Pull a shot like a pro

Whether you can pull a shot or not, can you pull a shot like a pro? And before you laugh and say most professional baristas pull shots by hitting a button on the grinder and a button on the espresso machine, let me remind you that someone had to program those buttons. No, I’m not going to teach you how to do this. My point is… oh, never mind. I’ve forgotten myself. You want to know how to pull a good shot so I’m going to tell you. Aren’t I nice?

The man-machine, machine, machine…

Every espresso machine is a bit different, and you will need to determine for yourself not only the exact details of how to use it, but exactly what settings and amounts of everything will allow your machine to produce the optimal espresso shot. However, there are some guidelines that every budding barista should be aware of.

Before we get to that, if you’re not aware of what type of machine you’re using (stovetop, electric pump, manual pump, or steam) be sure to check out the page on types of machines. Now that I mention it, read the corresponding pages — if you haven’t already — on tamping, grinders and of course types of machines for more information on the topics covered on this page.

Considerations for various machines

Remember when I said, “Every espresso machine is a bit different”? Well it’s still true. Fortunately, I’ve put together a little cheat sheet for you. Yes, this way you can spend less time toiling and more time imbibing. Let’s continue on, shall we?

Machine Type Water Grind Tamping
Steam: Stovetop A bit extra Medium Hard
Steam: Pumpless electric A bit extra Medium Hard
Pump: Manual Standard amount Fine Normal
Pump: Automatic electric Standard amount Fine (medium for weaker pumps) Normal

Golden Ratio

Important point: The “golden ratio” for espresso is this: a single shot is 30 to 44 mL (1 to 1.5 ounces) of water and 7 grams of coffee.

But wait! What’s up with this 30 to 44 mL business? Should one tattoo that on the back of one’s hand? Is that 14 mL discrepancy as exact as it gets? Is this another factor to screw around with? Does one have to develop an obsessive-compulsive disorder to make espresso?

Well, I'm glad you asked! (The answer to the last question is: maybe.) But we're not there yet. First I want to give you a very important instruction in a large font:

Tamp your grounds, insert the group handle, and let her rip!

Now that you flipped the switch (or whatever you have to do on your machine) it's time to sit and wait. But don't fall asleep — there's some actual skill involved here. I prefer to eyeball my shots entirely instead of using those newfangled measuring cups. Given some practice, you will too.

When you start a shot, don't look at your cup — you'll just start salivating if you tease yourself staring at espresso that's not ready yet. Instead, watch the stream of espresso draining down into the cup. This stream will start out a very dark brown color. But this won't last for long — the color will get lighter and lighter, and after 25 to 30 seconds the stream of espresso should reach a slightly clearish, light tan (blonde) color. At this point, you can yank your cup away and shut off the machine (or just the pump) and gulp down the yummy espresso. Mmmm…

Of course…

The first time you make espresso feels like the scene at the beginning of the movie where the superhero learns he has powers, but doesn’t know how to use them.

Or to put it another way, your first espresso shot will suck. But there’s no reason to worry, your espresso can only get better from here.

Now on with the experiment: once you understand the basics, learn to troubleshoot your espresso shot.