Pulling the Perfect Shot of Espresso

Not all espresso makers are the same, so you need to know what type of machine you have.

Do you have a machine where you pour fresh water on top and then screw the lid down? Then chances are that you have a steam driven machine. If your machine has a huge reservoir and makes all sorts of noises when you push a series of buttons that look like some kind of computer panel, you have a pump driven machine.

espresso shot
Espresso Shot

The Grind

Coffee should be ground for your type of espresso machine.

Grinding for pump driven is slightly longer then a steam driven machine; the coffee must be a fine ground because steam driven machines don’t have as much “oomph” to push water through. The grind for pump driven model machines should be shorter, and therefore more coarse.

Other factors that make the difference are heat, humidity, and where your coffee is stored. Now, I’m not trying to bore you, but these items can be important if you are trying to achieve consistently perfect shots of espresso.

Pulling The Shot

Once you know what machine you have and the coffee is ground, it is time to pull shots.

  1. The actual measure should be a tablespoon of espresso ground coffee for every 1 ounce of liquid. For you tekkies, that’s 7 grams per ounce.
  2. Put the ground coffee in your portafilter.
  3. Carefully tamp the ground coffee, and then wipe any excess grounds from the rim of the filter.
  4. Place your filter in the group of the machine and place the shot glass or glasses underneath.

level espresso
Level Espresso

The Trick: Get an inexpensive timer or use your stopwatch (you know, the one you had to have for your New Years day resolution that your going to train with…) and learn to “time” a shot.

A good espresso machine should yield an ounce of liquid between 18-23 seconds. You can get away with a 17-second “sweet” shot but NEVER exceed 23 seconds. The longer, the more bitter…the shorter, the less flavor you taste. If your shots are pulling too quickly, it means your grind was too coarse. If the shot is too slow, then the grind was too fine.

Tips For Consistency

How do you get consistent shots?

  • Buy enough coffee for only one week. I know this may sound silly but coffee starts to “air” out after seven days. So as time goes by, the quality and flavor diminishes.
  • Keep the coffee in a sealed container of some type. Store in a cool dry place. Heat and humidity negatively affect coffee!
  • Try to grind the coffee yourself. The best thing to do is to grind the coffee right before you pull the shot and only grind enough coffee for an ounce or two. This will allow you to make any necessary adjustments to the grind for future shots. Grinding the coffee at home ensures that your coffee has that “just ground” flavor that you would experience at a coffee house.

A Work Of Art

Just how is it supposed to look and taste? The perfect shot has a sweet, yet intense flavor and it should have that beautiful caramel look at the top. There are 3 parts to a shot: the crema, the body, and the heart. The crema, which is the foamy part of the shot, should be sweet. The visual clues of the other 2 parts will help you understand how the shot will taste. As you are pulling the shot, notice how the layers seem to separate as the liquid gets to the “ounce” mark on the glass. It looks as if an artist was at work! And you are!!

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Fred Neve

I am an Italian-American and I was practically breast-fed espresso. Currently, I work at a Starbucks in Florida as a barista! So, I have fun and the coffee drinks are on the house. (Damn good deal for me..huh?!!) I love sharing coffee or espresso with friends across the world. I was in the Navy for 12 years and visited 47 countries. I've tried just about every type of coffee imaginable!

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