What is Espresso?
Espresso is a method of making concentrated coffee. An espresso machine forces hot water through finely ground coffee using pressure (around nine bars). The espresso coffee drink that’s produced is called an espresso shot and the process of making the drink is called “pulling a shot.” Coffee made in a French press, Moka pot, and Aeropress is NOT espresso since it isn’t made using nine bars of pressure. The French press uses the immersion method, not pressure. The Moka pot uses the percolation method and the Aeropress use the pressure method but not enough pressure to call the drink espresso. A single espresso shot can be ordered at Starbucks but most coffee shops make the drink with two shots.
Making great espresso is difficult. It requires at least delicious coffee beans, excellent brewing recipe, good and clean espresso machine and grinder. Also you need to know the best practices on how to actually pull an espresso. Here are my tips about the practices and my routine how I make espresso.
I have been studying espresso for years. First as a barista and coffee lover then later even more profoundly as a barista trainer and a roaster. I feel that after tens of thousands espresso shots made and consumed I have great insight for the topic. With this blog post I want to share some of the things I have discovered. So here are best tips from me, enjoy! If you prefer watching a video on how to make espresso, see this!
- Clean your portafilter
Before dosing the coffee to your portafilter, make sure that the portafilter is clean and tidy. Both moisture and leftover grounds might (and most likely will) make your future espresso taste over-extracted = astringent and bitter.
Use a cloth to clean your portafilter
- Dose correctly
This should be pretty easy. With on-demand grinders you just need to push a button with your portafilter or hand and the grinder will dose your pre-set dose. If you want to be a really professional and geeky barista, check your dose on a scale before distributing and tamping. This way you can be quite sure that your extraction will be correct because your dose won’t be too much or little.
- Distribute your grounds in the portafilter
Most likely your grinder will dose the grounds to the portafilter’s basket to a mountain or a pyramid shape. This means that you have uneven distribution of the grounds so some parts of the basket will have more coffee and some parts less if you don’t distribute them before tamping. Bad distribution of the grounds might lead to channelling.
You can also use distribution tools if you want to get geeky. Distribution tools are really great way to enhance the consistency of your espressos and their extractions.
- Tamp evenly and consistently
I had my first barista training in 2012 when I was taught that I should tamp with 20 kilos of pressure. After “a few” tamps and several years, I still don’t know how much is 20 kilos of pressure. So let’s kill that popular myth.
So let’s tamp in a more modern way. The aim of tamping is to remove any air pockets in the coffee puck and do this so that the puck is completely leveled. Tamp so long and “hard” that you feel that the puck is compressed (in other words it doesn’t go down anymore). Pay attention that the puck is horizontally leveled so that you avoid channelling and over, under or uneven extraction.
tamping when brewing espresso
- Rinse your group head
Before inserting the portafilter to the group head, you might want to rinse the group head to remove any old coffee from it. Easy way to keep your espresso machine clean. Rinsing will also make sure that your group head is properly heated and this way you might be able to extract more your coffee.
6. Insert the portafilter and start brewing immediately
After rinsing, insert the portafilter to the group head and start brewing IMMEDIATELY! If you don’t start brewing immediately, the heat from the group head might “burn” the surface of your coffee which leads to bitter notes in the cup.
Fun fact: in World Barista Championships you will lose a point if you don’t start the brewing immediately
- Be aware of the yield & brew time
Now you are brewing your espresso. If you are using a volumetric machine, be aware of you brew time. In the case of too short extraction time (under-extraction) or too long extraction time (over-extraction) you might want to make a new espresso and/or check your grind size and dose. If you are using a manual espresso machine, be aware of your yield e.g. if your espresso is running a bit too fast, you are just diluting (making it milder) your espresso and possibly also over-extracting at the same time.
- Serve with a smile
If you followed these steps and you’re using a good brewing recipe, most likely you will have a tasty espresso in the cup. It is important to remember that we baristas are in the hospitality business so be sure to serve your customers well. Tell them a little about the coffee you’re using and what kind of flavours should they be expecting from the espresso. And most important of all; SMILE. With a tasty espresso served with smile you can make someone’s day.
- Discard the puck, clean the basket and rinse the group head.
After serving keep the places neat and tidy. Clean the basket from any old coffee and moisture, rinse the group head and insert the portafilter back to the group head. It is much easier, faster and nicer to make the next espresso when places are in order.
- To become a great barista one has to have a combination of mechanical skill set and service attitude. You must know how to handle your equipment and coffee as a compound but also to be a great service person for your customers.
With time and experience – and let’s not forget the fancy barista tools – your steps may change. They will become more advanced, evolving with you as a barista. There is always more to learn in this industry (which is what makes it so fun!) However, if you begin with this process, you’re off to a very good start.