In Italy, I like to say there are three religions. Catholic, soccer and coffee. And depending on the day, the ranking may not necessarily be in that order.
Though I’ve been a coffee lover from very early on in life, I’m not Italian, so I wasn’t really familiar with espresso, well good espresso, until I traveled to Italy for the first time.
It was there, in a little B&B in Venice that the manager, a dead-ringer for Hank Azaria’s character Agador Spartacus in the movie ‘Birdcage’ (complete with the sigh and all), made us the most delicious cappuccino for breakfast every morning using a stove top Bialetti. I studied him carefully, knowing it would be my life’s mission to mimic the procedure when I returned home, bought my own Bialetti Moka and started creating my very own cappuccino.
In Rome I was also introduced to the whole espresso experience as I sat at tables in a bar and watched the barista make shots and place them on the countertop. Locals would grab it, down it in one gulp, a swift motion, and then run out the door.
I’ve tried to replicate that delicious espresso and cappuccino at home with my stove top Moka, which is what many Italians use when they brew at home. Sadly, I’ve never been overjoyed with the outcome. Compared to what I had in Italy, the results were inconsistent, weak and disappointing. It now sits in the cabinet and doesn’t see the light of day much.
But I am happy to report there is a new kid in town which comes pretty close to that robust flavor that I crave from good Italian espresso. And it’s so darn easy. With just the push of a button, it gives me a perfect espresso shot every time, in only about 30 seconds!
It’s a Philips Saeco Syntia Focus automatic espresso machine, lovingly known as Enzo at my house (which means ruler of the house). Isn’t he a beauty?
I was a bit concerned about him fitting in as I have a small kitchen with limited countertop space, but I was surprised at the small footprint from such a workhorse. From the moment I took him out of the box and set him up my espresso consumption has grown in leaps and bounds.
And speaking of set up, not only was it pretty simple, it was made easier with online video tutorials which are so easy to follow and even give tips on using the machine. I read through the directions in the box a few times, watched some videos and set it up in a snap.
This is so much more convenient, quicker and less of a process than the stove top method. For me, it produces a far better cup of espresso, because it’s grinding the whole beans fresh for each cup, which produces superior taste and a great crema.
The machine is totally customizable as well. You can adjust the grind, the strength and the volume of water to create the perfect shot for your tastes. I like mine strong, so my personal preference is the finest grind and the ‘three bean’ strength.
And since it has a pannarello steam wand, frothing milk for a latte and cappuccino is a breeze, and honestly, downright fun. It gives me the benefit of not having to fuss too much, but at the same time makes me feel like a barista because it does take a bit of skill and practice to perfect the milk.
And the machine is so easy to take care of as well. Once a week, I give it a quick wipe down, rinse the removable brew group and the pannarello and that’s it. He is quite intuitive too. He tells you when the water tank needs to be filled, when the drip tray and the used pucks needs to be emptied.
The barista in me is enjoying making all kinds of drinks like
Macchiato – coffee ‘stained’ with hot milk
And of course, my personal favorite – cappuccino, which I have for breakfast every morning. I love putting a dusting of cinnamon and cocoa power in it. Served with a biscotti, it’s the perfect Italian breakfast.
And though I’ve not perfected my latte art to the point of creating hearts just yet – I’ve got a few pieces of cool artwork .
I’ve had two months with Enzo and with steady use of between four and five cups a day, he is still going strong. Will this machine replace the shot you’d get from a professional grade manual espresso machine pulled by a well-trained barista? Never. But for home use, in a small kitchen, without having to purchase separate components and learn how to work a manual set-up, I think it does quite nicely. And every cup has been good to the last drop.