Dialing In: Pulling Your First Espresso Shot
We have several posts about basic espresso technique and theory, but if you're looking for an absolute beginner, get-me-on-the-machine-I've-never-done-this-before guide, here is a step-by-step tutorial for getting started.
The most important part: enjoy yourself! Your first shot might be messy or run too fast, and maybe it won't taste like your favorite barista made it, but it will be your first shot, and that's awesome.
Your manual will have a specific start-up process, but for all machines: make sure your reservoir is filled or machine is plumbed in, and that you have soft, filtered water.
1. Turn on the machine and let it warm up, with the portafilter installed in the group head.
Choose a coffee that is freshly roasted. "Fresh" in this case means coffee beans within a couple of weeks of roasting. Because coffee starts to lose flavor as soon as its ground (literally within seconds), pre-ground coffee is not recommended.
2. Pick a dose and use a scale to measure it. The baskets you place in the portafilter often have the dose listed on the side. Scales give you the precision you need for truly excellent espresso.
For a double shot of espresso (what most people get in a coffee shop), the dose is anywhere between 14 and 18 grams of coffee. Grind the coffee a little finer than table salt, but not like powder.
3. Distribute the grounds in the basket so they are evenly spread around the basket- you can gently tap the side, you can use your hand, or a fancy distribution tool, just try to get the bed even.
4. Set the portafilter down on a solid surface like the edge of a countertop, and evenly tamp down the grounds with your tamper. Try to stay level. When you feel the coffee stop moving, you're done.
5. Briefly run the machine without the portafilter installed to purge the group head (the spot where you lock in the portafilter).
6. Lock in the portafilter.
7. Place your vessel under the portafilter. If you have a scale, put that under the vessel.
8. Turn it on! Run it for about 25 to 30 seconds, and shut it off. This is a great ratio/place to start. For this first shot, we are aiming to yield twice the amount of espresso as dry coffee, i.e., 17 grams of dry coffee = 34 grams liquid espresso. Even if you didn't get that, try it and see what it's like.
Congratulations! You just pulled your first shot!
If your shot:
came out too fast: adjust finer
came out too slow: adjust coarser
ran in the right amount of time, but tasted sour: increase your yield
ran in the right amount of time, but tasted bitter: decrease your yield
Learning how to make espresso is all about adjustments (and tasting a lot of coffee). Enjoy the journey!