My Morning Science Experiment

La Marzocco di Firenze.

It’s a beautiful machine. All glistening chrome, polished within an inch of its life. Each component is clean, pristine, perfect. It sits on our white and otherwise empty countertop, a shining beacon of early morning addiction goodness.

Thanks to the programmed timer, it turns on and warms itself up automatically while the household sleeps. After a succession of grunts and grumbles and clicks and vibrations it’s ready to go. And we’re awake.

It sounds easy, as though it’s all automatic and able to think for itself. But this is no Nespresso.

It’s a finicky machine and coaxing that rich, luxurious, crema out of it in just the right way is a science. You have to approach it scientifically, with the precision it demands of you. And I, dear friends, am no scientist.

I am, however, lucky to have a scientist for a husband. And he, and the Marzocco obsessive lunatics aficionados he’s contacted, have developed a system, after much research and experimentation, which I’m assured I must simply follow in order to procure the most exquisite, delectable cup of coffee on the planet. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating.

Of course, being un-scientific, my ability to follow said system can be a bit hit and miss. And so, therefore, is my coffee. But hey, it’s coffee, I’ll drink it anyway.

There was a time I thought of La Marzocco as my nemesis. The machine and I would warily circle each other in the kitchen, neither one willing to interact with the other, neither one willing to make the first move.

But my desperate need for a coffee finally won out and I was the first to cave. My one weakness!

The scientists’ system works in theory and it really is only the coffee maker’s ability to follow the steps precisely that determines the quality of the end result.

So, I present to you here today the steps to making the best cup of coffee in the world, fearlessly. You know, in case you find yourself face to face with La Marzocco at some point.

First, you will need freshly roasted coffee beans, unground. By freshly roasted, I mean roasted no more than two weeks ago, but preferably more recently than that.

You should also check the water reservoir in the machine to make sure there’s enough water. A full reservoir will last about five days (if you make 2-3 single shot Americanos a day), so you don’t actually need to check the water daily.

These two preliminary steps aside, begin by taking your precision scale and measuring out 19 g of freshly-roasted coffee beans. Not 19.4 g, not 18.8 g. 19 g, even.

Drop the 19 g of beans into your grinder, which should be set to an espresso-appropriate fine grind.

Set your double portafilter basket into the portafilter.

This is a portafliter:

This is the double basket:

Place a plastic funnel inside the basket so that when you grind the coffee, it is delicately directed into the basket, rather than indelicately spraying all over the counter. And by plastic funnel, I mean the carefully trimmed bottom of a single-serving yogurt container. (Seriously. It fits; it’s like they were made for this purpose).

Now at this point you may be asking, “If this is such a brilliant machine, why does it require a piece of yogurt container to, uh, contain the grounds?”

Good question.

Moving on.

Press the button to grind the coffee.

Now do you see how nicely the yogurt container works? That’s why you don’t question the coffee scientists.

When the grinder has ground all 19g of coffee, remove the portafilter, place it on the rubber mat, place your hand gently over the top of the yogurt container funnel and gently tap the portafilter to settle the grounds.

Carefully remove the yogurt container funnel, making sure that you don’t lose any of the coffee grounds.

Take the tamper and press it evenly into the grounds, ensuring they are compressed uniformly. Don’t compress them too much or the water will take too long to filter through them, leaving you with over-extracted coffee. But you also don’t want to leave the coffee packed too loosely, or the water will wash through it quickly and you will have watery coffee.

Press the first button briefly to allow a bit of water to flow through the machine, for 3 seconds. This is important. But I can’t tell you why.

Insert the portafilter into the underside of the coffee maker, tightening sufficiently but not so much that you break something. Obviously.

Place a receptacle under the portafilter’s spouts. As a novice, you may wish to use a small measuring glass. You will be aiming for 1.5 to 2 mL of coffee.

Press the second button and watch as the coffee begins to course into the receptacle. Also, watch the timer. You want the machine to shut off automatically at 24 seconds. Anything over that is over-extracted, under that is weak, as I have explained above. This is your indicator of whether you compressed your grounds adequately.


Now you (maybe) have a lovely espresso. Should you wish an Americano, fill up your cup with hot water using the last button (it has a tea bag on it).

If you would prefer a latte or cappuccino, you’re awfully demanding! Go to a coffee shop!

Ok, sorry, I’m probably just being sensitive and defensive because I haven’t yet figured out the science behind the milk foamer.

I’m going to need another coffee before I can tackle that.

19 thoughts on “My Morning Science Experiment

  1. That was hilarious! Now I want coffee, but all I’ve got is out-of-date instant decaff. Somehow I don’t think it’s quite the same beast.

    Now I know why there’s so much fuss about ‘proper’ coffee.

    Oooh, now you’ve got me dreaming of cafes in Europe… (By the way, I love those leaf x-rays, or whatever they are – very pretty.)

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post…and I’m also a bit glad you shied away from the instant decaf. There was a time when, in desperation, I would have consumed even that. In fact, there were many times I did. But European coffee/cafés is a whole other taste experience – and level of caffeination.

      Thank you, too, for the kind comment about the leaves. I can’t take credit for them, but their source is provided over in the right hand margin.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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