Let’s get the obvious out of the way right now: This post is going to make you want a cup of coffee. Even if you don’t drink coffee, you’re going to want a cup of coffee. So if you want to shuffle over to your kitchen and put a pot on in anticipation, go right ahead.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m a fan of the coffee station. Here’s one from 2010 (gosh, I miss those yellow mugs—the last one broke years ago), and another from 2015. Keeping things as accessible as possible when coffee is involved is absolutely essential for me. This really used to only be a morning thing for me, even though I’ve always loved an afternoon pick-me-up coffee. That’s something that used to happen for me outside the house, though, because I worked in an office building for so many years. Around 2pm, I’d head to Blue Bottle (if I was feeling fancy) or Au Bon Pain (if I was feeling thrifty) and get a coffee—that was part of the routine.
Now that I’m a freelancer working from home every day, that’s all changed. I still want my afternoon coffee, but putting on a pot seems excessive—even if I only want one cup, I’m likely to make half a pot…and then drink it all. So I decided to create a pick-me-up coffee station!
I had a larger Nespresso machine in New York, and it was great for making quick cups of good coffee. I don’t drink straight espresso shots, but Nespresso machines have a lungo setting for making long shots with more water in them. My machine produces just under 5oz of coffee from a single pod, which for me is the perfect amount to make a frothy, milky, coffee drink. My current machine is a Nespresso Essenza Mini, and it’s adorable.
See that beautiful crema? I don’t want to make it seem like I know anything about coffee beyond liking to drink it, but even I know that’s the good stuff. Lately I’ve been using Nespresso-compatible pods from Target (I think they have seven blends), and they’re GREAT. A 10-pack is $5, so they’re a little cheaper than Nespresso-branded pods. Another option is buying reusable/refillable Nespresso pods! I haven’t tried this yet because I can’t deny I love the convenience of pre-filled pods, so for now I’m just collecting the used pods and sending them to Nespresso for recycling. [EDIT: I am a doofus and somehow never noticed that the Target capsules are plastic, not aluminum. Please do not send them to Nespresso for recycling, because they can’t be recycled. D’oh! Back to the Nespresso-branded pods for me.]
The other essential in my pick-me-up coffee station is the Breville Milk Cafe, which I use to heat and froth milk. I previously had a Nespresso Aeroccino, but it stopped working after a few months—and even though it was still within its return window, its replacement died, too. The reviews are really spotty (lots of issues with the nonstick coating and burnt milk), so I looked at other options. The Breville Milk Cafe seems to get pretty consistently positive reviews, and I really like that the pitcher (which is held to the base magnetically) is just stainless steel with no coating. Since the pitcher is removable and has no electric parts, it can be completely submerged in water, which makes cleaning super easy.
(Side note! Despite the good reviews, I was nervous about spending that much money on something and then having it croak on me. I decided to order it from Bed Bath & Beyond for that reason, because they’re great about returns…and there’s one in Santa Fe. And I had one of those 20% off coupons. Win/win/win. I’ve now owned it for just over a year, and I still love it.)
After having this setup for a few months, I felt like it needed some containment to define the area a little better. My kitchen is on the small side, and I don’t like having lots of little things scattered on the countertop. I got this wood tray from Target, and everything fits in it perfectly. I’m even able to run the cords through the handle cutout on the back. Tidy!
The Milk Cafe comes with two magnetic frothing disks. The smooth one is for frothing milk with just a little foam, and the whisk disk is what you need to make CRAZY FOAM MOUNTAINS. Just snap your disk of choice into the pitcher and it’s ready to use! The unused disk stores easily on a little magnetic post on the back of the unit, minimizing the chances of it getting lost. Such a nice little detail.
I didn’t think to make a video of the actual frothing process (it’s not complicated—just pour the milk in, set the dial to the desire temperature, and press the button), but LOOK AT THIS FROTH. Can you tell how dense the bubbles are? It’s so satisfying to see these peaks!
Oh, and you can add other stuff to the milk while it’s frothing. I find that cocoa powder does decrease the foam volume a bit, but the tradeoff of having it blended so evenly with the milk is worth it. It’s really nice to add a little maple syrup, cayenne, cinnamon, or vanilla if you want a flavored beverage. Also, there’s a “cold stir” setting that just froths the milk without heating it—great for making iced drinks. (YUM.)
A nice accessory to have for a Nespresso machine is one of these tiny stainless steel pitchers. They’re made for steaming milk with a wand, but these little 5oz ones are just the right size to fit on the collection tray. Most of my mugs don’t sit nicely there, so I brew into the pitcher instead.
I also LOVE these long-handled ceramic spoons! They used to sell them at CB2 years ago, but now I order them as needed (they will break if you drop them on a tile floor) from Amazon. $8 for 4! Not bad. They’re long enough to stir an iced coffee, and they really do make the whole coffee-making ritual feel a little more special.
Awwwwww, yeah! (Now is when you’re really going to start wanting a coffee. Yes?)
Some notes about milks: I don’t consume dairy, so I can only comment on plant milks when it comes to froth-ability. My personal preference in lattes and cappuccinos is either store-bought soy milk or homemade cashew milk. The latter doesn’t froth much at all, but I still like how evenly the Milk Cafe heats the cashew milk up anyway (also great when I want to blend in other ingredients). I’ve had mixed results from oat milk (Oatly seems to only froth 50% of the time, regardless of the formula I try) and almond milk, but it really takes trial and error (and then remembering what your trials and errors were) to figure out which milks work the best.
The most intense froth I get is from the two soy milks pictured, and the results are super consistent. Unsweetened Silk has a great texture and flavor, but it can be tricky to find (Target usually has it, fwiw). My absolute favorite is the shelf-stable soy milk from Trader Joe’s. It’s inexpensive, it’s easy to keep extras on-hand since it doesn’t require refrigeration, and it has NO added ingredients—it’s just organic soybeans and water. This is the milk to used to make the drink in these photos. I always get excellent foam from it. (It’s perfect for making Instant Pot soy yogurt, too!)