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All About Coffee – Espresso Basics

Looking for a boost or a tasty drink that never cease to surprise? Dive into the world of coffee and check out what makes the espresso wild!

The rich and aromatic coffee beans that are enjoyed worldwide are derived from the seeds of coffee cherries. These cherries are carefully cultivated and handpicked in over 50 countries, with Brazil and Vietnam leading the production of coffee, yielding millions of pounds annually. After harvesting, the seeds are meticulously washed to eliminate any remaining fruit fragments and then spread out to dry. This is what we refer to as green coffee, unroasted beans that are poised to unveil their full flavor profile.

The coffee roasting process spans a spectrum from green to light, medium, and dark roasts, each stage fundamentally altering the bean’s characteristics, including caffeine content and flavor profile.

While dark roasts dominate the market, particularly in commercial and café settings, many people find greater appeal in medium or light roasts, as darker roasts although mask bean imperfections, they also destroy aromas making darker roasts less exciting experience.

Lightly roasted coffee beans retain a wealth of their original flavors and boast the highest caffeine content, while medium roasts harmoniously blend roasting and bean flavors, delivering a sweeter profile than dark roasts and avoiding the burnt flavor associated with darker beans.

Choosing Coffee Beans

The journey to a perfect espresso begins with selecting the right coffee beans, a crucial step often overlooked. As an intense and concentrated brewing method, espresso demands high-quality beans to extract their full flavor potential. Just like in any culinary endeavor, the quality of ingredients is paramount to success.

Freshness is of utmost importance. Coffee beans start to lose their flavor and aroma within two weeks of roasting. Therefore, using beans that have been opened within the last two weeks is essential for ensuring the most flavorful and flavorful espresso.

Typically, light to medium roast beans are preferred for espresso due to their vibrant acidity, delicate nuances, and potential health benefits. These beans retain more antioxidants and chlorogenic acid compared to darker roasts, which may offer health advantages such as improved heart health and reduced inflammation.

By selecting fresh, light to medium roast beans, we lay the foundation for a truly exceptional espresso experience, one that harmonizes flavor, health, and well-being.

In the world of coffee beans, there exists a clear distinction between Robusta and Arabica, two varieties that differ significantly in their characteristics and appeal. While Robusta beans are easier to cultivate and produce, they tend to possess a less refined flavor profile. Arabica, on the other hand, is renowned for its delicate and nuanced taste, earning it a reputation as the superior choice among discerning coffee enthusiasts.

Arabica: A Symphony of Flavors

The oval shaped Arabica coffee beans are prized for their complex flavor profiles, often encompassing notes of chocolate, citrus, floral, and nutty. These delightful flavors arise from a combination of factors, including the bean’s origin, altitude of cultivation, washing process, and roasting method.

Caffeine content: 0.8 – 1.5%

Robusta: A Caffeine Boost

The circular shaped Robusta coffee beans contain approximately twice the caffeine content of Arabica beans, making them a popular choice for those seeking a stronger energy boost. However, Robusta beans often have a bitter aftertaste and lack the aromatic complexity of Arabica beans.

Caffeine content: 1.7 – 3.5%

Health Benefits of Coffee

Regular consumption of Arabica coffee has been linked to various health benefits, including:

  • Enhancing cognitive function
    Studies suggest that coffee consumption may improve memory, focus, and reaction time.
  • Protecting against chronic diseases
    Research indicates that coffee consumption may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and liver disease.
  • Boosting metabolism
    Coffee may increase metabolism and aid in weight management.

Espresso Preparation

Espresso is not simply a type of coffee bean; it’s a brewing technique that extracts the coffee’s complex flavors and aromas using high pressure and high temperature water. This process results in a highly concentrated beverage that is bolder and more flavorful than regular coffee.

People often misunderstand espresso, confusing it for a specific bean variety. However, espresso is a method of brewing, not a type of bean. It can be made with any coffee beans, but espresso blends are specifically formulated to enhance the espresso brewing process. Roasters have the choice of using beans from a single origin or creating a blend of beans from different growing regions.

While espresso is known for its strong caffeine content, it also contains antioxidants, which are beneficial compounds that may help protect cells from oxidative damage. Some studies suggest that espresso consumption may be associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

The golden rule (or rather a guide)

Espresso, a concentrated and flavorful coffee beverage, is crafted through a precise balance of variables, including grind size, tamping pressure, and water temperature. Among these factors, extraction time plays a crucial role in determining the quality and taste of the espresso.

The golden rule of espresso dictates that 2 – 2.5 fl.oz / 60 – 75ml (40 – 50g) of espresso should be extracted within a 20 – 30 second of turning on the pump on the espresso machine. This extraction time ensures the optimal extraction of coffee’s rich flavor and aromas without over- or under-extraction.

