How To Make An Espresso For Beginners

What is espresso?

An espresso is a concentrated form of coffee, produced by forcing scalding water through tightly packed ground coffee beans to achieve a small amount of thicker than normal coffee, which is characterized by its signature and crucial layer of crema on top, which is a rust-colored thick, creamy foam that is the mark of a true espresso.

Espresso can be single shot or double shot, with double shot being the common serving size in North America. Espresso is delicious when enjoyed on its own and it can also act as a base for other popular coffee drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.

There are several variations on espresso achieved by varying certain aspects of the espresso-making process; the most common you’ll encounter in America is ristretto, though lungo and normale can also be found in the US.

Getting started: What you need

There are a few things you will need to make espresso:

  • An espresso machine; higher quality espresso machines tend to yield more espresso variety, so keep that in mind when shopping.
  • A basket (most machines will come with a single and double basket)
  • A portafilter; you put the basket inside this
  • A tamper; this packs your ground coffee in the portafilter
  • Quality espresso beans, dark or medium roast
  • A grinder
  • Optional: a scale (this will make measuring easier)

Before starting: Prep

Turn on and heat up your espresso machine ahead of time. The ideal water temperature for espresso making is between 195F and 205F. Also, when it’s time to pour your espresso, you’re going to want to have a preheated shot glass or small cup, such as a demitasse to catch it in on hand—even if you plan on turning your espresso into a latte.

Step 1: Grind the beans

Grind your espresso beans until they are the coarseness of granulated sugar. This can take practice to get right, but it’s one of the most crucial steps. Beans ground too finely will make bitter espresso and if too coarse, your espresso will be weak.

It’s also important not to grind your beans too far in advance because this can lower your espresso’s quality, so keep that in mind.

Step 2: Dosing

The dose of your espresso refers to how much of your ground coffee goes into the portafilter. Since double shots are the most common serving size, we’re going to go through this as if we’re making a double shot. The recommended dosage of a double shot ranges anywhere from 14 to 21 grams, but it’s best to start in the middle at around 18 grams. That way, the next time you make espresso, you can decide whether you want more or less grounds based on your personal preference.

Dose 18 grams of ground espresso beans into your portafilter and gently level it off with your finger.

Step 3: Tamping

A tamp is a crucial espresso making instrument. It’s use to pack the espresso grounds as tightly and evenly as possible into the portafilter so that you get the best quality espresso at the end of the process. Proper tamping is the key to making tasty espresso.

Using 30lbs of force, press your tamper evenly onto the coffee grounds and carefully rotate your elbow clockwise to lock it in. Pull the tamp away and you should have tightly packed and even espresso grounds.

Note: It can be tough to reach the proper 30lbs of force without knowing what it feels like, so practice on a scale until you’re comfortable and consistent with it.

Step 4: Pulling your espresso

We’re going to assume that your espresso machine is cleaned, turned on and ready to go. (For assistance with this, refer to your user manual.)

Place your portafilter into the espresso machine and lock it into place. Now is the time to have your pre-heated shot glass ready underneath the pour area.

Step 5: Timing

For our example of a double espresso, the ideal waiting time is 25 to 30 seconds. Some like shorter, some like longer. On future attempts, adjust time to your liking, but don’t go above 30 seconds, because it will make your espresso too bitter.

Step 6: Yield

Your espresso yield should be roughly 2 fluid ounces. When you’re more skilled at espresso making, there are different techniques that may change this up, but 2 ounces is a good goal for beginners.

Step 7: Enjoy

Your espresso should now be in its shot glass and have a brownish rusty-colored crema on top. If the crema is lighter than golden brown, it’s too light and you might want to try again. If the crema is right, it’s now time to taste and enjoy your first espresso.

Melissa Faulk

Melissa Faulk

More than anything, I love the community and sharing what I know with others. I love to write about all things coffee, whether it's the art of espresso making or the finer points of cappuccinos or the difference between lungo and normale or rhapsodizing about my love of ristretto. For me, coffee truly is a life-long passion.