It All Begins With a Good Espresso Machine

1920s espresso machine

A 1920s espresso machine in action.

The SCAA gives the definition of espresso as “a 25-35mL (.85-1.2oz [x2 for double]) beverage prepared from 7-9 grams (14-18 grams for a double) of coffee through which clean water of 195-205 degrees F has been forced at 9-10 atmospheres of pressure, and where the grind of the coffee is such that the brew time is 20-30 seconds.”

Espresso is the name used for all components of this beverage: From the beans to the brewing process, equipment, cups, accessories and served beverage. Heavily bodied coffee served in small cups has been around for centuries. There is evidence that it was served in Cairo as far back as the early fifteenth century. As the popularity of drinking coffee spread across cultures and throughout the world, new brewing methods and equipment began to spring up. French and Italian inventors began first experimenting with steam powered coffee brewing in the nineteenth century. It wasn’t until the twentieth century, however, that Italian inventors developed machines that could produce the drinks we today call espresso.

Espresso has become the foundation for numerous kinds of drinks. Some of these drinks include milk, such as lattes, mochas and cappuccinos. More recently, espresso has become the foundation for carbonated beverages and mixed drinks including alcohol. Regardless of the finished beverage, the espresso component should always be made according to Specialty Coffee Association of America preparation guidelines.

espresso pouringPulling the Perfect Shot
Baristas refer to the extraction process as “pulling” a shot. Most baristas primarily pull 2 oz. double espressos, which is what we recommend. Pulling the perfect shot will require an adequate espresso machine, quality coffee used, a proper grind, and a well-trained barista.

The Machine
Choose an espresso machine that can maintain a constant brewing temperature of 195° to 205ºF. Your machine should also be capable of delivering water to the ground espresso at a pressure of 9-10 atmospheres.

The Coffee
Any coffee can be used to make espresso, but for best results use a coffee that was selected or blended specifically for espresso.

The Dose
The dose refers to the amount of ground beans that are dispensed into the portafilter. The word “dosing” refers to the process of grinding coffee into the portafilter basket.  Be sure your dose uses the correct amount of ground beans.  There is no hard-and fast rule for dosing, but consistency is key to maintaining shot time and flavor.  The SCAA recommends these dosing weights:

Singles: 7-9 grams ground espresso
Doubles: 14-18 grams ground espresso
Triples: 21-24 grams ground espresso (usually only used for certain size milk-based drinks)

The Grinder
Coffee must be ground just before use for best freshness and flavor. The grinder should be adjusted by the barista as needed in order to maintain the timing of their espresso shots.

The Time
Extraction begins the moment your ground coffee comes in contact with water. The SCAA
recommends a brewing time of 20-30 seconds as a general guideline. This applies whether pulling one or two shots. We recommend grind adjustment if you find your shots are pulling too slowly or quickly.

The 20-30 second guideline should be used as a starting point, since different coffees taste best at different times.  The ultimate test is in the taste. Let the taste and appearance be your markers for a good espresso.

Tamping espressoProper Tamping

  • Elbow at 90° angle
  • 30-40 lbs. of pressure (Use a floor scale to practice pressure application)
  • To ensure proper extraction of entire dose, tamp coffee in the portafilter so it is even and level.

These are just a few words of advice and we can happily provide more. For exceptional espresso, it is essential to maintain correct and consistent preparation cup after cup, customer after customer. The ultimate test is in the taste so the real secret is a simple one: practice!

Towels
Your espresso machine area should be equipped with at least three clean cloths. Each cloth should only be used for its intended purpose in order to avoid cross-contamination:

  1. Steamwand cloth: a damp cloth used only to clean the steamwand. Change several times per shift. Check local health department requirements regarding use of sanitizer.
  2. Portafilter cloth: a dry cloth used only to clean and dry portafilter baskets and spouts before dosing freshly ground coffee.
  3. Bench cloth: a damp cloth or bar mop used for cleaning up spills and ground coffee from the countertop. Change often. Check local health department requirements regarding use of sanitizer.

From more information about proper methods for making espresso, just call 800-835-5943 or email orders@stocktongraham.com.