Fundamentals Part 3 – The Arte

Fundamentals for “Reaching Espresso Nirvana” – for traditional, semi-automatic pump-driven espresso machines

Note: The following does not fully apply to superautomatic, hand lever, or steam power-generated espresso machines that may operate under different principles and guidelines for proper operation.

Part III: The “Arte”

This is where we put it all together! Although your pump driven espresso machine will apply the required water pressure and proper temperature, you will need to focus on the interdependent variables to reach “Espresso Nirvana!” In other words, you will need to adjust the different variables that you can control in the order we have outlined below:

Preheating

First and foremost, it is extremely important to preheat the portafilter handle, filter basket, and cups you will be extracting into. Otherwise, the crema will not be achieved due to the fact that the loss of heat will not allow a proper extraction. the espresso beverage will have a cooler, weak, and/or bitter flavor profile. We recommend filling your cup with hot water from the steam wand on your espresso machine and pulling an”empty shot” of about 4 ounces of hot water through a filter handle and basket (without coffee).

Cup warmers on the top of most espresso machines are only effective if the cups have been heated for at least 1-2 hours. This is not preferred for home model espresso machines since damage to the machine can occur without operating it for this period of time.

Fresh Roast Of The Coffee Bean

The selection of the type of coffee is yours. Remember, it is advisable to stay within the four (4) roasts previously mentioned. For lighter roasts and consumption of straight espresso, we recommend our Italian imported coffees from Segafredo. For darker roasts and for beverages with milk, we suggest our own 1st-Cup espresso coffees. Utilizing one of these coffees will rule out the chances of using a coffee bean inadequate for espresso extraction. However, do not hesitate to experiment with the various coffees – estate, varietals, or blends – from the many different coffee suppliers and roasters found on the internet today. Then again, you may want to roast your own beans!

Fineness Of The Coffee Grind

Our universal measurement for fineness of the grind is NutraSweet. Each type of coffee and roast can be fine-tuned from there – slightly coarser or slightly finer. In addition, it is important to grind only a minimal amount above what you need. Ground coffee loses its aromatics and taste profile with 7 Minutes of grinding. As your espresso beans age, the oils in the beans will begin to evaporate or dry. These beans will need to be ground finer since there is less oil to achieve that golden cream. This is similar to lighter roasted coffee beans that have less oils right from the start. They need to be ground finer.

Make sure the fineness of the grind is consistent throughout. If it isn’t, the water being pumped into the filter basket will flow through the coarser grinds due to the fact that the coarser grind is a path of least resistance. The result would be overextraction of the coarse coffee grinds and possible underextraction of the finer coffee grinds.

Dosage

The typical measurement for the fundamental rule is 7 grams of ground coffee (or one level non-compacted scoop that is usually provided with the machine) per shot (1.0 -1.5 ounces) of espresso to be extracted. For beginners, we always recommend using the double dose filter. It is typically easier to achieve the fundamental rule. When utilizing the double filter basket, place two “level” scoops of freshly ground coffee into the basket. If you decide to utilize the single filter basket, place only one “level” scoop of freshly ground coffee.

Sometimes, a customer’s current grinder cannot grind fine enough to achieve the fundamental rule. Therefore, to increase the pump pressure, we suggest creating greater resistance by dosing a slightly greater amount of ground espresso coffee. Sometimes, this translates into a superior taste profile for “espresso nirvana.”

Tamp Pressure

If you are using an espresso machine with a pressurized handle or pressurized filter basket, just apply a light tamp to the ground coffee in the basket. If you are using an espresso machine with a standard handle and filter basket, a 30-50 lb tamp should be applied. After tamping, the coffee should be compacted into a “coffee puck”. It is important to maintain a level surface in the basket. An un-level surface will create a path of least resistance for the water being pumped into the filter basket. In essence, the same result would occur as if the fineness of the coffee grind was inconsistent.

Remember to remove any coffee grinds that remain on the rim of the filter basket. If these coffee grinds remain, a proper seal will not occur between the filter basket and the gasket in the grouphead of the machine. This will result in leaks down the outside of the filter handle and in a weak beverage since pressure was leaking at the point of the improper seal.

Moment Of Truth

Place the filter handle with the tamped ground espresso coffee into the grouphead of the espresso machine. Place the preheated cup under the spout(s) of the filter handle. Check your clock for the time (in seconds) and press the coffee switch. Watch the extraction. Espresso should start pouring from the spout(s) between 5 and 7 seconds after you turned on the coffee switch. Make sure not to leave the handle in place without turning on the coffee switch too long as the hot grouphead will burn the grinds before extraction.

The beginning of the extraction is usually dark (although dependent highly upon the beans you are using), and then the extraction will turn into a golden brown cream that pours ever so gently into the base of your cup. On espresso machines with pressurized handles or baskets, the pour will ypically be straight down. On espresso machines with standard handles and baskets, the pour can slightly curve on filter handles with a dual spouts. This curvature is known as “mouse tails.”

When 2.0 to 2.5 ounces of the espresso has been extracted for a double shot, turn the coffee switch to the off position. Check the time (seconds) on your clock. The timing from the points you pressed the coffee switch to the time you turned it off should be between 23 and 27 seconds. Now, you may have extracted in a lesser or greater time. Just taste the espresso and see if you like it…. If you do, then use that timing as an indication for your “espresso nirvana!”

We have assembled a quick reference table to make your adjustments for extractions times less than 23 seconds or greater than 27 seconds. Remember, there are a few variables which you control. We recommend that you first try to adjust one variable at a time to move closer to your goal of the fundamental rule!

Science / Art Espresso extraction shorter than 23 seconds
–or–
No crema
Espresso extraction longer than 27 seconds
–or–
Too bitter
Preheat
  • Preheat grouphead, portafilter / filter handle, filter basket, and cups
  • If you just steamed / frothed milk, the boiler may be too hot. Run water (~6-8 ounces) through the steam wand
Espresso beans
  • Try darker roasted beans
  • Try espresso blends
  • Acquire freshly roasted beans
  • Try lighter roasted beans
Grind fineness
  • Grind finer
  • Make sure grind is consistent
  • Grind slightly coarser
Dosage (amount of coffee grind in the filter basket)
  • Increase the dosage of coffee grind in the filter basket
  • Decrease the dosage of coffee grind in the filter basket
Tamp pressure on machines with non-pressurized handles or filter baskets
  • Increase tamp pressure
  • Apply polish to tamp by twisting
  • Decrease tamp pressure
  • Apply less polish after tamping

Putting it all together – The Arte!

Well, we’ve covered all the fundamentals in “reaching espresso nirvana” (The Fundamental Rule, The Science, The Arte). Now, it is up to you to practice and make perfect with the quality machine you purchased from 1st-line Equipment. Finally, you can make slightly different variations of our fundamentals to achieve the fundamental rule. For instance, you can grind slightly finer and tamp slightly less to achieve the same crema. However, you may notice a more or less favorable taste from making those changes. As we referenced in the beginning, we sure hope it tastes as good as it looks and vice versa. Now, that we’re all set, let’s go look at some equipment! Buon appetito!!!!