You have searched for “how to make Espresso” because maybe you had brewed an Espresso cup that doesn’t meet your expectations or you are just starting afresh.
Don’t worry, we’ve tried our best to cover every possible aspect so that any mistake is avoidable beforehand.
In this article, I’ll show you how the different major factors can affect your brewing and by keeping this in mind you have to brew accordingly.
But for a double check, we’ve mentioned how’s your ideal espresso shot, so starting with this.
Ideal Espresso Shot
After brewing, how do you know that I have brewed the right cup of espresso? So, there are a few checklists that you should check after brewing.
Crema is a foamy light brown top layer in the espresso cup. It is around 15-20 percent describing the quality, flavors, and aftertaste of a cup made from carbon dioxide and coffee oils.
Flavors & Aroma
Espresso flavors are very much dependent on beans and roast. Like Robusta beans have wooded and smoky flavors, on the flip side, Arabica beans tend to have a more balanced flavor.
Light roasts have mellow and acidic flavors, and Dark roast, on the other hand, has harsh and pungent flavors.
It is a mixture of many flavorful substances, and you’ll feel it in its aroma. It smells strong, intense, and warming.
Espresso is a concentrated drink having very little water. It’s a denser & thick syrupy viscous beverage. An even extraction feels full-bodied, smooth, and velvety.
If you feel astringent, you have probably over-extracted the beverage, and if you feel sour or less sweet, you have under-extracted it.
Apart from these, an ideal Espresso shot is quietly dependent on the brew ratio for retaining a good crema, flavors, aroma, and texture. We generally use a 1:2-1:2.5 espresso-to-water ratio.
Ristretto vs Lungo
Now, we have looked for what is an ideal Espresso shot. But if you go a little up and down with the water concentration, an espresso will no longer remain an espresso.
This section is separate from how to make espresso. But the purpose is when you compare similar drinks, you have an idea of what to do and what not to do.
And how water concentration decides all this. Let’s look at each one very quickly;
A Ristretto brewing is similar to espresso, but it is in a very much concentrated form & having almost half of the amount of water used in espresso. The ideal brew ratio is 1:1.
However, a Lungo uses more water, almost double the amount of espresso. It is less concentrated; the ideal brew ratio is 1:3 – 1:4. Lungo brewing is also similar to espresso.
Don’t compare Lungo with Americano because, in Lungo, we pull grounds and water simultaneously, whereas, in Americano, we pour hot water separately and mix them.
The only difference between Espresso, Ristretto, and Lungo is the grind size and water ratio. We’ll discuss all these in detail further.
Factors Affecting an Espresso Cup
Several factors can affect your loving espresso cup. It may taste sour, sweet to bitter. Espresso’s under-extraction or over-extraction all depends on these factors.
Remember one thing, do not change two or more variables simultaneously. Because if you have done something wrong, you’ll not understand your mistake until you go one by one.
Now, let’s discuss each one individually.
Your coffee grind size directly affects the taste of your espresso.
For espresso, beans should be ground fine. A burr grinder is recommended.
It is very much possible that your grind setting wouldn’t be achieved the first time. So, you have to test a little bit for the perfect setting. We recommend testing from the coarser side.
Remember, when you change the grind size, some previous grounds are leftover in the chambers, and you have to purge all by taking out 5-10 grams separately.
It will impact the water flow rate and contact time if not done. We’ll discuss this further in the brewing section.
Also, spray water once or twice using a misting bottle before grinding. It is called Ross Droplet Technique (RDT). This technique helps in reducing less to zero clumps.
Coffee grounds should be distributed evenly for the perfect extraction. If it is unevenly distributed, water finds the minor resistance area and passes from there, which leads to under-extraction and a sour taste.
So, before tamping, you should focus on distributing coffee. There are mainly four ways to distribute your grounds:
Weiss Distribution Tool
Weiss distribution tool has a 3-4 needle-like structure fixed in a handle that helps in uniformly distributing the grounds.
A funnel magnet is placed over the portafilter to avoid spilling, and you have to stir it gently from bottom to top. It is highly effective in breaking clumps and provides even extraction.
You can use a Duomo and Porcupress; these tools also use a needle-like structure for distribution.
