Contrary to popular belief, its possible to make an exquisite espresso at home without a professional barista level machine. There’s no need splash-out on a La Marzocco. Why? It all comes down to understanding & controlling the variables at each stage of the espresso preparation. You need to keep practising and record your progress and eventually, you’ll become a master home barista.
We’ve explained the key variables you need to understand so you can make a ‘god shot’ at home.
Our next article will recommend the best models of home-espresso machines for your money. But first, you need to understand the basic principles behind making an espresso…
Spanish Version: Cómo Preparar un “Shot” de Café Divino en Casa
What You Need to Make a Killer Espresso in the Casa…
To make quality espresso you need an appropriate grinder that can make a fine, uniform grind. Blade spice grinders are not suitable. There are several quality burr hand grinders that won’t break the bank and will give you a reasonably uniform grind. Alternatively, pick up a quality used grinder. (for our ‘burr vs blade grinder’ article click here)
Make sure your machine, group head, portafilter and cups are all hot to the touch, and clean. A stable temperature between 90-96 degrees is necessary to create palatable espresso. If your machine has a PID temperature controller don’t be afraid to experiment within this range, you will eventually be pleased with the results.
Dialing in Your Grinder
Variables such as bean characteristics, age and humidity will require you to readjust your grinder settings to ensure you keep pulling those perfect shots. A good starting point is to grind to a table-salt like consistency and adjust to either finer or coarser from there.
Baskets come in different gram capacities. 0.1g scales can greatly help while learning to dose. If you don’t have scales, fill your basket half way & level the grinds to break up clumps with a firm tap on a hard surface. Fill the basket until you have a mound of coffee & tap firmly again. Scrape off the excess in a circular motion for even distribution into the gaps around the basket (if any). Now that you have a level surface put a tiny mound onto the centre of your basket.
Place the tamp in the portafilter without any pressure, check to see if the grounds are level, and correct if necessary. I recommend a flat bottom tamper so that you can ensure you have a level surface before tamping. You can use the traditional 30lbs of tamp force by practicing on bathroom scales or by purchasing a calibrated tamper. This is only a guideline. What matters most about your tamping technique is that you are consistent so that you eliminate a variable in the process of making espresso. Search for a method where you use your own body weight to consistently tamp with the same pressure every time. Remove your tamper slowly after applying force (twist to polish if you like). You should have a small clearance between the top rim of the basket and the grinds. Memorize that gap level once you achieve a great shot in order to repeat that dose.
The coffee is compressed, or “tamped” using a device called a tamper Credit: Mickey
For a standard single espresso shot aim for 30ml in 22-30 sec & 60ml for a double. This is just a guideline. What matters is what is in the cup & that you enjoy it, but stick within these parameters at first to try to achieve that result. A thick, oily, reddish maple extraction that often starts in droplets & turns to an even flow is what you want to see. Different varietals, roasting profiles, age etc will produce different crema levels but a stable thick crema is what you always want to see.
If your shot ‘blonded’ prematurely or gushed out more than 25-30ml in 22-30sec, it may taste bitter; grind finer. If your shot barely dripped out or was weak ( or didnt come out at all), grind coarser. A watery puck can indicate too much brew pressure, weak tamp pressure or too low of a dose. An almost dry, hard puck that comes out whole and can be broken cleanly in two is a good sign of correct dose, tamp and grind. A light shower screen imprint on the puck is a good indication that the grounds have bloomed enough to make contact with the shower screen to aid even water distribution through the puck. Too much contact, too little or none can affect results negatively, but each machine is different so keep those notes handy and remember consistency will help you troubleshoot what variables to look out for when making adjustments.
Experiment and enjoy!
Article written by A. Guerra.
Perfect Daily Grind.