How to Make a Perfect Espresso Shot

Technically, there is no one perfect espresso; rather, the perfect espresso is one that’s characteristics fall within certain widely agreed upon parameters that coffee aficionados believe makes a perfect espresso. Some have a narrower definition of the perfect shot than others, but they all call that elusive creature by one name: The God Shot.

Semantics

The definition of the perfect espresso can vary regionally. For instance, on the west coast of North America—especially in places like Seattle, Vancouver and Portland—many coffee experts agree the perfect espresso shot is the double ristretto.

A broader definition of the perfect espresso shot is essentially an espresso that falls within the ideal espresso parameters while being perfect to you. People’s tastes fluctuate over time and one person may have two different perfect espressos from two different coffee shops in a short period of time. Even baristas and other coffee experts find that their own definition of the perfect espresso or “God Shot” changes over time.

However, there are a few things that all coffee fans agree on when it comes to a perfect espresso:

  • The perfect espresso IS NOT bitter: While a certain amount of bitterness may be favored by some, it shouldn’t be the primary flavor note because it signifies an over-roast of the coffee beans or an improperly pulled espresso.
  • The perfect espresso IS made from freshly ground beans that are the ideal amount of coarseness. (More on that later.)
  • The perfect espresso IS covered with crema at the top: The exact color of the ideal crema varies in description from “brown” to “golden brown” to “orange” to “rust”. This can be extremely confusing to newbies, but if the crema is light colored (like pale tan) it is an indication that your method is off and you should restart the perfect espresso shot process again.
  • The perfect espresso shot IS achievable—with practice. And the understanding that the perfect shot to you may be different than it is to others and your own taste can fluctuate. However, as long as your espresso falls within the ideal parameters, you’re on your way to the God Shot.

How to Make The Perfect Espresso Shot

Getting Started

There are a few things you need to pull the perfect espresso shot:

  • A quality espresso machine: Certain functions are required to make great espresso—continue reading to see if your machine is capable.
  • Quality espresso beans. They can be dark roast or medium roast—your choice. (Note: Dark roast will be more bitter.)
  • A tamper
  • A portafilter
  • Shot glass or other small cup like a demitasse: Make sure it’s designed for super-hot liquid.

Step 1: Grind your Beans

The ideal grind texture for an espresso shot is roughly that of granulated sugar. If you grind it finer than that, the espresso shot will be too bitter. Improper grinding also messes with the time it takes for water to filter through, which further changes the taste.

Step 2: Dose

The dose is how much of the ground beans you put into the portafilter. Since the standard serving size for espresso is a double shot, we’ll go with that dosage for this article. The ideal dose for a double shot is roughly 18 grams. Some say more, some say less. Play around until you find what you like.

Step 3: Tamp

After you’ve dosed the portafilter, it’s time to tamp it. Take your tamper and apply as evenly as possible 30lbs of pressure. It takes practice to know what this feels like, but the result should be firmly packed ground espresso. It has to be tamped completely level to brew properly.

Step 4: Temperature

The ideal temperature range for espresso is between 195F and 205F; play around with that until you’re happy with your result.

Step 5: Time and pull your perfect espresso

Most agree that the perfect espresso (double shot) is timed between 25 and 30 seconds. You can play around with the time to match your preferences; the less time, the milder the expresso. Avoid going over 30 seconds, however, because that will cause the espresso to become bitter.

After the time is up, pour your espresso into a heated shot glass or demitasse to enjoy.

Extra advice

The three most common types of espresso are normale, lungo and ristretto. As mentioned above, ristretto is popular in North America. With ristretto, a lot of the flavor is from its high level of essential oils, which is why many prefer it and call it the perfect shot. Though, again, the perfect shot is often down to preference.

It’s important to note that once you achieve the ability to make espresso within the ideal quality parameters, only then can you work on pulling the perfect shot. Practice is crucial (and tasty). Many experienced baristas will say they only pull the perfect shot one out of seven times; some say even less often. So, again, practice and enjoy!

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.