Woe be the person visiting Italy for more than a few days who rents an Airbnb or HomeAway apartment, decides to invite some new Italian friends over for espresso, pastries and conversation and then…mucks up the espresso making!
Yet even if you’re not in Italy brewing espresso for new-found friends, if you love espresso and want to have it at home rather than at a café, you’re going to need to learn how to make it, and make it well.
But before we offer some tips, here’s a bit of background on espresso.
Not only is espresso a specific coffee drink, it’s also a method of preparing coffee. Espresso is coffee that’s brewed by forcing a small amount of almost boiling water under pressure through coffee beans that have been finely ground. The resulting drink usually is thicker than coffee brewed via other methods. It also has a higher concentration of dissolved solids and you’ll see foam of creamy consistency – known as crema – on top.
Espresso has more concentrated flavor than other coffee drinks as a result of the pressurized brewing process, as well as more caffeine per unit of volume. The drink traditionally is served in very small espresso cups.
As hinted at above, espresso is beloved in Italy.
How to Brew Espresso Using an Espresso Machine
Making a great cup of espresso starts with the water. If you don’t have good filter system on your faucet (to keep out sediment, scale and minerals), at the least invest in a Brita pitcher (with a simple carbon filter) and place the water you will us in that.
You’ll need to have coffee beans that are very finely ground (particles only about as big as table salt). The traditional size of an espresso cup is known as “doubleshot.” This take 18-21 grams of finely ground coffee beans.
- Fill the espresso machine with the filtered water. Once you turn the machine on, allow it to heat up (should take 15-45 minutes). Don’t start using it until the machine feels warm.
- Take an empty portafilter and lock it into the machine’s grouphead and then run the machine for a few seconds. Doing so allows fresh water to move to the front and also heats up the machine parts that get closest to your coffee.
- Wipe underneath the grouphead and inside of the portafilter; make sure they are clean and dry.
- Grind a few beans to the appropriate fine texture. You’ll know you’re done when the coffee starts to loosely clump.
- Place 18-21 grams of the ground coffee into the portafilter. Rotate the portafilter so that grounds settle evenly in the basket and use a finger to fill in air pockets.
- Tamp down on the portafilter with your elbow, wrist and arm centered directly over the portafilter’s basket. Press evenly and use your fingers to feel the basket’s edge. Check to make sure the “bed” is level. Use about 30 pounds of pressure as you tamp. (If you don’t know what tamping at 30 pounds feels like, head over to your bathroom scale and press down on it with your hand until the needle reaches 30 pounds. Remember that feeling and replicate it when tamping the coffee.)
- Place the portafilter into the grouphead and start brewing/infusion.
- Before serving, mix the crema by pouring espresso into another cup, or simply stirring it.