When I learned how to make espresso, I remember thinking how complicated it was.
All this work for a measly 1.5 oz beverage?!
I quickly grew to love the process and really enjoyed making it my own.
Now I’m convinced sipping your own perfectly pulled espresso shot is one of life’s simplest pleasures.
Ready to get started? Here’s how to make espresso.
These 12 steps will take you from beginner to barista in no time!
As you get experienced with the process you’ll see a few of the steps aren’t necessary every time, but for those just learning how to brew espresso I’d recommend taking the time to go through each one.
It’s recommended you top off your machine with filtered water, meaning water with low mineral content. Filtered water does two things:
Remember: You’ll need enough water both for brewing your espresso and (if necessary) steaming your milk.
Or empty it if that wasn’t done before. Take a damp cloth and wipe out the inside of the portafilter basket to remove any leftover grounds clinging to the inside.
Weighing your coffee is the easiest way to get a consistently great espresso. The amount of coffee beans you need depends on your recipe, and generally it’s expressed as a ratio of the weight of ground coffee to finished espresso.
Your ratio likely falls somewhere in the 1:1.5 to 1:2.5 range.
Let’s take a look at two recipes using a 1:1.5 ratio of ground coffee to final espresso:
If you want a stronger espresso, decrease the ratio (meaning less water per gram of ground coffee). For a weaker espresso, do the opposite!
This chart does a fantastic job of explaining espresso brewing ratios.
You’ll also want to weigh the ground coffee before and after grinding to ensure you hit your target weight. And to ensure you get as close to the recipe as possible (within 0.1g) you’ll want to measure the final ground coffee weight in the object you’ll be using to brew your espresso: the portafilter.
(Don’t have a scale that measures within 0.1 g? You should consider getting one. This kitchen scale is very affordable and will give you the needed accuracy.)
Pre-weigh your portafilter if you don’t know exactly how much it weighs. In Step 5, when we weigh out the ground coffee, you’ll need to subtract the portafilter’s weight to figure out exactly how much ground coffee you have.
You’re looking for a fine grind. What does that mean?
You want the coffee to be finer than granulated table sugar but not as fine as powdered sugar.
Some grinders will have fineness settings ranging from extra fine to coarse, but not all “fine” settings are the same on all machines.
It’ll take several runs to dial in the optimal setting on your grinder.
This is probably the time where I make this super important disclaimer:
The grinder is the most important part of your espresso, maybe moreso than your espresso machine!
Blade grinders will not do. You’ll want a conical burr grinder, and ideally a decent quality one. I’ve used a Capresso conical burr grinder with good results. The Baratza Encore is another great, affordable grinder.
As a beginner you won’t want to go all-in on your equipment, but if you ever reach the stage where you’re ready to upgrade, upgrade your grinder first!
If you can grind it directly into the portafilter, do that. If not, grind and then transfer.
As mentioned in Step 3, your goal should be to get your ground coffee within 0.1 g of your recipe.
Holding the tamper like shown in the image below, press down on the grounds to get an even bed. You’ll know the grounds are level if the handle of the tamper is pointing straight back up and perpendicular to the brim of the portafilter.
How much should you tamp?
I know, I know. That’s a non-answer.
Honestly, some people say the tamp is super important, but I’m not one of those people.
Press down firmly enough so that the grounds are compacted and level. You don’t need to push down hard enough to make diamonds. Ultimately the machine will be putting 9 bars of pressure on the puck, which is around 130 lbs of pressure. You’ll want to push down with about 30 pounds of pressure.
(That’s like a quarter of the pressure your machine will provide.)
Pro Tip: If you’re not sure how much pressure 30 pounds is, LifeHacker offers a good tip: Push down on your bathroom scale until it reads 30.0 pounds!
Just like you pre-weighed your portafilter to allow you to accurately measure the weight of your grounds, you must also pre-weigh your coffee cup to accurately measure the weight of your finished espresso!
Knowing how much final product you brewed will allow you to modify your process to dial in your results.
You don’t need to get this technical, but I’d rather give you all the info and let you choose what you want to ignore.
You do this for two reasons:
Note: To prevent your fresh grounds from sitting there while your water heats up, make sure your machine is on and ready to go before grinding.
No surprise here. Simple stuff.
Back to the overly complicated stuff!
But in all seriousness, you can’t reliably replicate your shot without knowing how long you’re letting it run. A stopwatch or even a cell phone timer will do.
See if your roaster has a suggested brew time (i.e. read the bag to see what it says). If you don’t see a run time, try somewhere between 27-29 seconds.
It’s finally time to brew!
When you start to brew, start your timer. Brew for the desired length of time and then…
Give the portafilter a few seconds for the final drops to drip into your cup and then pull the cup from the tray and place it on the scale.
Did you hit your target weight? If so, great! If not:
And that’s how to make espresso!
Keep experimenting with individual variables and that’s how to make the perfect espresso shot.