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How to Make Espresso

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Rancilio Silvia espresso machine beginner guide

Now you know what espresso is, and you know it's for you. But where do you start? We'll point you in the right direction – and we promise you'll like where this is going.

Brewing variables

Before jumping in, let's make sure we're wearing the right clothes. There are a handful of things to consider as you prepare to take the plunge, and we call them "brewing variables". Most of these apply when making coffee of any kind, but some are unique to espresso. Let's sort 'em out.

WATER: Your espresso will taste only as good as the water you start with. Sediment, scale, and unwelcome minerals will doom your drink and your equipment if they're not dealt with up front, so, before you get too far, learn about the quality of your water. Most hardware stores have inexpensive water test kits available for purchase but you can also contact your local water source for details about what they pump to your pipes. With that information fresh in hand, check out the Specialty Coffee Association of America's water standards . If your H2O is off-the-charts funky, give us a call and we'll walk you through some water treatment solutions. And no matter your situation, you can keep out a lot of nasty stuff with a simple carbon filter, like that in a Brita pitcher.

Espresso coffee grind

GRIND: Before brewing, coffee beans need to be cut into smaller pieces. Making espresso requires a finer grind than most methods, with particles around the size of table salt. You know you're in the right neighborhood once the ground coffee begins to clump together. Later, you'll learn how to manipulate the grind to achieve different results.

DOSE: For a "doubleshot" – the standard serving size – we prefer to use between 18 and 21 grams of ground coffee. As you add more coffee, your shot will increase in both body and intensity. Feel free to adjust your dose according to taste and make use of the troubleshooting tips below.

 

TAMP: Compacting ground coffee with a tamper restricts the flow of water, forcing coffee and water to interact. Start with a 30-pound press (your bathroom scale can tell you what this feels like), applied evenly. A firm, level tamp is essential to even extraction.

TEMP: Water heated to 195-205ºF is ideal for preparing coffee, and some espresso machines allow you to control this temperature. (For most systems, this is made possible by a "PID controller".) If yours does, play within this range to find what you like. You'll notice that lower temperatures draw out more brightness, while cranking up the heat produces roasty flavors. If you're not able to choose the temperature for yourself, you can assume for now that the machine is doing its job.

Espresso shot yield

YIELD: With brewed coffee, we measure coffee input and water input, but when making espresso it's coffee input and beverage output. Depending on your dose and basket size, shoot for about 2 ounces of espresso out, enough to fill a large shot glass. If you're weighing your shots, a 30-gram yield is a safe place to start.

TIME: With our recommended dose and yield, about 25-30 seconds should pass between the beginning of extraction and the moment your glass is full. Half a minute for a happy tongue? Not bad.

Tools of the trade

With these tips in our pocket, we're about ready to go. First, let's get our gear together:

MACHINE: Our favorite espresso machines sport solid components, stable temperatures, and a sensible interface. If you're in the market for a new machine, you can rest assured that every model on our website meets these criteria. Skip to the end of this series for specific recommendations.

GRINDER: Consistently tasty espresso starts with consistently ground coffee. To get the most out of your beans, choose a "burr" (not a "blade") grinder that can grind finely with many steps of adjustment.

FILTER: Your espresso machine may have arrived with a few options. For starters, grab a two-spouted or bottomless portafilter and insert a double basket – that'll most likely be the largest of the baskets you received.

TAMPER: For a secure "coffee puck" and even extraction, pick a tamper that fits your portafilter basket snugly. Most baskets have a diameter of 58 millimeters, but our tampers are available in a wide variety of sizes. If you're serious about refining your technique, we highly recommend the Prima Tamp .

SCALE: With a gram scale, you'll be better equipped to monitor parameters, produce consistent results, and diagnose problems. We favor those with low resolutions, reading in 0.1- to 1-gram increments, and recommend that you weigh both dose and yield.

VESSEL: Something to catch that liquid gold. A volumetric shot glass can help you keep track of how much espresso you're pulling, especially if you don't have a scale handy.

Now, as Lil Jon once said, let's take some shots!

