An espresso is a wonderful treat, but it’s also an expensive one if you’re getting it at the specialty coffee shop. The best home espresso machines make it a lot more affordable to treat yourself on a regular basis and the right one makes it a fairly simple process, but there are still several important steps:
You do not want to skimp on getting the right tools. Many people just buy an espresso machine and use their regular grinder, but this results in an extremely strong, bitter drink. Be prepared to spend a significant chunk of money on a conical burr grinder.
A good espresso machine will have minimal grind retention and allow you to make micro-adjustments. Temperature and water pressure should also be adjustable. You can find extensive reviews on pretty much any espresso machine you’re considering, so make sure to read through a few before choosing one. The one that’s best for you is the one people like you enjoyed the most.
Quality espresso simply isn’t possible without quality beans, no matter how many fancy barista tricks you’ve learned. A light to medium roast taken from a fresh harvest (the roaster should list both the harvest date as well as the roast date). The most commonly recommended type of bean for an espresso is Arabica.
Always remember to grind your beans in a conical burr grinder instead of your regular grinder for the best effects.
Seven grams of grounds is your ideal espresso dose. Be sure to shift the grounds across the portafilter evenly.
Tamping is perhaps the most important part of this process because it creates the condensed pellet the water will pass through. Hold the tamper in the palm of your hand, keep your wrist and forearm straight and press the tamper down into a counter or other surface, using about five pounds of pressure the first time. Tap the handle of the porta filter lightly to shake off loose espresso grounds. Once you’ve done this repeat the tamping process, this time using about 30 pounds of force.
The machine does the hard part of this for you but there are still a couple important things to remember. The first is that you should always use filtered water and make sure you change the water filter you’re using regularly because the quality of your water has a dramatic impact on the quality of your espresso. The second is that you should always pour two espresso shots because this allows the flavor to be distributed more evenly. If you’re not going to drink the second shot, throw it out; espresso should not be allowed to sit for more than thirty seconds.
Make sure you’re using a small cup so the froth/cream settles properly and warm the cup slightly before you serve the espresso; a cold cup will leech heat and flavor out of your espresso shot.
Last but not least, be willing to experiment and remember that your espresso will get better every time you make one. If you really want to perfect espresso, you can also consider taking an actual class.
Ever since I hooked an ignition coil up to a car battery and zapped myself I've been interested in 'how-to' do all sorts of things--I put some of them here.