The unfortunate truth is that any espresso machine which hopes to pull a decent shot is going to be a significant investment of time and/or money. Even with a great espresso machine and grinder, pulling those in-the-pocket, wonderfully fantastic shots remains an elusive art. But once you have your tools, the challenge becomes one of patience, practice, and lots of coffee. The barista’s hidden art of pulling the perfect shot takes a lifetime’s journey. However, during those brief, beautiful moments you glimpse it, you glimpse sublime harmonies of intense flavours which make the whole pursuit worth it.
Know your variables
here is a list of things which, when tweaked, will affect the quality of your shot of espresso:
- quality and amount (in grams) of coffee
- grind level (and quality)
- even grind distribution in the portafilter before tamping
- proper, consistent tamping pressure
- extraction time
Reduce your variables
here is a list of things you can do to help tame the above unruly list of tweakables:
- choose a constant amount (usually between 18–21 grams for a double shot) of a specific coffee variety. Keep these constant and precise!
- gently settle the grinds in the portafilter by softly tapping it against a hard surface, trying to spread them as evenly as possible.
- practice your tamping; tamping on a scale or using a digital tamper can help. Tamping pressure should be a consistent 9-13kg (20-30lbs).
2. tamp it in the pre-warmed portafilter
3. begin extraction and carefully time it
Extraction time should be between 25-35 seconds–usually the ideal is between 27-33 seconds, and should yield 1.5-2 times the amount of ground coffee in the portafilter. So, for instance, if you used 20g of coffee, you should have 30-60g of espresso within 27-33 seconds. If it takes too long, try adjusting your grind to be a touch coarser. If it takes too little time, make your grind a bit finer and try again. In either case, make sure you’re keeping your tamping pressure consistent. If your espresso is too bitter, allow for a coarser grind and try again. If it is too watery, you need a finer grind.
The above constitutes a solid starting point from which to begin your wonderful espresso journey. This excellent video by Matt Perger from Barista Hustle goes into much greater depth. The subtleties and finer points come only through practice, practice, practice!