If you like espresso coffee, but you’re on a tight budget, you don’t really have much choice. Or do you?
Other than opting for some other method to prepare your coffee, such as Aeropress, plunger, drip or pour-over, you pretty much have to buy a crappy espresso machine, or spend a couple grand on something like this Rancilio (great machine btw!).
There is a middle option however…
Let me set the scene – You see the problem we have with espresso is the variables that define espresso. Volume, temperature, quantity, pressure and time. These variables have to intertwine in a delicate dance in order to produce the right shot. The official technical parameters outlined by the Italian Espresso National Institute (it’s a thing) for making a Certified Italian Espresso are:
Jip, pretty technical.
Option 1: Moka Pot
Calling them “espresso” makers is a misnomer.
For those unfamiliar with this machine (although your Grandma probably has a Bialetti): water in the bottom chamber is heated on a stove. It creates steam, which in the pressurised bottom part forces the water through the coffee (which resides in the filter in the middle) into the upper chamber. The brew is done when all the water has “percolated” through.
The pressure for an espresso should be 9 bar according to the laws of Luigi, but with the moka pot it’s only 1-2 bar. The temperature is also too high, as the water has to get hot enough to form steam for the moka pot to work. This can result in a burnt taste.
Also, because the moka pot functions as a result of the water creating steam and forcing the water through the coffee, you have absolutely no control over the time of the extraction. You just have to wait for it to finish. Not ideal – although it still beats the old Ricoffy quick fix.
Option 2: Cheap Home Espresso Machine
Cheap is a relative term, with politically correct people referring to them as “affordable” (PS: we are far from politically correct…) but in the world of quality espresso machines anything under R2k is unfortunately considered cheap. These cheap home espresso machines use 15 bar pressure pumps for some reason. A quick enquiry into the matter at your local appliance store will lead the salesmen to telling you it creates more “crema“, but Luigi makes the rules and he thinks this is wrong… The pictured Russel Hobbs machine is (in our humble opinion) unfortunately pretty terrible at making good espresso.
*Editors note – we think Russel Hobbs makes good products, this machine was chosen as an example, however, there are many other cheap espresso machines on the market which are equally average.
The pressure forces water through so fricken fast that your shot is almost always under extracted. Light yellow in colour, tastes thin and sour. Yuck.
Also – you have no idea what the water temperature is AND because the pressure is too high, you really can’t control the time of the extraction either. Crappy. Sies.
Option 3: Enter the ROK.
You control the water temperature, as you can wait a few seconds for the water to cool down after the boil. You can even be precise with a thermometer. You control the pressure, as you can squeeze harder or softer on the levers. And because you control the grind fineness and pressure (you really need to grind the beans yourself – an article on this will follow soon), you can control the time. Perfect.
There are some “pro” tweaks you can apply to further enhance the shots you pull:
- Because the ROK doesn’t warm itself you need to preheat the device. Also, it helps to keep the portafilter in a cup of hot water till you’re ready to add the grounds. Keeping everything nice and hot prevents under-extraction.
- You’ll also do well to get yourself a 49mm tamper.
- Don’t grind your coffee too fine, as the internal components can break from the pressure if it gets too high.
- Do not crank the portafilter into place too hard. Just twist until it locks in place. Any more and you might damage the filter seal.
- OVER-fill the water chamber to above the indicated line. This extra water adds more pressure. Just make sure to stop extracting your shot once you have the desired amount of espresso. Plunge the extra water into a cup and throw it away – don’t even try to drink it.
- Don’t put your ROK in a dishwasher. Just rinse it out after every use.
I’ve tested it in the wild, and it works perfectly. I use the Porlex Grinder. Not good for coarse grinds but excellent for finer grinds.
Hario also makes a decent grinder, but the grind isn’t as consistent with finer grinds in my opinion.
Ultimate is of course Zassenhaus. I’ll do a good article about grinders in the near future.
Just boil that H2O in a kettle, on the stove or on the fire if you are an uber-man. Doesn’t matter. Grind beans (or you can use pre-ground beans if you don’t have a grinder yet, I’ll excuse you. For now.)
Pre-heat the brew chamber and your cup. Let the water come off the boil (90ºC). Add coffee grounds (7g). Tamp. Screw the filter into the ROK. Add water in the top chamber. Get a timer nearby and start it (25 seconds). Slow pressure.
It really a classy piece of functional decor as well. Well crafted, elegant design. We’re in love with ours, and can really give it the Audaciously stamp of approval.
Get yours HERE for R1 999. This includes the whole tin set featured at the top of this post. Quite a steal at this price really.
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