How to Make Espresso: A Beginners Guide

Have you ever wondered how to make espresso at home? We’re not talking about any ordinary espresso here. But the kind of dark, sweet, and creamy coffee that you love sipping at your local cozy cafe with your favorite book. The espresso that cafe latte dreams are made of!

I’ve been roasting and brewing coffee for years and one of the hardest parts of making coffee drinks at home is pulling the perfect shot of espresso.

In this article, I’m going to show you barista-approved tricks and tips (I’d know, because I am one!) to make a cafe quality espresso in your own home.

I’ll give you the ins and outs of all things espresso and how to get started brewing your own, including answering:

  • What is espresso?
  • What are the best beans for espresso?
  • What is crema and why is it important?
  • How to make the perfect espresso at home
  • What kind of water should I use?
  • What is the best espresso machine?
  • What kind of grinder should you use?
  • Extra tips on making the perfect espresso

What is espresso?

A lot of people confuse espresso and coffee but they’re not even close to being the same.

Coffee, as a whole, is the liquid made from steeping ground coffee beans in water. There are many ways to make coffee and one of them is using pressurized water to create espresso.

Espresso is both a method of preparation and a type of coffee. The same coffee beans can be used to make drip coffee.

What differentiates one from the other is how they are brewed.

Is it through a paper filter, french press, or espresso machine?

You might even find coffee roasters that roast coffee beans specifically for espresso making.

One of the key differences between espresso and other coffee brewing methods is time.

Other brewing methods, such as french press, take several minutes, as they slowly filter and extract the flavor from the coffee.

Espresso is made with a machine that uses pressure and filters hot water through tightly packed coffee in around 30 seconds.

The result is a highly complex and aromatic espresso shot, which can then be made into different drinks such as a flat white or an Americano. I love to make espresso for a more concentrated coffee kick!

What are the best beans for espresso?

Traditionally coffee beans used for espresso are darker than the ones used for filtered coffee.

Dark roasts

One of the main reasons dark roasts are used for espresso is because it’s often mixed with milk in cafe lattes or cappuccinos. A darker roast is needed to cut through the creaminess of the milk. Ultimately, your choice of beans depends on whether you drink espresso without milk, by itself, or as a latte or cappuccino.

French or Italian roast

There are many types of dark roast levels. You may find some extremely shiny beans, where the natural oils have been extracted to the surface. These beans are called ‘French’ or ‘Italian’ roast.

Full city roast

If you find that the beans are very dark but not oily, then they are considered a ‘full city’ roast. I like to use beans that are just under Full city, and in between the medium to dark range. With these kinds of beans, you can extract some of the beans’ natural sweet flavors as well as the darker roast flavors.

Freshly ground beans

Always use freshly roasted coffee. Aim for coffee beans that have been roasted within a one to four-week window. During this period, the beans will release carbon dioxide which enhances the coffee flavor. Freshly ground beans also contribute to more crema, which we’ll get to in a moment.

But, if left too long, the beans will start to lose some of their aromatic flavors. I always recommend finding a local coffee roaster that shows their roasting date for maximum freshness.

What is crema and why is it important?

The brown, aromatic froth that floats on top of your espresso is called crema. When brewing, the air bubbles emulsify with the soluble oils within the beans to create this delicious foamy froth. . This indicates fresh and well-ground coffee. Crema is vital as it helps give more body and a longer aftertaste. However, you don’t want too much crema as you’ll have less espresso!

What kind of water should I use?

There are two main types of water, hard and soft. Within the coffee world, some believers stand by hard water and some stand by soft water.

For home use, people generally use water straight out of the tap. This is hard water and has a high concentration of ions, such as calcium and magnesium. Soft water has a low concentration of ions. There are benefits to both, which is why it is such a debated topic.

Hard water

There are many minerals and ions in hard water, which some people believe helps to extract more of the coffee flavor. However, the high concentration of ions tends to overpower some of the flavors of the beans themselves.

Soft water

By contrast, soft water contains fewer minerals and ions. This means that the coffee you make has a cleaner taste so you can experience the pure flavor of the coffee beans. However, some people believe soft water under-extracts the flavors of the beans.

Soft vs. hard water

From a scientific point of view, somewhere in the middle of hard and soft is ideal with a medium concentration of ions. I like to use filtered soft water as I like to taste the purer flavor of the coffee bean.

What water temperature is best for espresso?

Water temperature is an important factor in the taste of your espresso. If you brew at a higher temperature, then there will be more extraction. This increases the body and sweetness but also a chance of bitterness.

But if you brew at a temperature that is too low, there will be less coffee bean extraction resulting in a brighter and more sour espresso shot.

You want to aim for roughly between 194°F – 205°F (or, 90 – 96°C).

What ratio of coffee grounds to water should I use?

This ratio depends on how strong you would like your espresso and what size you want.

If you are planning to make a single shot, then I recommend around 0.2-0.3 ounces (or 7-9 grams) of ground coffee.

For a double shot, use 14-18g of ground coffee.

What kind of grinder should I use?

One of the key factors in making a great shot of espresso is the consistency of your coffee grounds.

If your grounds are inconsistent in size, extraction will occur at different rates. This will result in a muddled, bitter, and often acidic shot of espresso.

There are two main types of grinders available, a burr grinder and a blade grinder.

I always recommend going with a burr grinder as they are more reliable and consistent than blade grinders.

If you can find one with a portafilter holder, then this will make your brewing process a little simpler.

