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How To Make Espresso at Home

by Cameron Clark July 06, 2017

How To Make Espresso at Home

If you’re familiar with espresso and have fallen in love with it (like us!), then you know that sometimes it feels like it would be impossible to replicate it in your own kitchen. But how can you get started making your own espresso? We will get you pointed in the right direction, so you can start pulling delicious shots in no time!


Espresso Brewing Variables

brewing espresso

Before you get started, make sure you have the proper ‘tools’. These espresso making ‘tools’ Can make or break a great drink, so pay close attention if you are preparing to take the leap.

We refer to these as "brewing variables." A majority of these apply when making any kind of coffee, but some of them are particularly unique to espresso. So let's take a closer look...

  1. Water

Your espresso only tastes as good as the quality of water make it with. Unwelcome minerals, scale, and sediment will doom your espresso drink if you don't deal with it from the very start. Before you get into the process too far, make sure to learn as much as you can about the quality of the water that you have available.

A majority of hardware store will have affordable water testing kits. You can also get in touch with your local water provider to get additional information about what exactly they are pumping into your pipes. Once you have that information, check out the water standards from the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

However, no matter what your situation happens to be, you can keep most of the nasty things out by just using a simple carbon filter or using filtered water every time.

  1. Grind

Before you brew your coffee beans, you need a quality grind. You will need to have a finer grind to make espresso than most other brewing methods, with the particles being about the same size as table salt.

Later on you will to achieve different results you will learn ways to manipulate the grind.

  1. Dose

For the standard serving size - which is a "double shot" - we prefer using from 18 to 21 grams worth of ground coffee. As you are adding more coffee, the shot increases in both intensity and body. Don't hesitate to make adjustments to your dose according to what your taste is and utilize the troubleshooting tips we have provided below.

  1. Tamp

When you use a tamper to compact the ground coffee, it restricts the water flow, which forces the water and coffee to interact. Get started with a 30-pound press (you can use your bathroom scale to get a sense of what it is like), and apply it evenly. For even extraction, it is essential to have a level, firm tamp.

  1. Temperature

When preparing your coffee, the ideal water temperature is heating it to 195 to 205 degrees F, and some espresso machine let you control the temperature. (A "PID controller" makes this possible for most systems.) If your espresso machine does this, then play with the range in order to find out what you like the most.

  1. Yield

When brewing drip coffee, you measure both the water input and coffee input. But when you are making espresso, it is both the beverage output and coffee input that need to be measured.

Depending on your basket size and dose amount, aim for around 2 ounces worth of espresso, which is enough to fill up a large shot glass. A 30-gram yield tends to be a safe place for you to start if you are going to weigh your shots.

Note: Density of espresso is sometimes tricky, since the gasses that are trapped inside of the crema can create heady, fluffy shots that weight just 30 grams, or silky and thin shots weighing up to 60 grams. You should be able to get a decent crema with many espresso blends - around 1/4 inch in total - and for a 2-ounce shot, a total mass of around 30 to 40 grams.

However, some coffees skew in one direction or the other, which leads to “crema bombs” that might be less dense or juicier. Whichever way you prefer your espresso, 30 grams or 2 ounces is our reference point as a good place to start, but feel free to make adjustments according to your liking.

  1. Time

Using our recommended yield and dose, around 25 to 30 seconds should pass from the start of the extraction to the minute your glass is completely full.


Tools of the espresso trade

Now that we have covered these tips, we are almost ready to get going. First of all, let's talk about the gear we will need:

 espresso machine and grinder

  1. Machine

The espresso machines we like the most all feature a sensible interface, stable temperatures and solid components. If you are shopping for a new machine, then you can be confident that each model on our website meets all of these criteria. If you're looking for something in a lower price range, we recommend checking out this guide for the best espresso machines. For specific recommendations, skip to the end of our series.

  1. Grinder

If you want to have consistently delicious espresso, it all begins with having a consistent grind to your coffee. In order to get the most from your beans, select an espresso grinder that features many adjustment steps and can grind finely.

  1. Filter

To begin, grab a bottomless or two-spouted portafilter and put in a double basket (most likely it will be the largest basket you have received).

  1. Tamper

For even extraction and a secure "coffee puck," choose a tamper that snugly fits your portafilter. A majority of baskets have a 58 millimeter diameters, however we have tampers available in a wide range of sizes. We highly recommend that you go with the Espro Calibrated Tamper if you are serious about getting your technique refined. Or, if you’re a coffee shop owner (or someone that just hates using tamper and doesn’t mind spending a pretty penny), the PuqPress Automatic Tamper is an extremely convenient alternative.

  1. Scale

You will be much more prepared for accuracy if you have a gram scale. With a high quality scale, you’ll be able to diagnose problems and produce consistent results. We prefer those that have low resolutions, which reads in 0.1 to 1-gram increments. We also recommend that you weigh both yield and dose.

