How To Use An Espresso Machine

Making espresso is an art, and the more experience you have, the better your coffee will be.

But there are some things you need to know before you start.

Keep reading to learn more about the factors that affect the flavor and texture of espresso. Since each variable affects the drink in a certain way, if something goes wrong, you’ll know what to fix.

What Type of Coffee Beans Should You Use for Espresso?

For espresso, it is recommended that you use specially designed espresso blends and single origin beans.

Espresso beans are roasted differently than beans for other brewing methods. As a rule, espresso beans are roasted longer and darker, and to match individual roasting profiles. This is done so that espresso's taste will be sweeter and more balanced.

You should not choose a light roast, because light roasts are intended for other brewing methods. If you use a light roast for espresso, the coffee will be watery and sharply acidic.

The use of an espresso machine will be examined through the example of a semi-automatic espresso machine.

Espresso Instructions

Water Pressure

The optimal water pressure in an espresso machine is from 8.2 to 9 bar. It must be set up initially and then monitored by a pressure gauge so it doesn't change. To check the pressure, tamp the coffee in the portafilter, insert the portafilter into the group head, and start extracting.

At this point, you need to monitor the pressure and adjust if necessary. The adjustment process for each coffee machine is different; you can check the instructions or contact the manufacturer.

Pressure guidelines are just a starting point. Delicious espresso can be prepared at both lower and higher pressures. But to prepare an espresso outside the normal pressure range, it is necessary to fully understand the processes that occur during extraction in order to correctly compensate for changes in pressure. When learning, it's best to start with the recommended ranges.

Water Temperature

The choice of water temperature depends on the particular type of coffee and the degree of roasting. With any method of preparation, except cold brew, light roasted coffee is prepared at a temperature of 200–203°F (93–95°C), medium roasted at a temperature of 196–200°F (91–93°C), and dark roasted at a temperature of 192-196°F (89–91°C).

For espresso, you need to set the temperature to 200°F (93sao. This is the standard that is used at most barista championships.

Unlike with other brewing methods, where the water temperature is a very active variable, for espresso, you only have to set it once and it will remain constant. To adjust the taste of espresso, adjust the grind size or dosage instead of the water temperature.

Some espresso machines are not equipped with a function for fine-tuning the temperature, as they have only one boiler with a heat exchanger that is simultaneously used heat steam, boiling water, and espresso. And the temperature is regulated by a mechanical bolt on the pressure switch, so you have to navigate by taste: If the coffee is too acidic, raise the temperature, if it is too bitter, lower it.

Coffee Dosage

The dosage of coffee depends on the size of the portafilter (single or double). It is best to prepare espresso in a double portafilter because extraction will be more stable and even due to a more even grid structure.

Double portafilter baskets come in smaller and larger volumes: some hold about 16 grams (5.7 oz) of coffee, others 21 grams (7.5 oz). It is optimal to use larger portafilters that can hold a dosage of 17–20 grams (6–7 oz) of coffee. Always use the weight of coffee that is written on the portafilter. That is, do not make espresso from 16 grams (5.7 oz) of coffee in a portafilter designed for 21 grams (7.5 oz) and vice versa.

If there is no marking on your portafilter, you need to make sure that the coffee tablet does not touch the group head. To do this, make a few tablets in your portafilter in increments of 1 gram (0.035 oz) and insert the portafilter into the group (but don't brew) until a light imprint from group head can be seen on the tablet. Then reduce this weight by 3 grams (0.1 oz)—this will be the ideal dosage for your portafilter.

Scales are one of the main tools for preparing a great espresso. To ensure a stable result, we recommend weighing your coffee on a scale in 0.1 gram increments before preparing each serving.

Espresso Machine Coffee to Water Ratio

Portafilter Coffee Distribution and Tamping

Under pressure, water is always looking for the easiest way to get through a coffee tablet. This is why, in order for extraction to proceed correctly and evenly, the coffee must be evenly distributed in the portafilter: Break up lumps and tamp with a tamper. In theory, this is simple, but in practice, training will be needed.

When the coffee grinder does not have the latest burrs or their diameter is not large enough, lumps of coffee are formed during grinding. It is necessary to break them up with a coffee leveler or a simple toothpick. Move your leveler or toothpick in a circle to break up all the lumps and evenly distribute coffee in the portafilter.

After distributing the coffee, you need to tamp it with medium effort. Use a tamper with a flat base and a diameter as close to the diameter of the portafilter as possible.

Try to tamp as evenly as possible, at right angles. Otherwise, the coffee tablet will be skewed and extraction will be uneven.

Push tampers with a limiter along the edge help to solve this problem: Firstly, they allow you to make a flat, even tablet, and secondly, they provide stable pressure.

After tamping, remove any ground coffee from the edges of the portafilter so that the grains don't bake onto the rubber gasket of the group head.

You should never hit the portafilter with a tamp either before or after tamping—this will lead to the formation of channels in the tablet, and your espresso will turn out to be tasteless.

Extraction

After tamping, the portafilter is inserted into the coffee group and the water flow is turned on. When using an espresso machine with a heat exchanger, you need to spill 50–100 ml (2-4 fl oz) of water before installing portafilter in a group so that the temperature drops to its working temperature. There's usually a hissing sound during this process, and as soon as the hiss stops, you can install the portafilter and make espresso.

When using a coffee machine with two boilers, pre-pouring water is also necessary, not in order to reset the temperature but in order to clean coffee residue from the previous shot off of the group head grid. In this case, you need to spill significantly less water—just enough to clean the grid.

After installing portafilter in the coffee machine, you must immediately turn on the water flow, since chemical reactions in coffee start right away at high temperature. As a rule, espresso takes 23-30 seconds to extract after you turn on the water flow.

If the espresso brews faster than that, you need a coarser grind; if it brews slower, you need a finer grind. You must change the grind size in small increments because espresso reacts very sharply to such changes. After each adjustment, it is necessary to grind one or two servings of coffee so as not to use the previous grinds remaining in the grinder channel.

The weight of the finished drink should be about 1.8–2.2 times more than the original dosage of ground coffee. That is, if you use 18 grams (0.63 oz) of ground coffee, the approximate weight of a double espresso should be 32-40 grams (1.1-1.4 oz). However, the ratio of coffee to water depends on how long the beans were roasted. For relatively light roasted coffee, a ratio of 2-2.2 is often used, and for dark roasted coffee, the ratio is 1.6-1.8.

Start the experiments with the standard: an espresso with a volume of 36 grams (1.3 oz), prepared with 18 grams (0.63 oz) of ground coffee in 27 seconds at a temperature of 200°F (93°C). Only after getting used to these standards should you adjust the parameters.

Despite all these numbers, the main guideline is taste. Even if your dosage, brewing time, or weight ratio is different from the guidelines, this is fine as long as your espresso tastes good.

Taste Adjustment

To make it easier for you to adjust the taste of your espresso, we've created a table to help you.

When adjusting the taste, we recommend changing only one parameter at a time. That is, if you change the grind size, leave the dosage and brewing time unchanged, and vice versa. Then you will quickly understand in which direction you need to move.

If the coffee is too bitter or too acidity

These methods for adjusting the taste will help to reveal the delicious flavor that is determined by the coffee variety and how the coffee is processed and roasted.