My number one recommendation for home use is the Bodum Bistro Electric Burr Coffee Grinder. It’s one of the most affordable, high -performance grinders out there. It has 12 different grind settings ranging from espresso to a french press and it’s compact, sleek, and quiet, which is perfect for home use.

What is the best espresso machine?

A good quality espresso machine is key to the outcome of your espresso shot. I recommend a semi-automatic machine as it gives you almost full control over your espresso. You can choose how much coffee and water you want to use, as well as tamping the coffee yourself. You can even decide when to pull the shot, determining the time and extraction of your shot.

You will find several espresso machines available for under $200 or even under $100 online. Even though these are reasonably priced, the quality of your espresso will generally be quite poor. The finickiness and underperformance of these machines mean you won’t get a barista-like coffee experience.

I would hold off buying any machine around this price. Think about saving up to buy a more complete machine that allows you to have more control over your espresso.

My recommendation is the Rancilio Silvia, which costs around $700. Everything from the milk steam wand to the build quality is excellent for its price. The complete control and easy use of this machine will get you hooked on espresso.

But, if you are looking for a budget-friendly machine, I would recommend the Delonghi EC702. It costs around $200, and is one of the most affordable espresso machines out there, but it’s difficult to produce barista-like espresso with it.

How to make the perfect espresso at home

How to make coffee shop quality espresso from home.
Prep Time 5 mins
Course Drinks
Calories 5 kcal

Equipment

  • Espresso machine
  • Burr grinder
  • Tamper
  • Steam wand
  • Kitchen scale
  • Small espresso coffee cug

Ingredients
  

  • 20 grams espresso grinds

Instructions
 

  • Step 1 - Warm your espresso cup. One of the worst things is when you shoot your espresso into a cold cup and the temperature of your hard-earned shot cools. To prevent this from happening, pour hot water into your cup first to keep it warm.
  • Step 2 - Clean your portafilter. Make sure your portafilter is clean and dry from any previous coffee. This is extremely important as any old coffee will have a big flavor impact on your resulting shot!
  • Step 3 - Grind your coffee. Make sure to watch the grind size of your coffee! If your burr grinder doesn't have a dose calibrated setting, use a scale to measure your grounds. Once ground up, place them in the portafilter.
  • Step 4 - Tamp your coffee and clean. Gently tap on the side of the portafilter to roughly distribute the grounds. Tamp your coffee to remove any air pockets. Use your finger to brush away any excess grounds on the side or head of the portafilter.
  • Step 5 - Rinse your group head. The head of your espresso machine might have residue from your previous coffee. Always make sure to give it a quick rinse and clean before pulling your next shot.
  • Step 6 - Insert your portafilter. Insert your portafilter into the group head. Discard the hot water in your cup and place it under the group head.
  • Step 7 - Pull the espresso. Brew the espresso immediately! Do not leave the grounds sitting in the portafilter as they may scorch and burn due to the high heat from the espresso machine.
  • Step 8 - Remove the portafilter. Twist and remove the portafilter from the group head. Discard the grounds and wipe clean.
  • Step 9 - Clean your group head one more time. Hygiene and cleanliness are key in espresso! You don't want previous coffee residue spoiling the flavor of your fresh espresso.
  • Step 10 - Enjoy! Marvel at your delicious barista-level espresso shot. Smell the aroma and gently mix the cloud-like crema with the espresso. Gently sip and try to recognize the flavors and aromas of the coffee. Once you've finished, you'll realize you're now hooked. Repeat and enjoy more espresso in the comfort of your own home!
Keyword espresso

Expert tips to making the perfect espresso

Tamp your coffee evenly

Tamping refers to packing your coffee grounds into your portafilter so that an even extraction can be made.

This is one of the most important processes in espresso brewing.

The right amount of pressure has to be applied so that the grounds are not too loose and not too compacted. If they’re not tamped hard enough, the water will shoot right through the grounds, resulting in an under-extracted shot.

In contrast, if you tamp too hard with too much pressure, it will take longer to brew your espresso resulting in an over-extraction.

My number one tip is to keep your arm 90 degrees perpendicular to the countertop you are tamping on. This will help keep an even and flat tamp on your coffee.

Dialing in your shot

Baristas often ‘dial in’ their espresso. This is where they test their machine parameters to ensure that their settings produce the optimal espresso.

As your beans de-gas, the flavors will change so you may have to adjust settings such as water pressure and grind size. This depends on the type of bean you are using, whether it is a dark roast or a lighter roast.

That being said, baristas often test a couple of shots at different settings before they serve espresso to their customers.

Alternatives to using an espresso machine

If you don’t have an espresso machine you can use other brewing equipment to create espresso-like shots.

Try other coffee makers

An Aeropress or a Moka pot can produce similar results in flavor. Both are popular amongst coffee lovers for their versatility. With an Aeropress, you can brew coffee with an espresso taste, or make some very clear light roast drip coffee!

Experiment!

One thing I learned from working in the coffee industry is that everyone has a different palette. Some might like a more sweet coffee, while others will prefer a darker-tasting brew.

It’s all subjective so listen to your palette and your instinct. Test your grind size, the temperature, and the pressure of your water. Try different coffee types to find the right taste for you!

There are no golden rules you HAVE to follow so get experimenting and enjoy the process!

Takeaways on how to make espresso

These are my expert tips to make great barista-like espresso at home.

If you don’t have all the equipment, start small and slowly learn espresso preparation. These are just guidelines. Every coffee is different and will need care and attention to get the best out of each bean. Don’t be afraid to experiment and enjoy your coffee experience – that’s what being a barista is all about!