How to Make the Best Possible Espresso at Home
How to Make the Best Possible Espresso at Home
There is a fair bit of extra complexity involved in making espresso in comparison to filter coffee.
A consequence of this is that espresso that you make at home can be a bit underwhelming compared to what you get in a coffee shop.
While using commercial machinery does make a difference to how good an espresso you can make, it's still possible to make very good espresso with a basic machine at home.
Here we will go through some tips to help improve your espresso making at home.
1.) Weigh Out Your Beans and Final Drink
Espresso should be brewed with a 1:1.5 ratio of ground coffee in to final liquid out.
This ratio is quite a delicate one, with small alterations resulting in a drastically different drink. A ratio of 1:1 produces a ristretto, for example, which is so noticeably different to espresso that it has an entirely different name.
The only way to get an accurate brew ratio is to weigh both your initial dose of ground coffee, and your final drink.
Measuring the volume of your final drink is not reliable because of the crema that is produced when you make espresso. Crema is mainly air, and therefore adds a lot of extra volume for your drink without actually adding that much liquid.
It's worth buying a small scale that measures to the nearest gram in order to weigh your initial coffee dose and final espresso. This scale should be small enough that you can fit it under your cup as you pull your shot.
2.) Only Use as Much Ground Coffee as Your Portafilter Basket Allows
The part of an espresso machine that holds your ground coffee is called a portafilter. The part of a portafilter that the coffee actually sits in is called the portafilter basket.
Portafilter and portafilter basket
Every portafilter basket is designed with an ideal dose of ground coffee in mind.
If you exceed this dose, then your brewing water will not be able to get an even coverage of the coffee bed. This causes the coffee to extract unevenly, resulting in an overly bitter drink.
A lot of portafilter baskets state their ideal dose (usually in grams) on their side. If you cannot find this then you can definitely find this ideal dose in your machine’s manual.
Use this ideal dose as a fixed variable, and then base the amount of water you brew with to meet the 1:1.5 brew ratio according to the weight of ground coffee you use.
3.) Brew Espresso with Dark or Medium Dark Roast Coffee
While it's possible to make a fantastic espresso with lighter roast beans, I’d recommend starting brewing with darker roasts because all the current best practices in espresso making assumes that you are using dark roast beans.
Espresso is traditionally, and generally still is, made with darker roasts. This means that all the knowledge that we have built up about how to pull the best possible shots, assumes that you are using dark roasts.
If you are brewing with lighter roast coffee, you will need much more trial and error before you get a balanced drink.
With dark roasts, as long as you generally stick to established brew ratios, temperatures and grind size, then you will likely end up with a tasty drink.
Our Rich Italian coffee is an excellent starter coffee for espresso making.
4.) Heat Up Your Portafilter Basket Before Brewing
Espresso should be brewed at a temperature of between 92-96 Celsius. Anything cooler than that, and the flavourful compounds in your coffee will not extract into your water effectively and your espresso will taste a bit hollow.
While your water exits your machine at this ideal brewing temperature, if your metal portafilter basket is cold, then your water will likely cool down below 92 Celsius as it makes contact with your ground coffee.
You therefore want to warm up your machine’s portafilter basket prior to brewing.
You can either do this by putting your portafilter basket in a bowl of hot water or by pulling a “blank shot” (that is a shot without any ground coffee) to get some hot water flowing through your portafilter basket.
5.) Use the Right Kind of Portafilter Basket for Your Coffee Grind
While we’d recommend that you grind your own coffee for espresso, you can still pull a decent shot with pre ground coffee so long as you use a pressurised portafilter basket.
A pressurised portafilter basket is a portafilter basket with only one hole in its bottom. This contrasts to a non-pressursied portafilter basket which has dozens of tiny holes in its bottom. You can see a side by side of these two types of portafilter baskets below:
Pressurised portafilter basket is on the left. The red circle shows its single hole.
The single hole in a pressurised portafilter basket means that your water cannot pass through your bed of coffee as quickly as it can with a non pressurised portafilter basket.
Since pre ground coffee is often coarser than coffee you grind yourself, it needs this extra resistance for water to have enough contact time with it to extract properly.
Finer ground coffee naturally offers more resistance to your water because there is less space between each individual grind. Therefore it does not need this extra resistance from the portafilter basket when brewing.
Most espresso machines come with both types of baskets so you can brew with pre ground and freshly ground beans. A lot of people just forget to change this basket according to how their beans are ground.
6.) Fine Tune Your Espresso Using Grind Size Rather Than Quantity of Coffee
Since tiny adjustments the quantity of ground coffee used in your espresso can make a huge difference to the drinks flavour, you are better off tweaking your coffee by playing around with grind size rather than the quantity of coffee used.
A finer grind size means that more of your coffee comes into direct contact with your brewing water. This creates a stronger and richer flavored drink.
Your best bet when it comes to fine tuning the taste of your espresso is to grind finer and finer until your coffee becomes too strong (the flavour becomes harsh). Once you have reached this then go back one grind size setting.
This should give you the strongest tasting espresso that is not overly bitter.
While its harder to make a good espresso compared to filter coffee, you can still make an excellent espresso at home if you follow the steps listed in this article.Guest blog by Oli Baise.