I must say, I'm a little torn these days between supporting my local coffee shop and saving some money by making my own espresso drinks. They need the money. I need the money. I'll probably just split the difference.
I love the community that local, independent coffee shops provide, but having worked as a barista in college, I also know that the process of creating coffee drinks is easy (and yes! even fun!) once you get the hang of it.
How much can you save? Let's run the math... When you figure about 75 tablespoons of ground coffee per pound of coffee beans, that's about 37 espresso servings in a pound of beans.
At roughly $7 a pound for beans, you can make a serving of espresso for 19 cents. Like lattes? Tack on about 50 cents per serving for organic milk or 25 cents for the conventional stuff.
At about 5 cents per tablespoon for chocolate syrup, you can make an organic mocha latte for just 74 cents. A small mocha latte (with conventional milk) at a coffee shop normally costs between $2.50 and $3, so that's a significant savings. Compelling, no?
And yes, I think anyone would love to have a gorgeous espresso machine like J's big red FrancisFrancis!, but at $800-$1,000 apiece, that's just not reasonable... or even necessary.
Instead, I suggest making espresso on the stove using the same inexpensive tool that Italian families use at home: the moka pot or stove-top espresso pot.
This type of espresso pot is cheap ($20 or less) and simple to use. Since they don't have breakable parts, they last and last, so if you figure that a single shot of espresso costs about $1.50 at most coffee shops and amortize the cost, it'll take you less than 20 drinks to pay off a moka pot.
Once you follow the money, it begins to make dollars and sense to learn a little espresso magic.
All you have to do to use one is buy the very fine-ground espresso coffee or, better yet, grind the beans very fine in a coffee grinder.
To make stove-top espresso with a moka-style pot:
1. Unscrew the top of the espresso pot, setting it aside for a moment.
2. Fill the bottom with cold water to just below the safety valve on the side.
3. Fill the funnel-shaped section with about two tablespoons of fine-ground coffee, tamping the top gently to flatten the grounds.
4. Place the funnel back into the bottom section and screw the top back on.
5. Place the pot over medium-high heat. It'll take about 3-4 minutes for the espresso to bubble up to the top. (It's okay... you can peek under the lid while it's bubbling if you want.)
6. When the espresso fills the top section up to the bottom of the pouring wedge, you can remove the moka pot from the heat and pour out the espresso. Yay! Just rinse everything out with water to clean.
Dead simple, right? And once you can make espresso, you've opened the door to the giddy world of espresso drinks.
A number of espresso drinks utilize hot milk, which you can obviously just use a saucepot or microwave to produce. A fancy electric milk frother can make quick work of the decorative milk foam, but you can also simply froth the milk with a little dedication and a cheap whisk.
Here are an array of basic recipes for the most common espresso drinks.
Espresso + 1 cup hot milk + 1 tablespoon decorative milk foam
Espresso + hot milk + 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup
Espresso + 1 cup hot half & half + 1 tablespoon decorative milk foam
Espresso + 1/3 cup hot milk + 1/3 cup milk foam
Espresso + 1 cup hot water
Espresso + 1 tablespoon hot milk
Espresso + 1 teaspoon milk foam
You'll also find an array of cute coffee construction images over here. And clearly, once you know the process, you can go all crazy with flavored syrups and whipped cream, if that's what you're into.
Now go forth, my friends and caffeinate! (Don't forget to tip yourself.)