How to Make Espresso
How to make Espresso
I admit. Espresso was not my first love. It took me years to appreciate its strong and toasty flavor. But now, it is something I could no longer resist. I know most people could relate to this.
And the good news is that with today’s advanced technology, you can enjoy your favorite cup of coffee without going to coffee shops. In this article, we’ll lay out the best guide to making the well-known espresso.
What is Espresso?
Espresso is a highly concentrated coffee drink best served in small cups called “shots”. It is widely known for its bittersweet taste, rich texture, and strong aroma.
The coffee drink is made using an espresso machine that forces pressurized hot water into a well-pressed ground coffee bean. The special brewing method gives espresso three distinct layers – crema, body, and heart.
The light brown top layer is called the crema that holds the emulsified oils and coffee fragments. This layer has the most subtle, creamiest, and finest flavor.
Underneath is the “body” that contains the soluble gas, and soluble and insoluble solids. This layer houses espresso’s strong coffee flavors. And lastly, at the bottom is a dark brown layer called the “heart” of espresso which stores the acids and remaining coffee fragments.
Any type of coffee bean and roast can work for espresso. The only thing that matters is the brewing technique. This explains why espresso also pertains to the brewing method.
History and Origin
Espresso was born in the city of love, Italy. This isn’t something surprising since espresso is an Italian word that means “to express” or “to press out“.
The coffee was brought to the world by the great minds of Angelo Moriondo and Luigi Bezzera who invented steam or espresso machines in 1901.
Its popularity grew steadily as espresso machines rolled out in the market. In Italy, espresso signalled the advent of urbanization. While it is only in 1927 when an espresso machine was officially installed in American land.
The earlier forms of espresso tasted more toasty and bitter than the ones you are drinking today. The evolution of the espresso machine improved the overall flavor, aroma, and consistency of the coffee.
Espresso plays a vital role in the coffee culture of the world. Baristas have learned to use espresso in creating new coffee drinks that consumers enjoy.
Regular Coffee vs. Espresso: What is the Difference?
You are probably wondering how espresso differs from regular brewed coffee. Well, they differ in four major criteria – technique, caffeine, grind, and flavor.
The best way to make espresso is by shooting pressurized hot water into pressed coffee beans. The water and coffee beans must not interact too long because the taste will get dull. At the same time, the fine-sized coffee grounds must be packed evenly to retain the strong qualities of espresso.
Caffeine content sure is one of the most debated topics in the coffee world. Indeed, espresso is a highly concentrated drink that contains all the essence of coffee.
However, due to its relatively small serving that only contains about 47-64 mg, regular coffees contain more caffeine approximately 95-165 mg per serving.
Don’t be deceived by coffee packs marked with “espresso” on their labels because the truth is you can make the drink using any type of bean (Arabica or Robusta) and roast. The same also applies to your standard coffee.
However, the main difference lies in the texture requirement. Espresso requires fine-textured coffee grounds while brewed coffee can either use coarse to medium grounds.
Lastly, these two coffees differ in flavor and aroma. Espresso strikes with bolder, richer, and creamier flavors while regular brewed coffees may seem a little too subtle and light.
Different Types of Espresso Drink
One of the great wonders of espresso is that you can have it in solo serving or different forms. Below are the most popular espresso drinks in all of the coffeeshop menus:
A pure espresso is the life of all espresso-based coffee drinks. It is made by using 7 mg of freshly ground coffee beans shot by 30 ml of pressurized hot water and served directly from the espresso machine.
Doppio is a fancy name for “double shot” that simply refers to the doubled amount of coffee beans used to extract approximately 60 ml of espresso. Baristas often use larger portafilter baskets to accommodate the amount of coffee beans.
If you are craving for something stronger and bolder, then ristretto will be a perfect choice for you. This type of espresso is made using the same procedure as pure espresso, only that the water volume is halved. Of course, as a result, Ristretto appears darker in color and stronger in flavor.
Lungo, also known as long-shot espresso is made by shooting doubled volume of pressurized hot water into 7 mg of finely pressed coffee beans. For this reason, long shot espresso tastes less bitter and flavorful than one shot and ristretto.
Espresso Based Drinks
It is no secret that some of the chart-topping coffees are crafted from espresso shots. Here is a list of the most popular and well-received espresso-based drinks you can never get tired of:
Cappuccino is a certified world favorite. It is prepared using one or two shots of espresso infused with steamed and frothed milk. These three components must come in an equal ratio (1:1:1) to achieve the true cappuccino taste that is rich, strong, and creamy.
