The best way to preface the information you are about to read is by quoting James Hoffmann in his book, The World Atlas of Coffee, “Don’t invest in an espresso machine at home unless you want a new hobby.”
Espresso—a born and raised Italian, Americanized to the habits and ways of a fast-paced culture—is by all means spending plenty of time on the Red Carpet. Walk into any notable coffee shop in America (preferably Coffee Corral), and you can’t stand in line without hearing “I’ll have a shot of espresso.” And let’s be honest, when you are so mesmerized and engrossed in a love, all you want to do is take it home…
With that being said, here is a brief guide to help you in your soon-to-be (if not already), frustrating, yet rewarding, path to making the perfect espresso at home.
First and foremost, it is important to use freshly roasted coffee of a high quality. While some aficionados still prefer Robusta beans for the naturally bitter taste it produces, we recommend using Arabica beans. Well-roasted, specialty Arabica will produce a smooth, nicely acidic, and tasty shot of espresso; without ever making you feel like you have to drop the “b” word. Do not allow the sight of crema alone to influence your coffee choice, as crema is simply the result of water being under very high pressure and dissolving carbon dioxide. After the pressure returns to normalcy, the liquid cannot hold the gas any longer and therefore produces tiny bubbles that become the creamy foam we refer to as “crema”. Freshly roasted coffee will inherently produce more crema (it has not excreted all its’ carbon dioxide, in return not losing all its’ flavor); though, that silky foam is not an indicator whether the green coffee is any good or has been roasted well. These are indispensible factors to ensuring a chance at a good espresso.
After you’ve chosen your coffee (fresh, high-quality; Coffee Corral-duh) the most important details to focus on are:
- The grind.
- Water temperature.
- The amount of coffee being used (in grams).
- The amount of liquid being produced (in grams
- The brewing time (in seconds, God willing).
Simply put, the finer the grind, the better the particles of coffee will fit together. The espresso grind should be slightly more coarse then a Turkish grind, but not by much. The liquid will pass through the coffee at a faster pace if it is too coarse, leaving you with a shot you better just dump.
For full extraction of the flavor the coffee has to offer, the water temperature should be anywhere from 194°F to 201°F. Though, keep in mind the taste of your shot will vary if you brew at 195°F one day and 198°F the next day—consistency is key!
The rest is simply practice, science, and trial and error. To give a broad recommendation, you may want to start pulling a double shot with 18g of ground coffee, to produce an estimated 35g of liquid in around 27 seconds. From there, you can adjust the grind size, your tamping technique, the amount of coffee used, the water temperature, the shot time, or even the water pressure (130 psi recommended). However, as you start to make changes, make one at a time so to pinpoint what change made what difference.
Don’t let us scare you away. The reward of pulling that perfect shot at home, sitting with your Asbury Park Press, in your bath robe and slippers, on a Sunday morning is far better than just walking in and letting us do the dirty work for you. So if you aren’t already brewing at home, we recommend you research your new machine, ask us a lot of questions, and pick up your first bag of C&C Espresso Blend to get started on the long and winding road to the perfect shot of espresso.