Preparing good espresso doesn’t have to be as complicated as you might think. With the correct equipment and a little bit of know-how, you’ll soon be pulling great shots in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Espresso is a short coffee is known for its intensity, small volume, and the pressure involved in brewing it.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), “espresso is a 25–35 ml beverage prepared from 7–9 grams of coffee through which clean water of 90.5-96.1ºC has been forced at 9–10 atmospheres of pressure, and where the grind of the coffee is such that the brew time is 20–30 seconds.”
The 20–30 seconds is a good parameter. However, keep in mind that there is no hard-and-fast rule. The behavior of coffee during extraction depends on factors including grind size, coffee origin, roast profile, and more.
That being said, let’s take a look at the experts’ tips for creating a barista-quality espresso.
START WITH GOOD COFFEE
Good coffee starts with good coffee beans.
The coffee’s roast profile is also important. Roasts that are too dark can taste bitter, while ones that are too light may taste too acidic and lack the sweetness and balance required for a barista-quality espresso.
Your roast date is important. Coffee goes stale over time. However, there’s also such a thing as “too fresh” for espresso. Coffee needs to degas; this is the slow release of carbon dioxide that’s built up during roasting.
In the beginning, the coffee degases rapidly, which can disrupt the extraction of flavor and aroma compounds. However, if the coffee degases too much, the flavor will be reduced and it will also be hard to achieve crema.
It’s best to buy whole beans and store them somewhere away from oxygen, sunlight, and too much heat (or fluctuating temperatures). The only exception to this rule is if you’re using a poor-quality grinder.
You can purchase small amounts of coffee to make it easier to keep it fresh. If the coffee bag has a ziplock, take the air out by squeezing the bag and keep it away from the light, heat, and humidity.
USE GOOD EQUIPMENT
Good equipment won’t guarantee a barista-quality espresso, but it does help create it. You’ll need are a grinder and an espresso machine.
You should look for stability in the pressure, temperature, and volume of water. The espresso machine should give you the same result from the first cup to the last.
Look for an espresso machine that you are confident in your ability to use. While it’s great to have a machine that gives you complete control, this is no good if you’re not sure how to use all the features.
Don’t overlook the importance of maintenance. Many experts recommend cleaning the machine every time you use it. This will keep your equipment working properly for years.
GRIND YOUR COFFEE WELL
Degassing speeds up dramatically after the coffee is ground. The fresher the grind, the fresher the taste, which is why whole beans are best.
When you’re ready to grind, consider grind size. Grind size is important because it affects the extraction rate of the flavor and aroma compounds in the beans. The finer the grind size, the quicker extraction takes place.
Controlling the degree of extraction is key. This is because the first compounds to be extracted create fruity, acidic flavors; the next ones are responsible for sweetness; and finally, bitterness and astringency. When brewing coffee, the goal is to get a well-balanced coffee with plenty of sweetness and some acidity and bitterness.
Grind size also affects how quickly the water can pass through the coffee. which is how long it takes to pull a shot. If the grind is too fine, it becomes like wet sand, and it takes longer for the water to make its way through. This increases the brew time and degree of extraction.
The coarser the coffee, the faster the extraction, leading to less bitterness and more perceived acids in the cup. The finer the coffee, the slower the extraction, resulting in more bitterness and less perceived acids.
Espresso always requires a fine grind size, due to the short brew time. However, if your espresso isn’t tasting quite as you’d like, you can try tweaking the grind settings and see if this resolves your problems.
DECIDE ON YOUR COFFEE: WATER BREW RATIO
How much water should you use? Well, that depends on how strong you want your coffee to be. Many experts recommend starting with a 1:3 ratio. For every gram of dry coffee, you may use 3 ml of espresso in the cup.
However, you can also experiment with different recipes depending on your preferences. You can use 1:2 for a stronger coffee or, if you’re aiming for something more like a lungo, you can try 1:4 or even 1:5.
Please remember, there is no “best recipe” for a barista-quality espresso. There’s simply the recipe that best suits your coffee and your tastes.
You’ll notice that many specialty baristas weigh both the ground coffee and the extracted shot. This allows them to use exactly the right ratio and ensure the exact same delicious coffee every single time. And it’s a process that’s easy for home baristas to also do.
PAY ATTENTION TO WATER QUALITY & TEMPERATURE
It’s not just about how much water you use: it’s also about what kind of water.
Poor-quality water can damage your equipment. Hard water, in particular, can lead to limescale build-ups that can affect the machine’s performance.
What’s more, water quality can influence the taste of the coffee. If your tap water has been treated with chlorine, it can make your espresso dull. Water that’s too hard can lead to dull brews. On the other hand, soft water can leave your coffee flat or lack in body.
It can be a good idea to use bottled water or use an active carbon filter.
The hotter the water like the faster the flavors and aromas extract. Temperatures such as 90–93ºC/194–199ºF are recommended.
A couple of degrees hotter or cooler can change the flavor. That’s why it’s so important to have temperature stability.
EVENLY DISTRIBUTE & TAMP YOUR COFFEE
And finally, you’re ready to pull that espresso shot. But stop: before you begin, what happens if your coffee is unevenly distributed in the portafilter? The simple answer is bad coffee.
Good-tasting coffee relies on the idea that the different coffee grounds are all extracted to the same degree (or as close to it as possible). But if some of the grounds are packed tighter together in one section of the portafilter than in another, then the water will choose the path of least resistance and flow through the area with more air.
So, before tamping, make sure the grounds are uniformly distributed. If you grind directly into the portafilter, you can move it around during dosing to help ensure this. There are also many techniques and tools that you can try.
Once your coffee is correctly distributed, you can proceed to tamp. We need to tamp the coffee evenly and consistently to extract flavors and sugars into the cup. Even as a home user, you have to do it to get a great result.