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How To Make Great Espresso

One of life’s true pleasures is the enjoyment of great espresso coffee. For many, the opportunity to indulge at a restaurant or coffee house is sufficient. If you are ready to take the next step and bring the truly rewarding espresso ritual into your home, here are some tips and techniques to help you achieve great success.

Preparing a great cup of espresso is both an “art” and a “science”. Well, not science exactly, you won’t need a degree in physics to learn how to do this well. And the “art” refers more to the challenge you will encounter to prepare a great shot consistently time after time, although there is some poetry to all of this.

Actually, to be fare, the prefect shot doesn’t happen all that often. Even the finest baristas are not capable of producing a nirvana espresso result each and every time. Chances are, you may not have even experienced a truly great shot of espresso. It doesn’t happen as readily as you think. Even the best and most experienced are sufficiently humbled by the elusive essence of a perfect shot.

But don’t be intimidated or discouraged. With a little practice and some knowledge of what to look for, you can definitely become very proficient at making great espresso. And that is more than half the fun! Every so often, when the stars align, a stream of dark rust-red liquid emerges from your espresso machine and the perfect crema, just right in color and consistency, forms at the top of the pour right from the start. The sublime taste of the black nectar and the beautiful lingering finish that remains on your palette confirms the truth – you have produced a great shot of espresso! And that makes it all worthwhile!

The Equipment

You need the right equipment to make good espresso. The inexpensive steam-powered machines that were popular in the 1980’s and 90’s are not going to get the job done. To produce the necessary amount of pressure, either an electric pump driven or hand powered piston driven machine is required.

At one time, a hand-pull piston machine was the only option available. While these are certainly beautiful works of art and can definitely make great espresso, they take more skill that the more modern electric-pump designs. There is a big range in price that you can pay for espresso machines, and you can spend upwards of $3500 for some of the more fancy, top of the line commercial units.

The good news is that respectable machines that are capable of producing great espresso in the home start in the low to mid $200 range. Gaggia, the original inventor of the modern pump-driven machines, offers an entry-level home unit for around $200. The “Gaggia Espresso” model is a no frills machine equipped with the essential basics necessary to make good espresso, including a pump that produces 16+ bars of pressure, a high performance boiler, and a full-size portafilter handle capable of making true 2 oz doubles.

The more expensive units offer additional features, options and premium materials that can provide more control and flexibility, some of which are truly a thing of beauty to display on your counter. The commercial units generally provide more capacity including additional group heads for making multiple shots at the same time. These commercial machines are more suitable for a restaurant or commercial establishment.

Types of Espresso Machines

Equipment Terminology

Today’s modern electric pump driven designs come with a wide range of features and capabilities, but they all share the same basic underlying functional and mechanical design and technology. It is helpful to understand some of the equipment terminology common to most of these machines.

The Technique

Espresso is produced by pushing hot water (not boiling, but close – about 195F) at high pressure (at least 9 bars or about 135 PSI) through a bed of finely ground and compacted coffee. A single shot is about 1 to 1.5 ounces of liquid and is made using about 7 grams of ground coffee. A double shot is between 2 and 2.5 ounces of liquid and uses about double or 14 grams of ground coffee. When extracted properly, the result is topped with a dark golden cream called “crema”.

Mistobox delivers premium fresh-roasted coffee right to your doorstep, hand selected from the finest artisanal coffee roasters.
Mistobox delivers premium fresh-roasted coffee right to your doorstep, hand selected from the finest artisanal coffee roasters!

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