So, you’ve got a great espresso machine to help bring that coffee-shop quality to your home. The next step in your coffee quest is to master the art of making the perfect espresso.
Whether you’re a coffee snob or a total caffeine junkie, sipping a beautifully brewed espresso delivers deep flavor and a pocket-sized-yet-powerful punch of rich-tasting intensity.
Taking a sip of a badly brewed coffee, however, will see you spit it straight back into the tiny cup from which it was sipped to rid yourself of the bitter, sharp taste it leaves in your mouth.
Not only that, but you’ll ruin the base of whatever coffee you’re making as no amount of frothy milk or chocolate shavings can mask the taste of burnt or badly brewed espresso.
While you do need to understand the basics if you want to get this right, making a great shot of espresso isn’t as hard as you might assume. To make things even easier, I’ve created a list of simple instructions that you can follow as well as sharing some useful tips and tricks.
And as a qualified barista, it’s safe to say that I know my way around an espresso machine.
What are you waiting for? Find your favorite espresso cup and let’s get ready to fill it.
In less than just ten steps, you can brew the perfect espresso to start your morning with.
First, before filling your portafilter with ground coffee beans, it’s important to give it a good scrub to clean off any lingering residue or coffee grounds from when you made your last cup.
If there is anything left in the portafilter when you brew your espresso it will come out tasting over-extracted and overly bitter, so get right into the corners with a damp cloth or sponge.
Getting the grind right is super important as this is what will dose the portafilter with the correct quantity of coffee grounds. Why is it important to have the right dose, you ask?
If there is too much or too little in the portafilter when you brew espresso, the extraction will be off and your coffee will come out tasting bitter and unpleasant which will ruin the flavor.
Most on-demand grinders require a simple push of a button to release a pre-set dose, but it’s worth checking this is properly calibrated every now and then to ensure it’s working correctly.
Give the portafilter a gentle tap or shake it slightly to loosen the coffee grounds so they’re more level rather than forming a rounded mound in the center of the scoop.
Skipping this step will mean more coffee grounds will collect in certain areas whilst others are left sparse, and this could lead to espresso without a silky smooth coffee consistency.
There’s no way of knowing exactly how much pressure you’re putting on the portafilter while you tamp the coffee grounds down, but you should at least remove all and any air pockets to leave the surface of the coffee grounds completely level. This is to prevent channeling.
Just like step one when you cleaned the portafilter to prepare for a fresh espresso, for this step, rinse the group head before brewing the shot so you can start with a clean palate.
As well as washing away any coffee residue that’s still lingering in the group head out of sight, a quick rinse will preheat the group head for an improved extraction process.
Slot the portafilter into place on your machine and start brewing your espresso!
We’re not just excited – even though at this point of the process, we always are – but it’s also important to start brewing as soon as you insert the portafilter to avoid burning the grounds.
Think we’re being dramatic by telling you to brew it straight away? Try being in the World Barista Championships! If you waste too much time between inserting and brewing during these competitions, you can expect to have a point deducted from your total score. Harsh.
Getting the timing right is the final and most important step of making the perfect espresso.
Brewing the coffee for too short a time is called under-extraction, and this will alter the flavor of the espresso causing it to have a bitter taste. Over-extraction is equally as bad, as your espresso will come out weak and watery, and could even end up overflowing the cup.
Provided you’ve followed every step until this point correctly, you should have a beautifully brewed cup of espresso waiting for you to serve up for yourself or to impress house guests.
Serve it up in the small espresso cup you brewed it in with a biscuit on the stage. That latter half is optional, but it provides a nice little finishing touch to the perfect espresso.
The process of making the perfect espresso doesn’t finish when you serve it though, oh no!
For the final step, get everything you’ve used throughout the espresso-making process cleaned, prepared, and ready to do it all again for your next cup of coffee… in about an hour.
Tips and Tricks
Whilst it’s important to correctly carry out each of the steps we’ve provided, it takes more than just the ability to follow instructions to make the perfect espresso.
No matter how well you brew them, if the bean quality is poor then the coffee will be too.
The best coffee is made using quality beans that have been freshly ground in your coffee machine. Coffee goes stale eventually which will detract from its flavor, so always check the roast profile and the expiration date on a bag of beans before you buy.
Choosing The Right Recipe
There’s more that goes into making an espresso than just the coffee, so it’s important to follow a recipe that’s going to taste good when you make it. There are plenty of recipes available online, or why not try experimenting with your own to see what works best for you?
What I like to do is write down any adjustments that I make to the espresso recipe so that I can tailor it to my taste preferences, as this way I will know exactly what I changed so I can recreate it exactly the same next time, or I can adjust it again based on the results.
Having a top-of-the-range coffee machine might not guarantee you the perfect espresso, but it certainly won’t stop you from creating one, either. In my experience, using good equipment can make all the difference and will allow you to make great espresso for years to come.
If you want to choose the best espresso machine for under $1,000, click here to check out which models we would recommend for making the perfect espresso.
Ideally, the water temperature should be between 195℉ and 205℉ (90℃ and 96℃) for the perfect espresso.
If the temperature of the water you’re using to brew your espresso is too hot then you could end up burning the beans which creates a bitter, unpleasant taste. Too cold and the extraction will be too weak which will result in a watery espresso.
Practice Makes Perfect!
Now you know pretty much everything there is to know about making the perfect espresso, so it’s time to go and put these steps and tips into practice.
Even if you don’t master it on the first cup, with plenty of practice and time to get used to how your machine works, you’ll be producing coffee-shop quality espresso in no time.
At the very least, have fun with all that taste-testing!