  1. Shot Glass

You need something to catch your ‘liquid gold’. If you want to track of the amount of espresso you are pulling, then a volumetric shot glass is something that can help you with, particularly if you don't happen to have a scale on hand.


How to make espresso

Making espresso

  1. First fill the reservoir of your espresso machine up (or connect your water line if the machine is plumbed!). And we know we’ve said this before, but please make sure your water is not too hard. An important first step is water treatment: distilled water can damage your boiler, while hard water can lead to some seriously accumulated scale.
  1. Turn your machine on and allow it plenty of time for it to heat up. Depending on how large your espresso machine is, that can take anywhere from 15 to 35+ minutes, so don't assume you are all set to go as soon as you are at the brewing temperature. Instead, you should wait a bit longer until the whole machine feels nice and warm.
  1. Lock an empty portafilter into the grouphead. Then, for a couple of seconds, run the machine. This will brings fresh water up to the front and also heats the parts up that are closest to the coffee. Next wipe the inside of your portafilter off and the underside part of the grouphead and make sure they are dry and clean.
  1. Grind a couple of beans to make sure you have the appropriate fineness. Also, don’t forget to remove any old, stale grounds from your grinder! The coffee should appear powdery and clump loosely, but still have a ‘sandy’ feel when you rub it between your fingers.
  1. We recommend dosing 18 to 21 grams of freshly ground into your portafilter. As the coffee exits the chute, make sure to slightly rotate the portafilter back and forth to ensure the grounds settle into the basket evenly. Afterwards, level the grounds with the tips of your fingers and fill in any air pockets.
  1. Tamp with your elbow, arm and wrist positioned directly over the middle of the portafilter basket. Use your fingertips to press evenly and feel the edge of the basket. Next, inspect the dry puck in order to determine if the ‘bed’ is level or not.
  1. Put the portafilter back into the grouphead and start the brewing process. If your machine has a separate "pre-infusion" or pre-brew stage, then complete it first. This enables the stored gas to be released before the full infusion start. When you have fresh coffee, you should pre-infuse until you first start seeing drops exiting out of the portafilter.
  2. Start the infusion process and end the brew at your predetermined yield. We recommend starting out with i2 fluid oz (if you are measuring by volume) or around 30 grams (if a gram scale is being used). Before you serve the espresso, pour or stir the espresso into another cup so you can mix the crema.


Espresso tips and how to troubleshoot

troubleshooting espresso machine

Even when you believe you have every step figured out, at times, it still doesn't taste right. So if your espresso doesn't taste the way you wanted it to, think about what might appear to be off and then try out some of the following tricks.

In our experience, if it is still missing the mark, make sure that you are starting out with a high quality burr grinder and good, fresh coffee beans. The vast majority of ‘espresso quality’ problems we’ve seen stem back to those two factors.

  1. If your shot took too long, then something might be preventing the water from being able to flow through your coffee within in a reasonable time frame. This often results in a bitter-tasting espresso. In order to fix this: Tamp lighter, Grind coarser or dose less coffee.
  1. Your shot went too fast. This is due to your puck not putting up a strong enough fight, which means the water is flowing through too quickly, resulting in your espresso tasting dull and bland. This is probably an under-extraction problem. In order to fix this: tamp harder, grind finer or dose more coffee
  1. The shot tastes bitter. This is probably due to over-extraction. If so, you get too much from your coffee, kind of like forgetting to take your tea bag out after several minutes. In order to fix this: shorten the brew time or decrease water temperature 
  1. Shot tastes sour. Similar to under-cooking food, you may possibly be stopping the chemical reaction occurring between the water and coffee too early. Whenever everything is in balance, all of the right things are extracted: not more or not less. In order to fix this: extend brew time or increase water temperature 
  1. Shot tastes “weird”. It isn't always due to not going far enough or going too far. At times, the water doesn't evenly pass through the coffee and strange things happen. In order to fix this: ensure level tamp, ensure even distribution and check for “channeling” (which is when there are holes in the wet puck)
  1. Shot is watery. When it comes to espresso, it should have a syrupy, thick body. However, to achieve this, it requires the right brewing ratio (dose/yield), fresh coffee, and adequate brewing time. If any of these are skipped over, your espresso will end up being thin. In order to fix this: use fresh coffee, tamp harder, dose more coffee or decrease your yield. 
  1. Uneven shot stream. Water follows the path of least resistance when going through the portafilter. If the puck is not secure or level, the path will end up being crooked and the espresso won't pour in a single stream from the center. In order to fix this: ensure level tamp and ensure even distribution
  1. Shot has little or no crema. If there is no crema, that means either the puck isn't resisting the pressured water sufficiently or you are using old coffee. In order to fix this: use fresh coffee, grind finer or dose more coffee
  1. Shot looks like it is all crema. If the beans are holding lots of gas still form the roasting process are not ready for brewing yet. If there is an excessive amount of foam with your espresso, you just need to be patient. In order to fix this: l- Let the coffee rest for a few more days


Cameron Clark
Cameron Clark


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