Lattes and cappuccinos are like brothers born from the same mother, only that café latte is usually added with more milk approximately twice that of cappuccino. As a result, lattes are known to be sweeter, creamier, and more subtle than other espresso-based coffees.
Everyone must agree that Americano is the people’s favorite to-go coffee. It is prepared by combining hot or iced water and a single or double shot of espresso. The water softens the flavors of espresso, making the taste seem closer to a traditional black coffee.
Flat white is another espresso-based drink mixed with steamed milk. It is popularly known as the “Australian Latte” due to its geographic origin. It’s a close relative of latte - only that flat white contains less steamed and frothed milk. Moreover, the flat white has a more subtle flavor than a cappuccino but relatively stronger than the latte.
Sweet tooths are fans of café mocha. This coffee drink is also an espresso-based drink prepared by combining a shot of espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate flavoring. Baristas generally use cocoa powder but now, you can also try mochas with chocolate syrup or chocolate milk instead. On top of this, mocha is usually topped with whipped cream or frothed milk dusted with cinnamon and chocolate flakes.
Iced Based Espresso Drinks
Chilling under the sun is best done with a glass of iced coffee in your hand. If you just couldn’t leave espresso off of your list, then here are some of the best iced based espresso drinks you can try out:
Café con Hielo
Café con Hielo is Spanish for “iced coffee”. This coffee drink is very easy to prepare. You just need to pour one or double a shot of espresso into a glass filled with ice. Coffeeshops often serve the espresso and ice on different glasses so you can do all the pouring. Sugar can also be added to the drink to intensify the natural sweetness of the espresso.
Affogato isn’t your typical coffee drink because it is an Italian dessert made by drowning a scoop of ice cream or vanilla gelato in one or two shots of espresso. You can add berries or eat a cookie to enhance the overall mouthfeel of the famous coffee dessert.
This drink comes by many names including café Vienne (United States), café Viennois (the United Kingdom and France). Regardless, the drink is prepared in the same way, which is by topping a shot (or double) of espresso with whipped cream. The inherent sweetness of the cream softens the strong blow of the coffee flavor of espresso. However, con panna should not be as sweet as mocha.
Tools Needed in Making Espresso
Before you get to make a cup of espresso, you must prepare and get to know the following tools:
The easiest and most recommended way to make espresso is through an espresso machine. This is because no human can manually control temperature and pressure. These two factors need to be kept at precise points to achieve a good cup of espresso.
According to baristas, a perfect cup of espresso is made by shooting water with a temperature of 90-96°C using 30 pounds (130 PSI) of pressure into finely pressed coffee beans. This process needs to be carried out in roughly 25-30 seconds. Going too quick may result in a weak taste while going too slow would result in an espresso too bitter to drink.
These complicated processes can only be performed by a good espresso machine. If you are planning to get it for your home, simple-lever and mid-range espresso machines are best recommended. However, for bigger ventures like coffeeshops, electric and heavy-duty espresso machines are more appropriate.
The bulk of the responsibility indeed falls on your espresso machine, but always remember that the quality of coffee is greatly dependent on the beans and their consistency.
To have espresso-right coffee beans, make sure to choose a burr coffee grinder and never a blade grinder. Burr coffee grinders can make the best out of your coffee beans and they can deliver a fine grind size perfect for espresso. You may also try manual and electric coffee grinders as long as they produce the required grind size and consistency.
Keep in mind that good espresso is only extracted from fine-textured ground coffee beans.
In an espresso machine, there is a part called a portafilter that holds the coffee beans during the extraction process. The primary purpose of this tool is to prevent the ground coffee beans from reaching your cup. People who use alternative methods of espresso-making use filter paper or specialized coffee filters.
Experts also say that the quality and speed of filtration can affect the flavor and quality of the coffee.
Tamper is the tool you use to pack the fine-sized coffee grounds into the portafilter. Baristas put a lot of effort into tamping the coffee beans because the quality of espresso depends on it.
The main purpose of tamping is to pack the coffee grounds tightly and evenly so that water can force its way through them, thus capturing all the flavors and quality of the coffee beans. Loosely tamped coffee grounds may result in a bland and poor tasting espresso.
There are four major types of tamper currently sold in the market – the hand tamper, dual head, weight-calibrated, and puck tamper. The choice depends mostly on your preference.
Being meticulous never hurts so it's great if you can get yourself a weighing scale with at least 1 g resolution. Make it a habit to weigh your coffee grounds before extracting. Espresso traditionally uses 7 grams of coffee and 30 ml of water.
Lastly, serve espresso right by using a small cup or shot glass. Although anything will do as long as it can catch the extract from the machine.
