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How to make Espresso – Little known beginner-friendly ways

December 17, 2019

- Adhlan Nazeemudeen

Chapter 1

What does it take to make a true espresso?

“Because a great cup of coffee when you need it can be priceless”

Many people assume they will not be able to make the same quality coffee at home as they can buy at the nearest coffee shop. Or they assume that they will require big, complex and expensive equipment to do so. Either way, I’m here to tell you that these assumptions are not true.

You can think of this as a quick start guide for anyone who wants to get into making his or her own barista grade coffee. Whether it be at home, at the office, in the park, in the car, outdoors or where ever.

Being able to make a great coffee when you need it, where ever you are, can be incredibly rewarding. Being able to kick back on a couch or stop the car in the middle of nowhere and sip a hot latte or shot of espresso and bask in the serene solitude and peace is, just my idea of paradise on earth. Wouldn't you agree?

Pulling the perfect shot of espresso requires the following preparation. You need to set this up once and thereafter it will be smooth sailing:

  1. Selecting a coffee maker with a pump suitable to extract the espresso at the required pressure and time
  2. to the required specifications and quality

The espresso machine and grind should meet the requirements for espresso preparation. Which the Italian Espresso National Institute and American Coffee Organization have defined.

What is the definition of a true cup of espresso?

The Italian Espresso National Institute (translated from www.espressoitaliano.org), defines an espresso as prepared by:
  1. Running clear water at a temperature of 189-194°F (86-90°C)
  2. Under a pressure of 8-10 bar through 0.25±10% oz. (7±0.5 gm)
  3. Through a fine grind coffee, ground to coarseness that requires extraction time of 22.5 to 27.5 seconds
  4. Producing a cup containing 0.76±10% oz. (22.5±2.5 ml), at a temperature of 147-158°F (64-70°C)
The American coffee organization defines an espresso quite similarly except that the amount of coffee per serving is 1.25oz or (38ml)

That’s a pretty tight definition huh? That’s right, and is why many of the home espresso solutions out there are just not espresso.

Some ‘how to’ blogs on espresso give solutions such as: french press, moka pot and aeropress. Examples are these two articles from roastycoffee and dripped cofffee blogs on that. To be frank none of these make true espresso, as per the official definitions.

If you are willing to consider a conventional home espresso machine, there are plenty of espresso machines in the market and you will find Nespresso machines starting from around USD 100 and more conventional machines starting from around USD 180 to a really good one at around USD 550.

The below sections cover some of the exceptional circumstances. They recommend some non-conventional espresso machines which are budget-friendly, beginner-friendly and versatile. They will allow you to make espresso at home, outdoors or in a car.

Table of Contents

Chapter 2

The Recipe for a shot of Espresso

The bulk of the work is getting the right espresso machine and preparing the grind. Once these are done, making the espresso is easy. Let's get to the simple recipe to prepare a great shot of espresso

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The Recipe for a shot of Espresso

Thebulk of the work is getting the right espresso machine and preparing the grind.Once these are done, making the espresso is easy. Let's get to the simplerecipe to prepare a great shot of espresso

Equipment

  •  Espressomachine (with pump 8-10bar)
  • Waterheating device (if using a portable/manual espresso machine)
  • Coffeebean grinder (optional)

Ingredients

  •  0.25±10%oz. (7±0.5 gm) of arabica Coffee beans (preferably dark roast) OR a pre-groundfine grind OR espresso capsule (depending on the espresso machine used)
  •  38mlwater

Instructions

  • Grindcoffee beans to a fine grind if using ground coffee or capsule if using podssuch as Nespresso
  •  Insertthe ground coffee into the puck or capsule and tamper and ensure and grindsurface is even
  • Startthe extraction process. The espresso machine should run 38ml water heated to189-194°F (86-90°C) through the coffee grind at 8-10bar pressure for 22.5 to27.5 seconds to produce a single shot of espresso

Chapter 3

Making an espresso at home without a conventional coffee machine

Cost, space and complexity may be objections against conventional coffee machines. In this case some of the portable and/or manual espresso makers which are viable alternatives that produce great espresso.

The lowest cost and manual home espresso device available in the market is probably the Kopipresso Espresso Press. Which operates using a downward pumping action. Dependent on the manual pressure exerted, this device can produce extract at between 8bar upto 20bar. 

