Articles From Whole Latte Love

Purchasing Coffee & Brewing Espresso PART I

Posted: 08/20/03

I have had the great pleasure over the years of working with thousands of people in all areas of the country. One of my goals has always been to help them figure out how they can get a great shot of espresso with what they have to work with. By this I mean finding out what type of espresso machine they have, whether or not they have a grinder, where they purchase their coffee from, etc. There are so many variables that affect the outcome. It keeps me on my toes and has taught me to recognize quickly what the problem is when our extractions are not as we desire.

The first thing you have to understand is the “Golden Rule”, which is the basic information that will guide you through the whole process of attaining a proper extraction (shot of espresso). We call it an extraction because we are extracting flavors and aromas from the coffee. With a good espresso we extract the good flavors and aromas from the coffee and leave the bitter flavors behind. That is the goal. The information below will show you how to do it.

1. Golden Rule
2. How to buy pre-ground coffee
3. Location, Location, Location
4. Why a Grinder is so important
5. Choosing a grinder
6. Don’t blame the machine, yet
7. Helpful hints and Summary

1. Golden Rule
The “Golden Rule” is a simple formula that was designed to Espresso Shotmake it easy to start brewing a great espresso. It is the basic knowledge you will need for brewing, choosing coffee, choosing a grinder and anything else espresso related. If you read it, understand it and follow it, it won’t take long before you can compete with the Café down the street. It applies to Semi and Fully Automatic espresso machines that have a commercial style portafilter, not a pressurized style. It does not apply to our Super Automatic espresso machines that will grind, tamp, and brew your espresso for you. For much more information on the whole brewing process and how it relates to the Golden Rule, please see the article "Rituals of Making Espresso".

Since the Golden Rule applies to commercial style portafilters, here is a quick refresher on how to recognize if you have one. They have no restrictor built into them to slow down the water flow through the coffee, so if you take out the filter basket and hold it up to the light you will see hundreds of small holes for the water/coffee to flow through. If you run water into the portafilter without the filter basket in place the water will run freely through it. Some of the brands with commercial style include: ECM, Gaggia, Rancilio, FrancisFrancis, Pasquini, Isomac, Salvatore and Wega.

Please keep in mind that we use the word “approximately” a few times in the Golden Rule. This is because of the many variables that come into play such as the size/diameter of the filter basket and most of all the variations in coffee due to its freshness, roast and origin.

Golden Rule
“A double shot Goldenof espresso should equal 2 to 2.5 fluid ounces, have approximately 14 grams of ground coffee in the filter basket, and take approximately 20 to 25 seconds from the moment you start the pump until you reach the appointed liquid volume. A single shot of espresso should equal 1 to 1.5 fluid ounces have approximately 7 grams of ground coffee in the filter basket and take approximately 20 seconds.”

Your best shots are always double shots due to the chemistry involved in extracting the flavors and aromas from the coffee. Use the two shot filter basket with either two level scoops of ground coffee and tamp with 30 pounds of pressure. Put the portafilter into the machine, turn on the brew switch to start the pump and time how long it takes to dispense 2 to 2.5 ounces of espresso into your cup.

With your own grinder
If the coffee comes through too fast, grind your coffee a little finer and try it again. If it comes through too slow, grind your coffee a little more coarse and try again. The tamp pressure and the coffee volume stay the same, the only thing that changes is your grind setting.

Without your own grinder
Lets say you don’t have your own grinder so you can’t vary how fine or coarse the coffee is ground. You will then have to vary your tamp pressure according to the shot timing. If the water runs through the coffee too fast tamp a little harder. If too slow, tamp a little softer.

Please look for part 2 of the series in the next "Coffee Buzz". It will relieve some of the frustration of attempting to by pre-ground espresso!

SEE the exciting conclusion PART II.