Image from flickr user MiikaS

My sophomore year, I woke up Christmas morning to an espresso machine. Hooray! I thought, my life would be filled with delicious lattes every morning with leaf patterns or heart patterns or whatever pattern I wanted to make with the milk. I plugged immediately plugged it in and made my first terrible latte. 

Over its short lifetime (2 years) I gradually got better at playing with its idiosyncrasies to craft an excellent latte every morning. It’s existence was so fleeting as a product that I can’t even link to it. (It’s gone from society’s memory.) As with any crappy espresso machine, there are a few ways to make the latte taste better on top of using the usual methods of making great coffee.

Fine-Tune the Grind

This old espresso machine of mine was made almost entirely out of plastic. (The boiler of course, was not.) Regardless of the materials, this thing could not produce the pressure required to force steam through finely ground espresso beans without self-destructing.

When dealing with sub-par machines, don’t grind the beans so fine. Grinds about the size of your regular drip method will do just fine. Otherwise, you might be dealing with plastic and iron shrapnel.

Froth then ‘Spresso

Espresso begins to sour very quickly. Starbucks employees are trained to obey a “4 second rule.” Espresso is not allowed to sit out for more than 4 seconds before it’s poured into milk. Most coffee books will tell you that you can go for 30-60 seconds and still be okay.

To get around this, always froth your milk before you brew the espresso. Once the espresso’s done, pour it quickly into your cup filled with perfectly frothed milk.

Use Fatty Milk

That dinky steamer nozzle is going to have enough trouble frothing milk properly. Go with a milk whose makeup makes it easier for those small bubbles to keep their structure. That means going with whole milk. If your roommates refuse to drink liquid fat, compromise and go with 2%. Stay away from skim or 1% though or you’ll wind up with consistently watery lattes.

Keep It (Very) Clean

Anyone serious about coffee keeps their pipes clean. You should too, and probably more regularly. Hopefully that sour taste is just some mineral buildup and not lead leaching out of the plastic!