The Espresso Press supports both Nespresso pods and ground coffee. And a nifty feature of this gizmo is that the pump can also double up as a milk frother. Useful when preparing a cup of cappuccino or latte. In under USD 60, this device can rival a fully-fledged conventional espresso machine. Quite amazing. 

If manual machines are a turn-off for you, there is the automatic alternative of the portable variety. The Kopipresso Travel Espresso maker. It comes with an 18-bar constant pressure pump, supports Nespresso pods and also ground coffee.

There are also the lever variety of manual espresso machines, which allow more control over the extraction process. Which should interest the more diligent espresso enthusiasts. They are countertop models with a lever pump from ROK and Flair. With the correct technique, they could produce a superior espresso. The cons are that they are not so beginner-friendly, and take up more space. While the price is edging into the territory of lower-end conventional espresso machines.

Chapter 4

Making an espresso while camping

Having an espresso out in the outdoors was until recently a luxury. With the improvement of portable coffee machines and conveniences such as Nespresso pods, what was once not possible is now a reality

Camping coffee is traditionally not espresso and made using the enamel percolator, french press or Aeropress. (here’s a blog post from roasty coffee). The camping coffee enthusiasts are now embracing portable espresso makers to get the job done.

There are two manual portable espresso machines which stand out in the outdoors. the Wacaco and  Handpresso. Both espresso pumps operate at over 15bar and produce genuine espresso. They both defer by the pumping action. The wacaco pump works on the palm with the thumb pushing against the pump. The handpresso pump works like a bicycle pump.

The wacaco nanopresso can also support Nespresso pods with an addon adaptor. It is a light weight devices which matter a lot when you are on a foot or bike camping expedition. The downside of the manual espresso machines is the need to heat the water. Although most camping gear will include a butane gas burner in its gear.

Among the automatic espresso machines that are suited for camping. The Kopipresso Travel espresso maker can produce 100 shots on a full charge and requires heated water to be added. The Kopipresso Outdoor espresso maker can produce over 200 shots on a full charge when heated water is added. The Kopipresso Outdoor espresso maker also has a water heating option. This, however, would reduce the production to 3-4 cups. 

The outdoor espresso maker supports Nespresso and L’Or capsules. Extra battery cells may be purchased if more battery capacity is required on the trail.

Chapter 5

Making an espresso while driving

When you bring together a fully-automatic portable espresso machine with Nespresso pods. What you get is a super convenient solution for espresso while on a long drive across the country.

An ideal car espresso machine should be able to heat water and be automatic, while also be charged through the 12V cigarette lighter. Both the Handpresso Auto Capsule and the Kopipresso Outdoor espresso maker meet this need. Both offer 15 bar espresso extraction, producing genuine espresso and also use Nespresso capsules.

The Kopipresso machine supports cord less operation using its in-built battery and makes it versatile as a fully outdoor and travel espresso machine. It is also more affordable in comparison to the Handpresso machine.

Chapter 6

Preparation tips to pull a perfect shot of espresso

With the gear taken care of, the final result comes down to two controllable factors. The coffee grind and the water you use. Here we take a look at some rules for optimizing your cup of coffee.

Daniel Lancaster, in his book ‘The Coffee Recipe Book: 50 Coffee and Espresso Drinks to Make at Home’, laid down these recommendations on preparing the grind and water for your espresso.

Rule 1 Pick the right beans – Arabica at the earliest possible roast date

Aim for the highest quality coffee possible and look out for the following: 

1) Roast date – buy beans that hasbeen roasted as recently as possible. 

2) Buy Arabica – ensure the beans are of the arabica variety rather than robusta. Which are of a much higher quality and have a sweeter and more balanced taste. Robusta beans tend to be very bitter.

 

Rule 2 Grind it yourself at the last minute before brewing your coffee

Grinding the beans ahead of time discounts much of the work that has gone into producing the coffee.  When the cells inside the coffee beans are exposed to air, they begin reacting to it and lose aroma and flavor every second after.

A day or two after being ground, the coffee will have lost almost all its flavor. If your coffee has been ground for 5 or 6 days, it has essentially lost all its flavor, and it is almost irrelevant how much longer you keep it.

The oils in the coffee also begin to dilute from exposure to the moisture in the environment when coffee beans are ground. These coffee oils are delicate and are easily contaminated. Whatever other odors or aromas are near your grounds can form inside your beverage.

