Espresso Basics

September 23, 2011

When to Stop Pulling a Shot


The ROASTe Blog has a great post on when to stop pulling your shot and walks through some steps to figure it out yourself. The process involves pulling a shot into several glasses where you'll get a "slice" of the shot in each, then taste what happens. I have done this for drip brew and have tested this type of time-slicing on French Press, but not on an espresso shot.

Their conclusion is that when the shot starts to "blond" from dark brown to the lighter and more transparent color in the finish is a good time. What's right for you though? Read their whole post to learn more, and figure it out for yourself. Even if you are already pulling the perfect shot, you may just learn a lot in the process.

More at ROASTe

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April 12, 2010

Cheap Espresso in a Moka Pot


For a change of pace this week, I am shedding the expensive espresso machines and going back to the basics with a $20 Moka pot and a can of Cafe Bustelo, which just cost me $2.50. Yes, that's right, it is less than a Grande Latte at Starbucks. Luckily, I didn't just lose my job, but I have to admit that I like a Cafe au Lait brewed with the thick espresso that the Bustelo brews. It's got to have a fair amount of robusta in there to hit this prices, and no it is not a light and aromatic wonder-brew, but it is good in its own way.

The syrupy results from a 6 minute brewing time on my stove give me a rich flavor that when cut with a bit of sugar and milk taste like a strong bodied coffee that I can really enjoy. the slightly tannic flavor has a long and strong coffee finish. I use the "4-cup" maker for my coffee in the morning with a few heaping tablespoons of coffee and brew on the stovetop. Easy, quick and pretty darn good.

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March 11, 2008

Should I Tamp My Espresso?


A lot of people wonder if they should tamp their ground espresso in the portafilter before brewing. Sure the baristas at the coffee shops do it, so should you? The answer is yes, but for potentially a different reason. To start, you need to understand the difference between a professional portafilter and a consumer portafilter.

In a professional machine where the portafilter has only a screen on the bottom, and the pour spout. When the brewer starts pumping, it's the cake of espresso that needs to provide the resistance so that proper back pressure is developed and all of that coffee goodness is extracted from the grounds.

In a consumer machine, portafilters typically only have a very small pin hole in the bottom of the portafilter. They sometimes mask it by putting a waffle pattern on the bottom of the portafilter, but look closely, the outlet is only a pinhole. The back pressure if created by this pinhole, and the fact that the machine can pump more water than the pinhole can let out in the same amount of time - the result; pressure.

So if the back pressure is created by the pinhole in a consumer machine, why tamp? It's about channeling and weak brews. If you just drop coffee in without tamping, you'll still get some decent extraction, and decent crema, but when you tamp, the water will not cut channels through the coffee grounds as easily and it will be forced to go through the coffee instead of around it.

The other day I brewed up 10 shots of espresso just dropping a scoop of espresso into the portafilter of the Cuisinart EM-200 that I have on my counter top, a nice unit with a consumer portafilter design. Each one had a nice overall crema, but lacked a bit in flavor and intensity.

I also brewed up 10 shots of espresso and tamped them lightly with a simple tamp that came along with the EM-200, and brewed those; same amount of coffee, same coffee. I alternated to get pairs of shots to taste them essentially side by side. I did my best to get the shots as close as possible in brew time, and in amount of water. I brewed them into a pair of Bodum Pavina glasses - double walled glass to minimize heat loss.

The extraction was better overall with the tamped shots; fuller body, better flavor. You don't need a ton of force to tamp these, but give it a little tamp, seat the coffee and enjoy a better shot.

This Espresso Hand Tamp has a clear top to the handle and is 49mm is diameter, just a bit under 2 inches. Check your portafilter diameter to make sure this works. Otherwise there are other tamps available for different diameters.

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July 16, 2007

Portafilter 101 – Professional vs. Consumer

Portafilters are the magical ingredient that makes the world go around for espresso lovers as it’s responsible for some great taste, body and that wonderful crema. Some folks might argue that it’s the pump, the coffee, the grind, the cup, and on and on. Yes, without the mixture of greatness in all of these the espresso tastes terrible. The portafilter and how you handle it is responsible for the back pressure that allows for a rich extraction of coffee solids from the ground coffee as well as the emulsification of oils that create a delicious crema on the top. The pump driven espresso machine is like a garden hose; there’s plenty of pressure in there, but until you put your thumb across the end of it, you don’t see that pressure in action. There are two ways to get there, and it’s important to understand the difference. ArrowContinue reading: "Portafilter 101 – Professional vs. Consumer"

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November 13, 2006

What does "15-Bar or 19-Bar Pump Driven Espresso Machine" mean?