How to make espresso

 
  1. Fill your espresso machine's reservoir or hook it up to your water line. However your water is fetched, make sure it's cold, filtered, and not-too-hard-or-soft. Water treatment is an important first step: distilled water will do serious damage to your boiler, hard water will accumulate serious scale, and unfiltered water will taste seriously lame. Once you know that you're working with happy H2O, saunter down to step 2.
  2. Turn on your machine and give it plenty of time to heat up. Depending on the size of your machine, this could take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. Don't assume that you're ready to go as soon as you're up to brewing temperature, though; instead, wait a little longer until the entire machine feels nice and warm.
  3. Lock an empty portafilter in the grouphead and run the machine for a few seconds. This brings fresh water to the front and heats up the parts that get closest to your coffee. Then, wipe off the inside of the portafilter and the underside of the grouphead so that they're clean and dry.
  4. Grind a few beans to check for appropriate fineness and purge your grinder of stale grounds. The coffee should clump loosely and appear powdery, but should still feel gritty when rubbed between your fingers.
  5. Dose 18 to 21 grams of freshly ground coffee into the portafilter. As coffee exits the chute, rotate the portafilter so that the grounds settle evenly in the basket. Afterwards, use your forefinger to level the grounds and fill in any air pockets.
  6. Tamp with your wrist, arm, and elbow positioned directly over the center of the portafilter basket. Focus on pressing evenly, using your fingertips to feel the edge of the basket, then inspect the dry puck to see if the bed appears level.
  7. Return the portafilter to the grouphead and begin brewing. If your machine offers a separate pre-brew or "pre-infusion" stage, complete this first. By doing so, you'll allow stored gases to release before full infusion begins. With fresh coffee, pre-infuse until your see the first drops exit the portafilter.
  8. Begin infusion and end brew at predetermined yield: 2 fluid ounces or about 30 grams. Before serving, mix crema by stirring or pouring espresso into another cup.

Espresso tips and troubleshooting

How'd it go? Even when you think you nailed every step, sometimes things just don't taste right. If your espresso isn't everything you hoped for, think about what seems off and try some of these tricks. Still missing the mark? Make sure that you're starting with good, fresh coffee and a quality burr grinder.

  • My shot took too long. Something is preventing the water from flowing through the coffee in a reasonable amount of time. As a result, your espresso may taste bitter. To fix it,
    • Dose less coffee OR
    • Grind coarser OR
    • Tamp lighter
  • My shot went too fast. Your puck isn't putting up enough of a fight, the water is just flying through, and your espresso tastes lame. We're probably looking at "under-extraction". To fix it,
    • Dose more coffee OR
    • Grind finer OR
    • Tamp harder
  • My shot tastes bitter. "Over-extraction": isn't it gross? In this case, you got too much out of your coffee, like when you forget to take out your tea bag after 4 minutes. To fix it,
    • Decrease water temperature OR
    • Shorten brew time (see tips above)
  • My shot tastes sour. Like under-cooking food, it's possible to stop the chemical reaction that's taking place between coffee and water too early. When everything is in balance, you'll extract all the right things: not less, not more. To fix it,
    • Increase water temperature OR
    • Extend brew time (see tips above)
  • My shot tastes weird. It's not always that you went too far or not far enough: sometimes, water doesn't pass through the coffee evenly, and weird things happen. To fix it,
    • Check for "channeling" (holes in wet puck), THEN
    • Ensure even distribution AND
    • Ensure level tamp
  • My shot is watery. Espresso should have a thick, syrupy body, but achieving this requires a correct brewing ratio (dose:yield), adequate brewing time, and fresh coffee. Miss any of these, and your espresso will be thin. To fix it,
    • Decrease yield OR
    • Dose more coffee OR
    • Grind finer OR
    • Tamp harder OR
    • Use fresh coffee
  • My shot's stream was uneven. In its course through the portafilter, water will follow the path of least resistance. If the puck isn't level or secure, this path will be crooked and your espresso won't pour from the center in a single stream. To fix it,
    • Ensure even distribution AND
    • Ensure level tamp
  • My shot has little-to-no-crema. If you don't see any crema, either the puck isn't sufficiently resisting the pressurized water or your coffee is just too old. To fix it,
    • Dose more coffee OR
    • Grind finer OR
    • Use fresh coffee
  • My shot looks to be all crema. Beans that are still holding a lot of gas from the roasting process aren't quite ready for brewing. If your espressos have absurd amount of foam, all that's needed is a little patience. To fix it,
    • Allow coffee to rest for a couple more days

Espresso Tips and Troubleshooting

 

Disqus - noscript

With so many grinder options on the market, that's a great question! Most burr grinders are going to have burrs made of either steel or a heavy-duty ceramic material. With more budget-friendly burr grinders, it's almost all steel, and almost all conical burrs. Those grinders are also going to be better suited to brewed coffee than espresso, but not because of the burr style or material. Instead, it's because espresso can be demanding on grind consistency - how uniform the coffee particles are in size - and on fine adjustment. Something like a Baratza Encore would make a great budget-friendly brewing grinder, but it's likely to struggle a bit with espresso. Grinders with flat burrs are often more expensive, like the Baratza Vario and Forte, or the lower end Mazzer models. Those grinders are also better suited for espresso, mainly because they have improved grind consistency and more precise control of grind size.