Ground beans have a higher surface area that is exposed compared to the whole beans which only expose the outer shell to air and contaminants. When ground beans are exposed, carbon dioxide is released. Within 60 seconds of grinding, 80% of the gas is released into the air (that’s why it smells so good). The loss multiplies in the loss that follows. Resulting in exponential loss of flavor with time that passes.

Rule 3 Get the water temperature right

One of the most important yet most neglected is brewing the coffee at the right water temperature. If your water is too hot, you risk over-extraction of coffee flavors and, in turn, a burnt, bitter cup. If your water is too cold, you risk under-extraction of coffee flavors and, in turn, a weak, sour cup. The recommended temperature range is 189-194°F (86-90°C). The goal is to prepare at the middle of those two temperatures. At which you will be able to extract the most flavor from a bean without imparting any unwanted tastes.

 Rule 4 Getting the coffee grind to water ratio right

The amount of coffee grounds you use in relation to the amount of water used is a critical variable to nail down when brewing coffee. Generally, the espresso machine’s coffee capsule or puck holds only the required amount of coffee ground by design.  Ensure you fill-up the grounds to the required amount.

Chapter 7

Selecting the roast of the coffee beans, what does it mean

The coffee’s taste is primarily based on the quality of coffee bean. Which depends on the variety of coffee tree, region, growing conditions and processing method. The next most important factor is the roasting process.

Roasted coffee loses its characteristics very fast. Thus coffee traded in the world market is often in the form of green coffee beans. They are not roasted until shortly before sold to the end-user.

The duration of the roasting process determines the grading of light, medium or dark roast.  Which determines whether you get a sweet, fruity, acidic cup or bitter, strong cup.

  • Light roasts tend to exhibit more of the coffee’s natural character (good or bad) and lend themselves well to more traditional brewing methods.
  • Dark roasts will replace much of the coffee’s natural character traits with the brown roast character that we are all so familiar with – and it’s for this reason that poor-quality coffee is almost exclusively dark-roasted.
  • Darker roasts find themselves at home in espresso.

There is now a trend (going back in time) with people increasing roasting their coffee at home. This is the best way to experience the freshness and flavor of the coffee. But, the level of preparation and planning is significant and for the more dedicated coffee drinkers.

 

Chapter 8

Grinding your coffee beans right for espresso

Your grind choice depends on how you plan to use it. Here we discuss grind coarseness and what is required to make espresso.

Grinding increases the surface area of contact between the water and coffee and impacts the time it takes to extract the coffee.The course the grind, there’s less contact between the water and the coffee.  As a result, the extraction process that releases coffee oils and aroma take longer.

The high-pressure extraction used in espresso preparation requires a finer grind. Turkish coffee requires a very fine, almost powdery grind that remains at the bottom of the cup after drinking.

The commonly referred grind sizes are as follows:

Coarse Grind – The texture of the ground beans is like white sugar – suitable for French press and filter coffee. 

Medium Grind – The texture of the ground beans is like table salt – suitable for moka pot (macchinetta, stove pot) and vacuum coffee.

Fine Grind – The texture is like ground black paper – suitable for espresso. 

Very Fine Grind – Powdery texture – suitable for Turkish coffee.

 In terms of appearance, they look like below

Grind ingredients

When selecting a grinder, you have a choice of either manual or electric. There are also two grind mechanisms consisting of burr and blades. The blade grinder has spinning blades that slice through the coffee beans. This is not suitable for fine, consistent grinds required for espresso. For espresso grinds a manual or electric burr grinder is recommended.

The manual grinders, are cost-effective and start from USD 20. An adjustable manual burr grinder with a collector basin is a practical choice when starting off. Kopipresso has a manual grinder designed to work well with espresso machines.

Chapter 9

Nespresso or Whole Bean or pre-ground Coffee, which one?

One stands for convenience and consistency, the other for freshness and burst of flavors. Here we discuss the pros and cons

Some of the machines we reviewed work with both the Nespresso and ground coffee. When starting off, Nespresso pods are great to set a benchmark until you are able to produce similar espresso through your own grind.

The freshness of whole bean freshly ground coffee results in a richness in flavor if the right beans are used. This, along with the ability to adjust and experiment with one’s own preferences make grinding your own coffee very rewarding.

At the end of the day, the nespresso pods are also great for convenience and outdoor applications. The ideal scenario would be the option to have both for the sake of convenience. Nothing beats a freshly ground coffee in terms of flavor. Grinding your own coffee beans is also a lot cheaper than Nespresso pods. For me, there is no two words, I believe any coffee aficionado should look towards grinding his own coffee.

