How to Use an Espresso Machine

  • November 29, 2020
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All right, I’ve been putting off writing this post for too long. It’s probably because I’ve been making espressos at home for too many years that using an espresso machine has become second nature to me. It’ll be like writing about how to floss my teeth or something like that, see? Okay, so here we go.

I’m going to talk about how to use a semi-automatic espresso machine, which is what most people wanted a guide for. So have you bought your espresso machine? Got a grinder? Good. I’m not going to talk about how to make your espresso better, that is another topic altogether. I just want to keep things simple for people who’re trying to make their very first espresso.

Espresso Machine Pinterest Photo by Tim St. Martin

The Ingredients

To make an espresso with a semi-automatic espresso machine, the ingredients you need are water and coffee. Well, and milk if you’re going to make a latte.

Water is simple. You can hook up your espresso machine to a water line if you want, or fill up the water tank of your machine as you go. I won’t elaborate on water quality and how it affects the quality of your espresso, but please, for the sake of your taste buds, use filtered water or you’ll definitely get coffee fit for the drain.

Coffee comes in two forms. Whole beans and preground are available. If you have a good burr grinder, definitely go for whole bean. If you don’t have a good burr grinder, buy whole bean at a coffee shop and ask them to grind it for you on the spot. Don’t buy preground. Just, don’t.

Coffee Pinterest Photo by Nathan Dumlao

The Espresso Machine

If it is the first time you’re turning on your espresso machine, you’ll need to prime it according to the instructions in the manual of your machine.

Before you make a shot, you’ll need to heat up the espresso machine. All you have to do is turn it on and wait till the machine feels warm to touch. This may take any amount of time, depending on your particular espresso machine.

Now you can look at the components or parts that your machine comes with. These are probably parts of the portafilter, including spigots, brew baskets, filters and the handle. Your semi-automatic espresso machine may come with one or many of these for you to choose from.

For a beginner, I suggest you use the largest brew basket, which is for the double shot, and a naked or bottomless filter. The bottomless filter allows you to see how the brew comes out, so that you’ll know whether you’re doing the grind, dose and tamp right. A good beginner espresso machine with bottomless filter is the Capresso 118.05 EC Pro.

When the machine is warm enough, run an empty shot to heat up the brew head. I remember thinking I could skip this step when I was a novice barista, but now I want a perfect shot too much to be a lazy bum.

You’ll need to lock the portafilter in place without coffee in it and press the button for a shot. Hot water will flow through those parts that will come into contact with your coffee later, to heat them up properly. Then you’ll have to wipe the grouphead and portafilter dry before proceeding with the brew.

The Brew

Now you’re ready to brew the espresso you’ve been wanting so much. Fill the brew basket in the portafilter with freshly ground coffee. If you have a grinder and doser, place the portafilter on the doser and dose about 20 grams. Using your forefinger, make a level swipe across the top of the basket to create an even surface. The dose should fill the basket exactly to the brim.

The dose should fill the basket exactly to the brim Pinterest

Next comes tamping. Tamping deserves an article all on its own, but no article will make you a greater barista than practice will. So, practice, practice, practice! Usually the semi-automatic espresso machine will include a tamper, but if it’s a plastic tamper, you should consider spending a few dollars on a decent stainless steel tamper. Press the tamper evenly on the basket, giving it a half-turn clockwise for a smooth top.

Espresso Tamper Pinterest

Get ready for the final step. Lock the portafilter to the grouphead, place your volumetric shot glasses or cups under it and press the button or switch to brew for a preset double shot. When you’re experienced enough, you can also try pulling a manual shot with some espresso machines. That simply means controlling the timing of the shot that will require you to know when to stop the brew.

Now the fun part is, if you are using the bottomless portafilter, you can bend down and see how the coffee flows out of the machine. The perfect shot is when the coffee flows in one concentrated stream with even color or stripes of colors down to your cup.

Latte in a coffee machine Pinterest Photo by Blake Richard Verdoorn

There should be crema on top of your espresso. If there is too little crema, try using fresher beans. Now drink that elixir of pure bliss.

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