Espresso is useful in many applications from drinks to desserts. It has an intense, bold, and rich flavour, unlike any other type of coffee. Making proper espresso separates the amateur from the professional. If you learn how to make espresso, you will no longer have to go out to grab a coffee, and you will save lots of money over time.
There are many espresso machines on the market the range from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars. The features each machine has can make a the difference between a great tasting espresso and terrible espresso. The most popular machine on the market is the Breville Barista Express ($799.99). It produces authentic espresso, and includes an integrated burr grinder, and a steam wand. It is great for any home barista and coffee lover. On the downside, it can be a little messy and difficult to produce proper microfoam with the manual steam wand.
The machine that I have in in my kitchen is the DeLonghi La Specialista ($899.99). It was made to compete with the Barista Express, and includes some great additional features. It has an integrated tamper, and steam wand with flat/foam control. A drawback on the machine is that it only includes pressurized filter baskets, which some people find as a weakness to the Barista Express. Whatever machine you choose, make sure to do research on the machine.
PORTAFILTER AND FILTER BASKET
The portafilter is the tool that comes with the machine, which holds the filter basket containing the coffee grounds. There are different styles from bottomless to single and double spouted. The bottomless portafilter is useful for beginners because it allows you to see how the espresso is extracting, but it is not a must. Most machines come with a double spouted portafilter, which is ideal for most people.
A filter basket is the basket that is placed in the portafilter, and holds tamped espresso grounds. Machines come with both a single shot filter basket and a double shot filter basket. There are two types of filter baskets, pressurized and non-pressured. Pressurized filter baskets have 1 hole at the bottom, and create pressure within the basket. It is great for beginners, as it is much more forgiving. However, using pressurized baskets can slightly affect the quality of the espresso shot. On the other hand, non-pressurized baskets have multiple holes at the bottom, and do not create additional pressure. I would recommend them to more experienced baristas because they take longer to get used to.
The coffee beans you use is the most important aspect of espresso brewing along with the machine. “Espresso beans” are usually just roasts of the general coffee bean that are optimized for espresso. Each coffee bean has a different flavour (e.g. smoky, chocolaty, fruity, mellow). I would not recommend using a regular coffee bean because they are usually more acidic than an espresso bean. Additionally, make sure you are able to find freshly roasted espresso beans (local is best), in smaller quantities for the best results. Also, make sure you don’t buy oily beans if you have an espresso machine with an integrated grinder because the oils will clog the grinder.
THE GRIND AND DOSE
The grind of the coffee bean can greatly affect the quality of the espresso shot. Different beans need different grinds, but generally espresso is extracted through finely-ground beans.
The dose refers to the amount of ground coffee used. Typically, filter baskets have a line on the inside to indicate how much coffee should be used. However, you may need to go above or below the line to pull the best shot.
Tamping is an essential step in pulling espresso shots, after adding the ground coffee to the filter basket, you must tamp (compress) the grounds evenly with a tamper (19-20 kg force). A tamper is the tool (looks like a doorknob), used to compress the coffee. After tamping, you should give it a little twist to polish the grounds. Polishing is not extremely important as long as you have an even tamp you should be fine.
Some espresso machines include a pressure gauge to indicate the amount of pressure exerted while extracting the espresso. The pressure is measured in bar pressure, which is the measurement of atmospheric pressure at sea level. Some espresso machine have higher bar pressure capacities (19 bar), but they usually use around 9 bar pressure to extract. Initially, the pressure will be in the Pre-Infusion Zone, which dampens the grounds, preparing it for higher pressure and even extraction. After Pre-Infusion, it will move into the Optimal Zone, and hold pressure for 25-30 seconds. Finally, the pressure will release, and the espresso will be ready!
Extracting espresso should take 25-30 seconds for a double shot. The espresso should come out of the portafilter like “warm honey.” It will separate into dark liquid on the bottom with a golden crema on top. The crema is a significant characteristic of good espresso. The crema is created by the emulsion of the oils in the bean and the pressurized water that are suspended in CO2. Fresher coffee beans will produce more crema because they will have more CO2 within the bean. The crema should be about 1/10 of the espresso. If the crema is thin, or not present the espresso is either under or over-extracted.
Milk-based espresso drinks require steamed milk. Technique is key when using the steam wand to stretch and froth the milk. You have to change technique when preparing foamy milk vs. steamed milk.
Firstly, fill your milk pitcher 1/3 – 1/2 way full, and open the steam valve for 3-5 seconds to ensure the steam system is clean. Place the pitcher under the steam wand, and open the valve. Adjust the position of the pitcher, so the steam wand is 1/4 – 1/2 inch below the surface of the milk. Try to create a vortex with the milk by moving the pitcher and/or steam wand on an angle. Additionally, you can slowly move the pitcher up and down to create more foam. Once the milk starts to stretch, move the steam wand lower. After about 45-60 seconds your milk should be hot enough, you can tell be feeling the pitcher, and if its too hot the touch, it is perfectly heated. Lastly, before pouring, swirl and tap the pitcher to distribute the foam and remove large bubbles.
*Make sure to wipe of the steam wand immediately, and open the steam valve for a few seconds. Also, if the steam wand starts to “scream” loudly, move the position of the pitcher until it gets quieter.
Espresso brewing is a trial-and-error process, and may take a few attempts to get right.
What is under-extracted espresso? Under-extracted espresso is espresso that is weak and has a thin, clear crema.
How do you fix it? To fix under-extracted espresso, grind the coffee finer by 1 level, and/or increase the dose.
What is over-extracted espresso? Over-extracted espresso is espresso that is bitter and has a thin, dark crema.
How do you fix it? To fix over-extracted espresso, grind the coffee coarser by 1 level, and/or reduce the dose.
|Americano||Single or double shot espresso, diluted with water|
|Latte||1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk, topped with foam|
|Cappuccino||1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, 1/3 foam|
|Flat White||1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk|
|Macchiato||Single or double shot espresso topped with foam|
|Mocha||1/3 espresso, 1/3 chocolate sauce, 1/3 steamed milk, topped with foam or 1/3 espresso, cocoa powder and sugar, 2/3 steamed milk, topped with foam|
|Iced Americano||Single or double shot espresso, diluted with water, and topped with ice|
|Iced Latte||Single or double shot espresso, milk and ice|
|Iced Macchiato||Ice and milk, topped with single or double shot espresso, usually flavoured|
|Iced Mocha||Single or double shot espresso, chocolate sauce, milk and ice,|
Latte art is the process of pouring milk into espresso to create designs. It is a great way to show off your barista skills. Latte art takes lots of practice, and proper technique.
There are a few steps in creating outstanding latte art. Tilt the cup on an angle, hold the pitcher from high up, and pour in circular motion at medium speed. Once in the upper 1/3, lower the pitcher near the edge of the cup, and pour directly in the middle, while moving the pitcher side to side. Lastly, lift the pitcher up, and push through to finish the design.
Grind and tamp the coffee grounds.
Extract the espresso.
Tap out the coffee grounds into the knock box.
Steam the milk.
Pour the milk into the espresso. Enjoy!