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How to Make Delicious Espresso Shots

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Nothing beats sipping your morning caffeine dose in the Eternal City, but you don’t necessarily need to be Italian or an experienced barista to enjoy high-class espresso.

Many would argue that the secret of brewing a fantastic shot lies in having an expensive machine. If you already own one, you probably know that there is more to the art of espresso making than just a fancy maker. 

You need the right method and perfected skill. Luckily, this article is the recipe you’ve been looking for all along – read it and reveal the ultimate secret for pulling fantastic espresso shots.

Pull the Perfect Espresso Shot in 4 Simple Steps

Learning how to make good espresso is no different than perfecting your cookie-baking skill; you take a recipe, and you keep working on it until you are satisfied with the improvements. Ultimately, it all comes down to these four fundamental steps.

1. Grind

The fresh coffee taste is what makes espresso so appealing. And while it is true that you need quality beans to get the perfect flavor and aroma, brewing freshly ground coffee is just an important aspect.

But don’t think that you can just hit “grind” and you will be good to go. To achieve the perfect aftertaste, you will have to play around with the texture and pinpoint the exact fineness that results in a high-quality shot.

The grind is critical for a decent coffee grade; Crush your beans too finely, and you will have an over-extracted shot with a burnt-like and bitter taste. Grind coarsely, and you will end up with an under-extracted shot loaded with sour notes and watery consistency.

The texture you should aim for is the same as store-bought ground coffee – look for a grind that is finer than table salt, but slightly coarser than powdered sugar.

2. Dose and Level

The dose is the amount of coffee that you should add to the portafilter. The ideal coffee dosage for the perfect shot is somewhere between 14 and 20 grams of ground coffee, but keep in mind that it all depends on the machine you are using and your personal preferences. 

Try out different quantities and see what pleases your taste buds the most.

Once you add the ideal dose to the portafilter, the next step is to distribute the coffee into an even level, so that the water can flow uniformly in all areas. You can do this either by tapping the portafilter onto a tamping mat or simply gently patting the side with your hand.

3. Tamp

The hot water will try to find weak channel spots through the coffee, so the grains must be all tightly-packed to avoid that. A firm temp is what ensures uniform extraction.

Rest your portafilter on an even, flat surface, and take the tamper handle with your hand as you would reach for a doorknob. Holding the elbow at a 90-degree angle and keeping the temp in line with your wrist, apply firm pressure until you end up with polished and even coffee surface.

Most baristas suggest applying 30 pounds of pressure but don’t wrap your head around it too much. The key to an exemplary shot is not in the strength of your muscles but in having a well-packed and even coffee level.

4. Brew

Place the portafilter into the group head of your machine, and place your cup underneath it. Start brewing immediately.

For the perfect espresso shot, you need to extract about 30 grams (1.5 ounces) of coffee, which should take you around 20 to 30 seconds. If you are running too short or too long, check your grind, dose, and temp, and try again.

How to Make Perfect Espresso at Home

If you have bought (or you’re thinking about buying) an espresso machine, it is evident that you should be looking for the ultimate secret of how to make espresso at home. 

And while having a great experience is what separates the coffee-making and drinking side of the bar, with the right strategy and few extra tips, you will be able to pull the perfect shot from the comfort of your kitchen.

Picking the Right Equipment

First things first, to make espresso, you will need to be well-equipped. And I am not only talking about the bare minimum of having a decent espresso machine. The ultimate shot requires:

  • Espresso machine (with tamper and portafilter)
  • Fresh High-Quality
  • Coffee
  • Grinder
  • Scale
  • Timer
  • Water
  • Cup

Selecting the Right Coffee

Even with the fanciest machine, you cannot possibly think you can brew a fantastic espresso shot if you are not using high-quality coffee.

If you have zero experience under your belt, then you should probably stick to the basics and choose coffee beans that have “Espresso” written on the label. Darker roast gives a sharp kick to your cup, which makes it perfect for espresso brewing. However, that is not absolutely necessary.

Once you begin your espresso-making journey, you will see that this art isn’t really a cookie-cutter process. It involves some tries and fails, and a lot of experimenting. The point is to satisfy your unique preferences and for the coffee to be pleasing to your tongue. Try a few roasts and find your absolute favorite.

Whether you choose a single-origin coffee or not, the main selecting criteria should be the freshness. When brewing espresso, use only coffee that is at its prime; otherwise, you will be sacrificing the quality of the taste.

Grinding and Measuring

For the absolute best flavor, always grind the coffee just before brewing your espresso. That will give your shot a sharp and fresh note that will wake up your senses and energize you in an instant.

Find the perfect grind size – which is slightly finer than table salt – and get your scale. Adding the same amount of coffee to the portafilter will ensure that your brews have the same consistency, flavor, and the depth of aroma that you enjoy.

The traditional Italian espresso is made with 14 grams of freshly ground coffee, but you can play around with 14-20 grams and find the dosage that suits your preference the best.