Wedge Distribution Tool
A wedge distribution tool is a round-shaped tool that perfectly fits into the portafilter. The tool’s bottom side has a flat, inverted V shape (wedge shape). Also, it is adjustable to go up and down, ranging from 5-14 mm.
For distributing, you have to place it on the portafilter, give it a few spins, and you can adjust it up and down to set grounds more evenly.
We can manually distribute coffee in three ways:
North South East West (NSEW)
When we put grounds in the portafilter, we generally see a mound in the middle.
North South East West is the distribution of the top layer of the coffee puck, where you swipe your fingers from the four directions above the portafilter to level the coffee bed.
Stockfleth Distribution Method
Another distribution method that helps in distributing the coffee is using your point finger and thumb.
Make a V shape using both fingers, place it over the portafilter and rotate around it. Focus on the area where there is a mound or up & down; the purpose is to flatten the coffee bed.
We generally take the coffee grinds directly in the portafilter. And if we apply other manual distribution methods, it can only affect the top layer.
But it is better to take grinds in a canister and put them into a portafilter. The idea is to put a few in grounds in a portafilter, then a little shake by tapping the sides and do it repeatedly until you dump your full dose.
So, here you will distribute grounds from the bottom to the top.
Vibration distribution is done with the help of a vibration coffee distribution tool (VDT). It is a straightforward process where you fill your portafilter with coffee grounds, place it on VDT, then turn on the machine.
The machine automatically vibrates your portafilter and settles down the grounds evenly. But when considering the price-to-effective ratio, it is an ineffective way of distribution.
Espresso without or with less crema is unpleasant. And coffee roast is one of the major factors behind it.
The fresher the roast, the more it creates crema. It is recommended to use coffee within 14 days from its roast date. Nowadays, some brands have started to mention coffee roast dates too.
Also, darker roasts are easy to extract for espresso, and light roasts require more experience for even extraction. Also, dark roast creates more crema than the other ones as it has more oils and carbon dioxide intact.
Temperature & Pressure
For perfect Espresso extraction, a water temperature of 195 – 205 Fahrenheit is required.
If you brew espresso with normal water, you will get an under-extracted drink, and If you brew espresso with extra hot water, you will get an over-extracted drink.
Also, if you choose to brew with light roast, then go about 205° Fahrenheit and for dark roast, go by 195° Fahrenheit. If you can’t measure the water temperature, don’t worry, it’s not a big deal, but before pulling, flush a little water to check that it is hot sufficiently.
A 9-10 bar of static pressure is suitable for brewing espresso. So, now you are thinking, what is a bar and all that? Without going into the complex Physics, it’s a unit where the weight of air at sea level is measured.
9-10 bar is a sweet spot; anything beyond this or fewer leads to over and under extraction.
The coffee puck is made with the help of tamping. Tamping is the process of compressing the coffee grounds with a tamper. The purpose is to take out all the air pockets and level the coffee bed.
Here there are a few technicalities for compressing. Hold the tamper with your point finger (slightly bent) and thumb (straight), just like you hold a doorknob. Your elbow should be an angle between 45-90 degrees; it depends on how far your kitchen rack or table is.
Apply a pressure of around 30 lbs. I know you cannot measure it, but don’t exert all your body pressure; stop when the grounds are not compressing – you’ll feel it, give 1-2 small spins, and you are done. It is just a small game of ergonomics.
What if it is not correctly tamped? If you tamped too hard, the water takes more time to brew, which leads to over-extraction, and on the other hand, if you tamped too lightly, it will under-extract your drink.
Whether you want a single shot of espresso or a double shot (Doppio), you have to set a dose for each brew type. A single shot requires around 8-10 grams of grounds and a double shot requires 16-22 grams of grounds.
For accuracy, we recommend measuring coffee with the help of a kitchen weighing scale, not with scoops or tablespoons.
With the change of dose, you have to change portafilter baskets. Simply, single shot Espresso needs single shot baskets, and double shot needs double shot baskets.
If you brew a single shot in a double shot basket, then you need to grind very fine, but there is a high probability you may over-extract or burn your coffee.
