Saturday, February 18, 2012

home grown austerity

I remember when I was fresh out of school, full of excitement about making my mark on the world, being a part of the social scene that is tremendously important for artists of any genre, drinking fancy coffee and cramming as much sushi into my cake-hole as I possibly could. I was fortunate enough to have an affordable living situation and a decent enough income from a now nearly defunct part of my business offerings.  (Defunct due to the roll of technology)

But due to my tastes (and my exposure to high-society from doing "musical wall paper" gigs at opulent houses, opulent private clubs and fancy banquet halls) I could never seem to keep any money ever.  I wanted to experience new food and drink but my cooking skills were woefully inadequate.  Also, this was before the time of youtube so helpful videos were not available and my success rate with cookery books was more often a miserable failure.  So I essentially wasted all my income on expensive restaurants and cafes.  Not that I'm complaining now mind you!  It was tasty!  But I suspect I appreciate it now much much more because I know how much effort it takes to get it just right.

Coffee was something I just couldn't live without but at $4 per latte, even a 1-cup a day habit (while not seeming like much at the register) adds up VERY quickly.  One cup a day * 365 days a year = $1460.  NOT including any other treats you might buy too!

And for those of you who know me personally know I'm not just a 1-cup a day guy...  So my habit was costing me considerably more. So, if you can't live without coffee like me, you should consider my "coffee austerity" plan by purchasing a home espresso machine and do your best to avoid coffee houses by having your daily dose at home.

Now deciding on how much you want to spend on your machine comes down to a lot of different factors:

Are you lazy?  Or do you think you might enjoy the ritualistic behaviour required for grinding, dosing, tamping, extracting, steaming, and pouring?

Other items to consider:  Do you like lattes or do you like an occasional Americano or espresso?  These are important factors to consider because your tastes will determine how much you have to spend.  Milk will hide an array of mediocre to lousy espresso extraction so you can get a cheaper machine if you're only a latte drinker.  But if you love the flavour density of a super-short, stand-up-the-spoon-restretto espresso then you're going to have to pay more for a better machine.  (Unless of course your palette isn't very discerning)

If you're lazy, then you want a super-automatic.  They grind, dose, tamp, and extract for you.  All you do is add water, beans and put the cup under the spiggot.  (Plug it in too... duh!)  You have to steam your own milk, but if you want to spend more you can get a machine that froths too.  Starbucks uses super-automatic machines but the "barrista" still froths and pours.  (Don't expect Latte art at SB...)  Supers give you amazingly consistent results every time.  (Amazingly consistent mediocre results.)

If you're ritualistic (or a snob) then you'll want a proper espresso machine that's either a semi-automatic, or manual.  The semi-automatic machines are "automatic" because they have an electric pump.  You still grind, dose, tamp, attach the porta-filter to the machine and push a button or pull a lever to get the coffee brewing.  Then you have to clean up the mess.

But, this is outside the scope of my financial blog!  So, this may now seem like a selfless plug for a friend's business, but he's a straight arrow kind of guy.  Top notch customer service and a fantastic repair department so you can go out and buy yourself a temperamental Italian machine and they will get it to work and keep working for years to come. is the place!  The toll-free message is both humorous and a testament to how fanatically this guy loves coffee and provide us coffee addicts the tools to service our addictions.

What did I do?  Years ago (in 1998) I bought a $500 Italian machine before I knew much about how machines worked or any of the methodology to making a good beverage.  This was in the infancy years of the interwebz so researching was far more difficult than it is now.  I used/abused it day in day out until 1.5 years ago.  It required a bit of service over the years...  A whopping $0.50 o-ring and 30 minutes of tech labour.  ($30 total cost of repair)  And based on an average beverage COST of materials (including power) I've reaped over $25,000 in savings during the life-cycle of that machine.  (The machine still runs!  It's at the in-law's house now)  I had been pining for a better machine since my little one didn't make a decent espresso and finally found which offered me a deal I couldn't refuse.

Since I had saved in excess of $25,000 with the old machine, spending $2500 on a new machine and grinder isn't all that unreasonable seeing that my break-even on the machine was less than 1-year.

Now I have a beautiful shiny steel machine at home that I love and use every day.  The savings taste delicious!


  1. Great example of teaching yourself to fish. My mom bought a bread making machine not too long ago. I don't drink coffee myself, but wow, I had no idea there were so many different types of espresso machines. Some of those larger ones are super industrial looking. I wonder if coffee shops use the same types of machines as the ones on that website.

    1. Larger machines aren't always about bigger duty cycle. (Cups per hour). I bought my machine which is rather large and very heavy exactly because it was very large and heavy. A decently extracted espresso requires that the water remain at a consistent temperature during the entire extraction process. The small home machines with 3oz boilers just can't do that. But my machine which has a 1.9l boiler can. The manufacturer rates it for home usage AND backup usage at busy cafes.