Learn coffee preparation: This is how to make a perfect espresso
Do you always have to go to a café in order to get a good espresso? Not really! You can also enjoy a magnificent coffee in the comfort of your own home. Sure, being served coffee by your favorite barista may be hard to beat, but what’s life without a challenge? With the right gadgets and tips, you can soon look forward to an intense and full-bodied taste experience. We will show you how even less proficient home baristas can make the perfect espresso.
Facts worth knowing about espresso
Before we explain how you can make a great cup of espresso in just a few steps using a portafilter machine, let us present to you some interesting tidbits about this classic Italian beverage. As a home barista, this information will let you score some extra points in addition to presenting your guests with a full-bodied coffee drink.
Espresso is a very well-known and widely used hot beverage that has its roots in Bella Italia. Simply put, it’s prepared by passing hot water at high pressure through very finely ground coffee powder, which is obtained from roasted coffee beans. This results in highly concentrated coffee and - if everything has worked well - in a beautiful layer of cream. The layer should be hazelnut-colored, dense, and yet thin.
Espresso is immensely popular, especially in Southern Europe. It is the most common method of preparing coffee in Italy, of course, but also in France, Spain and Portugal.
Which coffee beans are most suitable for espresso?
High-quality coffee beans are essential for making excellent espresso. Without them, even the best technique and the most expensive equipment aren’t of much use. Generally speaking, both Arabica and Robusta beans are suitable for espresso. While, depending on its roast level, Arabica can also be used for other types of coffee, Robusta is exclusively intended for making espresso.
An overview of the differences between Arabica and Robusta:
Robusta beans contain approximately double the amount of caffeine compared to Arabica beans. This is because of the different cultivation methods for the two varieties. Robusta beans are grown at lower altitudes. This not only makes the plants more resistant against winds and temperature variations, the lower-altitude cultivation also means that they have more pests to contend with. Here, the increased caffeine content provides natural protection.
You can recognize Arabica beans by their elongated shape with a curved slot. By contrast, Robusta beans are rounder and smaller and have a straight groove in the middle.
The two varieties also taste differently. You can verify this for yourself by trying out a single-origin coffee of a single variety.
Arabica coffee impresses with its multitude of different aromas. Depending on the type and roast level, it can taste from fruity/sweet, through nutty/chocolaty, all the way to spicy. However, the roasted and chocolaty notes are most pronounced with intense roast levels. If you like this particular taste, you should opt for the more chocolaty Arabica types.
With Robusta, the focus is placed on achieving a particularly intense, full-bodied taste. The variety itself is often criticized as being less aromatic. However, since the very subtle fruity aromas disappear completely during more intense roasting, this argument is out of place here. The taste tends to be more bitter, sometimes with a woody note. The small amount of coffee oils in Robusta offers a major advantage: It ensures a wonderful layer of cream.
Step-by-step guide for the perfect espresso
Now that you have expanded your knowledge about the world of coffee, it’s time for the real fun: Preparing the coffee. It doesn’t matter whether you just wish to improve your skills or whether you are a complete home barista newbie, this guide will show you how to achieve optimal espresso enjoyment.
Step 1: Pre-heating the machine and cup
The first step seems quite logical: The espresso machine with a portafilter must first be switched on. This is the only way for it to heat up. Depending on the model, this usually takes 5 to 20 minutes. In the meanwhile, always make sure to install the portafilter!
Since cold cups make the espresso cool down quicker, it is recommended to pre-heat the cups for a more full-flavored experience. The easiest way to do this is by using hot water. Some portafilter machines are even equipped with cup-warming slots. You can put your cups there and have them warm up automatically.
Step 2: Freshly grinding your coffee
Using your own electric coffee grinder to freshly grind your beans before the preparation can turn your espresso into a really unique taste experience. If you do not have a grinder yet, you might be able to get your coffee ground on a grinder at a coffee shop or supermarket. However, keep in mind that ground coffee gradually loses its aroma and taste over time. Freshly ground coffee has a more full-bodied, intense taste and it makes for a better layer of cream. This is why you shouldn’t let too much time pass between the grinding process and the preparation of the coffee.
As for the amount of coffee that you need, approximately 11 grams (0.39 oz) are sufficient for a single-shot espresso. For a double-shot espresso, you should use between 18.5 and 21 grams (0.65 to 0.74 oz). Regarding the coffee grind size: The aim is to ensure a fine consistency somewhere between flour and salt.
Step 3: Tamping the coffee
Pressing down firmly against the coffee, or tamping it, is a particularly crucial step when preparing coffee with a portafilter. First and foremost, it is important to ensure that the portafilter is free of any coffee oil residues. Any such residues would have a negative impact on the aroma.
Remove the portafilter from the machine and add the necessary amount of coffee powder. Now you are allowed to tamp it just once; make sure to tamp it properly and as evenly as possible. Caution: Tamping the coffee several times changes the extraction time! Don’t be afraid to apply as much force as you need. You can safely tamp the coffee with a weight of 15-20 kg (33-55 lbs). This is approximately the amount of force that you’d need for kneading short-crust dough.
Step 4: Draining the water
You should drain the water from the brew group to ensure that any old coffee doesn’t ruin the taste of your perfect espresso. This process is called flushing. In dual-circuit portafilter machines, the coffee will burn if you don’t remove the hot water from the heat exchanger first.
Step 5: Extracting
After this is done, the next step is to install the portafilter and prepare the pre-heated cup. Now we will proceed with extraction. The ideal extraction time is a hotly discussed topic among coffee aficionados.
We recommend a duration of 27 seconds for a cup of espresso with 27 ml (0.91 fl oz). Start the process on the machine and count the seconds. And now, the moment of truth: Now it’s time to check whether you have done everything properly and whether both the coffee amount and the grind size were selected correctly.
Espresso is the base ingredient for numerous coffee drinks. Image source: https://rauwolf-coffee.de/kaffeespezialitaeten/
You can already check whether things are going in the right direction during the extraction. If the coffee flows out as a thick stream, this means that either the coffee was ground too coarsely or too little coffee was used. If it only drips out slowly, you have the opposite situation, meaning that either the coffee was ground too finely or you have used too much of it. Ideally, the espresso should flow out into the cup as a creamy, even thin stream.
If you have read this far, you have learned a thing or two about coffee and even more about the classic beverage called espresso. If your first attempt at making the perfect espresso is not successful, you shouldn’t throw in the towel yet. Learn from your mistakes and remember that every attempt brings you one step closer to your dream coffee. We wish you a lot of fun while trying things out at home and an excellent coffee experience!
If you do not want to make any compromises when it comes to preparing coffee at your home coffee bar, the Mahlkönig X54 Allround Home Grinder is the ultimate choice.
We thank Rauwolf coffee roasters for this guest blog post!