  • If the 2 – 2.5 fl.oz / 60 – 75ml (40 – 50g) extract in less than 25 seconds, the grind is likely too coarse and needs to be adjusted to a finer setting. This finer grind will increase the surface area of the coffee, allowing water to pass through more slowly and extract the desired flavors effectively.
  • Conversely, if the espresso flows too slowly, the grind may be too fine. In this case, a coarser grind will reduce the surface area and allow water to flow more freely, achieving the ideal extraction time.

As the optimal extraction time approaches, make smaller adjustments to the grind size to fine-tune the flavor profile to taste. This process of “dialing in” the grind is essential for crafting a balanced and flavorful espresso.

It’s important to point out that 2 – 2.5 fl.oz or 60 – 75ml are volume measurements and meant to be measure with the crema (foam) of the espresso included. Nowadays, in the speciality coffee world, many choose to measure their shots by weight where the 2 – 2.5 fl.oz / 60 – 75ml espresso translates to 40 – 50g in weight.

Use the golden rule only as a guide and don’t be afraid exploring flavors under and beyond recommendations.

Espresso Dosing and Tamping: Achieving Optimal Extraction

Dosing

Espresso preparation involves a delicate balance of variables, including coffee dosing and tamping pressure. Accurate dosing ensures the proper amount of coffee is used for each shot, while consistent tamping pressure guarantees a uniform extraction.

The recommended ground coffee doses for:

  • Single shot: 7- 10g
  • Double shot: 16 – 18g
  • Triple shot: 20 – 22g

This amount provides the ideal balance of flavor and strength, allowing the espresso’s rich aromas and complex flavors to shine through.

Tamping

Espresso’s rich flavor and intense aroma are not just a matter of brewing technique; they are also influenced by the consistency of the coffee puck. Tampering, the process of compressing the coffee grounds in the portafilter, plays a vital role in achieving a uniform puck and optimal extraction.

The goal of tamping is to create a level surface through which water can flow evenly, ensuring that all the coffee grounds are evenly saturated and extracted. To achieve this, gently shake the portafilter side-to-side to distribute the grounds evenly, and then level the surface by brushing it with fingers or a specialized tool such as a WDT or a coffee distributor.

Once the grounds are evenly distributed, tamp them with a firm and consistent pressure of approximately 20 – 30lbs / 9 – 13kg . This pressure ensures that the coffee puck is compact and stable, preventing channels or fractures from forming. Channels, gaps in the puck, can cause water to flow through unevenly, resulting in an unbalanced and inconsistent extraction.

While the ideal tamping pressure is subject to debate, consistency is paramount. Aim to apply the same or similar pressure each time to maintain uniformity in the puck. This consistency allows us to focus solely on adjusting grind size for optimal extraction without compromising the puck’s structure.

By mastering the art of tamping, we can create a perfectly leveled puck, enabling water to flow evenly through the coffee grounds, resulting in a flavorful and flavorful espresso experience.

The Myth of Overtamping

In the world of espresso, the concept of overtamping often evokes misconceptions and unnecessary concerns. While it’s true that excessive force can lead to channeling and uneven extraction, reaching the point of overtamping is physically impossible.

The ideal tamping pressure lies around 20 – 30lbs / 9 – 13kg, a force necessary to fully compress the coffee puck and eliminate air pockets. Once this threshold is reached, further tamping is futile, as there’s no physical space for the coffee to compress further.

Therefore, rather than worrying about overtamping, focus on achieving consistent tamping pressure. This consistency ensures a standardized espresso extraction process, allowing us to focus on other variables, such as grind size.

In fact, excessive tamping pressure is not the primary concern; rather, it’s undertamping that poses a greater risk to achieving a flavorful and flavorful espresso. Undertamping fails to fully compress the puck, leaving air pockets that can disrupt water flow and lead to uneven extraction.

To optimize the espresso experience, prioritize consistent tamping pressure around 30 pounds. This will ensure a uniform puck structure, allowing water to flow evenly and extract the coffee’s full flavor potential. Remember, consistency is key to achieving a truly satisfying espresso experience.

Optimum Brewing Temperature

The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) recommends a brewing temperature range of 195°- 205°F / 90° – 96°C for optimal espresso extraction. This temperature range ensures that the coffee’s delicate flavors and aroma are fully extracted without compromising the beverage’s safety.

For heat exchanger machines, a cooling flush is essential after the machine has been idle for an extended period. This process involves running brew water through the group head for a few seconds to remove any residual heat that could lead to over-extraction.

For other prosumer equipment, particularly those equipped with PIDs or Dual Boilers, stable temperatures are generally maintained once the machine has reached optimal heating conditions.

To ensure consistent brewing temperature, it’s crucial to keep the portafilter locked in while the machine heats up. This prevents heat loss and ensures that the coffee is extracted at the ideal temperature.

