There are many theories and practices when it comes to brewing espresso, from the classic Italian approach to the American adaptations, and the Scandinavian versions to the Antipodean interpretations. Irrespective of which approach you prefer and follow, it’s useful to remember that espresso, at its core, is just a brewing method as well as the name of a beverage. Many people also use the term “espresso” as a way of describing a roast color, but in fact, you can brew espresso using any level of roast, and any bean or blend that you prefer.
Brewing great coffee repeatedly and consistently can be very challenging, and making espresso at home takes a lot more effort than any other brewing method. For those who choose to invest in the machinery required to do a good job, it is a hobby as much as a daily drinking ritual.
Coffee for espresso must be very finely ground, allowing the water to extract from a larger surface area. The result is a small, intense, viscous drink with a foam called crema, that highlights all the good, but potentially also the bad, qualities of the bean, roast, and preparation.
- Distribute the coffee evenly by gently shaking the portafilter or tapping it gently on the counter.
- Use a tamper that fits the size of your basket. Keeping it level to the edges of the basket, press the coffee down with a firm push to create a solid puck of even thickness. It is not necessary to apply excessive force, to tap the portafilter, or to tamp repeatedly.
- The goal is to push all the coffee down and create a firm, even bed of grounds that will withstand the pressure of the water and allow the water to flow through and extract the coffee evenly.
- Insert the portafilter into the group head, and immediately activate the pump to brew, using either the volumetric settings for two shots of espresso or the free-flow button, which you switch off when you reach the desired volume.
- Place a warmed espresso cup under the spouts (or two cups if you wish to split the shot into two singles).
- The coffee should appear after 5–8 seconds, dripping and flowing with a deep brown or golden color that lightens as the brew progresses and the solubles are washed out. You should extract around 11/2fl oz (50ml) in 25–30 seconds, including crema.
IS IT PERFECT?
A well-brewed espresso should have a smooth layer of crema (see p44) with a deep golden brown color, free from any large bubbles and pale or broken spots. The crema needs to be a couple of millimeters thick once settled, and should not dissipate too quickly. The taste should be balanced between sweet and acidic, and the texture should be smooth and creamy, leaving you with a pleasant lingering aftertaste. You should be able to taste the qualities of the coffee itself over the roast or brewing technique—be it a chocolatey Guatemalan, a nutty Brazilian, or a black currant-like Kenyan.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
If you have extracted more than 1 1 / 2 fl oz (50ml) at the given time, it could be because:
• the grind size is too coarse and/or
• the dose is too low
If you have extracted less than 1 1 / 2 fl oz (50ml), it could be because:
• the grind is too fine and/or
• you are using too much coffee
If a coffee is too acidic and sour, it could be because:
• the water in the machine is too cold
• the beans are too lightly roasted
• the grind is too coarse
• the dose is too low
If an espresso is too bitter, it could be because:
• the water is too hot
• the machine is dirty
• the beans are roasted too dark
• the grinder burrs are too dull
• the grind is too fine
• the dose is too high