Besides espresso, I'm really into photography. Yesterday I was surfing around, looking for interesting sites. Using about.com 's phtography section as a venture point, I came across a couple of essays that deal with the way some people put a lot of emphasis on their cameras and lenses, to a point where they actually take fewer pictures, preferring to spend almost all their available spare time researching new gear and discussing it ad nauseum in various discussion forums. Ken Rockwell puts it this way in the opening of one of his essays:
"Your equipment DOES NOT affect the quality of your image. The less time and effort you spend worrying about your equipment the more time and effort you will be able to spend creating great images. The right equipment just makes it easier, faster or more convenient for you to get the results you need."
Ken Rockwell is a funny guy that often says things tongue-in-cheek, but I like his general thoughts on this subject. Many of the legendary photographers used equipment that can't even be compared to what we have available today, and a lot of the pictures are poor technically (grain, sharpness etc), but they have subject matter that is engaging and appealing. They could basically have been taken with any kind of equipment, cheap or expensive, hightech or basic.
So, why am I writing about it here on this espresso blog. Well, because I feel some of this is also seen in our espresso scene. People who use all their time and money to research machines, grams, pressure, PID etc. etc. They get so caught up in the technology and the discussions around it, that they get uncertain if they've got the right equipment, if their espresso drinks don't turn out the way they want because the equipment they've got isn't top notch. I've been there myself many times.
Brewing more espresso, trying different blends and coffees, learning to roast at home, talking to knowledgable people and generally learning is probably a better route to getting the coffee one wants. Once you get for instance a Rancilio Siliva and a Rocky you've basically got brewing equipment that can rival commercial equipment in drink quality. Our own champ Tim W. for instance, tells me that he has gotten some excellent shots from his silvia, and that he thinks the steam is top notch. Getting a HX machine is more a matter of it being easier and more convenient to do the same.
Still, I think this process of researching and discussing gear is pretty natural and fun to most people, and that it is a kind of learning process since you read and learn about coffee and espresso in general while doing it. I guess my main point is that many people feel insecure about the equipment they've got because the discussion forums (i.e coffeegeek forums) are so focused on the process of finding the perfect machine and grinder, believing that this is the key to perfect espresso. They get caught up in getting the right tamper, temp surfing or installing a PID, buying a la marzocco portafilter, upgrading machine and grinder yet again etc.) instead of relaxing and enjoying the coffee, learning to get the most out of what equipment they've got. It takes time to get to know the machine and grinder, and how to use it to get the best out of the coffee and blends you use.