Is there really such a thing as a perfect espresso? From Italian cafés churning out hundreds if not thousands of espressos on the daily, specialty cafés dialing in those single origin specialties, or the aspiring home brewer honing his craft, being able to pull a great espresso is a skill that, although takes practice, is entirely learnable. Tastes are subjective and all that, but at the end of the day, there are key qualities that make a perfect espresso. Let’s go through some key tips for pulling the perfect espresso.
Always Use Freshly Ground CoffeeWe’ve said this more times than we can count, but we can’t stress just how important it is to use freshly ground coffee. Take note that we didn’t say you needed to use fresh coffee, because at Plain Sight, we send your coffees out around 8-10 days from roast date so that you can try those peak flavors without having to wait too long. Pulling an espresso using newly roasted coffee might result in a cup that’s on the grassier side of things. Grind size on the other hand is a factor that changes over the course of the day depending on a variety of conditions, which is why sometimes you’ll see specialty cafés adjust the grind setting in the afternoon.
Practice with a Recommended DoseYour local roaster (aka us) would and should be able to recommend the right dose for the coffee that you’re going to be pulling for espresso. Whether you’re grabbing a bag of the Weekender, Trooper, or even one of our single origin coffees, we’ll be able to send a recommended dose your way based on your basket size, the machine you’re using, etc. A recommended dose would also mean that you would only need to adjust one parameter at a time to help you find that sweet spot for extraction.
Level, Distribute, and TampEvery barista’s got their own way of distributing coffee in the portafilter. You can gently tap it on each side, use a small thin-like object like a paperclip to “stir” the grounds, or go the modern (albeit cost-requiring) route of using a distribution tool. This is to make sure that you’ve got the grounds equally distributed across the portafilter. Of course don’t forget the all important tamping process. Tamp too hard and you might not leave a lot of room for the water to pass through, while not tamping enough might allow the water to just shoot right through. You’ll need to do a “Goldilocks” move of making sure the tamp pressure is just right.
Pull and Observe Your ShotHere we go, time to pull the shot. Flush out some water from the espresso machine before putting the portafilter in and get ready to go. Don’t leave the coffee in for too long before starting the process as even this will inadvertently heat up the coffee. Depending on the kind of espresso machine you have. Make sure your scale is tared before the shot begins to pour, and observe the following:
- How long does it take before the coffee begins to drip?
- Is the flow of the coffee too fast/slow?
- Does it have crema?
Dialing InNow that you have your shot, time to check it out. Don’t worry about your first shot not being perfect, because the journey to get there is quite the learning experience. When we say dialing in, it means that you’ll check to see by how much you’ll need to adjust your grind setting. Is the pour too slow? Might need to make it just a wee bit courser. Seeing an uneven extraction? It might have to do with the distribution. Whichever the case, make your adjustments one at a time to find that sweet spot without affecting every other factor.
At the end of the day, the key to pulling the perfect espresso shot lies in practice and consistency. We at Plain Sight are always at the ready to help you pull that perfect shot with our great selection of blends and single origins.