For many coffee lovers, the inner-barista that lurks just beneath the surface means that it is all too easy to develop an espresso obsession as we seek to create the perfect brew.
Learning how to make an espresso is not dissimilar to learning an art form and although the concept of brewing the perfect cup of coffee might seem reasonably straightforward, it is the science of getting the ingredients and sequence of events just right, as well as having the right equipment to achieve coffee nirvana.
A lot of mystery tends to surrounds an espresso, and a surprising number of people don’t really know exactly what it is, let alone know how to make it or what it should really taste like.
Part of the blame for this confusion should probably be aimed at some of the big brand coffee chains and makers, who offer numerous variations of an espresso, which makes it harder to spot the real McCoy.
An espresso is not a coffee bean or even a type of roast, it is purely and simply a method of brewing coffee. This means that virtually any coffee could be brewed as an espresso, although that is not a route to recommend as some types of coffee taste better than others when brewed in this way.
Espresso coffee beans
You will find bags of coffee that are labeled as espresso and that is because the beans have been ground to a fine size that is best suited to the demands of espresso making methods.
You might also find certain blends that have been specifically crafted in order to create just the right balance of flavors, when they are brewed to make an espresso coffee.
The fundamental reason why the beans need to be finely ground is that in order to make an espresso, you have to push hot water through a compact puck of ground coffee at a high pressure, so make sure you get this part of the equation right and choose coffee beans that have been finely ground and are considered a suitable blend for creating an excellent espresso.
Man and machine
In order to achieve perfect harmony between man and machine when it comes to brewing the ultimate espresso, it requires an element of human judgement that is combined with mechanical precision.
Something that is relatively simple to accomplish is actually requires a number of different things to align, if you are going to earn your barista stripes and create an espresso of the highest order.
If will definitely help if you have a machine like a Breville Infuser espresso machine, or any other model that can actually deliver and maintain the 9 bars of pressure throughout the 20-30 seconds required to make a perfect espresso shot.
Choosing the blend
Your ideal selection criteria should involve choosing coffee beans which possess sweet, strong aromas and flavors and you also need to ensure that the beans are light to medium roasted.
A popular misconception is that dark roast beans are best for espresso but they can produce a more bitter taste, so go for something lighter.
Grinding the beans
The way that you grind the beans does actually have a strong influence on how your espresso turns out.
If they are too fine and tightly packed into the filter, the water will not be able to get through properly, but if they are too coarse, the water will end up flowing too freely. You will find that many baristas uses and espresso grinder, so take the hint and look at using one yourself if you want a chance of achieving perfection in your cup.
Your shot at perfection
The moment of truth is when the ground coffee beans meet with the water (which should be filtered for best results).
The water that you use to extract your espresso from the grounds will have a big impact on how your espresso turns out, so always use filtered water and make sure that the espresso machine is cleaned out regularly, as chemical or mineral build-up can quickly ruin the flavor, no matter how well you prepared the coffee in the first place.
The right cup
You need to use a small and tapered cup, so that you get the distinctive foam on the top of the espresso, and warm the cup beforehand using another source other than the water from the espresso machine.
A cold cup will cause your espresso shot to start losing its flavor immediately it hits the cup, so don’t fall at the final hurdle.
Warm your espresso cup and enjoy the satisfying reward for your labor when you taste an espresso that any barista would be proud to put their name to.
David M. Lang is a short order cook. He loves to write about food and drink on the internet. His posts can be found on many cooking and entertaining blog sites.