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How to Use an Espresso Machine: Art & Magic of Coffee Making

Dave Carter

February 17, 2021

Finally, you are here! You have landed on the destination page of your search for how to use an espresso machine. Welcome to the coffee club! As you can probably tell, this isn’t one of those “how to use a computer” or “how to use a TV remote” articles. This is an article about how to use your very own high-quality espresso machine at home! Just like learning to make delicious espressos, learning how to use an espresso maker takes practice. Although you might be excited about stepping up your coffee game and buying yourself an espresso maker, it can take some time to get used to all of the buttons, switches, and dials associated with making the perfect cup. For this reason, we will explore the ins and outs of using an espresso machine with simple steps. Read on!

10 Best Espresso Machines

The Best Espresso Machines that You Can Buy Online.
Extensively Reviewed by a Coffee-Enthusiastic.

How to Use an Espresso Machine- Step by Step Guide

Guide on How Do You Make Coffee with an Espresso Machine

If you are going to use an espresso machine, you do need to wade through the manual, but most people don't do this. Instead, they begrudgingly read the instructions while their espresso sits cooling on the counter. For those new to the world of coffee, an espresso machine is a type of coffee brewing device used to brew coffee by forcing boiling water under pressure through finely-ground coffee. The steam pressure forces the water through various tubes using gravity, allowing the water to extract the espresso grounds.

This system broadly resembles how a percolator works but differs in details and usage. The best thing about espresso machines is that you can make deliciously rich and flavorful Americanos or lattes right at home. Suppose you are interested in making delicious, scorching hot cups of espresso coffee. In that case, it is advisable to buy an efficient and durable espresso machine right away so that you can enjoy tasty espresso drinks every time. Let's now look at how to use an espresso machine at home or in the office.

Step 1: Learn the controls and functions of your machine

The first thing one should do when dealing with a new espresso machine is to learn the gamut of controls and functions available to them. This is because espresso machines are available in different sizes and styles, from manual to automatic, with one or two spouts. Therefore, individual aspects of the machine can be changed from within a user menu. These functions vary from machine to machine, but include boiler temperature, grind size, flow rate, and yield.

Step 2: Grind and measure your coffee

The grinding of the beans is critical. If you grind too fine, the water will pass through the coffee too slowly, and it will be over-extracted. If it is ground too coarsely, the water will pass too quickly, and the coffee will be under-extracted. The amount of coffee you use depends on how you like your coffee, but a general rule is that one level tablespoon of medium-ground coffee is enough to make one shot of espresso. If you like it stronger, use more. If weaker, use less ground coffee.

Step 3: Prepare the machine for brewing

Place a demitasse cup or shot glass on a drip tray below the spout to catch your shot of espresso. Be sure to empty the tray before each pull, so it doesn't overflow onto the countertop during the brewing process. Also, fill the water reservoir with cold water to the desired level. The machine will only brew as much water in the reservoir. Finally, insert the filter into the portafilter.

Step 4: Tamp your Grounds

Fill the filter with one scoop of espresso per serving to be brewed. Tamp down firmly on the ground using a tamper tool. The technique for tamping is simple but essential. Hold your tamper underneath or at the bottom of the portafilter on top of the grounds like you're about to hit someone with it, then push down once with moderate force. You want the tamped grounds to be level with the rest of the basket, so you may need to add more or push some down to get an even surface.

Step 5: Turn on the espresso machine

Turn on the espresso machine if you have one that requires a separate switch for power. But before that, make sure to lock the portafilter into place on the machine. If your machine has a steam wand, turn it off before locking it in place.

Step 6: Pull out a shot of espresso

After turning on the machine give it time to warm up completely before pulling your first shot. This will take about 20 to 30 seconds.

Step 7: Dial in your shot

Dialing in a shot of espresso is the process of tweaking the grind size and amount of coffee used to produce the best-tasting shot. It is called "dialing in" because you will be adjusting a knob on your grinder or pressing a button to make these changes. By doing this, you will achieve a perfect balance between the four essential elements of espresso:

  • Acidity - Add brightness and liveliness to the flavor profile.
  • Body   -  Refers to the texture or mouthfeel of the espresso.
  • Flavor - The specific notes that describe what an espresso tastes like,    for example, a shot may taste nutty or chocolatey.
  • Sweetness - Creates an overall balance between all the flavors in the shot.

The general goal of extracting espresso is to extract flavor compounds from the coffee grounds and have it flow at a rate that results in 30ml (+/- 2ml) in 25-30 seconds (+/-5 seconds). If you are using a manual lever machine, many variables will affect your extraction output, including tamp pressure and the grind size at which you tamp. A good rule of thumb is 10 grams of ground coffee per 30 mL of water, as this is a 1:3 ratio that produces a strong cup of espresso when pulled correctly. The rest is up to you and how much leverage you can put on the piston.

