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How to make a great espresso

RoMo Coffee's Blog

Find out what is happening in the world of coffee and follow Romo Coffee's blog. Articles include  how to make a great espresso, how a coffee bean is harvested and processed and how to spot good coffee shops.

How to make a great espresso

stuart summers


Welcome to RoMo Coffee’s new blog.  We will be leaving regular posts about what is new at RoMo Coffee as well as interesting coffee related articles and lessons on how you can get the most out of your coffee at home.   

I started RoMo coffee 3 years ago with one aim to produce great espresso without compromise. Although we started from the back of a van (our bespoke piaggio ape) we always had big ambition to make a great company people could trust.

I would drive the little van into the city of London every day much to the aggravation of other drivers, with a top speed of 15mph you rarely make friends on the road. Serving from the steps of St Mary Aldermary Church in the heart of the city of London.

Coffee Van

From our humble beginnings we have managed to build our company to 5 sites within London. We are constantly trying to improve our offering and ensure that we are using the best possible produce, machinery and customer service so that each and every time you visit one of our stores you have a great experience.

Today I thought I would start of by giving you some key knowledge to making a great espresso.  I believe that there are three key elements to making a great espresso, the foundation of all great coffee based drinks. Without all three working in harmony you will struggle to get the best out of your coffee.

 1st The coffee you use

Retail Coffee

You can with enough time and dialing in get a tune out of the most monotone of coffees. You can adjust extraction times, the amount of coffee used and pre infusing the coffee (wetting it before the aggressive extraction process takes place). However if you start off with a well roasted coffee bean, one that has been roasted to bring out its subtlety of flavour, the whole process should be a lot easier to achieve. Never be swayed by what is on trend with regard to latest coffees available. I love to try new coffees but I take an objective view and give the coffee a mark out of 10, 1 being the lowest 10 the highest.

I always make a note of a central starting point for the grinder and extraction time and then make micro adjustments until I get the coffee singing. As a rule of thumb the shorter the shot will produce a sour acidic taste, an over extracted coffee will tend to have bitter finish. Each coffee you try will have characteristics that will suit making adjustments either way. I will make a few more comments on this in the barista section below.

Remember that everyone’s taste buds are different, I always love the taste of a chocolatey espresso that lingers for a sinfully long time, you may prefer a licorice or bergamot short finish to your shots. The choice is yours just enjoy and try to figure out why!  

2nd Machinery     

Music is always a great reference point for explaining the subtleties of making great espresso. If you gave a £20 guitar to a great player they would still be able to get a tune out of it, however, they would struggle to play the more subtle notes and riffs. The same could be said for most home espresso machines. Unfortunately, the reality is that in a professional set up we will often be using equipment that totals over four figures to make our shots. For that kind of money what we are really buying is consistency.

Where does that leave the home enthusiast? Well, I suggest the following guidelines always help.

Coffee machine jpg

1) If you are looking to purchase equipment for your home or office, make sure that you invest in a good quality grinder. If you are restricted by budget, a good rule of thumb is that your grinder should cost approximately 1/3 of the price of your espresso machine.

2) Always buy a grinder with burrs not blades (the blades will smash the coffee grounds into varying different sizes). Burrs will ensure that each grind should be identical. Try to buy a micro adjustable grinder as a step grinder will not offer the same control of grind size. 

3) Once you have set up your grinder and it is pouring well remember that as the temperature and humidity changes outside you will need to make small adjustments. If the outside temperature increases you will need to make your grind finer to compensate.

4) Take good care of your espresso equipment keep it clean regularly back flush and whenever possible use filtered water. Water is the main ingredient in any coffee based drink! Try to maintain a routine of cleaning the porter-filters, group heads and steam wands, clean regularly!

Most importantly get to know the limitations of the equipment, how many shots can it make in a row, does the machine ever over heat, what temp is the water to start with, (90-92c is where I want my water temp to be ), are you getting 9 bar extraction from your espresso machine, does the extraction look the same for each and every shot or does it tend to change depending the quantity required.

3rd The Barista

Understanding all of these subtleties takes time and enthusiasm. With enough time you should be able to start making shots that you are proud of. I think the following will help you as a starting point.

Espresso jpg

1) Set your dose to 18 - 19 grams, if you don't have scales a simple way to achieve this is to overfill the basket on your porter-filter tap down on a hard surface to remove any air pockets and smooth a finger over the top of the porter-filter.

2) Use a tamper to create a perfectly level, smooth compacted coffee puck in the basket. You do not need to apply huge pressure with your tamper just make sure that the coffee has been compressed.

3) To get the most flavour from our espresso there should be a 3-5 second delay before the shot starts to pour.

4) The shot should pour as if defying gravity, it will look like a dark shoelace. When it starts to lighten in colour the extraction is complete.

5) Look at the espresso, it should have 2 or 3 shades of brown within the crema (often referred to as tiger stripes). 

6) If mixing the espresso with a milk based drink it is important to mix the two as soon as they are ready. This will ensure that the coffee oils do not sit on top of the espresso instead they emulsify with the milk and reduce any bitterness in the first few sips of the drink. 

7) The shot should take between 20-25 seconds to extract 34-38ml of beautiful espresso. A good rule of thumb is that the coffee used will produce double the amount of liquid i.e. 18gr of coffee will produce 36ml of espresso.

I hope that you have found the first installment of our blog helpful if you would like RoMo to expand on any of the points raised or you would like to discuss a problem you have in detail, drop us a line or check out our video below on how to make a great espresso.

Until Next time,