Exactly Why Making Great Espresso is So Hard

A Look at Why Making Great Espresso is So Hard

Ah, espresso. Many would agree it's the foundation of some of the best coffee drinks. But why is making great espresso so hard? Making espresso can definitely be challenging if you're new to crafting specialty coffee at home. Still, with a little practice and the right equipment, anyone can learn how to make delicious espresso at home. 

In this guide, we will discuss how to make espresso at home, why making espresso takes practice, and what you need to get started. The next thing you know, you'll be pulling shots of espresso like a barista too! 

The Scoop on Espresso 

If you visit a nearby coffee shop and order an Americano or latte, there will probably be at least one shot of espresso in there. In fact, an Americano is basically just espresso with hot water.

A latte, on the other hand, is espresso with hot milk and usually a little something sweet like simple syrup, flavored syrup, chocolate syrup, etc. Plenty of people enjoy drinking espresso on its own as well. I like to mix mine with a bit of heavy cream or sweetened coconut milk!

So why is espresso so popular? Well, it’s highly concentrated coffee, for one thing. This means it gives coffee lovers a potent dose of caffeine and pure, undiluted coffee flavor. Nevertheless, espresso must be made just so, or it won’t taste right. 

Espresso Origins - What is Espresso / Is Espresso Coffee? 

Yes, espresso is coffee. Specifically, it is a method of making strong coffee with heat, water, and pressure. The word espresso comes from the word “esprimere”  which means “press-out” or “express”. In Europe, espresso is often called cafe espresso, which means pressed-out coffee. 

Espresso originated in Italy. (Check out this Espresso Italia for a genuine old-world taste.) It likely became popular sometime in the late 1800s. Espresso is finely ground coffee that is pressed through an espresso machine. Using high water pressure and fine coffee grounds, concentrated shots of espresso can be pulled in about 30 seconds. 

The Correct Equipment for Making Espresso at Home

One of the biggest challenges in making espresso at home is having the correct equipment on hand. To make espresso, hot water and adequate pressure are key. The combination of heat and water pressure forces the water through the finely ground coffee beans, extracting the signature flavors and oils from finely ground coffee and producing a thick, enticing crema

Ultimately, a good espresso machine is the only way to get the job done. That, plus a coffee grinder and some fresh espresso beans. There are an array of awesome espresso machines to choose from, ranging from inexpensive coffee machines with an espresso function to top-notch industrial-quality options built for coffee kiosks. 

To make espresso at home, you’ll need: 

  • An espresso machine
  • A coffee grinder 
  • Coffee/espresso beans or pre-ground espresso

Espresso Machine and Espresso Making Equipment Buying Tips

Okay, so you need to pick an espresso machine and I'm sure if you look online, you'll find plenty of options. Here are some things to keep in mind.

• Some espresso machines also allow you to change things like your extraction time. That way, you can pull your espresso shots slower for a different overall flavor profile.

Other machines come with “done-for-you” settings that make the same espresso every time. Still, others let you time things out based on your personal preferences. 

I would recommend choosing an espresso machine that lets you pull shots on-demand using a straightforward stop and start button. Then, you can time the extraction yourself as needed. 

• For making espresso at home, any mid-range to good-quality espresso machine should do the trick. Expect to pay anywhere from $150 - $300 for a decent espresso machine. The premium ones are in the thousands, but unless you are starting a coffee kiosk of your own, this isn't necessary.

I think I paid about $150 for mine, and I have used it pretty much daily for two years. So, for at-home lattes and espresso, I would expect to stay in the under $400 range. 

• I also recommend that you choose an espresso machine with good water pressure. At least 15 bars of pressure is good, in my opinion. This helps to weed out poor-quality espresso makers from the pack.

• If you like lattes, pick one that has a milk steaming spout too. Steamed milk is much easier to make if your espresso maker comes with a steamer spout, as this will save you heaps of time and energy.

• Last, you will need a coffee grinder. Some espresso machines include coffee grinders, although, if you want to save money, you can purchase a coffee grinder separately. Your coffee grinder will let you turn regular coffee beans or custom espresso roasts into a fine, powdery espresso grind.

Guide to Making Espresso At Home

I say, if you want to learn how to make espresso from home, you should. Espresso definitely opens up a world of delicious possibilities for coffee drinkers. Plus, making at-home espresso can save you tons of money when compared to buying drinks at a drive-through. Below, I will tap into my ex-barista experience to help you pull delicious espresso shots from the comfort of your own home!

1. Get The Right Coffee for Espresso

Let's start with the right coffee beans for espresso. Pretty much any coffee beans can be used to make espresso. With that being said, an espresso roast will give you stronger flavors. However, you can use other beans as well. Just grind them correctly and you’re all set. Some of these coffees are great options to try!

So you have your espresso maker and your coffee beans, and now you're ready to pull your first shots of espresso. Awesome! Here are some tips. 

2. Find the Right Espresso Grind and “Dial-in” Shots  

Finely ground coffee is often referred to as “espresso grind” coffee. For the strongest taste, a fine espresso grind size is critical. An espresso grind will do a much better job of imparting rich coffee flavors when pressurized under hot water. Plus, it gives you a better crema. 

To make great espresso, you must “dial-in” a shot with the ideal grind level. Grind your beans to a powdery, slightly grainy level. An espresso grind should be slightly finer than granulated sugar, but a tad coarser than powder. This video helps! 

A shot of espresso should take between 20 and 30 seconds to pull. If your shots are taking too long, grind coarser. If they are coming through too fast, grind finer. 

(Want to skip the grind level confusion? If so, One Great Coffee sells all of their incredibly fresh gourmet brews in espresso grind levels.)

For the best espresso, you should grind your coffee beans as needed, for every single set of shots you pull. That way, even if a bag of beans is on the counter for a week, each espresso shot will be fresh and decadent with rich, creamy oils. That’s how the coffee shops do it! 

3. Prep Your Machine

The temperature of the water is an important component of making great espresso. Too cold, and your flavors will be missing. Too hot, and you will burn your shots of espresso. Many espresso machines let you know when they are ready to go with indicator lights. 

The goal is to ensure that your espresso maker is warm enough to pull a good shot of espresso. It's also good to keep your portafilter (also called a group handle) hooked on the machine so that it stays nice and warm before adding your coffee. 

4. Tamp Down Your Espresso Puck and Pull Shots

If your machine is warmed up and your espresso is ground, it is time to prep your shot of espresso in the portafilter. To do this, you will fill the portafilter evenly with your espresso grind coffee and tamp it down. Here’s a guide on that

The goal is to get everything evenly pressed (tamped) down for proper extraction. This means making your grounds level and even so that water flows over everything consistently. Then, you can hit the “start” button and pull espresso shots that are creamy and delicious.  

Final Thoughts

There you have it! Remember, the main things are:

  • Get a good espresso maker
  • Choose quality coffee beans 
  • Use an espresso grind
  • Preheat your espresso machine
  • Tamp down your espresso puck evenly 
  • Each shot should take 20-30 seconds to pull

Making great espresso at home primarily involves having the right equipment and practicing pulling shots. Key factors include how fine your espresso grind is, whether you have tamped down your grounds correctly, and how much pressure your machine exerts. 

Every espresso maker is a little bit different, so you may need to practice getting the ideal espresso shot.

The perfect shot of espresso will look lustrous and frothy as it fills each espresso shot glass, relaxing into a dark liquid when the crema settles. 

Hopefully, these tips have been helpful. Remember, practice makes perfect! With a little trial and error, you too can become the at-home barista of your dreams. Trust me, once you get the hang of things, it’s worth it!  

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