You’ve probably ordered a few espresso drinks at your local coffee shop, but do you know how to recreate them at home? The first step to brewing the perfect shot is learning how to use an espresso machine the right way.
There are a variety of espresso machines on the market. You can even find dual coffee and espresso machine models that let you brew regular drip coffee and pull delicious espresso shots. Stay tuned for a future article here on everything you can do with your espresso machine.
Knowing how to use an espresso machine is necessary if you’re planning on using it make your favorite drinks. While espresso machine models differ in style and added functions, making the perfect espresso shot requires the same basic steps no matter what espresso machine you’re using.
What Is Espresso?
Espresso is a style of coffee that’s pulled from an espresso machine. It has a stronger, bolder flavor than regular coffee and usually gives you a bigger kick of caffeine. You can enjoy it on its own or use it to whip up delicious espresso beverages like lattes, cappuccinos, popular flat whites and more. Most coffee drinks found on the menu at coffee shops use espresso.
Espresso isn’t a specific kind of bean or roast. It’s a unique method that arguably brews some of the best coffee around the world. Coffee grounds used in espresso machines are much finer than regular coffee grounds used to make drip coffee. The brewing time is also much shorter. After warming up your espresso machine it should take around 25 seconds for the boiling water to pass through the coffee grounds. The more finely ground the coffee grounds are, the slower the espresso comes out. You can adjust the consistency of the grind to control the brewing time.
The perfect espresso shot should have an even layer of reddish, golden brown foam on top called crema. The difference in flavor between a good shot of espresso and a bad one has a lot to do with the crema. You want a fine, even layer of crema that sits on top of the dark brew for the best espresso shot.
Espresso Machine Options
The type of espresso machine you use can also affect the taste of your espresso. All espresso machines should be able to produce 130 pounds of pressure and be able to warm up to 192-203 degrees. Here are the different kinds of espresso machines available:
Manual Espresso Machines: These espresso machines require a lever that you need to push down to force the water through the coffee grounds manually.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines: This espresso machine is manually controlled. You can start and stop the espresso shot from brewing with an electronic switch.
Automatic Espresso Machines: This convenient espresso machine is programmed to help you make the perfect shot. If you’re worried about how to use an espresso machine, this option makes it extremely easy for you. All you need to do is set up your espresso shot and push a button that will extract the coffee for you. We’ll show you how to use an espresso machine to set up the best espresso shot below. First let’s get familiar with the parts.
Espresso Machine Parts to Get Familiar With
To learn how to use an espresso machine, how to clean it easily and how to deal with espresso machine repairs, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the parts.
Machine Group: This is where all the magic happens. It’s also sometimes known as the brew head. You’ll insert your portafilter full of coffee grounds here when you’re ready to brew. The group pulls boiling water through the diffusion plate and through the coffee grounds.
Portafilter: The portafilter is one of the most important parts of your espresso machine. It’s where you put yourcoffee grounds and where the boiling water runs through to make the espresso shot. It’s also known as the filter handle or “that thing the coffee goes into.”
Filter Basket: The filter basket is the filter screen you’ll find in your portafiler. They come in both single- and double-shot sizes and are held in place by a spring.
Reservoir or Water Tank: This is where you’ll fill up your espresso machine with fresh, cold, filtered water. In some smaller espresso machines the water tank is detachable. You can also find models with a water softener filter built in to make sure your espresso tastes perfect every time. Don’t forget to check the water level before brewing your coffee.
Group Gasket: The group gasket is a large rubber ring that seals the portafilter to the group. In most cases, if your portafilter is leaking, this is the part you need to replace. Soon we’ll share a guide to DIY espresso machine repair, so watch this space.
Steam Wand: The steam wand is what you use to steam and froth your milk for lattes, cappuccinos and other espresso drinks.
Group Screen: You’ll find the group screen in the group. It’s also sometimes known as a shower screen and is where the hot pressurized water runs through.
