You’ve been bitten by the coffee bug and now want to know how to brew a perfect espresso. Maybe you started out with some fresh coffee in a pour-over or similar, fast forward to today and you’ve got a shiny new espresso machine and matching grinder. The quest for the perfect espresso will be forever alluding you, but follow our tips below and you’ll be well prepared for your journey! This guide will assume you already know what an espresso is and that you have an espresso machine and coffee grinder. Let’s begin.
Always use freshly roasted coffee
Before we bother digging deep into how to brew a perfect espresso, please ensure you always get the freshest coffee you possibly can. You will be wasting your time chasing after something unattainable if you are using low-quality, stale coffee beans. I want you to be using coffee that is no older than 2 months old, ideally closer to two weeks old.
Always grind fresh
I cannot stress this enough! Oxygen is the biggest enemy to coffee. In bean form, you have an hour or two to use it before it begins to lose freshness. As ground coffee, however, we are greatly increasing the surface area and speeding up that process to 20-30 minutes before it is stale. Grind just before you are going to dose and brew for the best results possible.
Make sure your portafilter is clean
If your portafilter/handle is dirty and caked in old coffee, it is not going to help in your quest to attaining a perfect shot of espresso. We must make sure to clean off any debris or moisture between brews to make sure we do not end up with bitterness in the cup.
Use the correct amount of coffee
While we cannot tell you exactly how much coffee to use, we can give you some rough guidelines. For a single shot of espresso, test with weights around 6-8g. For double shots you can trial 14-18g. Some very big competition baskets will even take up to 22g but you will probably want to leave this until you have honed your skills at dialing in perfect espressos.
Tamp evenly and consistently
Grind your coffee into the portafilter and allow it to heap over. Use your finger to gently even it out and get a decent distribution in the portafilter to ensure you get a nice and even puck once you tamp it down. Poor distrbution will lead to channelling in the puck, which in turn usually will result in under extraction. There are various tools now available to aid with distribution but your finger will do. Once you’ve got your grounds ready to tamp, place the portafilter on a countertop edge or similar and tamp ensuring the tamper is perfectly horizontal and level and press down firmly. Again, if the tamper is not perfectly horizontal you can end up with channelling and under extraction.
Dump a little water out of the grouphead
Before we put our portafilter in, we want to dump a little water out of the grouphead. This will allow the temperature to stabilise as we do not want the head to be too hot or too cold. If you have not yet dispenses the coffee grounds into your portafilter, you can take advantage of this pour and rinse off your portafilter as well, bringing the portafilter up to temperature too.
Pop the portafilter into the grouphead and immediately dispense some water through, few seconds and stop. Allow the water to pre-infuse with the coffee before doing your proper extraction. A few seconds of resting time and then onto the main event.
Evaluate your extraction
Watch your espresso drop. Depending on how in-depth you want to get with this, you can weight and time this but I think we will cover that in another more advanced post in the future. Make sure your espresso is extracting within 20-30 seconds depending on your recipe and yielding 30-60ml of espresso depending on whether it is a single or double shot.
So your first shot was bad. No problem, this is to be expected. When troubleshooting espresso we generally play with two variables, assuming we have used fresh coffee and ground just before extraction.
If the coffee is too thin, weak or sour you will either need to make your grind finer OR increase your dosage of coffee. Your extraction will likely be very fast and you will see very little crema. The colour of the coffee will be more transparent and then mouthfeel will be very thin and watery. To recap, either increase dosage or make your grind finer and try again.
If the coffee feels gritty, bitter, burnt or too intense you will need to either reduce the dosage of coffee used or make your grind a little coarser. Your extraction will likely be very slow or even drop by drop and the crema will be really dark. The mouthfeel will likely be gritty and too thick. To recap, either reduce dosage or make your grind coarser and try again.
Assume that every morning, the first two or three espressos will be thrown away during your “dialing” in process.
Stir in your crema and enjoy. You’ve worked hard for this, time to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
We recommend leaving the portafilter in the grouphead with the coffee grounds still there. This will keep the portafilter and grouphead at a similar temperature and will start drying out the used coffee so it will come out in one clean puck once you decide to make your next coffee.
Let us know if you enjoyed reading our guide on how to brew a perfect espresso and if you have any other tips and tricks please pop them in the comment section below.