How to Make the Perfect Espresso at Home
There are many delicious ways you can prepare your coffee at home, but the perfect espresso always sounds like the holy grail of coffee lovers. Yet, achieving it can be complicated and confusing. So, how’s it done?
Firstly, there is no “perfect” espresso. Yup, it’s true. There are certain guidelines to follow, and there will always be a certain way to prepare your chosen blend to make it really sing. But, ultimately, the “perfect” espresso is one you enjoy drinking the most. Trying to achieve perfection might just be holding you back from trying new things; the perfect espresso will be different for everyone.
What are the Variables?
We could talk forever. There is so much minutiae that comes with preparing coffee. But the top three are coffee dosage and grind, time, and volume. Without these, you will struggle to pinpoint what kind of espresso extraction you enjoy. Let’s break down the jargon and why it matters.
1: Dosage and Grind
The weight of coffee grinds you’re putting into the portafilter, and how fine or coarse it is. As a general rule, a higher dosage and a finer grind will create a richer espresso which highlights deeper flavours such as cocoa and nuts. By comparison, a lower dosage and a coarser grind will produce a lighter flavour, lending itself to floral and fruity flavours. But, be careful; too much either way can upset the balance and either burn the espresso or create a watery, flavourless espresso.
The length of time it takes for your coffee to extract from the machine. The longer your extraction time, the more time the water has to bind with the coffee molecules. The water will bind with salts, acids, sugars, and bitters in that order. So, if your extraction time is too long, you may find your espresso becomes overly bitter and unpleasant. Too short and you won’t feel the full affect of all the flavours your coffee bean has to offer. The industry standard is around 25-30 seconds to extract 36ml of espresso from 18g of grinds. From there, you can experiment and find what works for you.
The amount of liquid coffee you are receiving per espresso. This will be determined by the first two points. As a general rule, darker blends tend to do better with less volume and lighter blends will do better with a higher volume. This is also where the term “brew ratio” comes into play. For example, if you put 18g of coffee into the portafilter and produce 36ml of espresso, you have a 1:2 brew ratio. Once you know the brew ratio you enjoy, you’ll be able to adjust your dosage and grind with more confidence.
4: Drink type
This is important too! If you don’t plan on drinking your espresso straight, make sure to make your preferred drink. An espresso may taste amazing by itself but lose its quality once you add milk or hot water, or vice versa.
5: Water Quality
Water is often overlooked, but it’s key since it’s a main ingredient in preparing great coffee. Soft water can create sharp acidity and hard water can make your espresso flat and chalky. The best solution is to use filtered water when possible.
6: Water Temperature
Your espresso machine probably has your temperature pre-set but it is possible to adjust if you want. As a general rule, lower temperatures (below 180-190 ⁰F) are used to avoid extracting burnt, bitter flavours, and higher temperatures (210⁰F +) are used to encourage the extraction of more delicate flavours. So a lighter blend with more fruity notes may require a slightly higher temperature, and vice versa with a blend with more bold and rich flavours.
7: Water Pressure
This is a more advanced and usually won’t require much adjustment at home. But, water pressure describes the pressure at which water is pushed through the coffee, measured in bars. Lowering the pressure can highlight more delicate notes in the coffee and be more akin to non-espresso extraction methods. However, lowering the pressure is a delicate process and will alter your brew ratio.
So, now you know how to experiment with your espresso extraction at home! If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, follow the general espresso guide of 18g of ground coffee producing 36ml of espresso in 30 seconds and play around with the brew ratio from there. Alternatively, ask us how we like to prepare the blend you’re purchasing; we all have our favourites and are always happy for an excuse to talk about coffee!