna learn how to make 'em!"

    So over the weekend I excitedly set it up and made sure it worked according to the instructions (without actually using any coffee) and I bought some lower-priced ground coffee to practice with. The instructions that came with the machine are pretty basic - they basically say put coffee in the filter, put the filter on the machine, turn on the pump, and fill the cup to the desired level. But nothing about whether to pack down the coffee, how much to use, what kind, how to make the different drinks, and so on.

    So I went onto the net and searched for some how-to information, and that was when I got TOTALLY OVERWHELMED -- there are so many experts and discussions and conflicting ideas about what is proper and what isn't that I am now thoroughly confused. I just want to learn how to make a good basic cup (shot?) of espresso/coffee with it first, and then learn how to steam milk so I can try other drinks like lattes and cappies.

    So does anyone use one of these at home? Do you have any tips on what to do to just make a good basic espresso? And any tips for how I can tell when I've made a good espresso vs. a not-so-good one? As you can tell, I am definitely not an espresso or coffee expert, but I'm willing to start learning!
    just my two cents...

  2. #2

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    I had to learn to use a Starbucks thingy when I worked at a hotel. I remember how to steam milk, if that helps. You fill one of your cups up with however much milk you need and lift the cup up to the steamer nozel. Turn it on and let it steam the milk for a few seconds. In order to get foam on top you have to kind of bring the nozel slightly out of the milk and then back in and keep going up and down so it forms a foam. I know this sounds odd but try it a few times and you will get the feel for it. You poor in the milk to your coffee carefully and hold back the foam and then scoop the foam out on top. If you poor it all in at once then your foam will just fall into the coffee and disappear. I hope I helped some.

    Here is a video on youtube to get you started. I bet you can find many others as well:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q2xH1i3ByU

    Youtube is a great source for me since I am a visual learner.
    -Brian
    "Michelle would never be caught with sausage grease staining her Vera Wang." - rfisher

  3. #3
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    My sister's bf is a coffee snob and can tell when a good espresso is coming up by how they make it. Apparently someone who knows what they're doing doesn't steam the milk as loud as a dentist's drill. It'll be fairly quiet. They also hold the bottom of the cup to feel if it's the right temperature.

    Not that it makes any difference to you, but apparently steaming the milk right is serious business!

  4. #4

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    Thanks BigB08822 & Anita18...I was feeling like a total failure this afternoon because I tried to steam milk and no matter what I did I couldn't get any foam. A couple of times it looked like there was foam in the pot, but when I poured it, it ended up with none. And one time I obviously steamed it for too long and scalded the milk - yuk!

    But now I'm encouraged - maybe there WAS foam those couple of times and I just "poured it all out"! I did make a couple of shots of espresso and DH said they tasted ok to him, but when I tried to make a couple of cappuccinos they were a total flop. It looks like proper milk steaming technique is indeed a very important part of it! I'll practice again tomorrow.

    PS good thing I'm using decaf coffee right now, else I'd be bouncing off the walls!
    just my two cents...

  5. #5

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    Coffee on the ceiling!

    Well, I learned one more very important thing this morning: make sure you are AWAKE before attempting to make espresso. Somehow I didn't get the coffee holder handle thingy properly locked on before I started the water, and after about 30 seconds - FOOSH! I had a coffee volcano spewing in my kitchen!

    Now I have wet coffee grounds everywhere - the counter, the floor, the walls, even the ceiling! I may not have had a relaxing cup of coffee, but I sure got a morning jolt that woke me up anyways!
    just my two cents...

  6. #6
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    The espresso machine, she is a tough mistress!

  7. #7

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    One thing to do after you're done making your espresso for the day - turn on the espresso machine with an empty filter in the grouphead and a bowl underneath, and let the water run out. It's a way of cleaning the machine so that nothing gunks up inside.

    I neglected to do that on my last espresso machine (I'm on my third now), and it made the machine stop working. The pump would go on, the noise would be there, but nothing would come out. It seems there was a buildup of coffee grinds inside, so letting the extra water out in the above manner is essential. I also bought a small brush to brush around the area where the coffee comes out, to ensure that all the extra grinds that got stopped up in there are cleaned out.

    Enjoy!!!
    Give me one more quiet night, before this loud morning gets it right, and does me in.
    ~DC

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kruss View Post
    One thing to do after you're done making your espresso for the day - turn on the espresso machine with an empty filter in the grouphead and a bowl underneath, and let the water run out. It's a way of cleaning the machine so that nothing gunks up inside.
    Ooh, I hadn't thought about that! Thanks for the tip. I did give it a good wipe-down after the spewing this morning, but other than that I haven't really been doing anything to clean it out after I'm done, and I hadn't even started thinking of doing any kind of regular maintenance . I will start immediately! (Sometimes I think it's testing me to see if I'm worthy of it...if I at least keep it shiny and clean maybe it will be patient with me while I learn how to master it, LOL! )
    just my two cents...

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Anita18 View Post
    The espresso machine, she is a tough mistress!
    Si!
    just my two cents...

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by lurvylurker View Post
    Ooh, I hadn't thought about that! Thanks for the tip. I did give it a good wipe-down after the spewing this morning, but other than that I haven't really been doing anything to clean it out after I'm done, and I hadn't even started thinking of doing any kind of regular maintenance . I will start immediately! (Sometimes I think it's testing me to see if I'm worthy of it...if I at least keep it shiny and clean maybe it will be patient with me while I learn how to master it, LOL! )
    You're very welcome. I remember the first time I used the brush, grounds were just packed inside, so that's why I use it now. Between running the extra water through and brushing out the place where the grounds are and the coffee comes out (when the groundhead is off), it should work really well for you.

    Just remember, life is too short to drink bad coffee.
    Give me one more quiet night, before this loud morning gets it right, and does me in.
    ~DC

  11. #11

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    Good tips on keeping the machine clean. I'm not sure what kind of setup this machine is, but it is worth noting that water mineral buildup can kill an espresso machine like nothing else. I work alongside a Starbucks, and we have the WORST water; hard as anything and just full of mineral deposits. Before we got a special water filter installed, their espresso machine would die regularly because the insides would literally become cemented with deposits and there was no way to clean it. I've seen the inside and it looked like someone poured cement in it. Our dishwasher gets the same way too, but we do a nightly delime so it's not so bad.

    But yeah, if your machine has bits where water flows through where you can't really clean it well, make sure you're using filtered water and/or look into mineral deposit cleaning techniques. I'm not sure if such a thing even exists but if your water is hard, it will kill your machine pretty badly.

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