When you buy a home espresso machine, you are taking a real step up in the world. No longer do you have to head to the coffee shop each morning for a delicious shot of espresso; now you can make it yourself at home, exactly the way you want! Of course, knowing what you want and getting what you want are two very different things, as many novices discover after they buy their espresso machines. Higher-end machines with a lot of manual options in particular can be intimidating for beginners. Here are some tips that will help you brew better espresso.
1. Make sure you use whole, fresh, quality espresso beans.
It should be a given, but many espresso novices underestimate just how important it is to start with high-quality beans. As the old programming bromide goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you put low-quality or stale beans into your espresso maker, your drink will taste inferior, no matter what else you do right. Always start with the highest-quality beans you can buy, and make sure that they’re fresh—preferably 3-14 days from roasting.
2. Use a burr grinder.
If you don’t already have one, or one isn’t built into your espresso maker, you need to purchase a burr grinder. Otherwise, you will not get a nice, uniform grind. While this may not be essential for other beverages, it is a must for espresso. In fact, this can make such a difference that even with a lower-end espresso maker, you may be able to make high-end espresso—but only if you have a burr grinder!
3. Tamp and do it well.
Tamping is a very important step in making espresso, one which is sometimes underestimated or even overlooked completely by newbies. Do not skip this step! And make sure that when you do tamp, you do a good job. You need a clean surface for your tamper base, and you need to ensure that your tamper is dry and in good condition (no dents). You need to evenly distribute the proper amount of posture in order to evenly tamp. Aim for around 9-15 kg (how do you learn how to do this? Use a bathroom scale—it really is that simple). Press straight down and you will get the best results.
4. Use good water.
You may not realize it, but the water you use is as important as the beans you use. Steer clear of hard water which contains a lot of calcium, magnesium, or other mineral deposits. The best water isn’t distilled water (you don’t want to use this at all, as it can damage your espresso machine), but rather filtered water.
5. Get your timing down.
It isn’t easy to learn the timing with espresso, and you will probably get it wrong a number of times before you start getting it down. It varies from machine to machine too, which can complicate things a bit. Ideally, with a powerful machine, it should take about 20-25 seconds to extract espresso. If you have a less powerful machine or a smaller one, the extraction time might be as low as 18 seconds.
The other thing which is helpful to know is that you need to be pretty quick about making espresso. After you’ve inserted the portafilter, you want to move fast to get the tastiest results. To speed up the process and get better results, you can also use preheated shot glasses or cups.
6. Serve straight away.
Once your espresso is finished brewing, you definitely want to serve it immediately! Old espresso which has been sitting around for a while on the warming plate can lose its taste or turn bitter, just like regular old coffee. So you want to drink the espresso while it is fresh.
7. Keep your espresso machine clean.
Over time, you might notice that your espresso is tasting worse and worse, even though you aren’t doing anything differently. It is likely because your espresso maker is dirty. Periodically take time to clean and maintain your espresso machine. Not only will this keep your espresso taking great, but it will also extend the lifetime of your machine. Many people wonder why their espresso makers quit on them so fast; it is usually because they have not done a good job maintaining them. Take care of your espresso machine and it will work great for years.
Making espresso at home is an art form, and not necessarily an easy one to learn. If you are a novice, you will have to accept going into the experience that you will have a lot of mishaps and bumps on the road to success. But if you keep at it and follow these tips, you will be on the right track, and eventually you will learn how to brew that perfect cup of delicious espresso that you’ve been dreaming about. And once you get the process down, your espresso machine will make the process fast and easy every time!