18 March, 2020
HOW TO: Make Espresso
Espresso is a way of life in my family. We drink a lot of espresso, and by a lot, I mean we drink espresso after every meal, when a friend visits, midnight during holidays, with some brandy, with milk for breakfast, while hammering away in the music studio and when we feel like it. So “pulling” an espresso (coffee jargon for brewing espresso coffee manually) is a skill we learn at a young age, just after walking.
While at the VIDA bar, I quickly realized that this espresso coffee skill was foreign to many. Half of my bartender staff was absolutely terrified that they would “mess up” the espresso order when a customer requested one and would adamantly seek me out to save the day. They looked at the espresso machine like it was some sort of alien technology. After much training and support equivalent to an AA meeting, I was confident that there would be no further coffee order meltdown. It brought a tear to my eye when the youngest of the staff finally pulled her own shot. It was like watching your kid graduate college.
Many people outside of staff have also noted their fear of this process so I want to help you remove your fear of “messing up” your shot of espresso and then make yourself Vida’s Secret Iced Coffee (Recipe Here)!
Here’s my step by step.
First: Get a real Espresso Machine
Making your own espresso instead of relying on pods is not only way cheaper, it allows you to use your own coffee bean supplier and usually pulls more espresso faster. We own a Delonghi espresso machine. It’s a bit pricier, but I really like their machines and they manufacture both automatic and manual espresso machines. We’ve had ours for a few years now and it still works great. I wish they sponsored this blog (feel free to encourage them here!) but alas, this is simply an unbiased vote of confidence.
These are my top 3 picks for espresso machines:
And I use this separate stainless steel mini pitcher for steaming & frothing milk to make the galão, cappuccino, latte and cremes!
Next: Know your terms
- Whole Espresso Beans (I enjoy Delta)
- Filter Holder (A)
- Single, Double or Pod Crema Cup (B) – Each type of cup is usually indicated by one or two icons for espresso and a unique pod shape for ready-made coffee pods. The style varies by brand.
- Boiler Outlet (C)
- Steamer/Frother Nozzle (D)
- Water Basin
- Coffee Grinder (should be a separate machine, this is my favorite model)
- Determine Quantity: Decide if you are pulling one or two shots OR a single or double espresso.
- Prep Equipment: Turn on your machine and wait till it is heated, Clamp the corresponding crema filter
- Grind: Keep it fresh by grinding your coffee to order. When you first get your coffee grinder, you’ll have to test it to see at which setting it gives you the perfect grind size. For my machine, I found that just under medium gave me grains the size of fine sea salt , which works best for my espresso machine and I’d wager it is a relatively standard size for all. Avoid grinding coffee into a powder
- Prep Coffee: Fill the up crema filter about a matchstick width from the top with cofee. You can use measuring scoop or just eyeball it like I do. Eyeballing it makes pulling coffees go faster when you have crowd
- Level It: Tap the side of the cup to level out the grains. You should leave about 1/4″ of space from the rim of the crema cup after tapping, adjust coffee amount accordingly. I learned this trick from my friend who is a priest in NJ. He taught me this crucial step that he learned from a fellow priest’s father which owned a large coffee farm in Brazil. They explained that the compression needed will be applied when you clamp on the filter holder. Anything before that can lead to burning your coffee. Well, if God says so…
- Prep Cups: Another thing I learned was have all your cups ready to be set before you place the filter holder on the boiler outlet. Simply set the espresso cups on the side
- Set Holder: Set the holder by coming in from the side (usually the left), finding the teeth that grip the edge of the holder’s cup and then pulling it to the center
- Pull: Hit GO!
- Observe: You want to get a dark line of coffee pouring that is quickly followed by a caramel or tan flow, called the crema – which is what you’re looking for to know you did a good job. You want a bit of a layer of crema completely covering the coffee so that you see none of the black liquid below
- Serve: Serve the brew and rejoice!