After you have mastered making basic coffee at home, you probably feel ready to move on to more sophisticated beverages, like espresso. How do you make the perfect espresso at home? Well, to start with, you will need a good espresso machine. No matter what your budget is, there is an espresso machine out there which is right for you. At the lower end, you can even find machines that cost less than $200 and which will give you many years of great use. The exact directions for making great espresso at home depend in large part upon the machine you purchase, but we can still outline the basic process. This will help you get acquainted with the espresso machine you purchase. Keep in mind that automatic espresso machines are easier for beginners to use, but manual machines give you more control over your brew.
What You Need:
• A high-quality espresso machine with solid parts, a top-shelf grinder, and stable temperatures. Your machine should include a burr grinder; if it doesn’t, you will need to purchase one separately. That way you can grind beans finely.
• Filter. At the very least, you need a two-spouted or bottomless portafilter. Your machine may include this already.
• Tamper. Most espresso machines come with a tamper, but a lot of people prefer to purchase one separately anyway for higher quality. Make sure that the tamper you buy is a good fit for your portafilter basket.
• A drinking vessel. You will have great results with a volumetric shot glass, especially if you do not have a scale. A scale is something you should get, though. Look for one that will provide you with measurements in grams.
• Water. This is not just a given; it is the quality of the water that is important here. You cannot use just any water and expect satisfactory results. You need to use water free of sediment and scale. Filtered water is the best option. If you do not have any, consider purchasing a Brita filter pitcher. It is a cost-effective way to get most of the unwanted minerals and contaminants out of your water.
• Beans. You will of course also need espresso beans. The best results here depend largely on your tastes. If you are a beginner, it is helpful to know that light/cinnamon roasted beans have been roasted very little, and can be bitter. House roast is your typical medium-roast coffee. City medium roast is also known as dark roast; these are usually sweeter than medium-roast beans, and the lightest roast that you will find in espresso. French- or city-roast beans are darker, and the darkest roast available is “espresso” roast, also labeled as “full city,” “Italian,” or “very dark roast.” Darker roasts produce sweeter flavors. Stay away from flavored beans.
Making Perfect Espresso: Step-by-Step
1. Start out by filtering your water if you haven’t yet. Do not use distilled water, however. Why? Your espresso maker’s sensor will not realize you have filled it, and will just keep filling. It will also destroy your boiler. Steer clear of hard water too, if you can. When you have the right water available, fill your espresso machine’s reservoir.
2. Turn on the espresso maker and wait for it to heat up. This usually takes 15-45 minutes. Don’t rely on the temperature gauge alone to decide if you are ready. Touch the machine and wait for it to physically feel warm.
3. Next, run the espresso machine for several seconds. Wipe the inside of the portafilter off and also wide underneath the grouphead.
4. Put just a few beans in your grinder and grind them. This will remove stale grounds from your grinder and also allow you to check on the texture of the grounds. You want them to have a gritty texture between your fingers, but a powdery look.
5. Next you want to grind 18-21 grams of coffee. Pour them into the portafilter when completed. Rotate it while the coffee is being dispensed by the chute. This will ensure the grounds settle evenly in the basket. You can look for air pockets and level out the grounds manually after this step is complete.
6. Next, it is time for tamping. Use even pressure. Then take a look at the dry puck to make sure that everything appears level.
7. At this point you can return the portafilter to the grouphead. Now you are finally ready to brew your espresso. Some machines include a stage for “pre-infusion” or “pre-brew.” Others have this step built into the general brewing process. If your machine includes it separately, do that first. When you see the first drops leaving the portafilter, you will know you are done with the pre-infusion process. Then you are ready to move onto the infusion process.
8. Start infusion, and keep a careful eye on your yield. Once you have around 30 grams (this is equal to 2 fluid ounces), you are done. Mix your crema, turn off your machine, and you should have a delicious cup of freshly-brewed espresso.
A lot of people avoid making espresso at home because the process sounds so involved and complex. And the first few times you do it, it will be, and that is simply something you will have to accept. You will probably make mistakes; your first few shots may taste bitter, sour, or just odd. You might end up with all crema or no crema. Often these problems are the result of problems with the puck, not tamping hard enough or evenly enough, or using the wrong temperature or brew time.
Keep working at it, though; after you get used to it, you will learn your espresso machine’s quirks, and you will also familiarize yourself with the many nuances of espresso brewing. Eventually, it will become second-nature for you to brew delicious espresso at home. These steps will just fly by, and you will be able to quickly and easily enjoy a delicious shot anytime!
Take a good look at our comparison chart to find the perfect espresso machine for you!