How to Make Espresso at Home: Step-by-step Guide and Troubleshooting

How to Make Espresso at Home: Step-by-step Guide and Troubleshooting

Although it's a simple-looking drink, preparing a great espresso is far from easy. With all the steps that go into making espresso, there is a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong... Never fear though, we're here to walk you through the process and help troubleshoot any issues.
With the right tools and techniques, you can make delicious espresso at home that rivals anything you can find at a coffee shop.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to make espresso at home:

Equipment Needed

Step-by-Step Espresso Guide

Heat up your espresso machine.

Allow it to reach the proper brewing temperature before you start. Depending on your machine, this can take up to 20-30 minutes. Starting off with a machine that isn't hot enough will mean there's not enough heat when extracting your espresso - this can lead to under-extraction and a sour taste.

Make sure everything's clean.

Before you start, make sure that there is no residual coffee left from previous usage. Stale, spent coffee grounds don't help make tasty coffee! A dry brush to clear your basket and group head will make all the difference.

Grind your coffee beans.

Each coffee is different, but all espresso recipes are going to call for a very fine grind. You'll need to tweak the size of your grind to get the coffee coming out in the right time, in a process called 'dialling in'. This is a bit of a balancing act - in the simplest terms you want to balance the right amount of coffee with the right extraction time, and get a taste you're happy with. Use your scales to accurately measure the ground coffee according to your recipe – 18g is a good starting point.

Bear in mind that if your grinder runs on a timer, then making your grind finer or coarser will mean that less/more coffee is ground in the time you have set. The grinder has to work harder to grind finer, so won't produce as much coffee, and vice versa. Check the weight each time you make a change.

Distribute the coffee grounds evenly into your portafilter.

Your grinder will naturally dose your coffee into a heap - you need to make this as flat as you can. Whether you use the palm of your hand to knock them into place, or a distribution tool, you want to ensure that no coffee is sitting higher or lower than any other part in your basket. Espresso brews under high pressure, and the water that passes through the coffee bed will want to find the path of least resistance.

If you have a spot where less coffee has built up, the water will all head there, in a process called 'channeling'. You want to avoid channeling at all costs – the coffee that has more interaction with water will over-extract, and the bits that are avoided will be under-extracted. This leads to unbalanced flavours in the cup.

Tamp the coffee grounds firmly.

By the same token, you want to ensure that when you tamp, the force you apply is the same across all parts of the basket. Lay your tamp flat across the top of the portafilter, and check that it's perfectly straight before you press down. You should only press down once, so as not to over-compact the grounds in any way (and create more channelling).

There is also no need to knock the side of the portafilter with the tamp, as some people do. Again, this will just create areas in the coffee bed where water will gravitate towards.

Place your portafilter into the group head of your espresso machine.

Before you do this, brush off any coffee grounds from the rim of the filter basket. You don't want these getting stuck in the shower screen of your machine and going stale. Make sure the portafilter is secure.

Start brewing your espresso shot.

Press the button as soon as you lock your portafilter is in place, so that the grounds aren't in contact with the hot shower screen for too long. This could potentially start to 'cook' the grounds, leading to a loss of the volatile compounds that make coffee so delicious.

Depending on your recipe, the extraction time will be different, but a good starting point is 25-30 seconds. A typical espresso shot will produce twice as much liquid espresso as the grounds that went in - so if you started with 18g of coffee, you would be aiming for 36ml espresso. Each of these numbers is subject to change, however, and ultimately it's a case of finding what you enjoy the taste of the most.

Discard the grounds and serve.

It's tempting to drink your freshly poured espresso straight away, but now is the time to get into good habits!

Take a few seconds to knock out the spent grounds from your portafilter and give the basket a wipe clean. Flush a little bit of water through the group head and pop the portafilter back in, ready for the next shot. Cleanliness of your espresso machine is super-important, and it means that you're ready to make another delicious coffee, without any stale grounds getting in the way.

Once you're done, enjoy your carefully crafted espresso, and think about what you want to have it taste like next time! You'll soon find that the elusive 'god shot' always seems to be just around the corner...

Common Issues and Troubleshooting

- The shot is too sour. This can be caused by several factors, but is typically caused by your shot being too fast. Try slowing the shot down by making your grind finer. You could also add more coffee to the basket, but try and stick to your recipe first, and change the grind only. Make small adjustments to your grind each time, and make sure the weight out of your grinder is as it should be.

- The shot is too bitter. Some coffees (like darker roasts) are naturally more bitter than others, but astringency can also be caused by a shot running for too long. Speed this up by making your grind coarser, but again make sure you're not inadvertently grinding more coffee in the process.

It'll take some trial and error to get the weight out of your grinder correct (if it's grinding for a set amount of time). Of course, if you are single-dosing (just putting in the exact amount of beans you want to grind), then don't worry about that - grind them all!

Preparing espresso is a bit of a learning curve, but when you get the hang of it, it really does become second nature - honestly! Hopefully this guide sets you on the right path, but if you need any other tips, you can always reach out to us at Happy brewing! Find your perfect espresso coffee here.