By far the most useful guide for espresso making! I recently bought a Alex Duetto 3 for home use and i've looked everywhere trying to gather bits of information for pulling good shots and this was SO helpful! Thanks so much for this. I have this favorited and always come back to re-read some parts

I have a question, what are the difference between burr grinders...steel/plastic and do you use them for different brew types...espresso/drip?

With the manual expresso machine, which is said to be a 10 cup machine, what does that 10 cups mean? All I can see from the videos is 1 or 2 cups coffee can be extracted.

Apart from that, in a manual machine, should we control the brewing time? Should I stop at 25-30 seconds after the start of the coffee extraction?

After making such beautiful coffee with laters of expresso, milk and froath, what if I need to mix sugar? Should I disturb the entire thing to mix? Or is there any other way?

Hi! Could you please explain how using distilled water will: "seriously damage your boiler", as stated above in your article?

Great article. There's nothing quite like the jolt of espresso.

Prima Coffee Equipment Do you have any suggestions for a more cost effective option oppose to a big fancy machine? I've heard the Bialetti and Pedrini stove top espresso makers are good choices but I'd love to hear your recommendations.

neufie I just recently bought a manual burr coffee grinder from Grosche International Inc. ( http://www.grosche.ca/ ) that I love! It's more work, but it allows me to ensure my grinds are consistent and even in size which is essential for great tasting coffee.

I have the same question. Thanks in advance for answers.

How much water should I use for the espresso?

Really it depends on the coffee you're using, but as we note in the "Yield" paragraph above, a shot weight of 30 grams is a good place to start. You can also shoot for different brew ratios for different types of shots: a 1:2 ratio of ground coffee mass to espresso mass is considered a classic "normale" style shot. A 1:1 ratio would be a very strong ristretto-style shot. Something in between, like a 1:1.75 has a bit more strength than a normale, but may just be perfect for a cappuccino or latte. So, if you're using 15 grams of ground coffee for your shot, try pulling about 30 grams out to start, and see where you'd like to adjust from there.

Hi, I have one of those Machinettas. The filter can hold about 20 grams of actual coffee/espresso, and the reservoir can hold 8oz (1cup) of water. I am normally just making espresso for myself, so what's the best way to go about this? Just put in 20 grams of coffee for a double shot, and then just place 2oz of water in there? Seems a little odd to me.

A moka pot is designed to be used at its full capacity for all brews. There is sadly not a good way to use less coffee or less water and still get a good product out of it. The issue is in how the pot uses the coffee to provide resistance to water flow, and thus build pressure. If the basket is not full, you won't have sufficient pressure, and the coffee will come out weak. If you fill the basket but use less water, you'll have a strong but underextracted coffee. So, you'll either want to find some way to use the remaining coffee from your brews (coffee ice cubes, or maybe tiramisu?), or look into finding a smaller model for your daily use.

So in the "Yield" section you say that either 2 ounces or 30 grams. I tried this and 30 grams is equal to about one ounce of espresso, not two. I guess I am just confused as to why if you are not using a grams scale you should aim for two ounces, but if you are one ounce is a good place to start. Maybe I am misreading or misunderstanding! Thanks so much.

Hey Daniel. Our finding is that a freshly pulled shot weighing 30 grams is going to be much closer to 2 fl oz than one. That's taking into account the crema as well, rather than excluding it, since it contains extracted materials and contributes to the mass. We also suggest aiming for two ounces with a double shot so the strength is more palatable to a wider array of coffee drinkers. A one ounce pull from 18 grams of coffee is going to be *very* potent indeed.

Some machines may say 10 cups because that's roughly the capacity of their boiler or reservoir. The La Pavoni Europiccola, for example, has a sealed boiler with a set maximum capacity, so it is only able to brew 6-8 shots before needing to be refilled. Some other machines come with carafes, and claim to make a whole pot of espresso. Those aren't really true espresso machines, as they do not produce enough pressure during brewing, but function more like electric moka pots. Without knowing the model, your machine may fall in either of those groups.

