Brewing a stellar cup of espresso is one of the best ways to start the day. The bright crema, the syrupy body, the energy boost—everything you need to wake up on the right side of the bed. Espresso, however, is also hard to brew well.
We’ve put together seven essential recommendations for turning a meh espresso into an Oh Wow shot—if you’re making espresso at home, you can’t pass these tips up.
Ready for a better daily shot?
1. Store Your Espresso Beans Properly
Avoid placing your beans in direct sunlight. You should keep them in a cool, dark place. This will preserve the freshness and flavor for longer. We suggest using an opaque vacuum container like this one.
You’ll also need to keep your beans dry. When moisture comes into contact with the beans, tiny chemical reactions start to take place (aka, extraction begins when you’re not ready!). If this happens, the coffee will taste bland when you start drinking it. Once again, get the airtight container!
2. Always Purge Your Espresso Machine
Before you start making coffee, give your machine a quick puge by running hot water through the device. This will ensure that you are cleaning out any remnants of old coffee grounds, as well as minimizing any leftover oils that might go rancid.
For every 200 coffees, you will need to do a deeper clean. Some oils and grounds get stuck—like, really stuck—so get you some Urnex Cafiza coffee cleaner and go to town. If you’ve had your machine for a while, you’ll be amazed at the flavor difference!
3. It Goes Without Saying, But Get A+ Quality Beans
No two coffees are grown, processed, or roasted alike—there’s a huge array of quality coffee out there (and most of it is not great for espresso). Always. ALWAYS start with fresh, high-quality coffee.
There are a few signs that you are using high-quality beans. The most important thing to look for is a roasting date. Coffee beans don’t exactly “spoil”, but they will start to lose their most nuanced and balanced flavors within 2-3 weeks of roasting.
For espresso, we recommend buying beans that were roasted less than 10 days ago. This gives the beans just enough time to degass all the CO2 trapped in the cells, but still preserves the best flavors.
Here are a few places to get great beans for espresso:
- Local Specialty Coffee Shops — Coffee shops often have fresh coffee on-hand. A good sign is when the barista can tell you the origins of the coffee they’re serving (Ethiopia, for example).
- Buying Directly from Roasters Online — Most roasters who sell online roast to order, so you can get uber-fresh coffee by buying direct. Just make sure they’re a reputable roaster known for quality.
- Subscriptions — Companies like Trade and Mistobox offer recurring coffee subscriptions from dozens of roasters, so you have hundreds of beans to choose from each month.
For more info, read: How to Find High Quality Coffee Beans
4. Grind the Beans Carefully
You’ll get the best flavor by purchasing whole beans, then grinding them fresh right before you brew. If the grind is too fine, it will produce a harsh, bitter taste. However, when ground too coarse, the water will slide past the beans without extracting the delicious flavor you’re after. This will produce coffee that is weak and watery.
In fact, the difference between “too fine” and “too course” is so small, you can hardly feel it with your fingers—but the way it impacts the flavor of your shot is unmistakeable.
That’s why everyone, from pros to regular Joes, suggests a dedicated espresso grinder that has “micro-adjustments” that can make these extremely small grind setting changes effectively (most grinders only have “macro” adjustments).
It’ll take some experimentation—it’s natural. Just try changing the settings ever so slightly a couple of times until you get the shot flavor you’re looking for.
5. Get the Right Dose Size (Coffee Ratios Can Be Hard)
The general rule of thumb is to leverage a 1:2 coffee to yield ratio when brewing espresso. Essentially, for every 1 gram of coffee grounds, you want 2 milliliters of espresso in your final cup.
Let’s see the match…
- 15g grounds 👉 30ml total shot
- 20g grounds 👉 40ml total shot
You can tweak this, of course, to customize your flavor.
- More grounds per total shot means you get a higher concentration of flavor
- Less grounds per total shot means you get a somewhat smoother, more balanced brew
Play around with it and find the extract ratios you like.
6. Tamp Evenly
When you have placed the grounds into the coffee puck, they will be uneven. This is why the tamping process is so important. It will remove any air pockets from the grounds.
There is no hard and fast rule about how much force you should use when tamping (though some folks swear by 30 pounds of pressure). The most important part is to be consistent. If you’re putting 10 lbs of pressure on one day, then 25 lbs the next, your espresso will pull differently—and that’s super frustrating.
Don’t forget to wipe off the tamp, especially if you are using different coffee blends.
7. Consider a Manual Espresso Machine (Skip the Super-Automatics)
Finally, we suggest exploring espresso machines that give you control over your espresso.
Most automatic or “super-automatic” espresso makers leave you with only 1-3 preset recipes. If you want to use more coffee, pull a larger total shot, or tamp differently… you’re out of luck.
At first, it can be a bit difficult to learn how to use a manual machine—the journey is part of the fun! But after a few cups, you’ll get the hang of it. It’s a lot more fun to make the coffee yourself than simply hitting a button. There’s a lot of pride in making something by your own hand and skill.
Plus, these machines look cool on your kitchen bench, showing people that you have barista skills. If you want to learn more about these machines, check out this manual espresso machines guide.
Making an exceptional espresso at home shouldn’t be difficult. With a few simple changes, you’ll be able to make a café quality blend. So, try these tips to make the perfect cup of espresso coffee.