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Coffee Making Holiday Gift Suggestions for the Home-Based Barista in Your Life

Wow! It's only 10 days until Thanksgiving in the United States which means Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all those crazy days of Christmas shopping are upon us once again.

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If you have a coffee lover in your life who considers themselves something of a home-based barista, then apart from sending them to my blog for all my tips and how-tos on making the perfect espresso and espresso-based drinks at home, here are what you might call my "curated recommendations" to get them going or boost their skills as a home-based barista. Everything is available at Amazon through Amazon Prime and I have provided links to each product to save you time and to help you get it done from the comfort of your couch. My recommendations include gifts big and small, expensive to mere stocking-stuffers.

Note that my recommendations for espresso makers appear last, so if that's what you're looking for, scroll down.

You've got to start out with some beans. I've reviewed a few here over time, but a great go-to roast are these beans from Italy, the home of espresso. A full 1kg (2.2 lb) pack; none of the "fake 1lb" nonsense we unfortunately see so often in the world of coffee. My espresso bean recommendation: Lavazza Super Crema Espresso beans.
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The home-based barista always uses ground beans, so they've got to to have a good conical burr grinder. I've been happily using one of these Breville Smart Grinders for years now. Breville BCG820BSSXL The Smart Grinder Pro Coffee Bean Grinder.
Having forked out all that money, you've got to keep your beans fresh once you've opened them. Coffee beans oxidize very quickly once exposed to the air, so an airtight canister, and one with a one-way valve, will help maintain the freshness of your beans for as long as possible. Of course, the best way to keep your beans fresh is to use them quickly! Try one of these Coffee Gator Canister Storage Vault which comes in an attractive lineup of colors.

Now that you have your beans and are storing them for freshness, you need a grinder. To achieve good crema when making espresso coffee, the grind of your coffee must be consistent. This is best achieved with a conical burr grinder, which essentially crushes your beans, rather than cuts them as happens when you use one of those coffee mills. Also, if you have a lot of experience with making espresso at home, you'll know that every roast needs to be fine-tuned for its grind, depending on the oils in the beans. I use a Breville Smart-Grinder which has 60 fine-tuned grind settings and other settings to let you determine just the correct "dose" of ground coffee. Not to mention, this is the quietest coffee grinder I've ever had.

Every home-based barista needs a "knock box" to help make them look like the Real McCoy. Try this one for size: Osaka, Shock-Absorbent Espresso Knock Box.

This stainless steel foaming pitcher has volume markings on the inside for those whole like a little precision in their lives.

Some have a little trouble mastering the steam wand, or their espresso machine doesn't have one or doesn't have a dual boiler which adds lots of complications to foaming milk, so these "Aerolatte" whisks are a perfect workaround and won't break your budget.

The newbie might be struggling with getting the right temperature for their foamed milk, so one of these milk thermometers might be a great help.

Some nice "demitasse" espresso cups are always great stocking-stuffers. There's a great variety out there from clear glass to fun colors. I like these since they are clear and I can impress my guests with just how much crema there is floating on top, plus being double-walled, the espresso is going to stay hot. Clevercafé Milano 2 oz Double Wall Glass for Espresso or Spirits, Set of 4.

Ok, so no one is going to become a home-based barista without an espresso machine, so time for a few recommendations there.

Over the years I have owned several brands, and unfortunately some were complete disasters. I use my espresso machine EVERY DAY, at least once. The only machine that has lasted for more than 3 years is the one I am still using, a Breville BES900XL Dual Boiler Semi Automatic Espresso Machine (this model has since been replaced with newer models, by the way). I can't remember exactly when I bought it, but it's something between 8 and 10 years now. It was the first model that Breville made in what has become a line-up of models.

A quick note here that my positive experience with my Breville espresso maker and grinder have turned me into a raving Breville fan. However, I've only owned the one Breville espresso maker, and the one Breville grinder. So it's a small sample, but the reviews at Amazon for new Breville products back me up. They are 4 stars or higher. Also note that I have never been contacted by Breville or given any free products from Breville for testing, so my opinion is my own.

If you are serious about making espresso-based coffee drinks at home, such as lattes and cappuccinos, it is best to have a machine with a dual (double) boiler. This means the water for the espresso and the water for foaming the milk are heated separately inside the machine. This is essential since the water temperature for extracting espresso and for steaming milk vary greatly. Machines that have a single boiler are problematic for this reason, and believe me, I know from bitter personal experience. 

Another great thing with at least the high-end Breville machines is that they use PID controllers to manage the pressure in the system when extracting the espresso shot. A PID controller is essentially something that constantly monitors and adjusts the value for something, in this case the "bars" of pressure being used. A perfect shot of espresso needs to be extracted under the right amount and consistent pressure. These machines make sure that will be the case, meaning you will always get good crema floating on top of your espresso.

So let's cut to the chase. Please remember that I have not used either of these machines since my old Breville machine is still running, but if and when it dies, from my 100% level of satisfaction with it, I will definitely be replacing it with a new Breville machine. There's no doubt in my mind about that.

If you're really feeling generous and loving (or perhaps just splurging on yourself), then the Breville BES980XL Oracle Espresso would be the equivalent of the model I bought all those years ago. I paid $1,500 for my machine back then, but it didn't come with a built-in grinder like this one does.

Breville BES980XL Oracle Espresso Machine

If your budget is still generous, but not to the extent of the Breville BES980XL Oracle Espresso Machine, then here is a mid-range machine from Breville, the Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine. This machine does not appear to have a dual boiler, but compensates for that with something called "Purge Functionality" that adjusts the temperature after steaming and before espresso extraction. The machine has 4 1/2 stars from almost 1,500 reviews at Amazon, so it seems that it is a very good machine and well-liked by those who have bought it.

If you're on a budget like so many of us are, then consider Breville's basic manual espresso maker, the Breville ESP8XL Cafe Roma. It has 4 out of 5 stars from almost 600 reviews, so it can't be bad, but will be more challenging for the home-based barista to produce good crema. With these basic machines so many more variables will come into play for creating crema, including bean roast, bean freshness, and grind.

So they are my suggestions for this holiday season. I hope they have helped and that you will make someone very happy this holiday season. Happy holidays!

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