Step 8: Steam the milk

With an espresso machine, it is important to use the steam wand correctly to prevent damage to the machine. The proper way to use a steam wand on a modern espresso machine is as follows:

  1. Warm the pitcher by rinsing with hot water.
  2. Purge the steam wand by running water through it for about 3 seconds.
  3. Insert a steam wand into the pitcher and submerge it just below the surface of the milk. Turn on steam.
  4. After 20-30 seconds, when you see that the milk level is rising, start moving the pitcher upwards so that you are only 1/8" submerged at all times. 
  5. Slowly spin your pitcher while raising it until you get a whirlpool effect in your pitcher. This will create a rich, creamy foam called microfoam or froth with tiny bubbles.

Which is the Best Coffee for Espresso Machine?

Understanding How Do Espresso Machines Work

Coffees can differ in color and texture as well as in flavor. The best coffee for espresso machine tends to have a darker color and a finer grind, although this can vary according to personal taste. The flavor of the beans will determine how much crema there is in your coffee; this is what gives it its unique taste and appearance. If you take your espresso with cream and sugar, then any roast will be fine. If you take your espresso straight and black, then a darker roast is the best coffee for your espresso. Darker roasts bring out the natural sweetness in the coffee beans, while lighter roasts are typically more bitter. If you like your espresso sweet and frothy with steamed milk, then go ahead and use a light-roasted bean. 

A good espresso should be prepared with Arabica beans. This is easier said than done because so many coffees use a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans. You should find information about this on the label or the packaging, but it can sometimes be hidden in the small print. The espresso coffees are usually from South America or Africa. Brazil produces some excellent coffees, as does Colombia and Ethiopia. Central America is also considered to be an excellent region for producing quality coffee. Below are the four main types of coffee beans that you can use in your espresso machine. 

  • Arabica - Arabica beans make up 60-70% of the world’s coffee production and they produce a more delicate cup of coffee due to their lower caffeine content. 
  • Robusta - Robusta beans are used in instant coffees and as a filler in espresso blends. They have a stronger flavor and double the caffeine content of arabica beans.
  • Liberica - These beans produce an exotic, smoky flavored brew with earthy undertones.
  • Excelsa - These beans come from Southeast Asia and they add a fruity flavor to blends.

What do you put into an Espresso Machine? - Top Roast Levels

Before we get into answering the question, what do you put into an espresso machine? Let's talk about a few basic things you should know! The first is the importance of freshness. Espresso is a very demanding product. You can have all the right equipment and technique, but if your coffee isn't fresh and of high-quality, it won't taste good or have a desirable texture. For this reason, we highly recommend buying whole beans and grinding them yourself just before brewing. Alternatively, you can find a brand that doesn't disappoint from the several store-bought grounds. When looking for coffee to make espresso, you want to buy beans with a darker, more roasted color. The roast level is what will help you achieve the best flavor. Below are some of the best roast levels of coffee to use in your espresso machine.

  • Italian Roast
    This coffee will have a somewhat smoky taste in a dark roast due to the longer roasting time. Beans are sometimes oiled to give them a shiny look, a distinctive flavor, and an aroma.
  • French Roast
    These dark beans have almost no acidity due to the longer roasting time. A bit of bitterness is often added to this type of roast.
  • American Roast
    It has a bolder taste than Italian or French roasts and has plenty of caffeine, making it most similar to what Americans are used to drinking each morning.
  • Vienna Roast
    This is a medium brown bean with little acidity and plenty of caffeine. It is probably the most popular roast in Europe because it has such a smooth flavor.
List of the Best Espresso Machines

Can Regular Coffee be used in an Espresso Machine?

A question we get asked a lot is, "Can I use regular coffee in my espresso machine?" The answer is yes, you can, but it's not recommended. Espresso machines require finely ground coffee that is tamped down tightly to brew correctly. The pressure and temperature of the water in an espresso machine will extract the flavor from your coffee much more quickly than those used in a standard drip coffee maker. If you use regular ground coffee in your espresso machine, it will likely result in weak or under-extracted espresso.

This means that you may not get all of the oils and flavors from your grounds into your cup. You might also find that your coffee has little or no crema on top. Crema is the layer of foam that appears on top of espresso shots and is an indicator that you've brewed a good shot. Let us quickly go through the differences between espresso coffee and regular coffee.

Espresso Coffee:

  • It is highly concentrated
  • It has more caffeine than a cup of regular coffee
  • It has thick crema on top

Regular Coffee:

  • It has less caffeine than espresso
  • It is less concentrated than espresso
  • It does not have crema on top

If you don't have access to freshly ground coffee beans and want to enjoy a single origin or blend with your espresso machine, we recommend you order pre-ground beans for your espresso machines for the best experience!

10 Best Espresso Machines

The Best Espresso Machines that You Can Buy Online.
Extensively Reviewed by a Coffee-Enthusiastic.

Conclusion​

Like any tool, we should use espresso machines correctly to ensure delicious results every time. By following a few simple steps in this guide, you can learn how to use an espresso machine to make perfect espresso shots capable of astonishing anyone! Keep in mind that every cup has the potential to be the best one!

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