Fifteen years back, when the first chain of coffee shops opened in India, customers were understandably puzzled by the espresso that showed up on the menus. Until then, expresso (notice the different spelling) referred to a small, drum like machine that spewed out foamy, milky Nescafe coffees. Expresso stalls were de rigueur at weddings and in winters in Northern India, you could pick a styrofoam cup of steaming coffee in neighbourhood markets.
Espresso on the other hand is everything that's good with Italian coffee. By forcing a small amount of water with a lot of pressure through ground coffee beans, you get deep, dark coffee flavours crowned with a lighter foam called crema. Making good espresso requires a combination of sophisticated equipment and barista skills, which means that it remains a drink more suited for cafes than home brewing.
I am firmly in the sweet, milky coffee camp so while I don't relish espresso per se, I am a big fan of cappuccinos and lattes that are based on a good espresso. Now home espresso machines abound but they are never going to match the café quality. Instead, the way to get good espresso at home is something much simpler - a stovetop moka pot. The process is no harder than making a filter coffee. The moka pot comes in three parts. You fill the bottom container with water, fix the little perforated disc and fill it with coffee and finally, fix the top container and put the pot back together. This goes on the stove on a medium flame and five minutes later, the top container is filled with coffee.
My moka pot was crafted by Bialetti and it made the trek all the way from Italy to US and then through a friend visiting India, to all the way home. Before I could get that coffee though, and before you make your first cup of espresso with a moka pot, there is seasoning to do. To take the edge off fresh metal that will make the espresso bitter, you make 4-5 fake cups of coffee. I mean, they are real cups of coffee, except you don't drink them. Make, throw, rinse, repeat for the first four times and the fifth cup of espresso is all yours. You don't get much of a crema but the espresso compares with the best out there.