Now that espresso machines for home use are pretty cheap (you can get one starting at around $60), you’ve gone out and bought one and maybe have no idea what to do next.
Well, let’s take a look at your machine first. Now in this description I’m going to assume your machine is a semi-automatic, meaning you won’t be using a lever to push the hot water through. Some of the rest of the features your machine may or may not have.
Look at the top. If it’s a flat level surface, chances are there is a warming tray up there to keep your demitasse cups (the tiny cups that you will serve straight espresso in) warm. Don’t sweat it if your machine doesn’t have this as it’s not really necessary, just a nice feature. Also somewhere on or near the top there should be a water reservoir. On the front of your machine somewhere there should be a button or few. One of these buttons is the button you will push to start and stop the water. There will also be a dial for the steam wand, which is the long wand type thing that you use to steam milk to get hot milk, milk foam, and froth. *WARNING* – The steam wand gets very hot and so does the steam that comes out of it. I’ve burned spots on my hand to blisters numerous times on steam wands so be careful! It’s a good idea to have a towel or cloth hand if you need to move the steam wand out of the way. Your machine will also come with a portafilter, which is where you will put your ground espresso. The portafilter’s basket will either have one or two spouts. The ones with two spouts are just for making two shots of espresso at once, so if yours only has one then that’s fine. The place on your machine where you put the portafilter is called the brewing group. Make sure you put the portafilter in there nice and tight. The bottom of the machine where you put your demitasse cups to be filled is the drip tray.
-The Difference Between Coffee and Espresso-
So now that we have all the fun terminology out of the way, let’s try to make a cup. There is an art to pulling the perfect shot.
The Pull (not a method for picking up women): The pull is actually not that easy to learn how to do correctly. I dumped out a lot of frustrating shots when I first learned how to make espresso because I got the amount of grind that goes into the basket wrong or tamped it down too tight or just not tight enough. Pulling a shot is simply just making a shot of espresso, and hopefully doing it right. The right shot is 1 to 1.5 ounces of water and 7 grams of grind. When you put the grind into the basket, you have to tamp it, or push it down. I’ve always preferred a hand held tamp (what you use to push the grounds down) rather than the ones that are built onto the machine. Personally, I think it makes it more level, resulting in a better pull. But that’s just my opinion. Most home machines will come with a hand held tamp rather than one built onto the machine. You have to be careful not to tamp it too hard or the water can’t get through right, and you can’t tamp it too loosely either or it will pour through like a faucet. You want your resulting shot to be dark with a golden amount of creamy foam called crema floating on top. Usually if you get a nice layer of crema on top that is a good indication that you’ve poured a good shot. Now on to the types of shots.
Steamy creamy bubbly foamy milk…yummmmmmmm: Steamed milk is a little sweeter than milk that has been warmed in a pan (so not going into the chemistry that explains why that is), so if you opt for the pan or microwave heated method, then your drink will taste a little different than what you’ve gotten at the coffee shop. There is a knack for using a steam wand, and if your machine has one I strongly suggest you learn how to use it. It’s not that hard, just takes practice. So now you need a frothing pitcher and thermometer. Don’t use a plastic pitcher for this. Glass is ok I suppose, but metal is best. It should be about 30 oz, as milk expands when you heat it. Once you get the hang of it you probably won’t need the thermometer anymore either. But for now use one with a long stem preferably that you can clip onto the side of your frothing pitcher. Now fill the pitcher up half way with milk (remember it’s going to expand so if you fill it up too much it’s an burning accident that will happen). Put the steam wand in the pitcher till the tip is a little below the level of the milk and turn the dial to start the steam. If you just heat the milk like this, you’ll get steamed milk but none of the lovely foam. The foam you want is called microfoam, meaning tiny tiny little bubbles. So pull the pitcher down till the wand is just on the surface of the milk. If you lower it too much, you’ll get big bubbles, which we don’t want. It also helps I find to angle the frothing pitcher just a little towards the wand. If you hear a swishing sound, you’ve probably got it right. Frothing milk just right is the part that takes practice, so make sure you stock up on milk. It’s well worth the effort though! When you’re done, make sure you wipe the wand off with a wet thick cloth, as otherwise you’ll end up with a clog.
So now you know how to pull the perfect shot and steam some delicious milk. Here’s an article on what the heck you can make with all that yumminess.