10 Tips For A Better Espresso

Espresso is a simple drink at its core, yet it takes knowledge to pull a great shot.

If properly extracted, espresso is smooth, rich and delicious with a well formed crema. Many variables can alter the taste of your shot, leaving you with a bitter, burnt or even a sour taste in your mouth. Follow these 10 tips to ensure your espresso tastes great every single time.

1. Blend and freshness of the bean

Freshness is key to the taste of espresso. The fragile oils of the coffee beans stale over time, especially if left at room temperature. Only grind what is needed for your coffee, and the beans should only be left in a hopper for approximately 24 hours. We recommend that you never grind more than you will use within the next 2 to 3 hours.  

Espresso blends are complex. Different machines, pump pressure, temperature of extraction all play a part in the espresso taste. Try different blends to see what is best for your machine. All our espresso blends work well with most espresso machines. We recommended starting with either Siena Espresso or Portofino Espresso. Both these blends work well with many espresso machines.

2. Grinding

Your espresso should be ground significantly finer than regular drip coffee, somewhere between salt and flour, and small clumps of grounds will just begin showing. Try this – A tablespoon of grounds squeezed in your palm will begin to hold its shape when released.

When making adjustments to your grinder, small incremental adjustments is key.  Once it’s set perfectly, just leave it.  Only high humidity will require you to back off the grind a little.  

During the brew process, oils are extracted from the coffee as hot water is pushed through the pressed grounds.  The speed at which this process takes place, a.k.a. “contact time”, will help dictate how much flavors, oils, and caffeine are extracted.  The finer the grind, the more surface area exposed to the hot brew water.  This will increase the amount of extraction during this contact time. If too slow and long, the espresso will be bitter and have very dark crema on top.  Too fast will produce a watery, foamy, sour tasting espresso.

3. Dosage

The dose, or throw weight, is the amount of measured coffee grounds that go into the portafilter.  Typically, 18-20 grams is perfect for a double shot portafilter. The top surface of the tamped espresso puck will just barely expose the indentation ring of the filtercup located about ¼” below the rim.  That’s about 19 grams. Careful, minor adjustments can make a big difference.

4 Tamping

The purpose of tamping is to compress the grinds into the perfect puck in the portafilter, and consistency is the ultimate goal here.  You need to create an evenly packed puck so the brew water will evenly flow through all parts of the grinds creating equal contact time throughout.  This will ensure thorough and even flavor extraction.  
       First, level out the loose grinds in the filter cup, and then press evenly with the flat bottom tamper.  The pressure you apply will alter the speed at which the water can be pumped through the puck, thereby affecting the contact time.  Find what pressure works for your machine and grind coarseness, and stick with that every time. 20 to 30 pounds is typically just right.  Ensure the puck surface is level by rotating the tamper ¼ turn while touching opposite sides of the filtercup rim and the tamper’s edge.  Adjust if you notice any unevenness. Wipe off the top of the portafilter to clear off excess grounds.

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The amount of pressure applied by the tamp will affect the shot because it determines the amount of time that water is running through the portafilter. Too little pressure leaves you with loose grinds, which won’t extract enough flavor, while too much pressure leads to slow extraction and bitter flavor. 15lb of initial pressure and about 20-30 lbs during the rotation of the tamp will create a perfectly even and compact puck.

5. Pre-infusion

Pre-infusion takes place when the grounds are briefly soaked prior to pulling the shot. The goal is to ensure that water is evenly displaced through the coffee grounds. This way the entire surface of the puck will have water evenly flowing through it, diminishing the chance of channeling. To properly pre-infuse your coffee, run the brewing cycle for 1-2 seconds, stop and let the puck soak for 3-4 seconds before pulling the shot.

6. Temperature

195-205°F is the recommended water temperature to brew espresso. Keeping consistent with water temperature on your machine should ensure consistency in the quality and flavor of your espresso shots. It is important that the group head produces the same temperature for each shot made. It is also important to keep the portafilter engaged on the grouphead to ensure it remains hot so it won’t cool off your hot espresso. If serving in ceramic cups, be sure to preheat the cup prior to brewing.  

7. Timing the shot

Make adjustments to the grind, water temperature, coffee throw weight and tamp pressure to get that golden crema on top of your espresso. This golden color signals that you have a perfect extraction time between 21-30 seconds of brewing. If the espresso comes out white, the coffee has been extracted too quickly. Black espresso with dark brown crema means that it is over extracted.

Remember, the grind, dose, and tamp controls the shot time. Adjust these factors to pull a better shot. 

8. Pressure and your gauges

Making espresso involves pushing hot water through the group head into the portafilter, thus the grounds are extracted at high pressure. The water pressure of the machine is measured in bars, aka barometric pressure, also known as atmospheric pressure. If your machine has a water pressure gauge, you’ll notice it is around 9 bars during the brew process.  This will be perfect for pressing the hot water through the finely ground, perfectly compacted (tamped) grounds.  This pressure is adjustable on most commercial machines and some home machines, giving you yet another way to fine tune your espresso shots.

Household machines use less expensive pumps and the pressure settings are often pre-programmed.  

9. Water

Water is a key element. Although is may sound elementary, is has a great impact on both beverage quality and machine reliability. Water temperature isn’t the only thing to keep an eye on when making the perfect espresso. Much of the flavor of brewed coffee comes from the quality of the water.

Softened Water not only produces delicious tasting espresso it protects the tank and lines from corrosive minerals that will damage your machine. The water should be clean and oxygenated, with a neutral pH level. Minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate, are required to fully extract flavor. Too much can cause buildup and damage the machine and create a chalky taste in the coffee. It is also important to check that the filters are changed regularly.

10. Cleaning

Espresso machines require daily cleaning, as well as regular preventive maintenance.A quick 2 second purge of the grouphead after making a drink helps ensure your espresso tastes fresh each time. Specially formulated cleaning powders and tablets should be used daily to backflush the groupheads carefully following the instructions on the container to ensure the freshest tasting espresso.  We recommend Cafetto brand EVO, a certified Organic espresso machine cleaning powder.  Great for thoroughly removing all coffee oils from the machine, portafilters and anything else with coffee stains.

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Our favorite and most trusted espresso machine cleaning powder that will remove all those unwanted oils, stains and particulate that can impact the flavor of your coffee and damage your machine.

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