Espresso is a method of brewing coffee that uses an espresso machine to force pressurised water through a finely ground, tightly packed bed of coffee. The resulting beverage is thick, creamy and concentrated, and can be consumed as is, or used as a base for long blacks, cappuccinos, lattes, flat whites and more.
More about Espresso
In many parts of the world, and most definitely here in Australia, espresso has almost become synonymous with coffee. Almost every cafe in the country - unless it’s a specialised filter brew bar - has an espresso machine.
So where did espresso come from, and how did it become so popular?
In the early 1880s, Angelo Moriondo, an Italian inventor, patented a machine that used steam and water to brew coffee. This invention is largely credited as the oldest precursor to modern espresso machines, although it was never commercially produced. Luigi Bezzera and Desidero Pavoni brought an adaptation of Moriondo’s design to the World Fair in 1906, serving espresso coffee to customers for the very first time.
By the 1920s, coffee was spreading throughout Europe after the First World War, and the first marketing campaigns for espresso were launched by Pier Arduino. These positioned espresso coffee as fashionable, thus setting in motion the worldwide phenomena we know today.
The first lever coffee machine was invented in the late 1940s by Archille Gaggia, adding pressure to the brewing process. The ensuing big body and foam on top of the beverage was initially rejected by customers, however Gaggia started referring to it as ‘crema’ (meaning cream), and it became a major selling point of the beverage and the machine.
The first coffee machines with mechanical pumps were introduced by Faema in 1961, brewing the coffee at 9 bars of pressure. In 1970, La Marzocco was the first manufacturer to introduce a dual boiler system, allowing for vastly improved temperature stability.
In 1978, the first La Marzocco machines were imported to the US. And by the early 1990s, they were used across the US in almost all of Starbucks’ cafes, with the large boilers suited to the very large and very milky beverages that they serve.
In Australia, it was in the 1950s that espresso was widely introduced, thanks to the influx of post-war migrants from Italy. This coffee and cafe culture has continued to develop and the Australian - and particularly Melbourne - coffee scene is regarded a world leader.
Espresso is best prepared with a coffee that is roasted medium-dark or to ‘espresso’ profile. If you plan to add milk to your espresso, an espresso blend is most suited. If you plan to enjoy your espresso black, choose any espresso roast coffee with a flavour profile that you enjoy, which might be a blend or a single origin.
See our easy-to-follow guide below for more hints and tips on how to brew espresso, and if you have any unanswered questions, see our FAQ.
How to brew Espresso
About 30 seconds for the extraction, plus time to froth milk if you’re serving the coffee with milk
Espresso machine prices range from $500 up to many thousands
What You'll Need:
Espresso machine, grinder, scales, coffee, filtered water, amp, plus a milk jug and milk if you desire Master making home espresso by following our easy steps below!
Here's the step-by-step guide to Home Espresso
First, it’s important to understand the variables involved in an espresso recipe, so that you can easily follow one, and also so you can begin to understand how to make adjustments to achieve the best possible tasting espresso from any given beans.
Dose is the amount of coffee used, measured in grams. This is determined by the size of the filter basket you are using (usually printed on the side of the basket, or will be outlined in your appliance’s manual). We recommend using only +/- 1g of the basket size, as an over or under-packed basket can cause inconsistent extractions. The higher dose, the more espresso you can make.
Yield is the amount of espresso that has been extracted, measured in grams. There are only so many desirable flavours that can be extracted from espresso, and therefore there is a limit to the amount of espresso you can extract from your given dose. A higher yield will result in a more dilute espresso, with a less intense mouthfeel and body. A lower yield will result in a more concentrated espresso with intense mouthfeel and a bigger body.
Grind refers to the size of the particles of coffee, and determines how long the coffee and water remain in contact with each other. This in turn determines what parts of the coffee are extracted and end up in the cup. A grind that is too coarse will pour fast and result in an under extracted espresso. This is likely to be watery with sour or acidic flavours. A grind that is too fine will pour slowly and result in an over extracted coffee. This is likely to taste burnt, bitter and astringent.
