Only a few years ago, the idea of brewing espresso at home would have been laughed off—if it was even acknowledged—by the vast majority of coffee drinkers. I mean, have you seen that machine? But our insatiable curiosity over all manner of food and drink has dramatically shifted the conversation from “Why bother?” to “Sure, why not?
Brewing espresso has not necessarily become any easier over that time. We have, though, grown a greater collective appreciation for the fruit of that labor. The same way a perfectly executed Michael Solomonov recipe for hummus tastes a wee bit better than the best kind you can buy at Whole Foods, an espresso made at your own hands will drink as profound as it will robust.
So, what are you waiting for, then? Oh, right. That intimidating machine. Really, it’s all bark. Take your time, follow these pointers, and you’ll be fine. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we’re pretty sure they were drinking espressos by their first mid-morning break.
To start, get yourself a burr grinder. That blade grinder just isn’t going to cut it. Burr grinders create consistent particles, which enable even extraction, an essential part of the espresso-making process. A blade grinder chops the beans any which way.
While you’re shopping Amazon, buy a scale, too. It sounds like a total geek move, we know, but precision will pay big dividends here. You’re going to use the scale to measure both your dose and yield. Multiply the weight of your dose in grams by 1.55. The sum is what your yield should be. That said, your taste should be your primary guide. It’s going to take some tinkering with the grind and other variables, but your ideal combination is out there.
Next: Tamp evenly, and the same way every time. Just in case you’re not picking up on the theme, consistency is king. After enough practice, this will all start to feel like a ritual. Embrace it.
Then: Flush the group head—the fixed part with all the holes—each time before you insert the portafilter—the basket with the handle that contains the grounds. Hot water is forced through the group head and over the grounds. If it’s not clean, it won’t come through evenly. This step will clear any residue.
And now for the moment of truth: Start the extraction the instant you insert the portafilter so that the coffee doesn’t start to cook while it sits in the group head. A moment’s hesitation can make the difference between perfection and failure.
Honestly, though, you’re going to burn a few cups before you get this down. Move through the motions methodically until you come to understand each one’s feel and purpose. Speed will come with confidence. And a soul-hugging shot won’t be far behind.