How do I make great espresso?

Published by
May 20, 2011 8:38 pm

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We’re glad you asked. You can improve the quality of your espresso by practicing your technique with the following guidelines in mind. The most important elements in espresso preparation are the grind, dose, leveling, distribution and tamping. Perfecting how you do these will allow you to make great coffee every time.


STARTING POINTS:

  1. A double “ristretto” or short shot of espresso contains roughly 1.5oz of liquid, .75oz each shot.
  2. The best shots of espresso are pulled in a range within 23-28 seconds from when then brew cycle starts, with espresso dropping from the portafilter after 5-10 seconds.
  3. Grind your coffee fresh and be as efficient as possible. Don’t let ground coffee sit in the portafilter, and don’t let the portafilter sit in the group head before brewing. Coffee stales very quickly once it’s ground.
  4. Pre-heat your shot glasses, demitasse or mug with hot water before you begin grinding the coffee and preparing the shot.

GRIND

Your grind is the most important thing you can change to improve the quality of your espresso. Start with a fine grind – coarser than flour, finer than table salt. Adjust the coarseness to control how the shot pulls. If it comes out too fast and the crema is a lighter yellowish color, make the grind finer to restrict the flow. If the coffee runs too slow or doesn’t drop from the portafilter at all, make the grind coarser.

DOSE

A range of 14-18 grams of ground coffee is typical for a double-shot, but up to 21 grams or so will work depending on the coffee and the grind. In the average 58 or 53mm double basket, a mound of ground coffee in the center that sticks up above the rim about a half-inch with the base of the mound about will be roughly 19-20 grams, a good starting point. Adjust to taste. You can dose higher by ‘settling.’ Grasp the outside of the portafilter firmly in your fingers and give the bottom a good tap on the forks of your grinder or your countertop.

LEVEL AND DISTRIBUTE

Use your index finger (or any other straight-edge) to distribute the grounds evenly in the portafilter basket and create a nice level surface on which to tamp. Distribution and leveling are very important, as the coffee should be spread evenly inside the portafilter without much variation in depth or density.

TAMP

Grip the tamper handle as though you were grasping a doorknob. Keep the tamp surface in line with your wrist and elbow and tamp straight down using your forearm as a piston to apply roughly 30lbs of pressure. If you prefer, tamp a second time to integrate any loose grounds around the surface. Knocking the portafilter with your tamper is not necessary or advised, as you can create fissures in your puck. Use a bathroom scale to test your tamp pressure. Ensure that your tamp is level by resting the tamper on the compressed coffee and raising the portafilter to eye level to see if it’s tilted at all. Practice until the tamper is as level as can be every time.

GO!

Clear any ground coffee from the rim of the portafilter. Flush water through the group head if necessary to regulate temperature. Engage the portafilter in the group head and immediately start brewing. Check the second-hand on your watch or start a timer as soon as you engage the brew process. Dump out the water in your preheated cups and place them under the pour-spouts of the portafilter. Time your shot. A properly extracted shot of espresso will be rich and viscous with a deep brick red color on the top. The flavor will be intense but pleasant and balanced.


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