We provide espresso recipes with all of our espresso roast coffees. These recipes outline the Dose, Yield, Time, Temperature and Brew Ratio. The Brew Ratio is the dose and yield expressed as a ratio. You can use this ratio to determine your yield if your dose is different to what is provided in the recipe. If a ratio is not provided, start with a ratio of 1:2, and work up or down from there.
1. Turn your espresso machine on and allow it to come up to temperature.
Ensure that you have enough water in your water reservoir; top up if needed. It’s best to use filtered water, which will both minimize the scale build up in your machine and produce the best tasting espresso.
Most espresso machines will have either a thermostat display or an indicator light to let you know when the machine is up to temperature.
2. Weigh and grind your coffee.
As discussed, the dose of coffee is determined by the size of your portafilter baskets.
You can weigh your coffee either directly in the portafilter, or into a dosing cup - depending on the size of your scales. Tare the portafilter or dosing cup on your scales, grind your coffee into the portafilter/cup and then weigh. If you have too little, top it up with a little more coffee. If you have too much, spoon out some grinds until you have your desired dose.
If you’ve ground the coffee into a dosing cup, tip it into your portafilter. Tap the portafilter to ‘collapse’ or distribute the grinds, so the bed of coffee is level.
Bending your elbow but keeping your wrist straight, hold your tamper similar to a bicycle handle. Using your weight through your upper body, push down firmly on the coffee to create an even, compact bed of coffee for the water to pass through.
Insert the portafilter into the machine, being careful not to hit the portafilter on the body of the machine. This can disrupt the bed of coffee, causing it to extract unevenly.
We recommend brewing manually (meaning you start and stop the extraction yourself) rather than using the preset volumes. At home, you’re typically only making a couple of coffees at a time, and extracting manually can allow you greater control over the extraction, ensuring it sits within your recipe. If you want to use the automatic volumes, we suggest setting them up afresh each time you change the coffee that you’re brewing.
Sit your coffee cup (or two cups, if you’re splitting the shot) on your scales on the drip tray and tare the scales. We recommend splitting a 20g dose over two small cups (approx 200ml each). If you want a strong coffee, you can use the full extraction in one cup.
Activate the machine, starting your timer at the same time (if your machine doesn’t have an inbuilt shot timer) and allow the coffee to brew. Stop the extraction around 2g before you hit your target yield, as it will continue to extract after you press the button. Note the time it has taken for your espresso to brew.
5. Assess your extraction and adjust the grind, if required.
It’s at this point that you will be able to assess your extraction. The time the shot has run in will be able to help you here, along with smelling and tasting the coffee.
A target time will usually be provided with the espresso recipe. If you don’t have a target extraction time, somewhere between 28-34 seconds is a pretty standard window.
If you’ve extracted your target yield in less time, it will likely taste under-extracted and you will need to fine up your grind and start again.
If you’ve extracted your target yield in more time, it will likely taste over-extracted and you will need to coarsen up your grind and start again.
We recommend making small, incremental adjustments, and grinding out at least a dose worth of coffee in between, as there will be ground coffee sitting in the dispersion chute of your grinder.
Repeat steps 2-5 until you’re happy with how the espresso is tasting.
6. Texture the milk
If you would like to add milk to your espresso, prepare your milk for steaming. Use an appropriately sized jug for the amount of milk you’re steaming. This will depend on how many coffees you’re making, and how big your cups are. A 360ml jug will be suitable for one standard sized coffee; a 600ml jug for two standard coffees or one large one.
There are essentially two things happening when you texture milk, which we refer to as stretching and spinning. Stretching refers to the increase in volume of the milk, as air is incorporated. It’s best to stretch the milk at the beginning, when the milk is still cold; if you try to incorporate air once the milk is warm, you’ll end up with large, dry bubbles that are impossible to smooth out.
Spinning refers to incorporating the air you’ve added, whilst bringing the milk up to temperature. This happens throughout the entire process and makes up the bulk of milk texturing. It’s important to keep a steady whirlpool so that the milk heats and textures evenly.
