How is it going today? On my side, I am feeling full of energy, I just finished my morning espresso and I was actually telling to myself: “Dude, you have been drinking coffee during your entire life and you never posted an article to give more info about how to make a good espresso…”
You guessed it, right? Today’s topic is going to be about espressos and specifically about how to brew a good cup!
- A must read
- Definition of Espresso
- Crema, what you need to know!
- Information about tamping
- Knowledge to brew a good espresso
- Step by step brewing guide
- Tips to adjust your brewing
But let’s get started, shall we?
Warning advice, you need to read this!
OK, so before digging deeper into this post, I would like to emphasize something important. Something, you should consider carefully, and that thing is: brewing a good espresso is difficult. It takes time and effort if you want to do it yourself at home.
So if you are in a hurry every time you want a cup and you are not willing to put the effort to brew a nice coffee. I strongly suggest you look for information about another brewing process. But if you are getting serious about it, well you are in the right place.
You got to understand people are making a living with it, this is their full-time job. You will even find an international brewing contest on brewing espressos. I am not telling you this to scare you off and you probably don’t aim to be a professional in the field but I needed to say it!
Now, that you are aware of the difficulty, we can start!
What is an espresso after all?
Most popular in Europe than America, espresso coffee is a drink and not a way of roasting beans…
Many derivatives have been made from an espresso shot. I will give you a quick list: espresso macchiato, Café Breve, Cappuccino, Café Americano and so on… I am not going into further detail here. So let’s get back to our topic: what is an espresso shot?
Simple, it’s one once of coffee coming from an espresso machine or a Moka-pot. That’s right, you read that correctly, you can make an espresso with a Moka-pot as well! So espresso refers to a beverage and also to a brewing process which includes high pressure.
- The main principles (espresso coffee maker)
- Ground coffee is placed in the basket which has tiny holes. It allows the water to pass through the ground coffee (extracting the tiniest particles) while keeping the ground coffee in the basket.
- Then we “tamp” the coffee which consists of leveling evenly the coffee inside the basket.
- The handle is locked inside the group head.
- Water close to boiling temperature is pumped and pass through the coffee ground to finish to your cup.
If you are looking for more information about espresso machine, please check this article.
Did you know it? I mean, the truth about crema…
A lot of people believe that the layer of dense foam at the top of our cup of coffee is a great indicator of the quality of an espresso. This famous foam, enjoyed daily by many people in the world, is called “crema”. It’s an Italian word which means cream, no more. But how is it produced?
During the roasting process, carbon dioxide is produced and assimilated by the beans. The gas is kept inside until the beans are facing water under very high pressure (that’s what happened during the brewing process).
After that, the coffee gets back to normal atmospheric pressure (when it flows down to your cup) and the liquid (the coffee) can’t hold on to the gas absorbed: it comes out as many tiny bubbles. Those tiny bubbles create the foam: the crema of your espresso!
But is it really a good indicator of quality? Well, the answer is no… Why? Let us see!
In reality, the foam can only tell you two things. The first one, it’s a good indicator to know if the chosen coffee is fresh or not: if it has been roasted a long time ago the coffee will have less foam, why? Because some gas would have escaped during the period between the roasting process and the brewing process.
It’s also a good indicator to know if your shot is strong or weak. The foam reflects the color of your coffee, the darker your coffee is the stronger it is! So coffee that has been roasted darker will produce darker crema! And that’s it!
Tamping?! Is it really important?
As you remember from the previous part of this article, tamping refers to the action of compressing the ground coffee before brewing. Some espresso coffee maker comes with a tamper fixed to the machine. Other types are dissociated from the machine and that’s what professional usually use. Check the picture.
But why do we tamp?
The idea is to get rid of the air pockets existing between the coffee particles. If we don’t do that, the water under high pressure will find the fastest way to pass through the coffee ground skipping a huge amount of it. The result? We would end up with an unpleasant cup…
So now, you might ask yourself if compressing really hard the coffee ground is going to affect the taste of your shot. There are two versions on the topic, some people believe it’s really important others doesn’t think it affects much.
I tend to agree with the last category, the idea is to get rid of the air pockets to assure the water passes through the coffee ground evenly. Keep in mind that the correct pressure to brew is 9 bars which is definitely much more than what you can apply with human force!
I know some people are doing research on this and they concluded that no matter how hard you tamp your coffee ground, it doesn’t affect much the quality of your cup…
To conclude, try to get an even coffee bed and you should be good to go!