Chapter 10

Crema – How do you know if the espresso you've got is good?

The common answer to this question is – take a sip and see. Fortunately, one look at the espresso in the cup provides the answer, even before you taste it.

One can learn a lot about espresso quality by its color and form. Here we give some pointers on what to look for.

The brown copper-mahogany colored froth covering the espresso beverage is the “crema.” It is due to the oils extracted from the ground coffee into the espresso beverage. When there’s insufficient crema, the espresso is bad. Yet, good crema is not always a sign that the espresso is good.

The color of good crema is something between brown mahogany to copper and it will begin to dissipate after about two minutes.  The thickness of the crema on top of the espresso should be at least 0.04″ (1 mm). It can easily be seen in a glass cup.

Thick crema does not necessarily show better quality. Coffee blends rich in Robusta will produce a thicker layer of crema, but this will not always improve the coffee taste. Sometimes it indicates lower taste quality. Espresso without crema or crema that dissipates in less than 20 seconds indicates incorrect preparation.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Provided, the coffee machine and coffee beans are of the right quality, following could be reasons if you observe poor crema:

  • Coarsely ground coffee produces espresso without crema.
  • If the amount of coffee inserted into the filter basket is less than necessary, you will get no crema.
  • The crema will be whitish if the water temperature was too low.
  • The crema will look like oily bubbles if the water temperature was too high, indicating the coffee was burnt.
  • No crema or light crema can indicate that the coffee was not fresh.
Provided, the coffee machine and coffee beans are of the right quality, following could be reasons if you observe poor crema:
  • Coarsely ground coffee produces espresso without crema.
  • If the amount of coffee inserted into the filter basket is less than necessary, you will get no crema.
  • The crema will be whitish if the water temperature was too low.
  • The crema will look like oily bubbles if the water temperature was too high, indicating the coffee was burnt.
  • No crema or light crema can indicate that the coffee was not fresh.
comparison

Chapter 11

Espresso Jargon and Types of Espresso

Shot, Lungo, Doppio, these are words you would have heard. Here are the definitions and types of espresso which you need to know

  1. Short or Shot Espresso – basic shot of 0.25 oz (7 grams) of ground coffee approximately 0.85 to 1oz (25 to 30 ml) of beverage, produced in about 25 seconds (see Espresso, page 81). Served in a small cup. In some places it is called “short black,” or just “espresso.”
  2. Long or Lungo – Extended water on a basic shot of espresso 0.25 oz (7 grams) of ground coffee. The extraction time is extended to 45-55 seconds to get about 1.5-2 oz (45 to 60 ml) beverage.
  3. Double or Doppio – Two espresso shots 0.5 oz (14 grams) of ground coffee produces about 1.7- 2.2 oz (50-65 ml) drink.
  4. Quad – Four espresso shots (two double espressos).
  5. Ristretto – A Very Intensive Short Espresso. Ristretto means “limited” in Italian. There are two ways to make ristretto. The first is to make a regular short- espresso and stop the machine a few seconds (8-15) earlier than for regular short espresso. It’s a very concentrated drink of approximately 0.5-0.85 oz (15 to 25 ml). The second method is to use finer ground coffee to obtain a smaller amount of potent drink, but this is not recommended as it might damage the espresso machine.
  6. Espresso Romano – Add a small piece of lemon peel to a short espresso perched on the rim of the cup. The lemon can accentuate the espresso’s sweetness. Dropping the peel into the espresso breaks the coffee bitterness.

Chapter 12

Making popular espresso-based drinks

Making espresso is the first step towards many of the popular coffee shop drinks. Classic barista warm beverages such as the latte, cappuccino or a Frappe, or milkshakes and even coffee-based cocktails.

The good news, most of these drinks can be prepared with espresso accompanied by ingredients commonly available in the kitchen.

Once you perfect your espresso brewing, it is time to take what you have learned and create some exciting drinks using that amazing cup of coffee. This chapter explores simple yet exciting coffee-based drinks you can make at home. All these recipes require simple ingredients you may already have in your kitchen. Such as frothed milk, steamed milk, whipped cream, hot water, liquor, honey, ice and ice cream. 

Below infographic gives a hint on how easy the next leap towards preparing these drinks could be.