Additionally, preheating the espresso cups with steam or hot water before pulling the shot helps maintain the beverage’s heat and prevents rapid cooling.

Espresso Equipment

The espresso machine

The Early Days of Espresso

The exact origins of espresso are a bit hazy, but many historians credit Angelo Moriondo, an Italian entrepreneur from Turin, with the invention of the first espresso machine in 1884. His machine, dubbed the “Moriondo Automatico Espresso Coffee Machine,” utilized steam pressure to force hot water through finely ground coffee, resulting in a concentrated beverage.

While Moriondo’s invention laid the groundwork for espresso, it was Luigi Bezzera, a Milanese engineer, who refined the process and truly popularized espresso. In 1901, Bezzera patented his “Ideale” espresso machine, which introduced several key improvements, including a pump that generated higher pressure, allowing for a more intense and flavorful extraction.

The Espresso Machine Evolves

Espresso continued to evolve throughout the 20th century, thanks to the contributions of other Italian inventors, such as Desiderio Pavoni, who in 1905 partnered with Bezzera to commercialize the Ideale machine. In 1938, Achille Gaggia introduced the first commercial espresso machine that utilized a piston to generate high pressure, further enhancing the quality of espresso.

Although the principles are the same, since the early days, a lot have changed too.

The path to crafting flavorful and flavorful espresso requires selecting the appropriate brewing equipment. While various features and finishing touches may sound exciting, the boiler type is the cornerstone decision when choosing an espresso machine. Three primary types of boilers exist: single boilers, heat exchangers, and dual boilers.

Single Boiler Dual-Use Espresso Machines

These machines represent the most basic semi-automatic models, offering an entry-level option for home brewing. Equipped with a single boiler, they handle both espresso brewing and milk steaming. Their compact size and affordability make them an attractive choice for beginners.

Heat Exchanger Espresso Machines

Commonly found in the prosumer category, heat exchanger machines excel in maintaining consistent temperatures, enabling simultaneous brewing and steaming. Their design involves a small tube for brew water, supplied with fresh water each time we brew. This tube is immersed in the boiler’s boiling water, ensuring consistent temperature regulation.

Dual Boiler Espresso Machines

At the pinnacle of espresso technology, dual boiler machines provide unparalleled temperature stability and control. Separate boilers dedicated to brewing and steaming eliminate the temperature fluctuations common in single and heat exchanger machines. This precision is crucial for crafting espresso with the utmost consistency.

The coffee grinder

A good grinder is essential for making great espresso. It allows us to control the grind size precisely, ensuring consistent, even extraction and flavor extraction, and preserving the freshness and aromatics of the coffee beans.

Burr grinders

Burr grinders are considered the gold standard for espresso grinding. They use two grinding surfaces, called burrs, to crush coffee beans into uniformly sized particles. Burr grinders produce consistent and even grinds, which is essential for making good espresso. They also typically have more precise grind settings than blade grinders, allowing us to fine-tune the grind size for different types of coffee and brewing methods.

  • Conical Burr Grinders
    Conical burr grinders are the most common type of burr grinder. They are known for their consistency and durability. Conical burrs are typically made of stainless steel, which is a very hard material that can withstand a lot of wear and tear. Conical burr grinders also generally produce a slightly finer grind than flat burr grinders. This makes them a good choice for espresso, which requires a very fine grind.
  • Flat Burr Grinders
    Flat burr grinders are a newer type of burr grinder. They are known for their efficiency and ability to handle a wider range of roasts and brewing methods. Flat burrs are typically made of ceramic or steel. Ceramic burrs are quieter than steel burrs, but they can be more susceptible to wear and tear. Flat burr grinders can grind a wider range of grind sizes, from very coarse to very fine. This makes them a good choice for a variety of brewing methods, including espresso, drip coffee, and pour-over coffee.
Grind consistencyLess consistentMore consistent
DurabilityDurableLess durable
Suitable for espressoGoodGood
Suitable for other brewing methodsGoodExcellent
EfficiencyLess efficientMore efficient
Noise levelNoisierQuieter
PriceLess expensiveMore expensive
Blade grinders


Blade grinders use a spinning blade to chop coffee beans into smaller pieces. They produce less consistent grinds than burr grinders, and the grind size can vary depending on how long we grind the beans. This can lead to uneven extraction and poor-tasting coffee.

FeatureBurr GrinderBlade Grinder
Grind qualityConsistent and evenLess consistent and uneven
Grind size controlMore preciseLess precise
Grinding noiseQuieterLouder
CostMore expensiveLess expensive
MaintenanceMore difficultEasier

When it comes to espresso, a good grinder is more important than a good coffee machine. We can make our way around the shortcomings of many coffee machine with practice and a bit of ingenuity but compensating a bad grinder is almost impossible.

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