Tip: Before adding your coffee to the grinder, make sure to let it run for a couple of seconds to get rid of any leftover particles that may sacrifice your brew.

Tips on How to Pull the Perfect Shot

Pulling the perfect espresso shot is something that comes with practice, but there are some must-know espresso-making tips that every barista-wannabe should take advantage of.

#1: Consistency

Whatever type of coffee you choose, whatever dosage you are comfortable with, the most important thing is to be consistent. Make sure always to use the same grind, dose, tamp, and brew, for best results.

#2: Cleanliness

Your machine needs to be cleaned regularly, ideally every day. It is also recommended that you rinse the portafilter with hot water from the machine just before adding coffee to it to ensure that there aren’t any residues left behind.

The group head (where you insert the portafilter) should also be rinsed before every use. Just run the espresso maker without the portafilter to purge any unwanted particles.

#3: Preheating

For the absolute best espresso shot, your group head should be rinsed before brewing not only so it gets cleaned, but also to preheat it. Ideally, you should also run your espresso cup under hot water just before the extracting begins.

#4: Timing

You will hit your ideal brew ration only if you time your shots. This is especially important in the beginning when you are still trying out different techniques and perfecting your espresso-brewing skills.

The best shot is achieved in about 25 seconds of extraction, on average, but bear in mind that this depends a lot on your machine. Your kitchen timer (or the timer on your phone) can help you ensure that each next shot will be pulled precisely like the last one.

Tip: Even If your machine comes with pre-set times, set the timing manually, play around with the settings, and find out what works for you the best.

#5: Equal Extraction

Once you get a good idea about how the extraction of espresso should look like, make that as a standard that you will use to adjust the grind, dose, and tamp, to ensure the same brew, every time.

The perfect extraction starts with a rich and dark brew that turns lighter and lighter and ends with a creamy and golden foam (crema) that sits on top.

Espresso Milk Frothing 101

Whether you are a flat-white addict or you enjoy its bigger cousin – the infamous latte, you cannot make a good cup of espresso with milk if you don’t master the art of milk frothing first. Luckily, the process isn’t as complicated as you may think.

  1. Always use cold milk for frothing. The best milk is full-fat cow’s milk, but you can also use non-dairy alternatives such as almond or soy milk.

  2. Blow some steam off the steamer to get rid of condensed water, and fill your pitcher to about a finger or two below its spout.

  3. Hold the pitcher with both hands and insert the wand. Holding with both hands will help you feel the temperature, as you do not want it to be piping hot.

  4. Turn the steam on and lower the pitcher. Once you hear the hissing sound, keep the tip of the wand just below the milk surface and off-center to create rich texture. You do not want to see big bubbles or hear gurgles – you want to have a velvety whirlpool.

  5. Once the milk reaches hand temperature, you are done. You do not want to go past this point if you wish to have silky and creamy milk texture.

  6. Pour your milk into the espresso cup, and wipe the steam wand with a damp cloth.

Dialing In Your Shots and Grinder

So, the basic recipe for pulling the best espresso shot is:

  • 15 – 20 grams of freshly ground coffee
  • 24-30 seconds of extraction time
  • 30 grams (1.5 ounces) of a liquid espresso shot

But, don’t think that you’ll get it right the first time. Weighing the input and output with every brew will improve your skills and help you make each shot better than the previous one. Here are some general guidelines:

  • If 30 grams of liquid espresso comes out in less than 25 seconds – grind your beans finer.
  • If 30 grams of liquid espresso need more than 30 seconds to extract – you need to make your ground coffee coarser.
  • If the espresso comes out within the typical time frame but the taste is displeasing – increase the dose a bit, and make the grind slightly coarser.

Every espresso-making tip may differ according to the type of machine you are using, but the key to having a perfect is in your palate, really. Feel free to experiment and find the recipe that satisfies your needs the most – then keep your eye on the grind and extraction for consistent results.

Espresso FAQs We Often Hear

How to Be Sure that the Tamp is Perfect?

The key to making a perfect tamp is to make sure that the puck is even. Otherwise, hot water will find the shortest route and the espresso will not extract evenly. 

Always strive to level and pressurize with a single, clean tamp. If you are a newbie, you can lift the portafilter (with the tamp holder still on) to eye height, and expect the level. Press some more if you feel that the puck is uneven, but keep in mind that readjusting may cause bigger issues.

Is Preheating the Espresso Cup Necessary?

Yes, if you wish to enjoy a high-class shot, that is. If you extract your espresso shot into a cold cup, the coffee will end up warming the cup and lose temperature. 

The perfect espresso shot should retain its stable heat longer, which is why preheating the cup before extracting is recommended.

What to Do If You Oversteam the Milk?

If you end up with a foamy and especially bubbly texture instead of having smooth and silky milk, you can try to swirl the pitcher a couple of times and even thunk it on your countertop to burst those bubbles and coax some of the foam out. 

However, don’t make this a habit. Your coffee will be creamier and more delicious if you pour velvety milk into it, so work on perfecting your milk-frothing skill.

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