How to Make Espresso


To brew or make espresso you need an espresso machine (espresso coffee maker) and these come in many different varieties from super automatic espresso machines to espresso machines that you pull by hand the old-fashioned way.

The main point is it needs to be able create a sufficient amount of pressure to apply a pressurized extraction process to the compressed bed of roasted, ground coffee (espresso means “pressed out”) and force the hot water at very high pressure through the coffee.

One shot of espresso consists of about 1½ ounces and is nicely served in a pre-heated, three-ounce demitasse (a word that is French for “half cup).

The solo espresso shot, or double shot, must be extracted using a series of steps that must be followed carefully to avoid any mistakes that will harm the quality of the shot. Be comprehensive and be thorough.

Your coffee beans to make espresso should be specialty coffee in its whole bean form, and processed, shipped, roasted and stored properly stored properly (kept dry in a cool, dark place). This is the best way to preserve the fine flavors.

How To Choose Your Coffee Beans

Typically the coffee beans that you want to use to make espresso are given a Dark Roast which is often referred to as an Espresso Roast. Technically, there’s no such thing as an “espresso roast”, but enough people refer to a very dark roast as an “espresso roast”, so most people understand what it means.

What’s important when choosing your coffee beans is to find something that you like the flavor of – coffee reviews and guides are a good place to start, but trust your own taste buds over that of a so-called “expert” who is trying to sell you something.

In general the grind size that you will use to make espresso is very fine so as to create a very concentrated coffee beverage, that is flavorful and strong with a thick consistency and robust taste.

How to Determine Coffee Grind Size

To make the best possible espresso, you want to buy your coffee as whole bean coffee and grind it yourself. If you don’t want to put the effort or expense into grinding, you can always order your coffee ground from the supplier.

The grind level is very important. Grinding too fine can lead to blockage and too little water coming through (or running around, and being watery). Too coarse of a grind will lead to water funnelling through the grinds too fast, and makes the espresso shot taste weak and watery. The grind should be done according to the machine you use.

If your espresso machines doesn’t have a built-in grinder, it is best to grind the coffee with a burr coffee grinder just before you make your espresso. A conical burr grinder is better than a wheel burr grinder.

More subtle factors in determining a grind size to produce a high quality espresso include the current temperature and humidity, which might cause a variation that requires adjustments by the barista. See more details on grinding for some advanced tips and see Grinding Coffee For Espresso to determine the precise grind size for your particular type of espresso machine.

To assure consistency of grind size, the best type of coffee grinder is a conical burr grinder rather than a wheel burr grinder or a blade coffee grinder.

Stepping up to a higher quality espresso includes good grinding for reasons to detailed to go into here having to do with surface area, particle size, etc.. Furthermore blade grinders can actually re-roast your coffee due to the high heat they generate.

How to Tamp Espresso Grinds

Now remove the portafilter from the espresso machine and heat it up by running it under very hot water. Many machines now do this automatically.  The reason the portafilter must be heated for gourmet espresso is that a cold portafilter can lower the brewing temperature and hinder the proper extraction.

Also warm up your demitasse and allow the espresso to pour directly into it from the espresso machine spout. When you fill up the portafilter with the roasted and ground coffee use an even pressure with a slight twisting. This is the optimal movement for perfect compaction and no weak spots Perfect this subtle tamp for the perfect espresso.

Now clamp the portafilter into the espresso machine and hit the brew button. Watch closely as the brewed espresso begins to pour out within a few seconds. The espresso should pour out in a steady stream and look like maple syrup.

How to Pull an Espresso Shot

The amount of time that you brew the espresso shot is a crucial component in how to make espresso perfectly. It is an art as well as a science. The subtleties of espresso brewing require the barista to know his or her coffee, grind, temperature, pressure and brewing time.

That said, 22 seconds is the standard. From there you need to perfect the shot time and/or other factors to ensure a perfect shot. The goal is to avoid under-extraction as well as over-extraction, both of which can damage the espresso’s finest qualities.

An espresso shot that is extracted too long has too much bitterness but if it is not extracted enough you will miss out on the subtle aromatic oils and fine tastes of the gourmet espresso coffee. So the goal is to make sure it is not watery and weak and also is not bitter.

When the espresso starts coming out of the spout notice the velocity of the espresso. Too slow is a hint that your coffee grind may be too fine, your tamp too hard, or your pressure too low. Fine tune these factors. Too slow of a flow will likely cause over-extraction and bitterness.

If the velocity of the espresso flow is too fast then you may not have tamped it properly or the grind of the coffee may be too coarse. Check the particle size that is coming out of your grinder.

Also look into the portafilter and see if there were any weak spots as the hot water went through the roasted and tamped coffee grounds. Fine tune these factors and try again.

Allowing the espresso to flow to fast will lead to under-extraction and a weak, watery and flavorless espresso shot. The volume of the espresso shot should be about 1.5 ounces.

Anatomy of an Espresso Shot – Heart, Body, Crema

The components of a shot of espresso include the heart, body, and crema.

  • The heart is at the very bottom of the espresso shot, and its color is usually a deep and rich brown. The heart contains the bitterness that provides a balance to the sweetness of the espresso’s aroma
  • The body is the espresso’s middle layer, and it is normally a caramelly-brown color.
  • The crema is the top layer of the espresso shot, thin and foamy, with a golden-brown color, and containing the espresso’s finest aromas and flavors.

