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How to Make Espresso (8 Steps to a Perfect Shot) 7 Factors

Most home espresso makers are quite automated. But as you learn how to make espresso, you’ll find that bean quality, grind size, dose (grind volume), tamp, water temperature, brew time, and yield will dramatically change the final product.

This guide is part of our How to Make Coffee series.

how to make espresso

How to Make Espresso Coffee

Here’s how to pull a great espresso shot.

  • Time to first sip: 3 to 15 minutes to heat up the espresso machine, 20 seconds to pull a shot
  • Type of Coffee: Strong, sharp, rich in flavor with thick with crema
  • Coffee grind: Fine and consistent
  • Gear required: Espresso machine, tamping tool, and a milk frothing jug (if you like lattes and cappuccinos)
  • Difficulty: Easy with an automatic model, but a manual machine requires practice

Espresso Tips: When steaming the milk, angle the pitcher so that a whirlpool forms. This will heat your milk evenly.

Espresso drinks are favored by those who love a thick, strong brew that delivers a powerful jolt of caffeine and flavor.

It’s also the base that’s used for many popular coffee drinks such as a latte, cappuccino, and Americano. Espressos differ dramatically from what many North Americans consider to be coffee.

Espresso machines come in a variety of styles, shapes, and sizes with lots of features that can appear intimidating if you’ve never used one. Some are automatic, and all you need to do is push a set of buttons.

They all work basically the same way. They force a small amount of hot water through finely-ground coffee at high pressure. The end result is a sharp, rich brew that’s topped with a thick natural crema.

how to tamp espresso
Barista tamping espresso

7 Factors Affecting Espresso

In addition to the quality of your espresso machine, there are many factors affecting the quality of your espresso shot. They include bean quality, grind size, dose (grind volume), tamp, water temperature, brew time, and yield.

Here’s more about each of these espresso factors:

  1. Bean quality: Choose a true espresso bean, of high quality. This isn’t a time to try to save a few cents. Look for dark roast espresso beans.
  2. Grind size: Espresso grind is the finest of all ground coffee. Most home coffee grinders will have coarse and fine settings. For espresso, make sure to grind as fine as possible. If it’s too coarse, the extraction will fail.
  3. Dose (grind volume): Ratio of Coffee-to-Water 1:2/50%. For example, if you put “20g of ground coffee inside the portafilter and pull a 40g shot, you’ll have a brew ratio of 20:40 or 1:2.” Here’s more about adjusting brew ratios.
  4. Tamp: This is done in two stages. For the first tamp, you’ll want about 15 lbs of force. The second tamp is 25-30 lbs of force.
  5. Water temperature: Ideal temperature is 200°F ± 5° (93.0°C ± 3°), according to SCA.
  6. Brew time: If following the ratio of 1:2, you’ll know when you’ve pulled enough brew based on how much grind you’ve put in the puck.
  7. Yield (brew volume): Closely related to the previous point, the actual brew volume is usually measured by weight. To achieve an accurate measurement, you can place a small kitchen scale (zeroed out) to measure the weight of the espresso yield.

What is Brew Pressure?

Brew pressure is affected by grind size, dose, and tamp (factors 2-4). These three factors affect how much pressure is generated and how much coffee is extracted from the grind.

The brewing pressure is what sets espresso apart from other methods of making coffee.

Is it espresso or expresso?

Espresso Coffee Recipe

  1. Fill the espresso machine with filtered water
  2. Turn on the espresso machine
  3. Purge the espresso machine
  4. Weigh beans and grind finely
  5. Add grounds to the portafilter
  6. Tamping the grounds into a neat puck
  7. Lock the portafilter into place
  8. Pull the shot
how to make espresso with a machine

1. Fill the espresso machine with water

We recommend using filtered or spring water. No one really wants a chlorine or chemical taste to their espresso shot.

2. Warm up the espresso machine

Turn on the espresso machine, to warm up. This can take from 3 to 15 minutes, depending on the type of espresso machine you have.

3. Purge the machine (2 reasons)

Purging the espresso group head accomplishes two important steps.

  1. Purging removes any residual coffee grounds from the last shot.
  2. Purging also keeps the water temperature consistent before pulling the next shot.

4. Weigh beans and grind finely

5. Add grounds to the portafilter.

Add grounds to the portafilter. Make sure you have the right shot size setting (single, double, or triple).

6. Tamp the grounds into a puck

Use the tamping tool to pack the grounds into a neat puck. Apply about 25 to 30 pounds of pressure.

Two Tamps: For the first tamp, you’ll want about 15 lbs of force. The second tamp is 25-30 lbs of force. To get an idea of how much force this is, try pressing on your bathroom scale. Over or under-tamping your coffee will change the flavor.

7. Lock the portafilter into place

Lock the portafilter into place in the group head on your espresso machine.

8. Pull the shot

Press the button or pull the lever to pull a shot. Depending on the type of espresso you’re making, it will take between 20 to 30 seconds.

Mixing Your Espresso Drink

  1. If you’re making an espresso-based drink (like a latte) that includes steamed milk, pour your milk into the metal steaming pitcher and tug the steam lever (or push the button). Use the steam wand to create the right amount of foam you want. This will take experimenting a few times until you get it exactly like you want.
  2. If you’re making an Americano, just use the hot water spigot to add the hot water after pulling the espresso shot.

Once your shot is completed, make sure to immediately discard the coffee grounds to prevent cooking leftover espresso into a grimy muck and damaging the machine.

Here’s the difference between two types of espresso drinks: ristretto vs long shot.

Serving Your Espresso

Unless you’re mixing your espresso into a larger drink, you’ll probably use a demitasse cup.

Demitasse cups hold 2-3 ounces and are the tiny cups and mugs traditionally used for serving espresso, cappuccinos, and other strong coffee drinks.

How to Make Espresso with an Espresso Machine (Video)

The following video will show how to make espresso with an espresso machine.

how to make espresso at home

Your Turn

How did it work for you? What modifications do you like to this standard espresso recipe? How do you make your espresso? Let me know below!