Espresso Brew Guide
We can thank espresso brewing for introducing coffee to Australia and commencing the evolution of what has arguably become the most develped coffee culture in the world. It was migrants from Europe, particularly countries like Italy, Greece, France and Turkey, who brought espresso coffee and espresso machines to our shores. Melbourne was the epicentre of Australian coffee but, as with all good things, espresso coffee didn’t take long to spread to the rest of the country. Today it is probably the most commonly used method of brewing coffee. It is also one of the trickiest to get right, which is why many Australians prefer to visit their favourite local cafe for their flat whites and lattes instead of making them at home. You can’t really blame Australians for that, after all our cafe game is so strong that it is now spreading internationally. These days it is Australians teaching the world how to brew coffee and how to enjoy drinking it!
But you shouldn’t be put off trying espresso at home. Don’t stop supporting that local cafe, but with a bit of trial and error you can achieve a delicious espresso-based coffee at home, even if your latte art doesn’t quite match the art at the cafe!
As with all other coffee brewing techniques, making a good cup of espresso is about the ingredients and the recipe. First you need good quality freshly ground coffee. If the coffee quality is poor, or the coffee is old, it’s never going to taste any good. Second, you will need to find the right ratio of grind, water temperature, dose, yield and time to satisfy your taste buds. It will take a bit of trial and error, but that’s why you are a “coffee snob” – the end result is always worth the effort.
- Know how to use your espresso machine, they are all a bit different. Read the manual; take the time to understand what you have. Is your machine manual, or does it have some automation? Does it have one boiler or two?
- Make sure your machine has water in the reservoir.
- Make sure the machine is properly warmed up, including the group handle.
- Have a good coffee grinder, and use freshly ground coffee [see A Note About Grind for additional information on grind].
- Take the time to find what level of fineness your espresso machine needs in a coffee grind, they are all a bit different. Generally speaking espresso needs a fine grind, somewhere around fine sand. Make changes to grind gradually, and accept that some level of adjustment to grind will always be necessary depending on the beans you are using and environmental factors.
- When your espresso machine is ready, remove the group handle and make sure it is clean and dry. If you have scales – use them! Tare your group handle before grinding the coffee. Place the group handle under the dosing mechanism of your grinder and fill it with freshly ground coffee. Even the ground coffee out with your finger, leaving the coffee slightly raised.
- Using a coffee tamper, push down evenly on the coffee in the group handle. Tamping tips: place the group handle on the edge of your kitchen bench; hold it like you are holding a door knob; use enough pressure that you can feel you are pressing against something – you don’t need to feel like you are doing a gym exercise!
- Brush away any coffee grinds from the rim of the basket, this will help ensure a good seal when you place it in the group head of your espresso machine.
- Weigh the full group handle on your scales so that you know the dose weight. This is important so that you can repeat a successful recipe. Dosing tip: the ‘right’ dose will vary depending on your machine, but start with something between 18-22g.
- Briefly purge the screen in the group head of your machine by running hot water through it to clean any previous coffee grinds.
- Carefully lock the group handle into the group head of your espresso machine. Treat the basket like you would treat an egg! If you knock it on anything it will probably ruin your extraction.
- As soon as it is locked in place, begin your coffee extraction. Delay will cause the coffee to burn. Have your scales on the drip tray and weigh the yield – don’t forget to tare first with your coffee cup.
- The espresso shot should start with a slow drip and extract in an even, thin stream. If it extracts too quickly, your grind may have been too coarse. Too slow – too fine. However: don’t always assume the grind is to blame. Water temperature and tamping pressure will also affect your extraction flow.
- When the shot starts to ‘blonde’ (yellow), stop the extraction.
- Brew ratio tip: there is no magic ratio, but a 1:2 ratio is a good start. What does this mean? If your dose is 20g, your yield should be 40g.
- With your coffee extraction completed, remove the group handle and knock out the coffee puck. Take a quick look at the puck: if its really dry and hard you may have over-dosed. If it’s really wet and soft you may have done the opposite.
- Taste your espresso! If it tastes amazing you are either very lucky or a natural! Chances are you will need to go back to your recipe and tweak the variables – one at a time.
- Taste tips: a short shot can be acidic, a longer shot can exhibit more sweetness. Too long and it will be bitter. Higher water temperature can increase the yield as well as increasing the sweetness, while lower water temperatures can result in a higher acidity.