Espresso is a strong coffee that’s usually drunk in small doses, call shots, or incorporated into other beverages, such as cortados, cappuccinos and lattes. The defining characteristic of espresso is not its strength, roast level or how it’s served, though. What makes espresso espresso is how it’s brewed — by forcing steam at high pressure through finely ground coffee. Here’s how to brew espresso at home or, in cafe lingo, how to pull the perfect shot of espresso.
ESPRESSO MACHINE RECOMMENDATIONS
To brew espresso, you’ll obviously need an espresso machine. As you compare machines, you’ll see many different features, some of which are important and others that are just hype from manufacturers. If the features are available within your price range, look for a machine that:
- has a double boiler, which will maintain a constant water temperature while a shot’s being pulled
- can steam milk while pulling a shot, if you enjoy cappuccinos or lattes
- provides constant pressure while a shot is being pulled
Some manufacturers advertise that their machine has an extremely high maximum pressure (e.g. “up to 31 bars pressure”), but it’s more important to have a consistent pressure than a high maximum pressure.
You’ll need an espresso-specific grinder, which grinds coffee finer and more precisely than standard grinders. While you could set a standard grinder to “espresso,” non-espresso grinders don’t let you make minute adjustments that you need to be able to make to pull an excellent shot.
You’ll also need a:
- dump box
Most espresso machines come with a portafilter, tamper and dump box. For the scale, you can just use a bathroom scale. You’ll only need it the first few times, until you get used to tamping.
How To Pull a Shot of Espresso
Once you have all the necessary equipment, you’re ready to pull a shot of espresso:
- Turn on your espresso machine and let it heat up.
- As your espresso machine is heating up, place the cup you’ll be using on top of the machine. This will warm up your cup.
- Grind about 17 grams of coffee with your espresso-specific grinder into a portafilter.
- Tamp the grounds to 30 pounds, using your scale until you can do it without a scale.
- Place the portafilter in the grouphead of the espresso machine. (The grouphead is where the portafilter goes and steam comes out.)
- Immediately place your cup below the portafilter and start pulling the shot of espresso.
- Stop the shot before the brew coming out of the portafilter becomes clear.
It may take a few tries to get a perfect shot of espresso. If your first shot isn’t quite right, adjust the grind and try again. (This is why you need an espresso-specific grinder, to make minute adjustments in the grind.)
Getting a great shot takes some time and effort, but once you taste a well-pulled shot of espresso that was made with fresh coffee, you’ll know why this is such a favored way of making coffee.