I sent Behrang a link to an espresso machine on eBay that I thought he'd like because it is 1) a very good machine 2) looks like potentially a very good price and 3) it's in Australia, where he lives. It kicked off this discussion:
Behrang: "Looks lie an expensive gadget to me. Or is there something special
Mike: "I love these espresso machines. Why? I think it began, yes...for sure it began one visit to my old friend Michael Hauser's house in Berkeley, CA. Mike and I have been friends since we were in school together back in the 60's. Since before we were 10! Mike and I first struck up a friendship because we were both Ham Radio operators. We loved to experiment with electronics, chemistry, building mechanical things, then later cars, trucks, and so many things. We have been hacker buddies all of our friendship.
One visit to Mike's house, I looked curiously at a cool espresso machine he had and started asking questions. It appealed to me because it was electro-mechanical, compact and elegantly assembled and useful for something practical. Mike explained to me he'd gotten a great deal on it, too! It sold for something ridiculous in the hundreds of dollars, and he'd gotten it for $100. We tried some espresso, which was another interesting process to prepare: beans needed grinding and the grinder was another work of art, preparing the portafilter with espresso grounds by filling it, tamping it, pre-soaking the grounds before "pulling" a shot of espresso, and then enjoying the crema, the lighter colored, foamy brown top of the espresso which tastes very good. I never knew about any of these things until that visit to Mike's house in Berkeley. The crowning moment was discovering a popular "mod" (modification) called PID. Fascinating. And, you thought calculus was only good for engineers! Ridiculous! Now, you just have to click on the PID link. This is an area that fascinates me. I haven't experimented with it yet, but I understand it. Understanding it is part of what I like so much about the technology.
You see, in calculus, the concept of a function approaching infinity was very tough for me to swallow at first. The PID uses calculus to control the temperature of the boiler in the espresso machine. The usual thermostat is a mechanical one that controls the thresholds by switching on the heater when the temp gets too low and off when it reaches a peak threshold. The PID is digital! It's much more accurate. So, the opinion is that espresso tastes much better when it's produced at a specific temperature. I could go on and on about all of this. I was hooked. Here's what a PID looks like attached to an espresso machine.
So, next thing, I looked on Craigslist and found one for exactly the same $100 price! http://www.zoobird.com/group/coffeezoo/forum/topics/unknown-starbuc... Gorgeous.
I love coffee. Espresso is even better. The espresso machine is a useful work of art, Italian art (I like Italian ones best). I have learned a lot. I have bought another machine since getting the Starbucks Barista from a funky art student on Craigslist.
I got another one on Craigslist called a Gaggia Espresso ($25). I've struggled with this machine more than you'd believe. But, after watching the Starbucks tutorial video on making espresso and practicing, I can make very decent espresso with both machines now.
I learned that the beans are the most important part of making espresso. Roasting your own beans is easy and fun! I wrote about it on Elephant Journal after learning about how to do it at an Ethiopian restaurant. The grinder is next in line.
I wound up getting a Hario grinder that works by hand, not with a motor, but produces fine, evenly ground coffee. The hand grinder is Zen-like, in that you become very involved with the process as you use it. You must turn the grinder lever to grind the espresso. This is nice in the morning because it wakes you up! It's actually good exercise to turn the grinder for the 5-10 or so minutes it takes to make enough espresso grounds for a couple of espressos.
Anyway, the espresso machine, the Cimbali, and I even love the sound of the name Cimbali, went for the phenomenal price of $250 after only one bid on eBay! So, forever more you'll know that you can get these machines at a good price once in a while."