If you’re like a lot of people, you just can’t get your day started without a good cup of coffee. In the past two decades, there has been an incredible boom in the number of chain and independent coffee shops, so there’s a good chance you pass one on the way to work. For the regular Folgers and Maxwell House crowd, this has generally represented a shift away from the standard brew-at-home coffees to the more upscale, professionally prepared brews; quality coffee shop equipment combined with fresh roasted and ground beans provides a superior cup of joe to almost anything you can do at home. And the coffee shop craze has also resulted in an increase of European-style espresso drinks.
It’s not just your standard drip cup anymore; lattes and cappuccinos, cafe au laits and Americanos are now the preferred beverage, providing the jolt of super-powered shot of espresso Americans are now demanding in their wake-up ritual. But for a long time, it’s been hard to get that coffee shop taste at home; cappuccino and espresso makers have been either too expensive or too hard to use, which means you might have been shelling out as much as five bucks a day just for your cappuccino. But now, finally, Hamilton Beach is offering a home cafe machine that makes it easy to get your Starbucks fix without even leaving your kitchen.
At around $80, the Hamilton Beach 40729 Espresso/Cappuccino Maker bundles everything you need to make your favorite mixed coffee drink at an affordable price. First the basics. Pretty much every mixed coffee drink features two main ingredients: espresso, the super-strong, super-fine ground variety of coffee bean, and steamed or frothed milk. A latte, for example, is a single shot of espresso paired with three parts steamed milk; a cappuccino combines equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk. Enter the Hamilton Beach 40729’s two main functions: brewing espresso and steaming milk.
With its two cup reservoir, the 40729 provides for brewing multiple shots of espresso in rapid succession, and its two stainless steel filters are designed to accommodate either loose, ground espresso or pre-measured espresso packets. All you have to do is lock the filter in place and press a button, and within seconds you’ve got your shot of espresso brewed directly into your mug of choice. One drawback here is the size of the maker; if you go in for oversized mugs, you might have trouble fitting yours under the spout of the espresso brewer. This isn’t a huge problem, since you can simply brew your espresso into a smaller cup and mix your drink later. Since coffee – and espresso in particular – is supposed to be served immediately to retain freshness, this can slow down your process a little. And in the the transfer process, you might experience a little bit of cooling, though only a little. But for the deal you’re getting (at $5 per cup of store-bought cappuccino, this machine would pay for itself in roughly three weeks if you’re buying a cup per business day), this minor flaw isn’t’ too much to worry about. Overall, the espresso brewing process is done pretty simply with the Hamilton Beach 40729, and if you have trouble figuring it out, there’s an instructional video packaged with the maker to help you out.
As for steaming and frothing milk: this can be a tricky process. Milk is a funny element to work with, and its interaction with hot steam can vary depending on its fat content (skim milk will behave differently from whole milk). If you’re thinking about getting a brew-at-home cappuccino maker, you might want to consider getting one of those metal froth cans they use at the coffee shop (the metal is a good conductor and makes maintaining a constant temperature easier) and a thermometer; this, coupled with some practice, will give you more consistent results. That said, the Hamilton Beach 40729 does a pretty good job of both steaming and frothing milk. The machine comes with an adjustable dial on the steamer/frother, and the presets here are pretty accurate. Consider the time it took to brew a cappuccino: after locking the filter in place and pressing the brew button, letting the espresso brew, measuring out one part of milk and steaming, measuring out one part of milk and frothing, and blending all together, the whole process was complete in less than a minute. Keeping in mind that you can spend anywhere from five to fifteen minutes standing in line at the coffee shop then waiting for your drink to be prepared, this is a huge benefit. And remember, if you’re not quite sure what you’re doing, there’s a detailed instructional video to help you out.
Similar products are available all over the place at anywhere from $100 to $1000. Perhaps they feature a greater deal of automation, perhaps a more precise brewing process, or maybe the ability to handle larger amounts of coffee (professional devices), but there’s no sense spending that kind of money when what you’re really looking for is an easy way to make a great cup of coffee-shop-quality espresso/cappuccino/etc. at home. The box for the Hamilton Beach 40729 even includes a set of recipe cards, detailing the steps required to make your favorite coffee shop drink. Buy some chocolate or vanilla syrup to make a mocha or a vanilla latte. Whether you’re entertaining guests or entertaining yourself or just trying to save a few dollars a week on your daily cup of coffee, you’ll have a hard time finding a lot to complain about with this nifty little espresso/cappuccino machine from Hamilton Beach.