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Two shots on espresso being pulled in coffee shop

5 Simple Tips and Tricks for Pulling the Perfect Espresso Shot

There’s nothing more satisfying than waking up in the morning and making your coffee just how you like it. With an at-home espresso machine, there’s no need to go to a café for your favorite drinks! Make every espresso coffee taste delicious with our five tips and tricks for pulling perfect espresso shots every time. 

What is Espresso Coffee?

Medium Roast Rainforest Espresso Coffee Beans in Bag

An espresso is a concentrated type of coffee made by pressurizing hot water through finely ground coffee. When a shot of espresso is pulled correctly, you’re left with a golden crema layer on top of around an ounce of liquid. This brew method leaves you with a more caffeinated beverage than most other options, such as the drip or pour-over process, provide, and can be sipped alone or mixed with milk and other additives. 

Make Any of These Espresso-Based Drinks

Once you learn to make espresso coffee at home, your countertops become your personal café. Perfect your espresso shot pulling and enjoy making any of the following:

  • Caffe latte
  • Con panna
  • Caffe Americano
  • Macchiato
  • Flat white
  • Caffe mocha
  • Cappuccino

5 Tips for Pulling a Perfect Espresso Shot

Even the most experienced barista can have issues when making an espresso coffee. With so many moving parts in an espresso machine and variables when selecting and grinding beans, the art of making espresso can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be! Try these five helpful tips so you can make it perfect every time: 

1. Find the Right Espresso Machine for You

Espresso machine in kitchen

Before you learn to properly make a delicious espresso coffee, you’ll need to choose a machine that works best for you and your lifestyle. The types include:

  • Manual: if you like a hands-on approach, the manual machine is perfect for you. The shot is made by pulling down on a lever, which pushes the hot water through the grounds by hand. 
  • Semi-automatic: these machines are what you should opt for if you’re interested in the mechanics of making espresso coffee. You control the exact measurements and speed of the espresso shot by stopping the extraction yourself with a button. 
  • Fully automatic: if you like a hands-off method, these machines do all the work for you—all you have to do is fill it with espresso beans, water, and milk. It then grinds the beans, pulls the shot, and froths the milk to the exact qualifications of the drink you select.  
  • Capsule: popularized by retail brands, these quick and easy machines use coffee-filled pods, negating the need for grinding coffee. Pop the pod into the machine, press start, and wait for the magic to happen.
  • Stovetop: if you prefer a traditional Italian approach, a stovetop espresso coffee maker forces hot water to steam up through coffee grounds until an espresso shot is pushed to the top of the machine, ready to pour.   

2. Choose the Right Espresso Beans

Knee Buckling Espresso beans in bag

Just because any bean can be used for espresso coffee doesn’t necessarily mean it should. The first step to perfecting your beverage is finding a roast that you love. 

Traditionally, espresso beans were always an extremely dark roast coffee (like our Knee Buckling espresso), but that doesn’t always have to be the case. Everyone’s palate is different, so you should experiment with different light, dark, and medium roast espresso beans to determine what tastes best to you. 

Do Light or Dark Roast Espresso Beans Have More Caffeine?

One of the most frequently asked questions when shopping for espresso beans is, which roast has a higher caffeine content? It’s a common misconception that light roast beans have more caffeine; in reality, all roasts have around the same levels. When it comes down to it, the main thing roast affects is the flavor profile. 

3. Find the Perfect Grind

The secret to a perfect espresso-based drink is determining the ideal grind for your machine. Each shot should take roughly 30 seconds to pour from start to finish. To accomplish this, you may have to experiment with different grind settings—this process is known as “dialing in.”

If the grinds are too coarse, the espresso coffee comes out watery and flavorless, but if you grind it too fine, the shot may not even pull through. In general, an espresso bean should be ground between medium-fine to fine. 

Do You Have to Use Freshly Ground Coffee for Espresso?

In order to get that foamy crema and peak flavor espresso is known for, it’s recommended that you always use freshly ground coffee. Keeping it in bean form will elongate the lifespan by a few weeks, so each ground dose will give you a delicious shot every morning.  

4. Learn How to Tamp Correctly

Barista tamps espresso

Tamping is an essential step in preparing your espresso shot. Before you place the portafilter into the machine, you need to properly compress the loose grinds. If you are tamping by hand, set the portafilter parallel to your countertop and use your arm strength to tamp the espresso bean grinds straight down, creating an evenly dispersed layer. You should be using 20 to 30 pounds of pressure. 

The way you tamp can affect the timing of an espresso pull and its taste. Tamping with too much force will cause an over-extraction, turning the coffee bitter, while tamping with too little will allow water to rush through air pockets, making it weak and sour. 

5. Keep Your Espresso Machine Clean

Taking the time to clean your espresso machine is essential for maintaining the delicious taste of your espresso coffee. After every use, backflush the machine with the proper espresso machine cleaning detergent, scrub the head to remove leftover espresso bean residue, and soak the steam wand. If you ever notice your shot tastes oily or old, give your machine some extra love before pulling another. 

Two espresso shots pulled on machine

Whether you enjoy a dark, robust Americano or a sweet and sugary flavored latte, brewing espresso coffee at home is a game-changer. With a little patience, practice, and passion, you can pull espresso shots like a pro. Find your dream espresso beans, learn a few barista-level tricks to improve your coffee morning routine, and discover the ins and outs of what it takes to make the perfect espresso in the comfort of your own home. 

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