5 Essential Elements to Create the Perfect Espresso Coffee

Espresso means “express” coffee, meaning that’s prepared upon request and at a moment’s notice. But despite this name, espresso can be fussy. So how do you find the balance to make the perfect coffee? How do you deliver the basics of this involved brewing method? Well, we can start by discussing the key variables that have the biggest impact on your approach to perfecting your espresso brewing skills.

Espresso is a small cup of very concentrated coffee. Typically 2.5 ounces of coffee are needed for a double espresso, which is served in a demitasse cup. It is composed of both a crema (foam) and a liquid element. Espresso is made using a specialized espresso machine that forcefully percolates hot water through ground coffee that has been tamped (compacted). Typically, it takes 20 to 30 seconds for the water to percolate through the puck (coffee cake), which is normally held in a portafilter “coffee handle.” The quality of the espresso is determined from its flavor, aroma, mouth feel, after taste and appearance.

Sound complex?! I’m with you on that one. So how do you get it right everytime? Read on to find out how…

How to Make Perfect Coffee: The 5 Key Elements

1. The Right Machine

To make perfect espresso, you need good espresso brewing equipment. The brewing machine should be capable of forcing water at the right temperature and at the right amount of pressure through the evenly ground and compressed coffee cake. This leaves out steam-powered machines such as the Krups departmental store models that were common in the 80s and early 90s. Instead, you should use a piston or pump driven espresso machine. Most hand-pull piston machines are beautiful objects that are used to make great coffee. Moreover, pump-driven electric machines are also widely available. The machine is an essential part of the equation, but the barista or machine-operator, is also important!

Before you start brewing, warm the machine. Every part that will come into contact with the cake should be warm. This includes the portafilter, brew head, cup, and tamper. Once the machine is properly warmed, run about 2 oz. of water through its brew head to further increase the temperature. Ideally, you should use pre-heated thick porcelain cups or pre-heated double walled stainless steel cups. You can preheat them by putting hot water into the cups, but be sure to dry them out before percolating brewed espresso into them.

2. Great Roasting – Critical for Perfect Coffee

You will need good, even and finely ground beans to make perfect espresso coffee. Despite the common misconception, fine grind does not always produce the best crema since the water has to percolate through the coffee cake evenly. This means that you should instead opt for a grind that is a little coarser as it helps in even percolation. Nonetheless, this should still be on the fine end of the grind range.

Ideally, the perfect coffee should be made from a coarser grind and about 40 lbs. of tamping pressure, instead of going for a fine grind with wimpy tamping. The choice of grind and tamping pressure are related, and you will have to ramp up your barista skills so you can sense when you have them in concert. Apart from this, the degree of the coffee roast is another changing variable and should dictate changes in grind. Lighter roasts tend to be less water-permeable, while darker roasts allow the water to pass through and saturate them more easily.

It therefore makes sense to go for a fine grind if your coffee has a darker roast, as this holds back more water to offset the water permeability. Do the opposite if your coffee is of a lighter roast. However, it has been noted that darker roasts compress a lot easier when tamped which tends to make the cake more impermeable to water. To sum it up, use a coarser grinder with dark roast coffees and go for a finer grind with light roast coffee.

The tamping pressure is just as important, and you can check it by taking it out a scale and tamping the coffee with a portafilter resting on it to measure how hard you are pushing. It is critical that you learn how to apply the right amount of pressure consistently. It really doesn’t matter whether you apply 30 pounds or 40, the important thing is to tune your grind to your tamp, which means that you have to apply the same pressure every time. Apart from consistent tamp pressure, you should also ensure that you give a level tamp.

The next variable you need to consider is the amount of coffee, ideally, you should use 20g to 26g for a double and 14g for a single espresso. Your best bet is to try and achieve a good extraction using the traditional parameters before adding volume as per your taste.

Overall, any espresso barista should develop a feel for tamping pressure and grind. That is why people have no qualms about spending fortunes on good grinders and accurate tampers. But coffee roasting and grinding is a delicate process and if you do not have a nice, even grind, then you can’t make perfect coffee. It is better to purchase high quality roasted coffee from a wholesale coffee supplier.

3. The Importance of a Great Barista

The importance of a good barista cannot be understated when it comes to producing quality espresso. The barista must know how to grind, dose and tamp coffee consistently to ensure an even extraction of flavors. Every time an adjustment is made to grind coarser or smoother, the barista must taste a shot of the espresso produced at this new grind setting to determine quality.

Espresso shots are also often served with steamed milk in the form of flat whites, cappuccino, macchiato and café lattes. Once the barista prepares a shot of espresso, their attention turns to steaming milk to the correct consistency and temperature. The desired result is smooth, sweet and creamy with no visible bubbles. This is called micro foam and steaming the milk and artistically pouring the micro foam takes a lot of practice and skill.

The barista has to perform these skills consistently and in many cases, under pressure. During slow times, machine cleaning and maintenance become never ending tasks. Good baristas are key to attracting loyal customers so there is a clear incentive for café owners to train them well.

4. Importance of Quality Green Beans

There are many factors within the stage of picking, drying, milling, and grading that affect the outcome of green coffee color and quality of roast. The resulting bean characteristics have a direct impact on the cup acidity, flavor and body. The best green coffee beans shouldn’t be shriveled, ragged, boat shaped, hollow, or contain other formation flaws. In some cases, the beans may open during roasting and almost always produce a soft roast that is hard to grid evenly.

High quality beans will not contain formation flaws, whereas most coffee beans that have these flaws will remain pale and under-roasted at normal roast. Consequently, green beans with these flaws require over roasting, leading to a high percentage loss in weight at an average of 18 to 20 percent.

Over the years, it has been found that bean quality is not necessarily the result of origin, but rather the result of superior plant husbandry, and proper drying, milling, sorting and grading.

5. The Crema (Foam Element)

Crema is an essential part of the espresso beverage. Crema forms part of the visual allure of espresso, the mouth feel, the flavor, the aromatics and the long lasting after taste. From its technical definition, crema is made of gas bubbles evenly suspended in a liquid film with high surface tension between the molecules. The foam should be persistent and compact and it should last two minutes before the suspended water molecules drain to release the entrapped gas and let the liquid underneath show through.

If your espresso has the perfect crema, then you are in the ballpark. It means that you had all the variables of tamping, temperature, pressure, extraction, etc. under control.

If the crema has a very light tan or yellow color, then it could be due to under extraction, but this could also indicate a low water temperature. You can increase extraction time grinding the coffee finer, or tamping harder. Check the machine’s temperature.

Does the beverage have an extremely light tan dot in the middle of extremely dark crema color? You could have over-extracted the coffee. Create the perfect coffee by making the grind a little coarser, and back off on the pressure when you tamp the coffee. It could also be the case that you used too much coffee.

The Benefits of a Good Cup of Espresso

As long as you do not drink too much, espresso is good for your health. The preparation process is designed to extract all the juice from the ground coffee and this includes antioxidants that can help boost your health. It is also a great way to increase energy levels. Research suggests that consuming caffeine in moderate doses stimulates the central nervous system and improves exercise performance. Drinking espresso may also result in a reduction of appetite, allowing you to consume fewer calories.

By following this guide, achieving all of the elements to get a cup of perfect coffee will be as easy as ever.

William De Nass coffee can supply you with high quality roasted beans via mail or for local pick up in Sydney. To find out more about our roasted coffee click here.