Once you have mastered the art of making a good espresso and learned how to make an espresso like a professional barista it will be like you have discovered a new drink that you have never tasted before.
Without realising it, almost every espresso you have ever tasted (or milk-based espresso drink such as cappuccino or latte) is either sour, bitter or tasteless.
A double espresso needs to be extracted through ground coffee for between 25 and 30 seconds in order to produce a strong and full-flavoured beverage that is intense yet sweet and satisfying all at the same time.
If the espresso is delivered in under 20 seconds then it will be sour, watery and diluted because the water has not mixed properly with the ground coffee beans but if it takes over 30 seconds then it will be bitter and over-extracted because the water has mixed for too long with the ground coffee.
It’s not a complex process to get your espresso just right. It all starts with making sure you have the correct equipment followed by understanding the variables that combine the right equipment with the correct human interaction.
What do you need to make a great espresso?
You need a good espresso machine. The interesting thing is that you do not need a really expensive one. If you choose correctly you can buy a cheap espresso machine and still achieve a high-quality espresso.
Whole dark roast coffee beans. Good fresh coffee beans are crucial to a great tasting espresso, cappuccino or latte. Here is a selection of beans to consider that are specifically blended to be made into espresso.
You need a good coffee bean grinder. For the best results and a great espresso you need to get a burr grinder. Getting the grind fineness just right is crucial to delivering your double espresso within a 25-30 second window to get the optimum flavour.
A good coffee tamper allows you to compress your coffee correctly again to ensure that your espresso is delivered from the machine to your cup in 25-30 seconds
An espresso shot glass. A single espresso contains 30ml of coffee and a double espresso 60ml. Your mission for a double espresso is to deliver 60ml of coffee into your glass in 25-30 seconds for the perfect espresso. Get yourself a shot glass so that you can see the 60ml line and measure that you have got it right.
Always filter your water before adding it to your espresso machine. Some of the good espresso machines including bean to cup coffee machines come with a water container that allows the addition of a water filter to remove the impurities like limescale in hard water area’s. Coffee is mostly water so a good quality filtered water makes a big difference to the taste.
Let’s break each of these down into a bit more detail in order to understand the best value for money way to achieve the perfect espresso
A good espresso machine
There are a number of different brands for you to choose from and it really depends on what your budget is and how close you want to get to never having to visit a coffee shop again because if you choose the right machine you will soon be making coffee that is better than a coffee shop.
If you regularly visit a coffee shop and spend £3 a time then you can count a new espresso machine as an investment that you will recover within just a few months of making your coffee yourself
If you are looking to dip your toe in the water but don’t want to spend hundreds of pounds at the outset then you can consider the Swan SK2210 retro pump espresso machine. This is a very well priced machine for the features that it comes with. You get a 15 bar pump that will push water through the ground coffee to ensure you get your 60ml of coffee delivered in 25 seconds. We like the pressure gage that allows you to see if you have the correct dose of coffee that is tamped correctly to get your coffee extracted in the required time. If the needle is in the middle during coffee delivery then you have it just right. Too high or too low during coffee delivery then you can adjust the amount of coffee or the coffee fineness to bring it back in line.
There are a number of brands that manufacture traditional espresso machines and bean to cup machines like Jura, Melitta or Miele but what you are trying to achieve is the right balance between an espresso machine that first and foremost will produce a great coffee but it also provides excellent value for money and will reliably produce consistent quality coffee for years.
They are both experts in their respective fields but they specialise in different areas of the espresso machine market.
Delonghi are the market leaders in coffee machines and their specific area of expertise is bean to cup coffee machines
A bean to cup coffee machine will grind your beans, tamp and compress the ground coffee for you and then push water through the coffee and deliver a double espresso into your cup and all that is required from you is the press of one button.
Delonghi has around 30 bean to cup coffee machines in their range at any one time and the prices range from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand pounds so how do you know which one offers the best value for money?
We have reviewed them all and recommend 6 or 7 for serious consideration. The Delonghi Autentica ETAM 29.510B is in our opinion the best all-round bean to cup coffee machine when you combine the cost with the features and the quality of coffee in your cup.
It allows you to control variables such as water temperature, amount of coffee ground and the amount of water delivered into your cup. These features are normally only found in bean to cup coffee machines that cost a lot more.
Take a look at all of our Delonghi bean to cup machine recommendations with full detailed reviews on all of them.
Bean to cup coffee machines are sometimes referred to as “fully automatic” espresso machines that literally deliver an espresso from bean to cup at the press of a button.
This is a great option from a convenience perspective. however, if you are willing to commit a little bit of time to make the coffee yourself then a Sage espresso machine takes it to another level where you are fully in control of all the variables that will enable you to replicate a coffee shop experience in your own home.
If you think about it, you don’t see a bean to cup coffee machine being used in any of the high street coffee chains because there is more to a great espresso than can be achieved by a machine.
Sage espresso machines are semi-automatic machines that enable you to control all of the variables in the same way as Starbucks or Costa coffee.
There are currently 8 espresso machines in the Sage range and we recommend 6 of them.
By far the best value for money Sage espresso machine is the Barista Express. You can select from 18 different grind settings so that you can fine-tune the grind level perfectly for the coffee type you are using. It comes with a tamper so that you can personally compress the coffee ready for extraction. It comes with an integrated burr grinder that allows you to choose exactly how much coffee you want for each espresso. The coffee is delivered at exactly 93 degrees which is the perfect temperature for espresso.
You can see all of our Sage espresso machine recommendations with full reviews.
The best coffee machine in the world will not produce a good cup of coffee if you don’t use freshly roasted coffee beans. Look for the “roasted on” date not the “use by date”.
Beans roasted in the last 4 weeks will deliver the best flavour when ground down and brewed. Always grind your beans just before brewing to retain maximum freshness and flavour.
Try as many different blends and strengths as possible to find out what works best for you as everyone’s palate is different.
Here are some of the most popular coffee beans for espresso.
A good coffee grinder
Grinding your coffee beans correctly is a crucial part of making a great espresso.
You need to deliver 18-20 grams of coffee that is ground finely enough that it is not powder but kind of like a sandy texture.
The important part is to deliver 60ml of coffee in 25-30 seconds so you play around with the grind size and grind amount until you achieve that.
If you want a great espresso then stay away from blade grinders that chop up your beans into different sizes that are not suitable for espresso. Blade grinders are more suitable for filter coffee machines or cafetieres.
We have a detailed article on the best coffee grinders but for if you want to make an espresso like a professional then you need a burr grinder that crushes your coffee beans to your exact specifications.
The best of the bunch is the Sage the smart grinder pro that has 60 different grind settings and you can choose the time of the grind within 0.2 of a second so you get the dose weight spot on.
It is a little bit pricy so if you are looking for a quality grinder that costs a lot less than the Sage smart grinder pro you can take a look at the Krups Expert GVX231
What else makes a great espresso?
Once you have 18-20 grams of finely ground coffee in your portafilter use a coffee tamper to press down lightly so that the coffee is compacted but not so much that the water can’t force its way through.
If you want to take the guess work out then you go for a coffee tamper that applies exactly 30 pounds of pressure to ensure the coffee is perfectly compressed.
Use filtered water and a coffee shot glass that shows you when you reach exactly 60ml.
With a good espresso machine, a good grinder, some great coffee combined with the application of the above guidelines I am not joking when I say that you will be perfectly equipped to make yourself an espresso that is better than you can buy in any coffee shop at a fraction of the cost.