Espresso machines can be very confusing and daunting. We prefer the type that have separate grinders and their own group handles, just like the commercial machines. We find you have better control over the end results with these than automatic push button machines that do it all. You also get what you pay for, so sell an extra bail of wool and buy a quality machine and separate grinder with adjustable burrs, not the blade sort used for spices.
Keep it clean kids. espresso is delicate and the flavour can be tainted easily by dirty equipment. Use filtered water, backwash regularly and descale your machine as advised by the manufacturer. Keep group handles and filter baskets sparkling clean and your espresso will taste clean in the cup.
Grind your coffee first. The sooner you can make your coffee after it has been ground the better. The grind particle size is critical when it comes to espresso, it needs to be Goldilocks approved, i.e. just right.
Think of it like a bucket of sand versus a bucket of gravel. Now imagine hot water being pushed at high pressure over the two. The courser grind, or gravel, has larger particles and more air spaces, so the water will flow faster through it. The bucket of sand, or finer grind, is much more compacted and has fewer air pockets so the water will flow much slower through it. A finer grind will therefore result in a much slower extraction of espresso through the machine, while courser is, you guessed it, a faster extraction.
Now throw into the mix the type of beans, the degree of roast and the amount of humidity in the air. All of these have an effect on the coffee and how it is ground – things can get complicated. By having an adjustable burr grinder, that is clean and sharp you will be able to adjust your grind. The resulting extraction will be just right, keeping Goldilocks and all the bears very happy and very well caffeinated.
So let’s begin:
Start with a clean and dry group handle. With a dry cloth wipe away water or coffee grinds from group basket. A dirty basket will taint the flavour, a wet basket can cause channelling.
Dose the coffee into the filter basket. If you are grinding fresh, a few gentle taps against the grinder forks as you dose will settle the coffee into the basket eliminating air pockets. It is important to keep your dosing technique consistent.
Using your finger or dosing tool, distribute the grinds evenly by moving the particles back and forth over the basket to ensure an even surface. Level the coffee in the basket.
Tamp down the coffee grinds using a firm and even pressure. Keep your forearm straight, lightly twist the tamp to polish the coffee grinds. Check your tamping technique, the surface of the puck should be flat not angling to one side.
Flush water through the group head for a few seconds, this will clean any remaining coffee grinds from the heads and ensure the water is running at the correct brewing temperature.
Lock the group handle into position. Start the extraction process and watch the magic happen!
Things to look out for here are: the speed of the extraction, the colour of the shot and the thickness of the pour. You want to see the coffee start dripping out at first before flowing like warm caramel. When you notice the coffee turning paler in colour, stop the extraction, the best of the coffee flavours and nuances have been yielded. We find our espresso tastes great when extracted in around 35 – 45 seconds, yielding a volume of around 25 – 30ml.
However, every bean, blend, machine and grinder is unique. So experiment with your espresso extractions, anywhere from 25 to 45 seconds with a yield of 15ml to 30ml (and in between all these parameters). You will find what works best for that particular bean and machinery but most importantly, a sweet spot that works for your palette. The espresso should have a balance of fruity acidity, rich bitter sweetness, and a thick velvety mouth feel, espresso heaven!