May 25, 2023

You've just bought yourself an espresso machine and want to recreate your favourite coffee shop drinks at home. 

Making an excellent espresso can be a little tricky to master. Here are six tips to take your home espresso from good to great!

1. Use Beans Specifically Roasted for Espresso

Coffee roasters understand that beans need to be extracted faster when brewed as espresso than when being made into filter coffee. 
They will therefore roast the beans they put in their espresso blends in a way that makes them as easy to extract quickly as possible.

You’re therefore more likely to pull excellent espresso shots if you buy coffee beans that are specifically labelled for espresso brewing. If these espresso blends have specific brewing recipes then even better. Roasters will have rigorously tested out their recipe, saving you this trial and error.

Every month we select a specialty coffee option that's perfect for espresso beginners and coffee aficionados alike! Check out this month's pick.

2. Warm Up Your Portafilter Basket Before Brewing

Espresso should be brewed at a temperature between 92 and 96 degrees Celsius.

While espresso machines heat up your brewing water to this temperature, if your portafilter basket (the metal bowl that your ground coffee sits in during brewing) is cold then your water temperature will drop well below 92 Celsius when it actually starts brewing.

 

You, therefore, want to warm up your portafilter basket before you pull a shot.

The easiest way to do this is to pull a 'blind shot'. A 'blind shot' is a shot without any ground coffee in your portafilter basket, just hot water! 

Pulling just one blind shot before you churn out an espresso will dramatically increase your brewing temperature. This will aid extraction, resulting in a fuller-bodied brew. 

3. Use a Pressurised Portafilter Basket if Brewing with Pre-Ground Coffee

While it is always recommended to use freshly ground coffee wherever possible, you can still deliver a decent coffee with pre-ground coffee if you use pressurised portafilter baskets.

Pressurised portafilter baskets differ from non-pressurised portafilter baskets in that the former has one tiny hole that your espresso is forced through during brewing whereas the latter has dozens (if not hundreds).

The circle highlights the single hole on the pressurised portafilter on the right compared to the multiple holes in the non-pressurised basket on the left.

Pre-ground coffee is usually coarser than freshly ground coffee. This means that water might flow through pre-ground coffee too quickly to enable proper extraction. The singular hole on a pressurised portafilter creates a bottleneck, slowing down the brewing and creating better extraction.

With freshly ground coffee, the coffee grinds are fine enough that your espresso brews slowly enough to not need help from a pressurised portafilter.

Most espresso machines come with both pressurised and non-pressurized portafilter baskets. Just remember to change these baskets when you switching between whole beans and coffee grinds.

4. Weigh Your Coffee Dose and Final Espresso Yield

Every month we disclose a recommended recipe that includes a dose, brew recipe, and yield so you can make the most of our feature roast!

Dose refers to the weight of coffee that you put into your portafilter, and yield refers to the total weight of liquid espresso that ends up in your cup.

We recommend getting a small scale that can measure to the nearest gram. The scale should be small enough that it can fit under your cup during brewing.

Use this scale to measure the ground coffee that you dose up your portafilter with, as well as the liquid coffee that ends up in your cup.

5. Time Your Shots

Every coffee has an ideal yield time. This refers to the amount of time that the coffee is brewed for, or how long your espresso shot 'runs'.

The longer that a shot is brewed, the more extraction will occur.

Brewing for too long results in over-extraction which creates a bitter taste. This is because too much direct contact time between your ground coffee and brewing water can cause some of the harsher-tasting compounds in your coffee to dissolve.

Brewing too quickly results in under-extraction which can create a sharp and acidic brew. This is because too little direct contact time between your ground coffee and brewing water means that the sweeter compounds in your coffee grounds cannot dissolve properly. These sweeter compounds are needed to balance coffee’s natural acidity.

Each coffee bean’s recommended yield time refers to the sweet spot where just enough extraction has taken place to create a perfectly balanced drink.

6. Play Around with Grind Size in Order to Match Dose and Yield Size with Yield Time

We now know that each espresso bean has an ideal weight of coffee in and liquid out, as well as an ideal yield time. You will be able to find this recipe in our monthly feature roaster poster that comes with your subscription parcel.

This naturally begs the question of what to do if brewing our ideal yield takes too long or happens too quickly.

The answer lies in the grind size of the bean. Grinding our beans coarser or finer can adjust our brewing time without us having to change our initial dose or final yield.
  • Grinding more coarsely means that there are larger gaps between each grind. This allows our water to pass through our bed of coffee quicker, shortening our yield time.
  • Grinding finer reduces the size of the gaps between each grind. This restricts the spaces that our brewing water can pass through during brewing which lengthens yield time.

In short, if your coffee shot is running too quickly then fine your grind size. If you find your espresso is running too slowly then grind coarser. Adjust the grind size until you can hit your recommended brewing time while also hitting your recommended dose and yield weights.

Final Thoughts

Making excellent espresso is all about getting your brew temperature, brew ratio and coffee grind size right.

These tips should allow you to do so on a relatively modest home set-up, meaning that you can make drinks that rival any coffee shop from the comfort of your home.

If you’d like to find out about other ways of making coffee, have a look at our article on the different types of coffee brewing methods.

 

This article was written by Oli Baise. Oli is a barista who runs the coffee blog: Drinky Coffee