If yours is more like a La Pavoni, then you can stop the shot whenever you wish. 25-30 seconds is a good place to start, but sometimes longer shots still taste quite good. You may need to simply remove your cup and continue pushing the lever to clear the water from the chamber, pouring the remaining shot into the drip tray.

When it comes to mixing in ingredients, we don't blame you for not wanting to disturb any beautiful latte art you might have on your drink. Try mixing the sugar with the espresso before assembling the rest of the drink. The hot coffee will dissolve the sugar quickly, and you can still pour a great rosetta on top of the shot afterward. Happy brewing!

Elizabeth, the Bialetti pots and other similar devices are not quite what we'd call modern espresso makers. Generally, today's espresso is defined in large part by an extraction pressure of around 9 bars, or roughly 130 psi. Moka pots fall far short of that target, usually only reaching 1.5-2 bars. They make a somewhat more concentrated coffee than your average drip brew, but it's not quite the same as a good espresso. Still, if you're on a tight budget and just want a little extra richness in your brew, a moka pot is a perfectly suitable brewer for that!

For cheaper espresso machines, there are some more budget-friendly models that might require some modifications or a good deal of patience, such as the lower end Gaggia Baby or Color machines. The Gaggia Classic is a good benchmark for a budget machine with decent performance, but it does come with a pressurized portafilter that needs to be disabled for proper espresso - thankfully, it's quite easy to remove the small plastic plug in the portafilter. You can also sometimes find good deals on well-loved machines on forum sites like CoffeeGeek, local classifieds or Craigslist, even eBay from time to time. These are buyer beware situations, however, where you need to do your research beforehand and try to make sure you're not buying a lemon. Still, if you keep a weather eye out for a good deal you can nab a high-quality machine like a La Pavoni Europiccola for $300 or less, in great condition with only a few dings or scratches.

I am not sure your measurement under yield and step 8 above are right and would appreciate some clarification. 1 fluid ounce of water weighs 29.6 grams. Yet you are saying a 2 ounce liquid pull should weigh 30 grams. Don't you mean 60 grams?

Good question, Ray! You'll find that the density of water is quite different from the density of espresso, especially when factoring in the crema. Crema is full of gas surrounded by some lipids, proteins, and a bit of carbohydrates, so while it might be bubbly and voluminous, it doesn't actually contribute much to the mass. That right there is part of the reason that 2 ounces of espresso might have a lower mass than 2 ounces of water. That said, 2 ounces of espresso could easily weigh 40-60 grams, crema included. That's why we tend to prefer pulling shots by weight rather than volume, since it's then easier to determine our extraction yield - how much coffee "stuff" made it into the cup.

Certainly, David. Distilled water - and any water with an extremely low TDS, like some RO waters - are sometimes referred to as "hungry." Because water is an effective solvent, unless there's some mineral content already dissolved in it, it has a tendency to wear away the materials it comes into contact with. Boilers made of aluminum, brass, or copper can be very susceptible to this effect, as distilled water will gradually eat away at the boiler, fittings, and pipes. This causes irreparable damage in the form of pitting and erosion, and in the case of the pipes, you risk bursting or leaking due to erosion. Stainless steel boilers aren't quite as susceptible, but the fittings and pipes can still see some damage. While hard water presents its own problems in the form of limescale, the real solution is to use a moderately soft water and descale your boiler as preventative maintenance.

Thanks for some of the troubleshooting tips! I have a problem that I don't see listed, but it's likely related to what you have listed. After I'm done brewing my espresso shot, sometimes the puck is dry and sometimes it's really wet with a pool of water still on top of the puck. I suspect I'm tamping it too hard and possibly that my ground is too fine, but looking for some confirmation.

There are a good deal of factors that go into what a puck looks like after brewing, and most of them don't really mean anything when it comes to the flavor of the shot itself. Does your machine have a three-way solenoid valve to release pressure after brewing? If so, the valve relies on built up pressure in the puck to remove excess water, so if the pressure drops toward the end of the brew the puck is more likely to have water pooled on top. If your machine doesn't have the three-way valve, it could just be chance, that the water hasn't completely drained before you remove your portafilter, or the coffee isn't quite as soluble as a previous batch. Tamping is not a likely cause, but see if a change in grind size affects anything. Of course, if everything tastes great, then a puddly puck is hardly something to worry about!