Have a look at some of our other blogs posts with more detailed look at some of these recipes

Chapter 13

The final word

I wrote this blog post from the point of view of someone who is starting out and looking to a solution to fit into specific lifestyle requirements. There really isn’t a one size fits all solution. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, would love to hear what you have to say

FAQ

In case you had some questions in mind, here are some FAQ which a beginner coffee aficionado might as

Coffee
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Recipe – How to make espresso martini?

In the world of cocktails, nothing is more elegant than the classic martini. Now coffee lovers can feel cool, too, with this spin on the classic. The espresso mixed with the vodka adds a smoothness to the punch of the martini.

Equipment

  • Espresso brewing device
  • Cocktail shaker and strainer

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces espresso

  • 1 ounce vodka

  • 1 ounce coffee liqueur, such as Kahl?a Ice
    for serving 3 espresso beans (optional), for garnish

Instructions

  • 1. In a cocktail shaker, combine the espresso, vodka, and coffee-flavored liqueur.Add ice, cover the shaker, and shake vigorously for 15 seconds.
  • 2. Strain the drink into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with espresso beans (if using).
  • 3. You may add simple syrup to make this drink a little sweeter. If bitterness is not your thing, add a little simple syrup, sugar, or even some melted chocolate!

Although often asked, it is not possible to make espresso using a French press. Espresso extraction requires an extraction pressure of 8-10 bar which is not possible using a french press with the device as well as normal human strength.

It is not possible to get a true espresso out of the aeropress. An authentic espresso requires at least 8-10 bar of pressure. This is not humanly possible with the air pressure mechanism found in the aeropress. With some improvising and technique, you can obtain an espresso like coffee from aeropress.

  1. Place a paper or metal filter in the chamber and fill with 17g of finely ground coffee
  2. Tamp the grind using a cylindrical object of similar dimensions.
  3. Place another paper filter on top slowly pour 55ml of water (take about 5s to pour)
  4. Plunge the aeropress rapidly and extract all the water within 5s

The keurig machine cannot produce a shot of espresso as it doesn’t have a pump for the pressure extraction

There are a couple of manual espresso makers which are able to drive the heated water through the required pressure to extract the espresso. These include the Kopipresso espresso press and the wacaco nanopresso.

The Italian Espresso National Institute (translated from www.espressoitaliano.org), defines an espresso as prepared by:

  1. Running clear water at a temperature of 189-194°F (86-90°C)
  2. Under a pressure of 8-10 bar through 0.25±10% oz. (7±0.5 gm)
  3. Through a fine grind coffee, ground to coarseness that requires extraction time of 22.5 to 27.5 seconds
  4. Producing a cup containing 0.76±10% oz. (22.5±2.5 ml), at a temperature of 147-158°F (64-70°C)

The American coffee organization defines an espresso quite similarly except that the amount of coffee per serving is 1.25oz or (38ml)

References

Following are great reads which were used as resources to put together this blog post

Lancaster, Daniel. The Coffee Recipe Book: 50 Coffee and Espresso Drinks to Make at Home . Rockridge Press. Kindle Edition.

Stern, Shlomo. A Coffee Lover’s Guide to Coffee: All the Must – Know Coffee Methods, Techniques, Equipment, Ingredients and Secrets. Kindle Edition.

Perry, Stella. Roasting, Brewing and More: How to Enjoy Coffee Beyond your Morning Routine. Kindle Edition.

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Stainless
Steel Burr

Kopipresso

kopipresso IMONS Outdoor Espresso maker

Fully Automatic
15-18 Bar Pump

Water
Heating

Nespresso Or
L'Or Pods

Espresso Maker

Wireless
Operation

Car
Charging

Kopipresso T Colors Travel Espresso Maker

Fully Automatic
18 Bar Pump

Ground
Coffee

Nespresso
Pods

Espresso Maker

Wireless
Operation

Compact and
lightweight

kopipresso Espresso-press

Manual 20 Bar
Espresso Pump

Ground
Coffee

Nespresso
Pods

Espresso Maker

Milk
Frother

Ultralight
Weight

kopipresso IMONS Outdoor Espresso maker

Ground
Coffee

Thermos
Mug

K-cup
Pods

Concentration
Adjustment

USB
Powered

kopipresso Precision Hand Coffee Grinder

Sharp
Steel Burr

Convenient
Courseness
Adjustment

Hand-grinder

Consistent
Grinding

Stainless
Steel Burr

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