If you are interested in learning how to make the best espresso coffee, you will find that the basic process is straight forward, but that the devil is truly in the details. For every step of the espresso-making process, you will find wide-ranging advice from the experts. The trick is learning how to make espresso coffee is to learn the basic steps, develop your own method, and practice, practice, practice.
How To Make Espresso Coffee
For starters, it is important to understand that espresso is a very different beverage than regular coffee, even though both are made from coffee beans. From the grind of the beans to the brewing process, espresso is made very differently than regular coffee. The result is a beverage with a strong, concentrated flavor that is thicker than regular coffee and is topped with a foamy substance called crema.
Good espresso is made from fresh coffee beans which are ground so finely that they become almost powder-like. The finely ground coffee is then carefully measured and pressed (a process called “tamping”) into a semi-solid pellet. Pure clean water is heated to boiling and then pushed quickly through the coffee pellet. In the early days of espresso-making, this process was done manually by using a machine with a lever that you pulled down on to force the hot water through the coffee. This manual process was called “pulling” a shot of espresso, and even though modern espresso makers have eliminated the need for manual levers, this term has survived. The size of the shot can vary, but the double shot is the standard today. A double shot of espresso is roughly 2 ounces.
Learning how to make espresso coffee means learning four distinct steps: BEAN SELECTION, DOSING, TAMPING, EXTRACTING.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this first, preparatory, step. To finish with a good cup of espresso, you do not want to start with ready-ground coffee for your drip coffee maker. That coffee will not be fresh enough, nor will it be ground finely enough.
Instead, start with the freshest possible whole beans, and grind your own beans to an extremely fine, powder-like consistency. There is great debate over whether light, medium or dark roasted beans are best — many of us associate dark roast with espresso, but that is far from a firm rule. The important thing is to grind your beans to a consistent fineness and then experiment with the roast to determine your own personal preference. A burr grinder is unarguably the way to go for espresso, you can not get enough consistency in your grind with a blade grinder.
Don’t grind your beans ahead of time and store them. The grinds will begin to lose their freshness almost immediately upon grinding. In fact, for the best flavor, you should use these grinds within 1/2 hour of grinding to ensure maximum flavor.
Dosing is the process of measuring the right amount of ground coffee for the espresso you are making. You will want to use about 1 to 1.5 tablespoons (16-20 grams) of freshly ground coffee for or a double shot of espresso.
- Start by brushing off excess grounds from the lip of the basket and even out the coffee grinds inside
- Level the surface of the coffee in the basket, and use your (clean) finger to ensure that the coffee is distributed evenly
- Using a tamper (which should come with your espresso maker, or can be bought separately) apply firm pressure straight down into the basket. Well tamped grinds will have an even surface and will appear smooth and shiny.
EXTRACTION - how to make espresso coffee
Extraction is the process of pushing water through the coffee grinds and extracting the flavor from the beans. Under extraction means that too little flavor has been extracted and the espresso will taste weak. Over extraction means too much has been taken from the grinds and the espresso will taste strong and bitter.
If you are using an automated or even semi-automated espresso machine some of the espresso brewing processes will be handled for you. It is important that the water temperature be between 197 and 204 degrees and that the pressure of the water being pushed through the espresso be between 8 and 10 atm (atmospheres). Your espresso maker will handle these two factors so you need to focus on simply those factors over which you have some control.
You can influence the extraction process by starting with cool pure water. If your water tastes funny, so too will your espresso.
As you are learning how to make espresso coffee, the most important factor you will need to control during this step is the length of the pull. In other words, how long it takes for you to complete the extraction process. As a good rule of thumb, it should take about 25 seconds to extract a double shot of espresso. Use a timer to measure your extraction time — start the timer when you press the “start” button on your espresso maker. Your espresso should be fully brewed when you reach 25 seconds. By using an ideal extraction time consistently, you will be able to focus on adjusting your grind and/or your tamping process until you can repeatedly pull a great shot of espresso.