What you should know to make a good espresso!
First thing, it’s always better to use fresh ground coffee which means you will need a couple thing before continuing to read this article:
- Coffee ground (good quality if you can!)
- Espresso machine
- Grinder (if not included in your espresso machine)
- A timer (it can be your mobile phone or it can be included in your espresso machine model)
In order to obtain a golden cup, you need to check the list below! And what I mean by that, a good espresso usually depends on these factors:
- Coffee / water / temperature
Brewing a good espresso is a balance between 4 factors:
- The weight of ground coffee used
- Amount of coffee (liquid) you want at the end of the brewing process
- Coffee brewing time
- The temperature.
If you buy your coffee in a coffee shop, ask the salesman how you should brew this specific type of beans. For example, he or she can say: “you can use 20g of ground coffee for 38g of liquid (volume you are going to drink) in 28 seconds”.
Or you play with your own brew ratio! For example, you can decide to brew a 1:1.8 ratio which means if you choose to use 20g of coffee ground, the goal is to get 1.8 x 20 = 36g of coffee in your cup.
You notice right? You will have to weigh your coffee at the end of the brewing with a scale. You can always do that with a quick look but it will be definitely less accurate. You need a scale!
Knowing that the speed at which the water flows through the coffee is the factor determining the amount of flavor extracted: we need to have control over it. There are two main factors which influence this flow rate: the size of the grind and the amount of coffee.
The finer the coffee grind is, the more difficult it is for the water to pass through the coffee ground: it’s due to the fact that there is less space between the particles!
The more important of the quantity of coffee ground is used, the longer it takes for the water to pass through.
Adjust those two variables accordingly, it will take practice before getting the result you want!
- Quality of Water
The quality of the water you use will impact directly the quality of coffee you are going to brew… Make sure to use water with low mineral content. If your tap water is not good, you can always use bottled distilled water!
Poor quality water can damage your espresso machine over time!
The quality of your grinder is usually more important than your espresso machine…
As you will find on many other resources about espresso, it is recommended to use a burr grinder instead of a blade one. What is the difference?
A burr grinder includes two revolving abrasives surfaces, where the coffee is brewed in between.
A blade grinder is similar to a blender blade. It has a blade in the middle: the whole looks like a propeller.
The idea here is to get a coffee ground as consistent as possible. Select your grinder accordingly.
One last thing, every grinder has some coffee left from the precedent grinding. If you decide to change the grind size, you will need to purge your grinder before!
- Espresso machine
Depending on the model you bought, you will have control over the temperature or not (temperature PID included or not). If you bought a semi-auto, you will be able to adjust the brewing time as well. If you have no idea about what I am talking about right now: check this article!
Before pulling a shot, please check that the portafilter is clean (basket included). Preheat the machine, the cup (if you can: meaning the option is available on your machine), and the portafilter!
- Practice makes perfect!
Well, everything is in the subtitle!
11 steps to brew a good espresso!
- Fill the water reservoir of your espresso machine (Watch out for the quality of your water remember?) and turn on your machine to heat the water!
- Have a quick look at the basket: is it clean and dry?
- Grind your coffee beans and weight your coffee. (Use the portafilter if it can stand on the scale, otherwise, you will have to use the basket). Be as precise as you can to respect the amount of coffee you want to use.
- Tamp the coffee flat in the basket. Make sure the coffee bed is even!
- Weigh the cup you plan on using to drink your golden cup.
- Turn on the machine to rinse by flushing some water through the group head.
- Lock the handle and place your cup.
- Be ready to time your brew!
- Start brewing and start the watch at the same time. If you don’t know how long you have to brew: try between 26 and 29 seconds.
- When your brew time is up, stop the water. Wait for the dripping to finish dripping. Weigh your cup to check how much you brewed!
- Clean the basket with soapy water.
It didn’t work… what should I do?
Always modify one variable at a time while keeping others variable constant! Start by the grind size, because if this is wrong, trying to fix something else won’t give you the result you aim to obtain either! Once you got the grind size set, modify the volume of coffee, for example, you got the idea!
- Too much liquid
Grind the coffee finer, the water passed through the coffee ground too fast.
- Not enough liquid
Grind the coffee more coarsely to increase the flow rate.
- Change the amount of coffee
- Check your tamping
- Check your water
- Check if your machine is clean
Alright, folks, I hope you enjoyed this article as much as enjoyed writing it! If you like making some comment, feel free to do so!