I have been getting a lot of people writing in asking about what does 10-bar, 15-bar or 19-bar pump driven mean when we talk about espresso machines. First to start out, a "bar" is a scientific term for pressure. It's about equal to an atmosphere of pressure, or about the ambient pressure at sea level (all approximate; we're not in science class here). So, a 15-bar pump will deliver about 15 times the pressure at sea level; it's fairly high pressure. So, when you see 15-bar pump-driven espresso machine, in the description, you should take away that this machine pumps the hot water through the ground espresso at high pressure.

Why is it important to have a Pump Driven Espresso Machine?
There are a couple of kinds of espresso makers out there: Steam driven and Pump driven (there's also manual where you are the pump). Steam driven machines are less expensive, and when the water boils, it develops only 2-3 bars of pressure to push the hot water through the espresso. In order to get the foamy crema on top of an espresso, which is emulsified oil and air, you need the higher pressure of a pump driven espresso machine. So, if you want better tasting, crema topped espresso, go for the pump-driven espresso machines.

Is 19-bar better than 15-bar?
Not necessarily. A lot has to do with how the machine is constructed, and how much of that pressure actually gets applied to the coffee grounds; it could be that a lot of pressure is lost in process, and doesn't actually get to the coffee grounds.

We have reviewed a lot of inexpensive pump driven espresso machines as well as some more expensive ones - check out our reviews in our Espresso Machine archive.

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August 8, 2006

More on Latte Art

More on Latte Art – come on, you know you would love to be able to turn these beauties out yourself; I can’t yet, but I keep trying. I found another good solid site for showing you to take some steam, espresso, and some milk into Latte Art, and thought I would pass it along. This one has some nice photos and diagrams of how to accomplish the seemingly impossible, turning your own milk into a work of art. Me? I am still trying. Stay tuned, maybe I’ll share.

More on Latte Art

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July 31, 2006

Basics on Super Automatic Espresso Machines

We’ve had a lot of people ask about what the big deal is about Super Automatics, and what they can do for you. Well if you have to know, they really can do almost everything but drink the espresso for you. There are a lot of different types, and they offer a lot of really great features that makes having one like having a personal barista in your house.

Overall, a Super Automatic espresso machine will pull beans from a whole bean bin, grind, then tamp them. It will then brew your espresso, using its onboard water reservoir, at high pressure to extract all of the goodness for you to enjoy. The machine will have some settings that will allow the user to set water volume and coffee drop weight so that you can customize the size and strength of your espresso. Super Automatic Espresso makers also have a steaming function through a steam wand. Let’s look at a few features that help set machines apart:

ArrowContinue reading: "Basics on Super Automatic Espresso Machines"

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July 27, 2006

Basics of ESE Espresso - What is an ESE Espresso Pod?

In 1998 a consortium of manufacturers made an agreement to have a single standard for espresso pods and makers to help people around the world to consistently make an excellent espresso. The ESE standard was born. There were 7 founding members and has grown to over 120 members today. ESE Stands for Easy Serving Espresso, and the standard sets the requirements for the pods – 7 grams of coffee, a proper grind, and a shape and diameter that allows it to be used only in ESE approved machines. The pods sandwich the coffee between two layers of sealed filter paper. esepod.jpg
The diameter of the ESE pod is 44-45 millimeters, which is much smaller than the 55-60 mm pods that are available for the “Single Serve” coffee makers that have become popular in the last few years (learn a lot more about Single Serve Coffee at our sister site: The ESE Machines work in a similar way; to promote ease of use, and consistently good espresso. Fill the reservoir with water, turn on the machine, open the foil sealed package containing the E.S.E. pod, drop a pod into the pod holder and lock it into the machine. Turn the machine on and in about 30 seconds you will have a beautifully pulled espresso with a nice head of crema. Clean up is pretty easy too. Open the pod holder, dump the pod in the trash or recycle it, rinse the holder and you are done.

Many espresso machines these days come with optional pod baskets. So, this is to say that you can choose to use espresso ground coffee to fill and tamp into the basket yourself, or use the pod holder to use ESE pods. Obviously we advocate making sure that the machine has a pod adapter. Pods really are a great way to get into making and drinking espresso at home. They can be expensive when compared to whole bean coffee, but we prefer them for convenience and consistency. One study out says that only 1 in 5 households that has an espresso maker uses it on a regular basis. Those 4 out of 5 cite the bother and mess associated with making espresso with ground coffee as a key reason that they stopped using their machine. Viva la pod!

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