Variables To Consider

When pulling a shot of espresso, the variables include the brewing temperature, the pressure provided by the espresso machine to force the water through the compacted (tamped) coffee grounds, the fineness of the grind of the coffee, the type of coffee grinder used, the quality and distinction of the particular coffee, the freshness of the coffee beans, and how the beans were stored, how they were roasted, when they were roasted, and when they were ground. You should also be cleaning your equipment on a weekly basis if you’re making coffee daily, as calcium/lime build up in the boiler and stale coffee oils in the brewing unit will negatively impact the taste.

If the coffee beans are not completely fresh then it is important how they were stored. Another variable is whether the portafilter and demitasse of the espresso machine (espresso maker) were pre-heated.

Espresso Crema

A key component in the flavor of any espresso shot is the crema, the thin layer of foam, including emulsified oils, floating on top of the espresso. The crema is comprised of proteins, sugars, and emulsified oils, and is created due to the dispersion of gases such as carbon dioxide and air at high pressure in liquid.

After about one-third of the espresso shot has poured look for the crema to begin to appear atop the shot. This thin and foamy golden-brown layer should sit atop the espresso and contains the fine aromatic qualities of the espresso as well as the subtle flavors.

This slight foam of oils is made of very fine cells providing the essence of the espresso while retaining the intensity of the espresso shot.

The crema should be golden-brown in color, and sweet-tasting. Containing the coffee’s best flavors and aromatic qualities, the crema also helps to retain the espresso’s intensity.

How to Make Decaf Espresso

Making a decaf espresso is exactly the same process as making a regular espresso, except that you use decaf espresso beans instead of regular coffee beans. This may slightly limit your options in terms of variety as not every single origin is available decaffeinated, but should provide a great tasting shot of espresso anyway.

Robusta beans provide much of the caffeine in a regular espresso, in addition to the crema, and their “lower quality” status usually means you can’t find decaf robusta beans. Decaf coffee is therefore usually only Arabica coffee.

What is a Solo Espresso?

It is an Italian tradition to drink your espresso at the peak of its freshness and with a sense of ceremony by drinking it “solo” in one gulp. This allows you to gain the maximum enjoyment from the coffee by appreciating its rich and nuanced flavors.

How Does An Espresso Taste?

A good shot of espresso is strong and flavorful with a distinct concentration of coffee flavoring materials and a thick consistency that produces a robust taste.

The History of Espresso Brewing

Espresso brewing machines come in many forms, models, and designs that have continued to evolve over time. The Illy company has been a pioneer in the field ever since 1935 when Francesco Illy invented the first automatic coffee machine, which was the predecessor of today’s espresso machines. See World’s Best History of Coffee

Easy Serving Espresso Pods

In 1998 the Illy Company developed the ESE Pods – Easy Serving Espresso Pods (E.S.E.) design and standards, an open design to encourage adaptation and compatibility, and with the goal of making home espresso preparation more convenient.

Today many espresso machines, including espresso machine brands other than Illy, accommodate the use of either a 45 mm, 7 gram espresso pod or hand-tamped coffee grounds.

The Illy company remains on the cutting edge of automated espresso brewing with their E.S.E. Pods (ESE Pods – Easy Serving Espresso Pods) and Hyper Espresso Capsules.

Pros and Cons of the Espresso Pod Method

An espresso pod is a small pre-compacted disks of espresso beans weighing 7 or 14 grams (single or double), and measuring 45 mm in diameter. The coffee is contained within a paper filter. An espresso machine pod adapter may be used to brew the espresso pod, or it may also be brewed in the brewing chamber of a pod espresso machine.

The advantages of the pod system include faster and more convenient preparation of the espresso (or coffee) as well as less of a mess, less waste, and a more consistent espresso taste.

Disadvantages of the pod system include a higher cost per serving, and also questions about quality as compared to freshly ground and tamped coffee. Another problem is the waste associated with the extensive packaging (e.g., mylar film pouches used to individually wrap each pod).

Espresso Brewing with Hyper Espresso Capsules

The most recent innovation of the Illy company is the Hyper Espresso Capsule, designed to work with Illy’s Francis Francis Hyper Espresso machine that facilitates a two-phase extraction process with the goal of brewing a smooth, full-bodied, and aromatic espresso with a long-lasting crema.

For tips on producing an excellent crema, see Pulling A Perfect Espresso Shot and How to make Lattes and Cappuccinos.

Espresso Coffee Guide – The Top Coffee Source

More great coffee and espresso information can be found in All About Coffee which covers all aspects of premium gourmet coffee from soil to sip including coffee plants and coffee cherry along with full descriptions of all of the world’s top gourmet coffees including Organic Coffee, Fair Trade Coffee, Bird Friendly Coffee and Shade-Grown Coffee.

Explore the world of premium gourmet coffee including harvesting and processing, coffee grading and roasting, coffee grinding and packaging, coffee storing, brewing, and all about the coffee beverage itself including Espresso. Don’t forget to clean your espresso machine with our guide on how to clean a coffee/espresso maker.

Also check out the most detailed and comprehensive Coffee and Espresso Glossary ever written, and also the World’s Best History of Coffee.


Thank You! for visiting Espresso Coffee Guide and Reading About Espresso Brewing! Savor Your Coffee and Espresso!

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