Different Methods in Creating Espresso
Truth is, not all coffee lovers can afford an espresso machine. But do not get disheartened because there is still a bunch of alternatives you can try in making one perfect cup of espresso.
Using Coffee Drip Maker
You can transform your regular brewed coffee into a special espresso just by using the usual coffee drip maker. But before anything else, do not set your expectations too high.
The resulting espresso will not be as creamy and as thick as the ones you’re having in coffee shops because coffee drip makers only rely on gravity, unlike espresso machines that utilize precise pressure and temperature.
- Place a preferred amount of fine-sized coffee grounds into the basket lined with filter paper.
- Press the coffee grounds.
- Pour water. You can use the minimum amount to get a highly concentrated extract.
- Start brewing.
An aero-press is a manual coffee maker that utilizes pressure similar to espresso machines. You force the water steeped in coffee grounds to enter the filter through pressure. However, the gap between their pressures is extremely wide.
Experts use precisely 9 bars of pressure to extract a true espresso. Aero press can only do 0.25-0.75 bar. But never fret though because an espresso made using Aero press may not be as concentrated, but it will have espresso’s intense flavor.
- Place the aero press on top of your coffee mug.
- Pour fine-sized coffee grounds inside the filter cap lined with filter paper. Although metal filters work better.
- Pour hot water. Make the volume less than your usual to get a richer coffee.
- Insert the plunger and press down as quickly as you can.
- Serve the espresso and enjoy.
Using Moka Pot
Moka pot is another manual coffee maker. It makes use of both pressure and heat to extract espresso from coffee grounds.
You need to heat the Moka pot by placing it on a stove to generate pressure. The heat can generate around 1-2 bars of pressure that will shoot water up and through the coffee grounds.
Since the pressure is still not comparable to 9 bars, the resulting espresso will lack rich consistency and crema layer. However, its flavor and aroma are close to authentic espresso.
- Pour hot water into the Moka pot’s release valve.
- Fill the coffee basket with medium-sized coffee grounds. Do not press because it can lead to filter blockage.
- Assemble the rest of the pot’s parts and set it over medium fire.
- Wait for 5-10 minutes to see coffee oozing out from the upper chamber.
- Turn off the heat and pour the coffee into the serving cup.
Using French Press
If you have a French Press then go unbox it because you can also make your favorite espresso using it. Indeed, it is the least ideal method of creating espresso because it’s meant for coarser coffee grinds and because it does not generate pressure that the espresso badly needs. Nonetheless, you can still end up with coffee that tastes close to authentic espresso.
- Place at least 2 tbsps of coffee grounds inside the French press.
- Bring a small volume of water approx. one cup into a boil.
- Cool it down a little bit and pour it inside the French press.
- Let it sit for a couple of minutes.
- Press slowly and serve.
How to make Espresso: Step by step
You are truly fortunate if you can bring home an espresso machine. To make sure that you do not mess up making espresso, here is a step-by-step guide on how to brew a perfect cup:
- Make sure that you pre-heat the entire espresso machine. Depending on the brand, this step can last for 25 minutes or more.
- While you wait for the machine to get ready, prepare the portafilter. Clean and dry the portafilter. It should not have traces of liquid and coffee ground.
- Prepare the serving cup too. Make sure it's clean and spotless. It’s nice too if you can warm it up a little by filling it with warm water.
- You can grind coffee beans next. You’re lucky if your espresso machine comes with a grinder because it’ll save you time and effort. Set the grinder to a “fine” option.
- Then dose the coffee grounds using a scale. Place the fine-sized coffee grounds inside the portafilter. You can use your fingers to even the surface and to remove the excess.
- Disturb the grounds a little by tapping the portafilter gently on its sides.
- Get your tamping tool and tamp the coffee grounds nicely. The best way to do this is to press straight with force.
- Spin the tamping tool a little bit to polish the puck and to remove the excess on the sides.
- Rinse and wipe the group head of the espresso machine to remove old coffee.
- Attach the portafilter and pull a delicious espresso. Make sure you do this quickly to avoid a burnt taste.
- Serve the espresso.
- Disassemble the portafilter from the machine and discard the puck.
- Clean and dry the group head, the portafilter, and handle for the next round of expresso.
I couldn’t begin to explain how espresso changed my mornings and usual trips to coffee shops. Not only did it give birth to several other coffee drinks we enjoy. It also gave us the powerful flavor and aroma that help prepare us for one busy day. Thankfully, anyone can enjoy the same pleasure in the comfort of their own space. Indeed, a sip of the espresso is no longer an unreachable luxury.