Espresso is one of the most common types of coffee that you will see on menus. However, making consistently good espresso shots is not easy unless made with super-automatic espresso machines. Even experienced baristas find it challenging to pull the ideal espresso shot every single time.
However, with enough practice and knowing the proper techniques, you can increase your chances of making consistently good espresso shots. Here are the top tips that will help you make consistently good espresso shots:
Crema, The First Indicator
Making an espresso shot is easy but making a good one is another story. A good espresso should be rich, velvety, and sweet but not bitter-tasting like charcoal. Additionally, a basic tip for beginners to tell whether the shot is good or not is the layer of even color of "Crema," which builds on top of the shots; it is the first thing to indicate how good your shots are.
If you are not familiar with crema, this is the thin layer of caramel-color microfoam on top of the espresso. Crema comes from the release of carbon dioxide when the espresso is extracted under pressure. This layer creates a complex depth of flavor in your shots and is visibly pleasing when making latte art. The color should be golden-brown to dark brown and will not always be uniform; it will sometimes be slightly lighter. The crema should remain for at least three-five minutes, if not longer.
There can be several reasons why your espresso does not have crema. This include following:
- Using pre-ground old coffee
- Cold portafilter
- Coarse beans
- Not enough coffee
Make It A Habit to Clean the Portafilter
A portafilter is a brass attachment to the group head of a piston-driven or semi-automatic espresso machine. It carries a tamped puck of coffee in its basket. Its primary purpose is to hold the coffee ground when extracting the shot of espresso.
However, the portafilter will accumulate leftover grounds and moisture after several uses. These will affect the quality of the shots, making them taste bitter and astringent.
To avoid, make it a habit to clean the portafilter after each use thoroughly. Please make sure that there is no leftover moisture or coffee grounds before using it again.
- Use the Right Amount of Coffee
One of the most common reasons your espresso shot is not as good as you want it to is probably because you are not using the right amount of coffee. The trick is to check your dose using a scale before distributing or tamping it. But, if you have an on-demand grinder, this will not be an issue because all you have to do is press a button and get your pre-set dose consistently.
- Adjusting The Grind
The grind is considered by many to be the critical factor in making a perfect espresso.
The grind should be continuously monitored to achieve an extraction time of 25-30 seconds. Do not change the pressure you tamp with to compensate for a grind that has become too large or small. If coffee runs too fast, the grind should be finer; if coffee runs too slow, the grind should be made coarser. It is crucial to find the sweet spot based on your practice and experience. Inconsistencies in grind will result in a varied extraction and may also result in extreme channeling.
- Use the Tamper Properly
When a grinder dose a portafilter basket, the coffee grounds form a pyramid or mountain shape. This means that the ground distribution is uneven; some parts of the basket have more while the others have less. It would be best to avoid this because inadequate coffee ground distribution can lead to channeling.
You can use a tamper to evenly distribute the coffee grounds on the portafilter to avoid channeling. Using a tamper as a distribution tool is an excellent way of improving the consistency of your espresso in every pull.
But, what's the proper way of using a tamper?
In the past, many baristas would tell you to tamp the grounds using 20 kilos of pressure. Since it's difficult to know how hard "20 kilos" is, your safest bet is to ensure no more air pockets are left in the coffee puck. Once achieved, then you are using the tamper properly.
When tamping, make sure that the puck is positioned correctly and horizontally leveled. This can help you minimize channeling; it can also prevent uneven, under, or over-extraction as it allows you to use your full force without the basket slipping and causing accidents.
- Start Brewing Immediately Once the Portafilter is Inserted
Another common pitfall why many people don't have good-tasting espresso shots is because they insert the portafilter filled with coffee grounds and let it sit there.
You have to remember that the group head generates heat. The moment you insert the portafilter, the heat will start going to the coffee ground. If you let it sit there for an extended period, the coffee ground will burn. As a result, you will have a bitter-tasting espresso.
As much as possible, start brewing right after you insert the portafilter to the group head. If you don't, everything you did to ensure that your espresso shot tastes good will be for nothing.
- Always Rinse the Group Head
There's a high chance for the group head to have old coffee in it. This can affect the final result of the espresso, so it is a good practice to rinse your group head before you insert the portafilter. Besides, doing this is an excellent way of maintaining the cleanliness of your machine.
- Pay Attention to the Yield and Brew Time
Suppose you are using a manual espresso machine. In that case, you need to know if your espresso machine is running too fast. When this happens, you make the espresso mild, and there's also a high chance of overexertion.
On the other hand, if you use a volumetric machine, you should be aware of your brewing time. If it's too short or too long, your espresso might be over-extracted or under-extracted. Use 14-16 grams of the ground bean, and when ready, let the brew extract for 28-30 seconds, stopping the run when the flow begins to turn blonde.
- Clean and Rinse Your Machine
It would be best if you made it a habit to clean and rinse the group head every time you serve a shot of espresso. Remove old coffee from the basket to avoid the leftover moisture. Doing this will help keep things in order and prevent the chances of running your next pull. If machines are cleaned regularly, espresso quality will increase several-fold. Cleaning and maintaining your coffee machine is equally important as any other process of pulling shots.
Making a good shot of espresso requires precision. Although it can be challenging, with enough practice and experience, it can be much more manageable to achieve good results in every pull consistently. Taking into consideration the tips mentioned above will also help you along the way.