Espresso is a touchy subject in the coffee industry. You can learn “the only correct way” from a ton of different sources and somehow, they always seem to differ. The honest answer is that there is no one way to make espresso that is universal and works for every espresso machine. Espresso machines are touchy and each one has a “best practices” list in order that you can make great espresso. “Make a Great Espresso at Home” – the second part of our “Coffee Brewing Guide” we’ll look at some of that important factors to help you make great espresso at home. In part 2, we’ll explore how you can extract perfect espresso shots at home.
Make Great Espresso At Home – Part 2 – Extract Perfect Espresso Shots
At the end of Part 2, we mentioned a company that our barista’s use to perfect their espresso techniques. NewBarista.com is actually very affordable at $10 a month for access to industry leading espresso training. You may want to check out the free trial and see if it works for you. Ultimately, whether you have a home espresso maker or a giant, 3-group, industrial machine… the basic principles of great espresso are the same.
The 5 most important factors to pulling perfect espresso shots are: Water Pressure, Extraction Time, Water Temperature, Grind Consistency, and Tamping. If any one of these are off, your shots will lose a lot of flavor and you won’t enjoy your end espresso drink. For perfect espresso shots, all of these need to be set exactly right. Some of these are out of your control, however. The goal is to strive for perfection in all of these things and get as close as you can – or, if you can justify it, find a new machine that will allow you to achieve that perfection.
1. Water Pressure: It’s ironic that many home machines don’t output the proper water pressure. This is actually one of the most crucial parts to brewing great tasting espresso – yet many home machines are not calibrated, mis-calibrated, or not even capable of the proper water pressure. It’s important that you get 9 bars of water pressure. As recommended in part 1, consult your manual or even the manufacturer. If your espresso machine is capable of decent espresso, there will be some mention of water pressure… and hopefully instruction to calibrating it properly.
2. Extraction Time: This is a fairly hotly contested subject in the industry. Ultimately, it depends on the espresso beans you are using in your machine. For our beans, we recommend a 25 – 30 second extraction time. This means that once you push the button on your espresso machine to start the extraction process, within the first 5 seconds, you should see liquid coming out of your portafilter into the cup. From that point, your shot should take no longer than 25 seconds to finish. We’ll learn more why this is important after these 5 points.
3. Water Temperature: Your water temperature should be around 94˚C or 201˚F. A variance of around 2 or 3 degrees in either direction won’t negatively affect your flavor so it doesn’t have to be “on the dot”. Just make sure you are conscious of keeping your machine’s temperature in that area.
4. Grind Consistency: Grind consistency and tamping (#5 below) are both big pieces to great espresso that interplay with each other a little bit. To ensure you have the best grind for pulling perfect espresso shots, you want to calibrate your grinder based on the extraction time and tamping. In other words, once your tamping is perfected, you want to adjust your grind finer to slow down the flow of water or coarser to allow the water to flow faster. This is your “throttle” to achieving a correct extraction time.
5. Tamping: For prefect espresso shots, it’s recommended that you add about 5lbs. of tamp pressure (initially) and then achieve 30lbs. of even tamp pressure after cleaning the grounds from the edge of the portafilter back into the basket. Look for an up-and-coming blog post with more detail on how to properly tamp your espresso grounds for perfect espresso shots.
Finally, here is some more helpful information in achieving perfect espresso shots. While pulling perfect espresso shots requires all of the above to be perfected, some home machines don’t allow the fine-tuning control that is required. As was mentioned earlier, that’s ok. The goal is to get as close as you can. If you want to perfect it more, you may be in the market for a new machine.
In section 2 above, we mentioned the timing and promised to explain why at the end of this post. Coffee extraction is highly specific if you want to achieve the best flavor for your brewing method – in this case, espresso. With espresso, pulling shots longer than the suggested 30 seconds, will start to extract bitterness and acidity. This will really taint your espresso flavor. With an extraction time of less than 25 seconds, you’re not pulling the full flavor out of the beans and, in the end, you’re getting a really weak cup of espresso that is void of many of the best characteristics of the blend.
In Part 3, we will explore how to froth your milk correctly and the proper way to make your espresso drinks.
Sources | NewBarista.com