5 Tips for Better Espresso at Home

Espresso machines and coffee grinders can help you create the best espresso at home. But how do we properly use coffee equipment? Today, we are reviewing methods and techniques from baristas that will improve your daily espresso.

Introducing techniques that aid in consistency will improve your espresso recipes with ease. Learn more below! 

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1. Understand the Proper Grind

Grinding coffee fresh with an espresso grinder, like our Rocky, is important for beverage quality. Remember: an espresso machine requires an appropriate espresso grinder. Not all grinders can achieve the level of fine grind you need for good espresso.

The flow rate, or the speed of the espresso's flow from the portafilter, can change based on environmental circumstances. These include room humidity, coffee's roast age or level, the amount of beans in your hopper and many other variables.

While it is possible to use pre-ground coffee, it’s important to note that it has lost gases that contribute to crema: the oily and blonde top-layer of espresso. The advantage of a grinder is that you can control the flow rate each time you grind unlike pre-ground coffee that is fixed to a certain grind size.

Curious to learn more about coffee grind adjustments? See our article about grinders and how to adjust your grind!

2. Distribute Espresso Before Tamping

Distributing is a term in the coffee industry that describes leveling espresso grounds before tamping. Distributing will “distribute” the coffee and help fill gaps while flattening the surface.

Tamping on coffee that is bumpy and unlevel will result in "channeling". When espresso channels, water from the grouphead travels through loose areas within the coffee. Improper distribution and tamping can create a variance in compact and loose regions in your espresso.

Think of two funnels: one is filled with sand and the other contains rocks. If you were to pour water through the funnels, the liquid would travel faster down the funnel with rocks. Improper distribution and tamping will create an espresso puck that mimics "sand" in some parts and "rocks" in others.

You will bring more consistency into your coffee with proper distribution. When water flows through cracks or gaps, it will over-extract those areas of coffee and leave the rest of your dose ignored.

3. Scales Unlock Possibilities

You may have heard about the golden 1:16 ratio for a pour-over or the 1:2 ratio for an espresso. While these are great places to start, you should know that ratios are only suggestions and not hard-and-fast- rules to follow.

You may find that you like an espresso that falls under a 1:3 ratio because you like the light body and volume. If your partner likes a 1:1.5 ratio because they enjoy espresso with more body and punch, they can still achieve this without influencing your preferred recipe.

Never tried a set recipe or ratio? Try weighing your espresso dose (16-18 grams) and multiply that by 2. That will be the goal weight of your espresso! So: 18 grams ground coffee will make around 36 grams of espresso.

4. Break the Rules (and Record Them, Too!)

Keeping a notebook of your recipes will allow you discover preferences and how you can influence flavor.

Here is an experiment to start you off:

  1. Weigh 16 grams of coffee into your portafilter
  2. Use your scale to weigh 40 grams of espresso as it comes out into the mug. You will tare your scale after placing your mug and weigh it as you pull your shot.
  3. Record this in a notebook as 16 grams in, 40 grams out at X seconds. Take note of the time of your shot.
  4. Write down your first impressions on the taste, flavor notes, and whether or not you enjoy it. Use our grind reference flow chart to help you adjust your recipe if it tastes bad.
  5. Now grind your dose again, this time adding 2 grams to the dose for a total of 18 grams (don't change your grind or the espresso yield: 40g). You will use 18 grams of ground coffee to make a 40 gram espresso.
  6. Record the differences. Does the texture change? How is the sweetness? What do you prefer?

5. Tamp Right Not Tight

Tamping should not focus on your super-strength; it is more about the precision than the amount of force you inflict on the coffee.

Focus more on a straight tamp than forcing your entire body weight on the coffee. Use your thumb and pointer finger to graze the edges of both the tamper and the portafilter. This will allow you to straighten your tamp.

Push down with your elbow stacked directly over the portafilter basket by creating a 90º angle with your arm. When you feel that your tamper will not push down further, lightly take it off the coffee. That is all!

Try not to double-tamp as this can create cracks which induce channeling, as we discussed earlier.

It's In the Technique

Better espresso can be achieved by anyone. The skill develops over time with practice but it’s in the techniques where all seasoned baristas start.

Try these tips out on your Rancilio Silvia Pro and share your results with us on Instagram for a chance to be featured on our profile! Tag us at @Rancilio.USA