Producing great espresso is not easy. It requires patience, effort, understanding and skill. The keys to getting good espresso from a quality espresso machine include: using high quality, fresh coffee; correctly grinding the coffee with a high grade burr grinder; correctly packing the accurate amount of coffee into the basket; and extracting the coffee at the correct temperature. Keeping the equipment clean is a crucial part of insuring consistency in process and product.
As the name indicates, an espresso is a cup of coffee prepared, on the spot, for immediate consumption. When brewed properly, it is an enormously complex drink with concentrated flavours and aromas that distinguish it from coffee prepared by any other method. A cup of espresso should not exceed 30 ml (about 1 ounce) and is produced by forcing high-pressure hot water at 9 or more atmospheres through seven grams of finely ground and expertly tamped coffee. To coffee connoisseurs, espresso is the quintessential form of coffee; the purest way to enjoy its aroma and flavour at their maximum intensity; a tiny miracle of chemistry and physics that is as much art as it is science. Here’s how to prepare it like a pro:
Warm your cup: Take a moment to warm your espresso cup. Coffee is always sensitive to abrupt changes in temperature. Espresso is especially sensitive because it’s such a small, concentrated beverage. Sometimes espresso machines have a hot water spout on the machine.
Prepare portafilter: You’ll need to remove the portafilter. It is important to wipe the portafilter in order to both clean and dry the basket.
Grind and dose: The coffee should be ground with a quality burr (rather than blade) grinder. Blade grinders chop the coffee rather than grinding it, resulting in uneven and unpredictable particle size. This results in uneven extraction, which causes coffee that has increased bitterness and which is not true to the true flavor profile of the coffee. In addition, the lack of consistency in particle size results in inconsistent and unpredictable results from shot to shot. The coffee should be finely ground and poured directly into the portafilter basket as evenly as possible. Be sure to turn the grinder off before the portafilter basket is completely full in order to ensure no coffee is left in the grinder. Freshly ground coffee will give you the best results.
Settle the coffee: You’ll need to tap the portafilter once or twice on the counter or on the grinder forks to settle the coffee. There should be a small amount of coffee above the top edge of the basket after you settle it.
Level the coffee: You’re ready to level the coffee. Keeping your finger straight, gently glide it across the surface of the coffee of the portafilter from side to side to create an even surface. Try not to put any pressure on the coffee.
Tamp the coffee: You will want to be sure that your tamper is the right size for your home espresso machine. You may want to practice on a bathroom scale to discover what 30-40 pounds of pressure feels like. Grasp the tamper in your hand and press down on the coffee in the portafilter with 30-40 pounds of pressure. Be sure to keep it flat and even to allow the coffee to extract evenly through the portafilter.
Purge grouphead: You will need to purge the grouphead before you replace the portafilter. (Wait 3 seconds for water to come out. If it’s hissing and bubbling out of the screen, it is too hot. Wait a little bit longer for it to calm down.)
Insert portafilter: You can now insert the portafilter in the grouphead. Start the grouphead and the timer at the same time. You will need to have cups handy to quickly put them under the spouts.
Watch the espresso: Watch the espresso as it extracts. It should drip and steadily increase in speed, but not gush out. The whole extraction – start to finish – should take about 23-28 seconds. The ‘end’ of extraction is when there is 1.5 oz of espresso. The espresso should come out in 2 streams looking like a mouse tail.
Taste and adjust: Take the time to taste the espresso and then adjust your grind for the next shot. It’s almost never right the first time, so have patience. Is it too fast? (20 seconds) You will need to adjust the grind to ‘ finer’ for your next shot. Is it too slow? (30 seconds) You will need to adjust the grind to be ‘more coarse’ for your next shot.
Also known as the “little one”, is the strongest espresso of the family. The Ristretto uses the same amount of ground coffee as a regular espresso but uses less water. The name derives from the “restricted use of water”.
Prepare to brew an espresso using your normal amount of coffee.
Stop the extraction just short of a regular shot.
A Cafe Crema is a long espresso. Instead of stopping the shot at the normal time for a single or double shot, let the pump run longer until you have a full cup of coffee.
Brew a proper single or double espresso and then add hot water from the wand to fill cup.
This is just an espresso with a wee bit of froth on top.
Just a standard latte and add a little foam on top.
Before we prepare a Latte or a Cappuccino, let us look at a few pointers on frothing milk.
Much has been written about the subject of frothing milk when actually, it is the easiest part of the brewing ritual. The main factors in successful frothing are:
1) Using the correct size pitcher and checking to see that it is no more than one- third full. The milk will triple in volume.
2) Either chilling or freezing the pitcher and using very cold milk.
3) Using a frothing thermometer until you learn to “feel the heat” in the pitcher.
Preparation requires that you first point the stem wand into the trip tray and open the valve slightly to release any water steam. You want pure steam vapour.
There are two techniques commonly used to create froth.
involves inserting the stem tip just off-centre, just barely under the surface of the milk to circulate and create foam. Do this until the thermometer reaches 100 º F degrees. Then, push the wand into the milk as far as ⅛ of an inch above the bottom of the pitcher which you will tilt slightly to create a vortex in the milk. Continue until the milk reaches a temperature between 155º F. and 160ºF. Any higher and you will scorch the milk. When you are finished, the pitcher should contain froth up to the brim.
is just the opposite. You begin with the wand near the bottom of the pitcher and as the thermometer rises to 100º degrees, you very slowly bring the wand up to the surface, always maintaining the vortex. This is called “stretching”.
After you have finished frothing and have set the pitcher down, immediately take a wet cloth or small scouring pad and clean the dry milk from the wand. Point the wand into the drip tray again and open the valve briefly to clear the tip of dried milk.
Preparing a Cafe Latte in three simple steps: A latte is made with two parts steamed milk to one part espresso.
Steam and froth a small pitcher of milk.
Fill your cup 2/3rds full with steamed milk.
Brew your espresso and pour it down the side of your cup.
Preparing a Cappuccino: A cappuccino is traditionally served in a 7 oz. cup. The drink is comprised of equal amounts of espresso, steamed milk and frothed milk.
Steam and froth a pitcher of milk.
Brew a double espresso into your cup.
Add steamed milk by holding back the froth with a spoon.
Spoon the froth on top.
Preparing a Cafe Mocha: By adding some chocolate to an espresso, you’ve got Mocha.
Steam a small pitcher of milk.
Add a squirt of chocolate syrup to the milk and mix well.
Brew your espresso and pour it into a large mug or glass.
Add the chocolate milk.
Top it off with some whipped cream and/or some chocolate shavings.