Espresso yourself

What do you get the man who has everything? That was the question I was asking myself before my husband turned 30. I wanted to do something memorable, something that couldn’t easily be picked out of the latest Holt’s catalogue, and something we could share.

I’d already bought him a fiery-red Gaggia machine last Christmas. He has all the Xbox games he could possibly want.

It finally dawned on me. For months, he had been obsessed with getting the perfect crema on his espresso shots. For those who don’t know, crema is the layer of creamy, toffee-coloured goodness that sits on top of your espresso. If it’s not there, don’t drink it.

My husband’s crema was inconsistent – and it bothered him. He harassed little old ladies working the counter at Italian bakery chain Nino d’Aversa to find out their secret, he bought Illy espresso beans. Then he bought Starbucks espresso beans. Then he bought a hulking coffee grinder that takes up more room than my toaster.

And still – no crema consistency. I remembered an URL that I had bookmarked years ago – the site for the downtown Toronto coffee shop Bulldog Coffee. The owner, Stuart, was had won the Central Region Canadian Barista Championship.
So I called him and asked him to teach my husband, one-on-one, how to pull the perfect espresso shot.

Not only did he agree, his half-hour tutorial became a full hour as he showed us how to create latte art, create coconut caramel espresso martinis, and of course – the art of espresso.

Here are the top five tips on how to espresso yourself:

-Make sure your espresso machine equipment is clean. It should be clear of any coffee grinds.
-Never drink the first shots you pull from your machine. Throw ’em out.
-One shot of espresso should amount to a 20-24 second pull, the longer the sweeter, the shorter the more bitter. If your shot takes any less time than that, you need to adjust your grinder.
-The espresso pouring out of a machine should look like a rat’s tail, about the same thickness.
-That tip about keeping your coffee in the refrigerator? Urban myth. Keep it in a light-resistant bag, in a cool dark place.