All Baristas are always on a quest to make the perfect espresso shot consistently. This is never an easy quest even for the most experienced. A great espresso shot is the result of many factors combined. Any mistake on one factor can turn a great espresso into an average one. So how to make the perfect espresso shot?
Basically,there are 4 groups of factors:
- Having the right ingredients
- Using the optimal conditions
- Getting the right equipment
- Following the right process
- 1 Guide to Making the Perfect Espresso Shot
- 2 Having the Right Ingredients
- 3 Using The Optimal Conditions
- 4 Getting The Right Equipment
- 5 Following The Right Process
Guide to Making the Perfect Espresso Shot
Having the Right Ingredients
A cup of espresso is made up of mostly water. So no doubt, water is a key factor to making good espresso. The water used must be fresh and clean. However, water normally contains many substances such as magnesium, calcium, and chlorine. To ensure the water quality is right, use a water test kit to check. Make sure that the quality is close to the recommended standards by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. To ensure you get rid of the unwanted substances from your water, use a good water filter.
Getting the right coffee species of the premium grade is important. For the best espresso tastes, Arabica coffee beans is the best choice. With good quality coffee beans, you can greatly enhance the chances of having better espresso.
Even with the best quality coffee, stale coffee beans can destroy the espresso taste totally. To get the most of the aromas and flavours from the beans, they have to be used within 2 weeks once they have been roasted. Otherwise, many of the aromatic chemical compounds in these beans will have reacted with the moisture in the air and thus turn rancid.
So it is always a good idea to keep them in airtight containers to minimize their interaction with the air. Also keep them away from the sun as heat will destroy the flavours as well. Keeping the beans in the fridge can help to keep them fresher for a longer time. But never store your coffee beans bare in the fridge. Keep them sealed in an air-tight container. Otherwise, the coffee oils inside the beans will solidify and won’t be easily extracted during brewing.
Coffee beans, once grounded, will lose its aroma quickly in 15 minutes. Only grind the beans when you need to use them. To minimize the time between grinding and brewing the beans, consider using an espresso machine with an integrated grinder such as the Gaggia Brera Superautomatic Espresso Machine.
Using The Optimal Conditions
A tightly packed coffee ground puck inside the portafilter is crucial to provide the best resistance to the incoming heated water. This will allow the water to flow evenly throughout the coffee and maximize the extraction of the aromatic coffee oils in the coffee.
To achieve a tightly packed coffee puck, we require the coffee beans to be grinded very finely to the size of table salt. The grind size also has to be consistent for every particle. Hence, a high quality grinder is important as you will learn later in this article.
To pack the coffee puck tightly, it is important to exert the right pressure on it. The optimal amount of pressure to exert on the coffee in the filter basket is 30 pounds (about 14kg). While pressing the coffee ground, place the portafilter on a weighing scale to make sure the pressure is right. Also, make a slight twist to ensure that the coffee ground is level.
The coffee puck will not be able to create the perfect resistance against the heated water without a sufficient amount of ground coffee in the portafilter. With inadequate resistance, espresso extraction will be subpar standard. For a single shot, it is recommended to have 7 grams ( 0.25 ounces ) of ground coffee.
The water has to be heated to an optimal temperature of 190 Fahrenheit (87 degree Celsius ) before being used to brew espresso. This temperature must retain constant during the brewing process. If your espresso maker has a PID controller, you can also adjust this temperature to suit your espresso preferences. A high temperature will make it bitter while a lower temperate yield acidic flavours. But it is best to leave it at the recommended temperature if you are just starting out. With less variables, it will be easier to narrow the variables affecting your espresso shot and make adjustments to improve your skills.
The optimal pressure for brewing espresso is about 9 bars. This is necessary to extract the coffee oils which is responsible for the creamy layer of crema on top of the espresso.
Extraction Time And Yield
The time to extract an espresso can greatly influence the espresso taste. Ideally, extraction should stop before the thick dark crema changes to a light color. After this time, the espresso will have a bitter and burnt taste. The optimal time to complete the espresso extraction should be around 25-30 seconds. With the dose at 7 grams, the resulting espresso yield should be around 1.5 ounces.
Getting The Right Equipment
To achieve the optimal conditions for brewing, a good espresso machine is no less important. Only a good espresso maker with solid components can ensure the stability of brew temperature and pressure. More tips can be found in this guide for choosing a good espresso machine.
A high quality grinder is another important equipment. For a good cup of espresso, it is always best to grind coffee beans yourself so as to have them fresh before brewing. It is also important to ensure that the grind size is small and the grind size is consistent for every coffee particle.
Equally important is not to have too much heat in the grinding process. Avoid a blade grinder as the cheaper blade grinder cannot achieve the grind size or consistency and it generates a lot of heat.
The best grinder to use will be a burr caconical grinder. They are able to grind the coffee beans gently and finely in a consistent manner, generating lesser heat in the process. With lesser heat, less of the flavours in the coffee beans will be destroyed.
Following The Right Process
Having the best quality ingredients, the best espresso equipment, under the most optimal conditions are still not enough to guarantee you the perfect espresso shot.
If you have paid attention to experienced Baristas making espresso, you will notice a similar pattern. They like to clean their equipment before every brew. And it is for a reason. The cleanliness of your espresso making machine can destroy your espresso. Espresso made from a dirty machine will have a bitter and burnt taste.
Why is that so? This is due to the espresso being tainted by the stale coffee residues lined along the brewing group and portafilter. These residues are formed from the coffee oils during the previous brewing process. So it is important to clean the brew group and portafilter including the baskets to ensure they are rid of these impurities.
The standard ritual to clean the machine would involve locking a empty portafilter in the brew group head and let hot water flow through it. You should notice a brownish liquid due to the coffee residuals dissolved by the hot water. Do this several times until you see clear water. Then set the temperature back to the brewing temperature and let water flow out one more time. This is to adjust the group head back to the optimal brewing temperature.
Before pouring ground coffee into the portafilter, ensure there are no coffee residues in the filter basket including the rims of portafilter. Also make sure that the filter basket is dry.
After tamping the coffee puck in the portafilter, the experienced Barista will also clean away any excess coffee grains from the rims of the portafilter. This is necessary to securely tighten the seal with the group head on the espresso machine to avoid any leak of pressure from the sides of the portafilter.
For the same hygiene reasons, it is also recommended to change the water filter regularly. This ensures that we have a good functioning filter to get rid of any unnecessary impurities in the water before it is used to brew the espresso. Also, do regular descaling of the machine to remove any build up of calcium. If left unchecked, calcium build up will choke the water pipes, cause slow heating and affect brewing temperatures. And clean the water tank daily.
Precision in Measurements
A great Barista will also constantly check the gauges to ensure that the pressure of the pump and boiler as well as the brewing temperature are at the optimal level.
The precision in the timings for the various stages of the espresso making process from grinding the beans to extracting the espresso to the consumption of the drink has to be religiously adhered to.
Finally! We have reached the end of the guide to make the perfect espresso shot. Wow! That is sure a LOT of variables! It could certainly be daunting to any aspiring Baristas. But don’t be. Practice makes perfect. With practice, you will soon be on your way to getting the perfect espresso shot! If you wish to buy an espresso machine within a certain budget, check out the top 3 best espresso machine under 200 dollars here.