Whether you buy a top-of-the-line espresso machine or a budget model, there are steps you can take to ensure that you get the highest-quality espressos. It takes practice and know-how to make fine coffee, and as you discover the best practices you’ll recognize it for the art form that it is.
Here are some tips to get the best results out of your machine:
1. Use the best ingredients.
Don’t skimp when it comes to the ingredients, and you won’t be disappointed with the end results. Select the freshest beans whenever possible, making sure that they’re medium-roasted so you get the most flavor. It’s best to grind them right before you plan to make espresso to limit the oils’ exposure to oxygen. Also use fresh water every time.
2. Grind the beans to a fine consistency.
Grinding the beans is a tricky process. You may have to experiment to find out which consistency produces the best results. The coffee grounds should be fine and smooth, somewhere between the consistency of sugar and flour, but not too fine or the hot water won’t be able to work its way through the tightly packed grounds.
3. Tamp with strong, even pressure.
On a flat, level surface, tamp down on the grounds with a pressure between 20 and 30 pounds. You want the grounds to be securely and evenly pressed in the basket so the hot water interacts with as much of the coffee as possible. Be sure there are no gaps or lumps in the grounds, or else the water won’t disperse evenly.
4. Brew at the optimal temperature.
For the best taste, the water in the tank should reach between 190° and 205° F. You can measure the temperature yourself. Note that this is not the temperature of the espresso you will be drinking, but the temperature at which the water makes contact with and extracts the coffee. If the water gets too hot—say, over boiling, the espresso will end up tasting burned and bitter.
5. Extract no longer than 30 seconds.
This is the process during which the coffee grounds dissolve into the water. If it doesn’t extract long enough, the coffee will taste thin and bitter. Overextracted espressos are weak and unpleasant in taste and smell. The best extraction time occurs between 20 and 30 seconds, leaving the espresso a light blonde color.
6. Drink and enjoy right away.
To experience the full richness of taste, don’t wait for the espresso to cool down, lest it becomes flat, bland, or bitter. Start sipping right away. The layer of crema at the top will be thick and foamy, and the concentrated amount of coffee in the espresso shot will make it hard to go back to any other type of coffee.
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