So when I make my espresso it seems that I have a very water crema, the taste of the brew is good. I have been using about 7 grams for a single shot. I tamp down with about 30 ibs of pressure according to the scale. My puck is formed solid after i remove it. 7 grams fills my one shot reservoir full. Should I try to pack even harder and add more grinds in? I have a delonghi espresso ec702 machine. Any hints?

Hey you all! I just got a Rancilio Silvia, and had a question regarding when to stop pulling the shot.
So I am hearing conflicting ideas about when to stop, mainly because I am interested in knowing and setting up my knowledge on ristretto shots and lungos. Thus far, I've been pulling shots with one rule in mind, going for the golden 29-ish second mark, and hitting the 30 gram weight mark, which I have finally gotten down.

BUT, I am also hearing and reading about stopping when the shot goes "blonde". Which is reallllllly subjective and hard to tell sometimes, I mean, it kind of looks blonde towards 2/3 into the shot until it ends haha
And then there's the blonde where it looks realllllly blonde.
Which rule should I then follow? It seems so far that every factor seems to be in place:
19 ish grams of coffee for a double, with a fine enough setting that a 30 lb tamp puts it at around a 28 ish second mark at 30 grams yield.

Let me know when you think, thanks!

try it and let us know how it goes! Or don't. But please do!

Generally it's okay to let things be if the taste is good. But to get a thicker crema, you could try a few things. The first would be to grind finer, which will passively increase the extraction pressure. You could also increase the dose slightly, which will change the brew ratio and increase strength - the same end can be reached by pulling a shorter shot. You may also wish to work with double shots instead so you have a bit more wiggle room when playing with your shot variables.

Hey Gerardo! As you can probably guess, espresso is a subject with a good deal of opinions and subjectivity involved, so we generally stick to one key metric above all others - taste. It seems simple and obvious, but it's all too easy to get caught up in "rules" and suggestions for pulling shots while forgetting that the end goal is simply to create a shot that tastes great.

Here's our standard approach for dialing in a coffee: First, we try to pick a dose that best suits the basket being used. Often dosing too much or too little coffee in the basket can create extraction problems, so we aim to have about 5-10 mm or so of headspace in the basket once the coffee has been tamped. That allows for some room for expansion once the water hits the grounds, but not so much room that the water disturbs the upper layer of the puck too much and causes channeling. Once we have a dose picked out, we can begin working with brew ratios to find our desired flavor profile. Classic styled espressos, going for that dark and rich chocolate/caramel flavor profile, will often taste best when pulled slightly short of normale, or even far into ristretto territory. In our mind, that means that we want a ratio that is lower than 1:2; meaning if we have 18 grams in the basket, we want the shot yield to be less than 36 grams. For more "third wave" style shots using lighter and denser coffees, we tend to prefer pulling longer shots with more extraction, to allow for some acidity but emphasizing sweetness. Those we'll pull more normale, or even a bit longer - 1:2 or more. An 18 gram dose in that case would have a 40-50 g yield.

As for blonding, while it is a fair visual indicator of overextraction, it is imprecise as you've noted, and very subjective. It helps to be very familiar with a particular coffee to be able to judge it by sight, but if you're like us you may use 4-5 different coffees for espresso in a given month. That's not a long enough period of time to determine at what point in blonding to stop a shot, in our experience. Instead, we tend to stick to the general tenets of extraction and flavor - overextraction yields dry-tasting, bitter, sometimes burnt or salty shots. Underextraction yields sour, grassy, grainy, astringent shots. Regardless of crema color, we'll taste the shot to determine what adjustments should be made, and go on from there. If we can correlate crema color to a particular amount of extraction, then great! That's another indicator to look for next time to help keep things dialed in.

After dialing things in, we may even start experimenting. Try pulling a roastier coffee a bit longer with a finer grind, and see what happens. Or grind that light Kenyan a touch coarser and pull even longer, into "coffee shot" territory. Taste it all and see what works, and never be afraid to try something a little crazy.

These are some really cool suggestions and they make sense, thanks a lot doods!
I've been expirementing a lot with darker, softer, more surface oily beans and comparing the process with those denser lighter beans.
I also noticed that generally the blonding correlates to some degree with the consistent factors of tamp and grind in place.
But thus far I've only tried keeping it at the 3:5 ish bean to yield ratio and using the weight yield and extraction time to pinpoint general success (and taste too, I still have a sip of the odd shots to see what they're like).
I'll definitely expirement more, thanks again for the advice!!

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