Four Sure Ways To Improve Your Espresso Coffee Making
Espresso coffees are a notoriously tricky brewing method to master. There are so many variables and even the smallest changes can make or break your shot, making espressos often challenging to consistently perfect. This is especially true at home where espresso machines and setups might be fairly modest compared to the speciality coffee shop alternatives - we don’t all have access to a £10,000+ espresso machine after all.
Here we share some simple espresso coffee hacks and processes that may seem so simple, but are guaranteed to make a huge difference. We hope they help!
1 Get rid of clumps. Clumps cause channeling during coffee extraction
A pitfall of some domestic grade coffee grinders, even burr grinders, is that the grind can sometimes be a little uneven and the resulting grounds can sometimes clump together in your portafilter. But why do coffee grounds clump together and how do you get rid of it?
There are a number of factors, in which the main one is normally due to heat and humidity. More entry level grinders will produce more heat during operation and this can cause the coffee to clump. The main issue with these clumps is that they cause what’s known as 'channeling' to occur during the coffee extraction. Channeling, in simple terms, refers to the space between the grounds and we should always try to avoid these because channels will provide a quick and easy route for water to pass through, in which this will lead to an uneven extraction resulting in a less than optimal espresso shot. To eliminate these clumps in your ground coffee as much as possible prior to extraction, the coffee bed should be made evenly compacted.
This can be done in a few ways. Firstly we might recommend upgrading your grinder, in which more expensive grinders produce less heat whilst grinding. However, this may be an unnecessary expense when you can just break up any clumps that occur yourself. How can you do this yourself? There are a few inexpensive accessories to help with this such as the B Blesiya Needle Coffee Distributor/Stirring Tool. This needle style contraption allows you to evenly break up any clumps to ensure you have the perfect coffee bed.
Feeling frugal? Well, instead of spending money on one of these, everyone’s favourite online coffee creator, James Hoffman, showed a genius hack on his YouTube channel that allows you to create one of these tools yourself by simply using a wine cork and some safety pins - Thanks James!
2 The Ross Droplet Technique
Next we introduce you to the humbly named Ross Droplet Technique, a simple method that just makes so much sense. The technique is esentially the process of adding moisture to your beans before you go ahead and grind them. The reasoning is that the water will reduce static-load within your grinder, in turn improving ground coffee retention. Dosing and measuring your coffee is really important, whereby a gram difference in weight can vastly change the results, and the trouble with static is that it means some of your coffee grinds may stick to the walls of the grinder or be flung out causing the weight of your ground coffee to become less than the weight of the beans you originally dosed for your cup. If your ground coffee retention is made (near) perfect, you will continue to have the same amount of coffee as your intended to use.
It’s important to check your grinder before trying this for safety purposes but most grinders will handle this fine. The best way to do it is simply spray a little water onto your beans using a single squirt of a spray bottle as we don’t want to drench the beans. Or if you don’t have a bottle, you can simply wet a tea spoon and give the beans a single stir. Nice and simple, but not too watered, they're not your garden plants on a hot Summer's day.
3 Master your tamping - not too hard, be vertical, no twist
As we mentioned earlier, tamping is super important as we want our coffee puck to be well compacted to avoid any channeling. However, we also recommend not compacting your coffee bed too tightly so that water can’t pass through at all. This will result in the opposite, an over extracted shot. Therefore, your tamping technique is important to perfect this fine balance between under and over extraction.
To achieve this, you will want to make sure not to tamp down too hard or too much. One press should be plenty and pressing down any more than this should be avoided. As well, despite as commonly advertised online, you don’t actually have to twist the tamper as you press. This twisting motion can disrupt the coffee bed a little too much.
The main thing we find that espresso users tend to get wrong is that they tamp their coffee bed at an angle. This, again, will lead to an uneven coffee bed so it’s important to tamp straight down in a vertical motion and ensure your portafilter is as perfectly level (or as level as it can be). That said, we don't expect you to get out your protactor or spirit level anytime soon. So why do espresso users do a little twist motion? Well, it's typically advised by others to ensure that the bed is made horizontally even, as above, but by doing the tamping process perfectly vertical, twisting becomes entirely unnecessary, and in not doing a twist, your coffee bed is undisrupted. Not too hard, be vertical, no twist - got it.
4 Full fat milk and milk alternatives - try (un)ordinary
For most espresso based drinks we’ll be adding steamed or textured milk - think of your flat white, latte, cappuccino you order from your cafe trips. A point of frustration when making milk-based drinks is getting the right milk texture, in which like everything here, steaming milk is an art and can take time to master - you need to give yourself every chance to nail it every time.
If you prefer dairy, we strongly urge you to use full fat milk or whole milk as this always texturises the best. The trouble with semi-skimmed or skimmed milk is that they're too watery and therefore can’t be textured enough to pour that silky latte art we all love so much. We want thick and creamy!
For non-dairy drinkers, we recommend using oat milk over any other alternatives, but try and buy oat milk that is specifically designed for coffee making. Why? Well speciality coffee oat milk texturises far better than brands such as Alpro. For our best recommendation, try (un)ordinary who as farmers passionate about coffee, they truly have have created the perfect oat drink or; enjoy Oatly or Minor Figures, both created with baristas in mind.
So there we have it, a few simple hacks to making better espresso-based drinks at home. All really easy to implement and they all make a big difference. As for the coffee beans you'll also be requiring, naturally (pun intended), perfect for espresso is our Blend / Darker coffee subscription, well worth a consideration for those ever-popular long-roasted flavours.
GUSTATORY (adjective): curating excellence in taste.