Steam Valve: The steam valve is a knob or lever where you can control the pressure of steam coming out of the steam wand.
Steam Tip: The steam tip is at the end of the steam wand. It disperses the steam coming out of the wand in a splay pattern to make sure your milk foams.
Hot Water Tap: Like the name suggests, this is a hot water tap that dispenses hot water to brew the espresso shot.
Group Dosing Keypad: Dosing keypads are only found on automatic and super automaticespresso machines. The keypads give you a variety of options to control dispense times, shot volume and flow. You may have more control setting options if you have a high quality espresso machine.
Group Dispense Switch: The dispensing switch takes the place of the dosing keypad on manual espresso machine models. It’s a simple on/off switch on the top of the group.
Power Switch: This part is pretty self-explanatory and is on the back or side of most espresso machines. Don’t forget to turn the power switch on and let your machine warm up for a few minutes before brewing.
Pressure Gauge: The pressure gauge has two needles: one for boiling pressure and the other for pump operating pressure. Make sure to check that your pressure gauge is working properly from time to time. Keeping it in good shape can make the difference between dealing with easy or difficult espresso machine repairs down the line.
Sight Glass: This part is on the front of the machine and shows you the boiler’s water level. It’s usually a glass tube with water in it, with minimum and maximum markings on it.
Top of Machine: The top of most espresso machines is designed to keep your coffee mug warm while you wait for your espresso shot to brew.
Drain Gate or Trough: The trough or drain gate usually comes with a drip pan and is where any spillage or water from the steam wand drains through. Stay tuned for ways to make sure it stays nice and clean.
How to Use an Espresso Machine to Pull the Perfect Espresso Shot
- Plug your espresso machine in and turn it on. Your espresso machine needs power to keep the system and steamer operating.
- Fill your espresso machine with water. Almost all espresso machines come with a built-in water reservoir with an opening on the top. Water cools the espresso machine and makes your espresso shot. It also creates steam to froth milk for lattes and cappuccinos. Only use fresh, cold, filtered, soft water. Unfiltered water can add chemicals found in tap water to the espresso shot, which effects the taste.
- Give it time to warm up. The espresso machine needs time to boil the water to filter through the coffee grounds and create steam for the side steamer. The amount of time you need to give your machine to warm up depends on the size. Smaller espresso machines should warm up in about 10 minutes, but larger models may need up to 20 minutes.
- Now it’s time to grind your coffee beans. Some espresso models come with a convenient built-in grinder. If your espresso machine doesn’t come with one, you can buy a separate grinder or buy preground beans. Grind the beans finely for the best espresso shot. The texture should be silky smooth when you run it through your fingertips.
- The next step is to dose. Dosing refers to the amount of coffee you fill the portafilter with to make your espresso shot. The most common way of making an espresso shot is to pull a double shot. To pull a double shot you need to fill the portafilter with 14-18 grams of coffee grounds.
- Tamp the coffee grounds. What’s tamping? This is how you pack and level your coffee grounds evenly so that you get equal and consistent water contact. Hold your elbow at 90 degrees, rest your portafilter on a level surface and apply pressure to the coffee grounds to pack them firmly.
- Now it’s time to brew. Place your portafilter into the group head and your preheated cup beneath it. Remember you can put your coffee cup on the top of your espresso machine where it’ll warm up. Now initiate the pull and time your shot. The perfect espresso shot should brew for about 20-30 seconds.
How to Check Your Results
Above all, the espresso shot should be dark before turning into a reddish, golden foam on top (the crema). Remember you want your crema to be a thin, even layer that sits on top. A single shot should be about one ounce and a double shot should be two ounces.
If you don’t think your espresso shot came out right, check your water temperature and pressure. Set the temperature between 190 and 202 degrees with a pressure of nine atmospheres.
Ready to make some fancy drinks with your espresso shot? Soon we’ll share everything you can do with your espresso machine. Keep us bookmarked!