Friday, February 29, 2008

I Talk About Coffee Too Much

I made a very small cappuccino, today. I took some photos of it. I thought you'd like to see them. I have this strange obsession with taking things that are usually of medium-to-large size and pulling a Honey-I-Shrunk-the-Drink on them. Or, if it's alcoholic and I'm a few in, Honey-I-Drunk-the-Shrink. It's not easy making a drink that small. I also thought I'd take this time to talk about the machine on which the drink was made: the Jura Capresso Z5.

I've been using the Z5 for well over a year, now. Our family welcomed the bouncing, baby espresso machine last Christmas and it's just learning its first words. Well, I should say it learned its first words when I figured out I could program its display to say things. Like "Addict" and "I hate you."

I've played around with a number of super-automatics, including Jura Capresso's other full-autos, and this is definitely the best. Many of the other options, including the Jura S9, are really good (Avoid the E-Series. Yuck), but if espresso is truly your thing, you'll probably be underwhelmed with the temperature control and consistency of these models. Until the Z5, I figured that if you wanted really good espresso, you would need to get a stand-alone model, a stand-alone grinder, grind, tamp, pull, repeat.

The Z5/Z6 (The Z6 is identical save for the chrome front) is the best super-auto machine on the market and I am consistently impressed by the espresso it produces. I would be hard-pressed to make better shots every time. And after my previous experiences, I was wary of laying down such serious scratch for a machine with few reviews.

I'm generally glad I did. It is true push-button espresso. You push a button, it burps up espresso and steamed milk. It has spoiled me. The best espresso I can now get is in my very own kitchen. The milk comes out steamed very, very well. It's fast, it's quiet, and it's oh-so-sexy.

I said generally glad because it does have come quirks. Just because it's full-auto doesn't mean there isn't art in its operation. Steaming milk requires constant fiddling with the steam gauge, and the lack of a steam wand means that you don't get the visceral satisfaction of steaming your own milk. More importantly, the lack of control in the process means you cannot easily control how your milk comes out.

The espresso machine is very good, but since you aren't tamping your own grinds, it strips yet another element of control. This is obviously a desired thing if you own this machine, it certainly was for me, but the size of the machine means a second, lever-activated machine isn't practical on limited counter space. I'm OK with giving up that control for such streamlined operation, but I would very much have enjoyed a steam wand attachment that would allow me to steam my own milk.

Finally, as I guess one would expect but I sadly didn't, cleaning the machine is a bitch. I have to go spelunking through its innards with a pipe cleaner to get at all the cracks and crevices that the clean cycle leaves behind. The inside gets amazingly dirty and I sometimes just face the machine at the sink and blast away with the faucet sprayer.

So, was it worth it? It cost over $3,000, but a good espresso machine will cost anywhere between $500 to $1,000. A conical burr grinder will cost another $300. And all the other addenda of good espresso making will likely add another $200. So, really, the question is whether the automation the machine affords you is worth around $1,500. For me, it was, and I'm glad I bought it.

On a note about good milk steaming, the photo of my mini-ccino shows what good milk foam should look like. And that's not even what I would call excellent foam. That's just very good. Now scroll down and look at what Starbucks gave me. You can see what I mean.

No comments: