5 tips to make the perfect home espresso

5 Tips for the Best Espresso at Home

Are you looking to make the best espresso at home? Although I have a great espresso machine at my house, I still find it difficult to make a perfect espresso at home using coffee beans from the grocery store. Even when I buy expensive specialty beans, the taste of my espresso is often bitter, stale, or burnt. So, what steps should you take to get the perfect espresso?

Here are the Peak Flavor Coffee 5 tips for the perfect cup of espresso at home:

  1. Select a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans from larger origin countries.
  2. Buy and use a medium-dark roast of whole coffee beans, not roasted more than 8 days ago.
  3. Grind only what you need to avoid oxidation. Use an extra fine grind.
  4. Use a portafilter machine, which extracts your espresso in 27-30 seconds at 10-12 bars of pressure.
  5. Serve espresso in a small glass cup to see the crema, a telling sign of perfect espresso quality.

Let’s look at these five tips to make the best home espresso in a little more detail.

1.   Select a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans from larger origin countries.

Italy is the birthplace of espresso. If you ask an Italian barista for the best bean blend to make the perfect espresso, they will tell you to use a blend of 85% Arabica and 15% Robusta beans, roasted about 7-8 days ago. Why 7 days? Coffee beans need to rest for about 7 days and de-gas before acquiring their best or Peak Flavor.

Arabica beans are generally considered to be of superior quality. But a small addition of Robusta beans will produce good crema, which is essential to high-quality espresso. You can immediately recognize a perfect espresso if you see a thick layer of crema with rich aromas. When tasting, the espresso will have a gentle smoothness and creaminess caused by this layer of cream.

Bean blends from larger origin countries, such as Brazil, Honduras, and Vietnam, are more likely to produce the perfect home espresso than expensive, rare specialty beans from smaller countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, or Togo. Coffee bean harvests from larger coffee countries are fresher and much easier to work with for mere mortals like me. Larger-origin countries also grow more consistent coffee bean harvests of better quality with fewer defects. Columbia and Indonesia also have larger bean harvests with more consistent quality.

 

2.   Buy and use dark roast whole coffee beans not roasted more than 8 days ago.

Dark roast, whole coffee beans should be freshly roasted. “Freshly Roasted” means that the roast happened within the last 7 to 8 days. Good coffee roasters have no problem indicating the roasting date prominently on the front of their packaging. In fact, if you ask me, you should never buy a coffee brand that does not have a roasting date prominently displayed on the front. How else will you know when the coffee was roasted? And how else can you choose a fresh roast?

Roast freshness is the single most important “ingredient” in making a perfect home espresso. Most coffee packs on the grocery shelf, on average, are 120 days past their roasting date. These “old” coffee beans make it difficult to get the perfect espresso at home. Some small, premium specialty and gourmet coffees in the grocery store could be even older because they sell at slower rates and thus sit on the shelf for longer.

If you want the perfect espresso at home, buying and using fresh roasted coffee beans to ensure peak flavor is the most important thing to do. This is also why I encourage people to buy smaller packages of coffee. Smaller packages of freshly roasted beans get used faster and ensure that your coffee stock at home does not get much older than 14 days post roasting.

3.   Grind only what you need to avoid oxidation. Use an extra fine grind.

The coffee’s exposure to air causes it to lose taste and aroma. In scientific terms, this natural process is called oxidation or “exposure to air.” We all know how a sliced apple starts to look and taste worse when we leave it on the table. After the apple slices are exposed to air (oxygen), the apple turns brown and tastes stale. The same is true for coffee beans. Once ground, oxidation accelerates as the exposed surface to the air has increased. The coffee taste and aroma will start to deteriorate over time.

To make a perfect espresso at home, you need to grind the whole beans extra fine, maximizing the surface-to-air ratio at which oxidation happens fastest. Coffee professionals advise you to grind only as much as you need immediately before brewing your espresso. You need about 8-10 grams of extra fine ground coffee for the perfect single espresso. A double espresso is made with 16-20 grams. 

4.   Use a portafilter machine, which extracts your espresso in 27-30 seconds at 10-12 bars of pressure.

For the best at-home expresso, I recommend using a portafilter espresso machine and grinder (semi-automatic espresso machine) instead of a fully automatic espresso machine. The grinder will allow you to set the perfect espresso fineness (0.2mm) and the correct filling amount for the portafilter (8-10 grams per espresso).

The portafilter lets you temp correctly (pushing with 35 KG pressure). At the same time, the semi-automatic machine gives you the gauge to read that you are extracting at about 10-12 bars of pressure, making a perfect home espresso in 27-30 seconds. Semi-automatic machines with a pressure gauge are usually less expensive, easier to maintain, and allow you to make better espresso. If you are looking for a brand, I recommend Breville Espresso machines. I personally like the Barista Express the best. 

5.   Serve espresso in a small glass cup to see the crema.

You can recognize the perfect espresso by the layer of crema produced. It should be thick (2-3 mm) and have no large bubbles or holes through which you can see the coffee. This is why professional Italian Baristas serve their espresso in a small glass cup. It lets you see the crema's thickness and judge your espresso's quality.

You will notice that it is much easier to produce a thick, creamy layer of crema on your home espresso if you use freshly roasted whole beans, which are 8-14 days past their roast. Since fresh roasted espresso tastes naturally sweet, smooth, and creamy, it does not need a lot of milk or sugar. This eliminates the need for baristas to serve their single or double espressos in large cups. Only espresso made from old roasts that taste more stale or bitter needs milk in large quantities, extra sugar, or artificial sweeteners to mask their defects.

Of the above-listed tips, I believe that buying a fresh roast coffee bean at the peak of its flavor is the single most important factor in making a perfect home espresso. This will produce a thick crema with a naturally sweet, smooth, creamy, and mild taste without bitterness or burnt notes every time. Ready to try Peak Flavor Coffee? Get your first bag on us.

Want to learn more about Peak Flavor coffee? Check out our article, What is Peak Flavor Coffee? under Fresh News on our website.

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