An Espresso yield is decided by how long you extract following the brew ratio. If you extract for a longer time, you’ll have a less concentrated drink and vice-versa.
Generally, we take a 1:2 ratio for Espresso brewing, which means if we take 20 grams of coffee, then we aim for 40 grams of yield.
You are not bound to apply this ratio; a slight change has a negligible impact but keep in mind that if you change more it can be a Ristretto or Lungo.
To reach perfection, use a kitchen weighing scale and place the cup over it to measure your quantity.
An Espresso should be brewed within 25-32 seconds; this will give you a pungent and espresso-level concentration.
Simply, there is an inverse relationship between time and concentration.
If you see your espresso is brewed too early, go for the finer grind settings, and if it takes longer than expected, go for a coarser grind.
How to Brew Espresso
- Kitchen Weighing Scale
- Espresso Machine
- Distribution Tool (optional)
- Grinder. Burr Grinder (recommended)
- Filters (optional)
- Puck Screen (optional)
- Water – Filtered (optional)
- Fill water in your Espresso machine, prefer filtered water.
- Turn on the machine and wait for it to be at the right temperature, usually, it takes 5-10 minutes.
- While it is heating, grind your coffee, we prefer a flat burr grinder for consistency.
- You can use Espresso paper filters for fast and more even extraction, which also reduces lipids and oils.
- Distribute your coffee grounds using a distribution tool or by manually distributing. For tools, I choose a Weiss distribution tool but if you find it expensive, a manual tapping distribution is quite a good option.
- Tamp grounds using a tamper by applying 25-30 lbs of pressure.
- You can use a puck screen – a fine mesh circular metal disc. This helps in distributing water more evenly on the surface and while pre-infusion it prevents the puck from expanding. Also, it reduces channeling. Simply, we use this for more even extraction.
- Now, insert your portafilter into the espresso machine and lock it by slightly rotating it.
- If you are using a kitchen weighing scale, put the cup over it and push the extraction button.
- Wait for the liquid to come out. The important thing, you have to notice the espresso-to-water ratio and time of brewing for a perfect cup.
- Taste and Enjoy!
Testing With Your Shot
If you have done everything right, but instead, you are not getting the Espresso shot of your expectation, then my friend, you are not restricted to following the recommendations very strictly.
Sub-factors in the section “factors affecting an espresso cup” are variables where you can give a slight change.
Every person’s preference is different, so test things out and meet your level of expectation.
Espresso Without Machine?
We know that modern espresso machines are expensive, and not everyone can afford them. Also, it’s a complex process that requires your full attention.
But apart from these, we don’t support and brew espresso without its machine. I saw people brew so-called Espresso with French Press, Aeropress, and Moka Pot.
It doesn’t mean that it tastes weird or anything; yes, they give strong coffee, and these beverages may match the flavors and aroma of an Espresso, but what about crema – an important property?
Also, an Espresso requires 9 bars of pressure for perfect and even extraction, and without a machine, it is nearly impossible to do this manually.
Not only is espresso consumed alone, but it is also the raw material for many other beverages like Cappuccino or Macchiato. So, it isn’t easy to make espresso-related beverages without a machine.
Can you use a coffee puck twice?
No, you cannot use a coffee puck twice. Because when you brew for the first time, it releases almost all its flavors and oils.
So, for the second time, you’ll get a different weird sort of taste. Simply understand, you are just over-extracting a puck.
How many mg of caffeine in espresso?
Well, caffeine in an Espresso depends on major factors, including Beans & Roast. Like Robusta, beans tend to have more caffeine than Arabica.
Same as light roast has more caffeine than the darker one. Also, Different brands have different caffeine levels for beverages.
But in general, an Espresso made with Arabica beans has 77 mg per 1.5 fl. Oz. and Espresso made with Robusta has 141 mg per shot.
For more detailed info, you can check out how much caffeine in a cup of coffee
Do you put sugar in Espresso?
Sugar is optional in espresso; if it tastes bitter or you enjoy sweet coffee, then you can go for it. But if you are conscious of calories or weight loss, then think about it.
However, the Italians use sugar in espresso, and it’s a fact that they are the founder of this beverage.