If you’ve reached the stage of coffee addiction where you’ve finally decided to purchase your own home espresso machine, it’s probably time to learn everything you can do with it. Knowing how to handle your machine is a must if you want it to last. It’s also a must if you want to pull the best espresso shots and whip up all those delicious specialty drinks you used to pay too much for at your local coffee shop. Now you can recreate your favorite drinks in the comfort of your own home!
Because it’s so concentrated, shots of espresso give you the same kick of caffeine as a full cup of regular coffee. It also has a stronger, bolder flavor, perfect for incorporating in both hot and iced drinks. Cappuccinos. Lattes. Macchiatos. Lungos. There’s a long list of tasty concoctions you can whip up with your new home espresso machine—if you know how to use it.
Making the best espresso drinks takes practice, but it also requires a few extra tools and accessories. A good grinder, a tamper, a milk frothing pitcher, baskets in different sizes (for your portafilter), and a set of espresso cups are all good to have on hand. To help you get the most out of your home espresso machine, here’s a breakdown of everything you can do with it.
Home Espresso Machine Features
Your home espresso machine can look intimidating to use. There can be a lot of buttons, knobs and even touch screens sticking out in all directions. Figuring out which features to use and what they actually do can be challenging.
Every home espresso machine is different, so it’s important to read your manual if you’re having issues. There are, however, afew features that are pretty standard. Here are some of the most common home espresso machine features and how they impact the taste of your favorite caffeinated drinks.
Shot Pulling Options
There are three different types of espresso machines. Each gives you varying degrees of control over pulling your espresso shot.
Semi-Automatic: This home espresso machine gives you complete control over how long you pull the espresso shot and how fine you grind your beans. You start and stop the espresso shot by pressing a button or, on some machines, pulling a lever.
*Remember the best espresso shots are pulled for between 20-30 seconds.
Automatic: With this home espresso machine you can still control the grind setting, but your machine will pull the espresso shot for you. Most are programmable and have a few different pulling options to choose from. You start the shot by pressing a button but don’t have to worry about stopping the shot at the right time. The espresso machine will stop the shot for you.
*If you’re new to using a home espresso machine, this is a great option because you don’t have to worry about timing your espresso shots perfectly.
Super-Automatic: These fancy home espresso machine will do it all for you. High tech, super automatic machines grind your beans, pull your espresso shots and steam your milk. Some even whip up lattes and cappuccinos with the touch of a button. Later we’ll share a post with our pick for the best high-tech espresso machine on the market if you want all the bells and whistles.
*If you’re willing to pay the hefty price tag, a super-automatic machine is convenient. It also helps eliminate waste because the machine always fills the portafilter with the right amount of ground beans and steams the perfect amount of milk.
Almost all espresso shots pulled in coffee shops are doubles. A double shot of espresso is the perfect ratio of coffee for your specialty drinks. To pull double shots you need to make sure you buy an espresso machine with a big enough portafilter.
Some lower-end home espresso machines come with smaller portafilters to save space, but you’ll have to pull two different shots to get enough for a latte or cappuccino. Make sure you buy an espresso machine with a portafilter that’s able to fit 16-22 grams of ground coffee. That way you’ll be able to pull both single and double shots.
You’ll find a steam wand on almost every home espresso machine, but they aren’t all created equal. Low-end machines often come with steam wands that have a black plastic tip. Avoid these machines. They’re advertised as being better steam wands for beginners but really only let you heat the milk up. You don’t get a good froth.To make creamy, smooth steamed milk that’s perfect for your cappuccino, you need a high-quality, metal steam wand. A good steam wand has:
- the ability to swivel out far enough so you can control it in the milk pitcher
- 2-4 holes in the steam tip
- no plastic
High-tech home espresso machines come with a lot of electronic displays and many different settings. Other, cheaper models only have one display that shows you just the temperature. Do you need a machine with a lot of electronic displays to make better drinks? Not really.
Having the displays built in to help you pull the best shots or steam your milk at the best temperature is convenient. It isn’t necessary though. Just remember to time your espresso shots right if you have a machine without display guidance.
A lot of espresso machines come with a built-in grinder. If yours doesn’t have one, make sure you buy a separate standing grinder. When it comes to good espresso drinks, a grinder is necessary.
You can’t pull a great shot of espresso without finely ground beans. For the best-tasting espresso, make sure you grind the beans right before pulling your shot. You’ll get better flavor.
The Different Brews
Yes, you can pull the best espresso shot with your home espresso machine. You can also make all these other tasty espresso drinks:
If you like strong coffee, try an Americano. To make an Americano, all you need to do is pull a shot of espresso and add equal parts water. Add a little milk or cream on top if you want to lighten it up.
Here’s one of the most famous espresso drinks. Cappuccinos are popular all over the world. To make a cappuccino, pull a double shot of espresso and pour it in your coffee mug. Next pour half the amount of milk that would fit in your coffee mug into your milk pitcher.
Keep the steam wand below the surface of the milk as you steam. This will help build enough foam on top of the milk. When you have enough foam, layer it on top of your espresso in your coffee mug.
A latte is similar to a cappuccino; you just don’t need as much foam. Make your double shot of espresso and pour it in your mug. Next, froth your milk using the same technique as you did for a cappuccino, stopping a little earlier. Start by pouring the heated milk onto your espresso (use a spoon to hold back the foam) and then use a little foam to top it off. Bonus points if you attempt a cute latte art style.
Making a traditional macchiato is pretty simple. You start with a single or double shot of espresso. Next steam your milk, making a little bit of foam on top. Now spoon just one spoonful of heated milk/foam on top. That’s it. Sounds just like a cappuccino, but uses a lot less foam.
If you think an espresso shot is strong, don’t try this drink. To make a ristretto, use the same amount of coffee grounds but half the amount of water. The result is a super-concentrated and very strong espresso drink.
A lungo is basically a long espresso shot and tastes more like regular coffee. Start with the same amount of ground beans but add extra water and adjust the shot pulling time. If your machine doesn’t have a lungo setting, you can time it yourself. Instead of pulling the shot for 20-30 seconds, pull for about 40-50 seconds.
Accessories to Go with Your Home Espresso Machine
While a good home espresso machine is the first step to making delicious drinks, you also need a few accessories. Make sure you have the following espresso machine accessories if you want the best-tasting drinks:
A tamper is used to pack the espresso grounds into the portafilter and level it. Some machines come with tampers, but they’re usually plastic. Invest in a good aluminum tamper for the best espresso results.
Espresso Cup Set
Getting a full espresso cup set is useful for making specialty drinks. You’ll get a few espresso shot cups and larger cups good for cappuccinos and lattes.
Milk Frothing Pitcher
Not all espresso machines comewith a milk frothing pitcher, but you need one if you want to make espresso drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. Look for a stainless steel metal milk frothing pitcher.
A good grinder is the most important accessory to have for great tasting espresso. Some coffee lovers even say the grinder is more important than the actual espresso machine! A bad grinder that leaves you with coarse beans can ruin the taste. Here’s one of the best grinders you can buy.
READ MORE: How to Clean an Espresso Machine