Welcome to the world of fine coffee. Like any hobby, profession, or field of knowledge, there’s more to know about coffee and espresso than you or I ever will. But never mind that. If you take things one step at a time, you’ll be making espresso in your home in no time.
What is espresso?
Espresso is a concentrated form of coffee consumed plain or as an ingredient beverages such as lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, etc. You know how coffee smells? That’s how espresso is supposed to taste, ideally.
Espresso is made with special equipment, and cannot be made with more conventional coffee equipment.
Can I make espresso at home?
Well I’m glad you asked, because that’s what this site is about! Yes you can make espresso in your kitchen, although you’ll need some gadgets. Namely, you will need to purchase an espresso machine and a high-end coffee grinder, if you do not have these already.
Every espresso machine is a bit different. I would suggest reading the manual of your machine thoroughly to understand the basics. For general guidelines on making espresso, read about how to Pull a shot like a pro. But always remember: practice makes better.
There are a variety of ways to judge the resulting espresso. Obviously, the taste is a big factor here, and really the most important one. But a really great espresso should have a thick crema, the creamy layer on top of the espresso. The crema is a bubbly layer of coffee, light in color, that’s thick enough to hold a teaspoon of sugar on its own.
If you get a thin crema, or none at all, you’re in the right place! Read on.
What the manual doesn’t tell you
These days manuals are thinner and more cryptic than ever. Chances are your espresso machine’s manual left out some important details, such as these:
You must warm up the machine. Any pump-based espresso machine won’t produce an adequate shot of espresso until it’s warm. Prepare by pre-heating the parts of the machine that the espresso will pass through, either by using hot tap water or running water through the machine with nothing in the filter basket. If the group area isn’t hot, the espresso will cool down too fast and start losing flavor before it hits your cup.
You must tamp. Tamping your grounds is the only way to make espresso come out properly. Read the page on tamping to learn more about this.
You must warm up the cup. Ideally you shouldn’t let warm espresso touch a cold surface. Most larger machines have a cup warmer on top, where you can store your espresso demitasse cups when they’re not in use.
Where to go from here
The important thing about pulling shots of espresso is to have fun doing it. But be warned, once you learn to make lattes and mochas, you may find your friends coming to your house more often — and staying up later!
There’s so much more to learn about espresso than this page and the handful of links on it. Read the rest of this site at your leisure (don’t forget to add a bookmark) and when you’re at a good cafe, watch the barista carefully. There’s always more to learn. Always.