The Science and the Art of Espresso
Choosing an Italian espresso machine is just one step along the home barista journey. To me (Paul) this hobby is not really about the espresso machine and other gadgets. What hooks me to the home barista hobby is the quest to control an uncontrollable process and the surprises and ah-ha moments that you get along the way.
Let's start with the process. With a great espresso workflow we can minimise variables in the espresso extraction process when we drive a manual Italian espresso machine. By minimising variables such as grind dose weight, grind dose distribution, tamping pressure and espresso brew temperature we leave just one variable that we can change to control the process. Of course, that one variable that we change is the grind particle size. The espresso workflow is methodical and step-by-step and can be seen as a very scientific approach.
Next comes the art. I think of the art as the understanding of espresso and also the understanding of coffee beans. It's partly about knowledge that you can be taught, but mostly it's about the intangible "feel" that you get for the nuances of espresso after many years of practice. The art is what makes home espresso so engaging.
Because of the art, espressos (and other coffees made with espresso machines) are always different. They are never the same. Even a competition barista will get some variations from day to day and even from espresso shot to espresso shot. Is this a problem? Absolutely not. The challenge of the pursuit is gripping, and the daily variations and occasional god shot just keep the interest flowing. Think of it this way. Imagine that the espresso process was as simple as following steps and get exactly the same result and exactly the same coffee every day. What a bore that would be. If espresso was like that it would just be a drink, and not a hobby.
So, pursue perfection but know that you will never get there. Enjoy the home barista journey and don't forget to smell the coffee beans along the way.