Having problems with your espresso at home?
Struggling to get the perfect espresso at home every time? Fear not. We have some simple yet helpful tips and tricks to aid you in your quest for consistent espresso greatness.
Step 1 – Grinding
If you are grinding your own coffee beans at home, then the first thing to check would be your grind size. If the grind size is incorrect, the outcome could be bitter, or sour coffee. And none of us want that.
Let’s see if we can help you.
An incorrect grind size can lead to the wrong extraction. Two terms used here are under, and over-extraction. You have ‘Under extraction’ if your espresso pours too fast and tastes sour. One cause of this could be that your grind size is too coarse. At the other end of the scale, you can find ‘Over extraction’. This occurs if your espresso pours too slow and tastes bitter. A cause of this could be that your grind size is too fine.
Changing your grind size.
To adjust the grind size of an electric start/stop grinder you must grind the coffee for longer for a finer grind, or shorter for a coarser grind. For grind size consistency from cup to cup, perhaps time yourself and make a note for future use.
Handy tip – Keep a little bit of your best grind and then use this to compare for future use. Put the old grinds and new grind in-between your index finger and thumb on each hand and feel if they are of a similar consistency.
For a hand grinder or an electric grinder with an adjustable grind size, make the grind finer by turning the hopper toward the smaller or finer end of the scale. To make it coarser, turn it the other way.
The grind size for an espresso machine needs to be quite powdery. If you purchase pre-ground coffee, check that the grind size is correct to start. For instance, a coarse, cafetiere grind will not work correctly in an espresso machine. The grinds will be too large and therefore let the water through too fast.
If you buy your coffee pre-ground for your espresso machine and it is powdery, then let’s look at what else you can do to achieve a consistently good espresso at home.
Step 2 - The amount
If you cannot adjust the grind size, then try adjusting the amount of coffee you use at a time.
If you use more coffee, the coffee ‘bed’ will be thicker. This will make it harder for the water to pass through. If you use less, the opposite will happen. The bed will be thinner, and therefore the water can pass through freely.
If your espresso pours too quickly and tastes a little sour, add more coffee next time.
If your espresso pours too slow and tastes bitter, you may have added too much. Try again with less coffee.
Hand tip: Have a scoop, or particular spoon to measure your amount each time. This will keep consistency in the amount you use.
Play about with the amount and then when you’ve nailed it, which you will, write it down and keep it with the scoop/spoon that you used.
Step 3 – Tamping pressure
Tamping pressure is the amount of pressure you use to compact the coffee bed before you brew. Tamping makes the holes in between the coffee grounds smaller, meaning the water has to fight harder to find its way through.
If you have tamped with too much pressure, the water will have to fight really hard to work its way through the bed of coffee. This means that the water will sit within the coffee bed for longer and, in turn, lead to over-extraction. Over-tamping can lead to the coffee dripping slowly and tasting bitter. If this happens, try a softer tamp next time.
On the other hand, if you tamp with not enough pressure, the water will find it easy to work through the coffee bed as the gaps in between the coffee grinds are still rather large. This can lead to watery, under-extracted coffee that can taste sour. If this happens, try tamping a little harder next time.
Finding your ideal tamping pressure can take a couple of go’s, but once you’ve nailed it you will start to gain ‘muscle memory’ and automatically tamp the same each time.
To fine tune, you may need to do multiples or all of the above.