I was 27 years old the first time I ever touched the Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine, and I knew in that one magical moment that I would never feel the same way about an appliance again. It wasn’t merely its perfectly configured size or the way that the chrome shell reflected the light in my partner’s cousin’s kitchen. It was something greater. Something deep in those double drip nozzles that called out to me and said my life would not be fully complete until I became worthy enough to own one.
Growing up coffee always felt to me like it was more than just some hot water poured over beans. It was the first thing I smelled waking up in my grandma’s apartment when she would pour it into her fancy glass mug and carry it throughout the morning, drinking her brew a sip at a time. When the coffee got cold, which it inevitably did multiple times in a single drinking session, she’d simply put it in the microwave, never willing to waste a single drop.
The ability to make a good cup of coffee seemed important. I would overhear the adults in my family equate a woman’s hosting skills to how well she could make and serve a cup of coffee to meet the individual tastes of all guests present. This confounded me as a child because it seemed as if the women serving were being set up to fail. How could anyone instinctively know how every single person in a room preferred their coffee? After a social event there would be the announcement, “Quien quiere café,” and nearly everyone would respond in the affirmative, asking that their coffee be made “regular.” What the hell did that mean? And if everyone was drinking regular coffee, then what made one cup better than another?
I eventually learned that “regular” was just a catch-all term for coffee made light and sweet, or as one friend explained it to me, “Light and sweet, just like my man.” But the degree of lightness and sweetness varied from person to person and it was my job as the maker of the coffee to determine these levels and serve a cup without having someone feel the need to go back and add more sugar or make a face because it was too saccharine. As I honed this skill, I felt pride in my well-executed cups of “regular” coffee, especially when I finally discovered the coveted secret ingredient to giving every cup an extra kick. The ingredient is [REDACTED] mixed in with the grinds. (It’s a common spice already in your pantry, which I cannot reveal lest my grandmother’s ghost return to haunt me for sharing her secrets.)
As my coffee palette expanded to include lattes, cappuccinos, and Cuban cafe con leches, so did my desire for coffee gadgetry. I lusted over fancy coffee machines, milk frothers, and French presses; started collecting hefty mugs and experimented with different kinds of milk after I developed an intolerance for lactose. I even spent three years trying to get a job at Starbucks just so I could use the giant machines I’d seen in-store and be surrounded by coffee and coffee accouterments every day. They never called me.
For years I thought that once I got my own place, with my own kitchen, I would buy the coffee contraption of my dreams and truly become my own barista. Not just because I want a status symbol but because I want something that will help me make the kinds of coffee I associate with some of my best memories. A well-executed cappuccino from my own kitchen to remind of walking through Rome at night with my husband, an espresso with perfectly steamed milk to conjure mornings spent with friends in Cuba, or a simple cup of well made Joe to bring me that extra level of connection to the women in my family who I watched make service into an art form. But when I finally found that machine online and eventually touched it in person I knew that this was a forbidden love. Like a good partner, the Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine demands more of you, she demands that you be your best self and she also demands some space. The kitchen in my current apartment is lovely, but there’s no dedicated space that would truly allow this piece of coffee art to shine. Even if I did get a nicer kitchen in a nicer apartment this machine still belongs in a place with a mortgage and a reasonable HOA fee.
Does that make my beloved Breville high maintenance? Perhaps it does, but with a triple-digit price tag, I can’t really blame this inanimate object for making me feel like I need to be more established in life before buying it. After all, this machine already has everything—a bean grinder, mug warmer, steam wand, an oversized water tank with a filter, and my personal favorite feature a magnetic dry-puck—so should I not also be willing to give it everything in return?