12 Tips for Making a Better Espresso Coffee

Struggling to achieve great tasting espresso at home? Or do you find your brews vary between tasting great and sometimes bitter? Nail your espresso technique every time with these 12 tips.
  1. Keep your portafilter clean

Cleaning your portafilter is important. Coffee residues that build up over time will only give a rancid tasting espresso shot. This is a result of oils sticking to the metal water screen (and behind it) in the portafilter. To prevent this from happening make sure to rinse your portafilter every few shots, and also make sure to soak filter basket and portafilter in cleaning solution frequently for at least 15 minutes to remove any residual build-up.

  1. Get dose right

Dosing is all about the amount of coffee in grams that you are using in for your espresso. 18-21g is generally recommended for a double shot. Find your preference and remember that slight variations will influence the flavour of the espresso. 

  1. Distribution- Ensure equal

This is an important one- Ensure that your coffee is evenly distributed in your portafilter. This is because water will always choose the path of least resistance. Uneven distribution can mean there is both under- and over-extraction in the same cup which is going to give an unpleasant tasting espresso shot. If in doubt about this we recommend a ‘naked’ portafilter which will clearly indicate if extraction rates are unequal.  

  1. Tamp and even consistently

Tamping is important. Make sure both tamp and portafilter are level. If tamped unevenly this will create a path of less resistance.

  1. Rinse group head

This will help give a more stable temperature during extraction as well as remove any coffee residue from previous shots that might add unpleasant flavours to the espresso.

  1. Start brewing immediately

Leaving the coffee in the portafilter for too long may burn the surface of coffee, resulting in bitter notes in cup. The World Barista Championships are very fussy about this and will even deduct points for failing to do so.

  1. Watch your brew time

Ideally an espresso will take 25-30 seconds to brew, with slight variations from machine to machine. Longer or shorter than this could indicate sub-optimal extraction and result in unpleasant flavours in coffee.

  1. Use freshly ground coffee

The best tasting espresso will require coffee that has been freshly ground right before brewing. Additionally we recommend using freshly roasted coffee, ideally not more than 2 weeks after the roast date. Our advise is to use coffee that has a ‘roasted on’ date rather than ‘use by date’ as this gives a better indication that the coffee is fresh. Check out our Coffee Selection ideal for espresso. 

  1. Pick the right coffee 

Generally speaking, dark and medium-dark roasts will serve you best. You can experiment with other roast profiles. Extra dark roasts tend to be quite ashy in flavour, whilst lighter roasts will retain more intrinsic flavours such as fruitiness and acidity. The ‘classic’ espresso flavour however will be best achieved with a dark or medium-dark roast. 

  1. Get grind size- Factors that might change this

Grind size is important. Too course will give you a watery or acidic espresso, whilst too fine can give you overly bitter flavours. Make sure to check this every now and then as even factors such as air temperature and humidity interact with grind size which influences taste. On warmer and more humid days beans will absorb more moisture, which will lower the rate at which water infiltrates the coffee grounds. If you don’t use a grinder an espresso grind should generally serve you well, just be aware that pre-ground coffee will stale faster than whole beans.

  1. Use the right water

This is important on two levels. For looking after your machine and getting that right balance of flavour in your espresso. Our advise is to use filtered water, know when a filter needs replacing, and be aware of changes in water hardness over the year as there can be some seasonal variation. Given that over 90% of an espresso is water, getting this right is important.

  1. Preheat your kit

Especially important for the first brew. Preheating will lower heat loss during extraction. We recommend pulling a blank shot through the portafilter (no coffee in the basket). Failing to do so may lead to unequal rates of extraction which in turn will decrease flavour quality.

 

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