Start with a clean milk jug and cold, fresh milk. Fill your jug to about 1cm below the base of the spout, then place the milk wand into the jug so the tip sits just below the surface of the milk. Activate the steam wand, and slowly lower your milk jug so that the steam tip is sitting just at the surface of the milk. It should make a slight, muted, distant sounding hiss - if it sounds more like a slurp or growl, you’re probably adding too much air or the tip is too close to the surface or too low in the jug. Stretching should only happen for the first few seconds; when the milk feels warm to touch, raise the jug so the tip sits slightly lower in the milk. Position the jug so that the milk forms a whirlpool, ensuring that the milk heats evenly. Everyone holds the jug slightly differently and it will take some practice to feel comfortable.
You can tell the milk is at the right temperature when it slightly changes in colour, texture and volume, and there will be a distinct lowering in pitch of the sound of the milk. The jug will feel just too hot to touch (although this is subjective!). Turn the steam wand off and allow it to come to a complete stop before removing it from your milk. Remember to always wipe the wand immediately with a damp cloth.
Once you have textured the milk, it’s time to pour! First, you can swirl your jug to improve the texture. You’ll notice it becomes shinier as you swirl. It should resemble something between runny cream and wet paint, depending on how much microfoam you’ve made. Swirl the espresso in the cup to break up the crema a little. Bring the cup and jug together, and angle them towards each other. Pour slowly into the centre of the cup from a height of about 4cm, then when the volume reaches about three quarters up the cup, bring the jug closer to the surface and pour faster, this will help the microfoam glide across the surface and produce a pattern. Keep your movements small and move from the wrist, keeping your grip on the jug steady. And remember practice makes perfect!
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Your Espresso Coffee Questions, Answered
Here are the most common questions we receive regarding Espresso Coffee. If you have any more questions, please get in contact!
You’ll get best results with espresso using a medium-dark or ‘espresso’ roast, about 7-14 days from roasting. Check out our coffees suitable for espresso or contact usfor a recommendation suited to your preferences.
Espresso is brewed at high pressure resulting in a beverage that is thick, creamy and concentrated. It’s this texture, mouthfeel and concentration that sets espresso apart from other brewing methods.
Espresso can taste stronger than other brew methods due to its high concentration. In terms of caffeine, the high pressure brewing of espresso can extract more caffeine, making the same volume of espresso stronger in caffeine than other brewing methods, such as filter coffee. However, in practice, we drink a far greater volume of filter coffee than espresso, so a standard serve of filter, in fact, usually contains more caffeine.
Whether it’s worth you buying an espresso machine for home largely depends on how often you’ll use it. Because buying quality espresso equipment involves quite a large outlay, it will take some time to make that cost back (versus buying the same amount of coffees at a cafe). If you’ll use it daily and you’re committed to learning how to brew espresso well, we think espresso machines are a great investment for home.
Espresso machines vary a lot in price, and what is value for money really depends on your budget and priorities. We wouldn’t suggest buying anything that can’t approximate the quality of cafe espresso, so for that reason we love the Breville Bambino Plus. It’s not the cheapest option out there but it is capable of brewing cafe quality coffee and we get consistently great results from it. A quality grinder is also essential to making good espresso, and we recommend pairing the Bambino Plus with the Breville Smart Grinder Pro.
It can take a bit of practice, but it’s certainly possible to make great espresso at home. Quality equipment, including machine and grinder, are essential to making good espresso at home (see the FAQ above for recommendations). Making espresso requires attention to detail, and it’s important to follow a recipe if you want to get consistent results. Follow our guide above, and if you have any questions, feel free to contact us. We also offer espresso making courses - check out our training options. Remember espresso takes a lot of practice to get right, especially milk steaming, pouring and latte art. Keep practicing and your espresso coffees will improve!
Making espresso coffee requires medium-dark roast coffee, ground finely. To be true espresso, it must be brewed at high pressure (9 bar as standard).
You will need an espresso machine to brew true espresso - we recommend the Breville Bambino Plus. You can brew manual imitation espresso using a Nanopresso and some people liken Stovetop coffee to espresso - check out our range of Bialetti Stovetops.
Yes, there certainly is decaffeinated espresso coffee! Our Mexico El Tucan is decaffeinated and roasted for espresso. It’s also organic, and super tasty!
Explore other Brew Methods
There are so many ways to brew delicious coffee. Take a look other methods on our brew guide page
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