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Home Espresso: What It Takes

a double shot of espresso drips out of a machine and into a ristretto cup with text that says Cafe-Quality Espresso In Your Kitchen Here at Batdorf and Bronson, we often get asked about making espresso at home.

It seems like a simple enough question, but there is more to this century-old coffee extraction practice than you might think. According to Italian lore, to make espresso you need The Four Ms:

Macinazione

Proper grinding, therefore, a good burr grinder, mistakenly it is often a second-thought during planning.

Miscela
The Blend referring to roasted whole bean coffee that is no more than two weeks past roast.

Macchina
The Machine usually occupies the spotlight of most home systems, often imitated, a good pump driven machine is a must.

Mano
Literally Hand, refers to the skilled hand of a barista.

When you get down to it, the cost, maintenance, and time required can be a big hurdle. If you are a true Espresso devotee and feel undaunted by the challenges, read on!

a thin slice of a closeup image of a Baratza virtuoso burr grinder overlaid with the text Macinazione

The oft-forgotten critical tool

Burrs are a must!
Most people focus so much on the machine, they forget to budget for a capable grinder.  Espresso requires a precisely fine grind, which can take several adjustments to achieve. Plan on going through a bit of coffee, just to calibrate the grinder each time you make espresso.  We've already written a great explanation of grinder technology and what to look for in a good grinder, find it here.
dramatic beams of light illumiate a Baratza Vario burr grinder

TO SUM IT UP:

B a d G r i n d e r + H i g h - E n d E s p r e s s o M a c h i n e = B a d E s p r e s s o
G r e a t G r i n d e r + E n t r y - L e v e l + E s p r e s s o M a c h i n e = G o o d E s p r e s s o
G r e a t G r i n d e r + H i g h - E n d M a c h i n e = A m a z i n g E s p r e s s o

a think slice of a photo of a home espresso machine overlaid with the text Macchina

The "Star"

Expect to spend at least $600 for a new entry-level machine (about $400 used).
Beware! There are MANY products advertised as "Espresso Machines", but few actually achieve the necessary pressure output to produce true espresso.
About 9 bar of pressure is required to produce espresso with proper Crema, Body, and Heart.
a fully equipped Breville espresso machine sits on a counter beside portafilter and ristretto cups

Espresso Machine Types

Super-Automatic
Pump Driven, User just pushes the buttons, machine does the rest, no skill required
Semi-Automatic Machines
Pump Driven - 2 Types
Manual
User starts and stops brewing process. Ideal for the home barista
 Volumetric
Stops brewing process when correct water amount dispensed (user programmed)
Lever
User Driven, User pulls lever to mechanically create pressure for brewing
low-angle side view of a tamper being used to compress the coffee in a portafilter

Accessories

The grinder and machine are not all.  The following list contains the other must-have tools for producing the best espresso at home. 
Tamper:  
Some machines come with cheap plastic ones, but if you want to enjoy making espresso and get better results get a proper tamper
milk is steamed in a stainless steel pitcher using the steam-wand attached to the side of an espresso machine
Steam Pitcher:  
Stainless steel construction, comes in varying sizes for producing large or small beverages.
Thermometer:  
Steamed milk has a sweet spot, if you introduce too much heat & steam you can scorch the milk, resulting in a burnt flavor.
a portafilter loaded with coffee sits on a kitchen scale
Digital Scale:
A scale that measures in grams with precision to .01g is extremely helpful for developing consistency from shot to shot.
Timer:  
Because timing your shots is another important way to build consistency.
two shot glasses collect the espresso that drips from the portafilter on an espresso machine
Shot Glasses:  
For extracting your shots into, clear glasses help you visually evaluate your output.
a bottle of coffee machine cleaning powder sits on a countertop alongside a flat-head screw driver and a paint-brush and assorted espresso machine parts
Paint Brush:  
Handy for cleanup, a cheap basic 1-2" brush is perfect.
Espresso Machine Cleaners:  
Keeping your machine free of scale deposits and your portafilter baskets clean is much easier with the proper supplies.  

OUR ADVICE:

Work with a dedicated Espresso Machine retailer to find a proper machine for your budget and needs, we recommend:
Espresso Parts, in Olympia, Washington.
Espresso Supply, in Seattle, Washington.
Seattle Coffee Gear, in Seattle, Washington.
a thin slice of a closeup image of coffee beans with the word Miscela overlaid on top

The fresher, the better!

Should be no more than two-weeks past the roast date. Roasted coffee beans contain CO2, an important component during espresso extraction, which off-gasses over time.
This CO2 is necessary for the generation of proper crema during extraction. 

'Specialty' Quality Arabica coffee beans Carries a Q-Grade of 80 or Higher (Out of 100). The best quality coffee available is Specialty Coffee, tasted and rated by certified coffee professionals to ensure a flawless cup with desirable taste qualities.

a handsome man in a laboratory setting uses a spoon to sample coffee from a long row of shot glasses

Water:  Feeding your machine bad water or plain tap water can ruin the machine and void warranties.  Espresso machines dont like very hard water, they also don't work well with distilled water (your taste buds wont like the flavor either).Use filtered water (free of sediment, chlorine, metals, off odors) with a moderate amount of mineral content for machine health and great tasting espresso.

a short wide image of two hands carefully arranging a row of coffee-filled shot glasses on a countertop with the word Mano appearing in the center
The Skills to Pay the Bills

A great tasting espresso does not happen on its own even with the finest grinder, espresso machine, and coffee beans. The person preparing the espresso plays a huge role as well. Proper technique in preparation (dosing, leveling grounds, tamping, etc.) and good a brew recipe (coffee, water, time) are all under control of the barista (thats you!). Small missteps in preparation or brew recipe details can manifest themselves as very unpleasant flavors in the cup.  Some training and practice will go a long way to getting more enjoyment out of your home setup.

a barista places a beautifully poured latte onto a saucer

Learning the craft is a rewarding experience.

More blog posts on the details of making good espresso, steaming milk, preparing cappuccinos etc. are on the way.

 

We love your feedback, so if you have a specific question- or there is a topic you would like to see us explain further, leave a comment below or on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram

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