How to Make Espresso

Making espresso is not for the faint of heart. Pulling a good shot of espresso is an art that takes time and commitment to master. It also requires specialized equipment. It is worth the investment though, because when it comes to making coffee, espresso is the king of the  hill. Once you have learned how to pull a shot, a whole new world of coffee options open up. If you can make espresso, you can make Lattes, Cappuccinos, Americanos and other specialty coffee drinks.

Not sure what espresso is? Check out “What is Espresso“.

Espresso: Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Makes the absolute best coffee
  • Most espresso machines are also able to make proper steamed milk, allowing you to make lattes, cappuccinos, steamers, and other milk based drinks

Cons:

  • Good espresso is difficult to make, it is an art that you have to work at to master
  • It can be expensive, you will need an espresso machine and a quality grinder

What You’ll Need

There are many shortcuts to making espresso, but to do it properly you will need the right equipment. A good machine ranges in price from around $600-$5,000 or more. You will also need a proper grinder, which ranges in price from around $300-$2,000 or more. There are shortcuts, however, and many consumer targeted machines which sell for much less.

You’ll Also Need

  • Fresh, high quality coffee. Look for a blend that is designed specifically for espresso.
  • A good scale, preferable one that can weigh to 0.1 of a gram
  • A good, heavy tamper that is exactly the same size as your portafilter
  • A shot glass or small espresso pitcher that can hold at least 3 oz

Instructions: How to Make Espresso

Turn on the espresso machine1. Preheat: Turn on your machine and let it get to operating temperature

Let the espresso machine get to operating temperature

  • Most machines have a light that comes on to indicate when the water in the machine is fully heated
  • The portafilter also needs to be hot. On some machines this can take a while, much longer than it takes the rest of the machine to heat up. You can speed this up by putting the portafilter into the machine and turning the machine on for a moment. This will flush the portafilter with hot water. Alternatively, run the portafilter under hot tap water.

Grind 15 grams of coffee into the portafilter2. Grind: Grind 15 grams of coffee into your portafilter

  • If your portafilter has more than one basket, use the “double”, which is usually the largest one

Tap the portafilter against the side of your hand3. Level & tap: Tap the sides of the portafilter against your hand until the coffee lays level. Then tap the portafilter straight down against the counter so that the grounds settle lower in the basket.

Tap the portafilter down on the counter

  • If your grinds start off being too high to level, begin with a light downward tap against the counter to settle the grounds a bit before trying to level

Tamp the coffee into a puck4. Tamp: Resting the portafiliter against the counter, take the tamper and use it to compress the coffee into a puck

  • The coffee should be tamped with about 30 pounds of pressure. You can tamp against a bathroom scale to get a sense of what this feels like. Keep in mind that consistency is more important than accuracy.
  • Don't tamp unevenlyMake sure that you tamp level, if one side of the puck is more compacted than the other, you will get channeling, which will ruin your shot

5. Insert: Wipe any coffee grounds off of the rim and wings of the portafilter, then insert it tightly into the espresso machine

Insert the portafilter into the machine

Turn on the pump6. Turn on the pump: Place your shot glass or pitcher under the portafilter spout(s) and turn on the pump

Let the shot flow for 30 seconds7. Pull the shot: Let the pump run for 30 seconds, then shut it off

  • It should take a few seconds before the espresso begins to flow. Start timing from the moment you turn on the pump, not from when the flow starts.

8. Adjust your grind setting: Weigh your espresso, the goal is 30 grams, if the weight is off it means that your coffee beans were ground either too fine or too course. This will negatively effect the flavour of the coffee. To fix this, adjust your grind setting and repeat the process. It will normally take repeated attempts to find the right grind setting; this process is referred to as “dialing in the grinder.”

  • If your espresso weighs more than 30 grams, you need to grind finer. This will slow down the flow of water and decrease your yield.
  • If your espresso weighs less than 30 grams, you need to grind courser. This will speed up the flow of water and increase your yield.
  • Repeat the process until you find the right grind setting. The right setting will produce 30 grams of espresso in 30 seconds with 15 grams of coffee.

Enjoy your espresso!9. Enjoy: Your espresso is ready! You can drink it straight, or use it as a base in an espresso beverage.

Tips

  • More than any other method, it is imperative that you use fresh, whole bean coffee. Espresso pulls all the flavour out of the beans, and if your beans are stale, or your grinds old, it will be very evident. Read more about the importance of fresh beans here.
  • Dialing in your grinder can take a while, especially if you are new to the process. Be patient and keep adjusting until you hit the target. Be aware that many consumer targeted espresso machines have a pressurized portafilter. With this design, the flow of water is controlled by the portafilter rather than by the coffee grinds (as on a regular espresso machine). If you have this kind of espresso machine, you are somewhat limited in how much adjustment you can make.
  • The recipe used in this tutorial is: 15 grams of coffee, for 30 seconds, yielding 30 grams of coffee. This is generally a good starting place, but it will need to be tweaked to suit your equipment, brand of coffee, and personal preferences. Once you have mastered the basic recipe, experiment with changing one variable at at time to see how the flavour is affected.