Coffee is a sensitive topic for us Italians: everyone has their own opinion on how it should be made, whether it can be considered acceptable to add sugar and/or milk, when it should be drunk, whether cappuccino is better that macchiato. There’s something we all agree on, though, and that’s that the best that Italian coffee has to offer is the world-famous espresso.
If you visit Italy, you’ll see people having an espresso everyday, at any given hour. There a few unmissable moments to drink one, though, first and foremost morning. The first coffee allows you to start your day with the right amount of energy, and the after-lunch one helps you keep your strenght up to finish off your working hours.
Let’s now see how to make the perfect espresso. It may seem like an easy task, but you will soon find that it’s everything but.
There are five elements that must be taken into consideration in order to control the quality of a good espresso, and they are the water temperature, the dose of ground coffee, the liquid’s volume, the time of extraction and the machine’s pressure.
Regarding the water temperature, the espresso machine will control it itself, so you will not need to worry about that.
The perfect dose of ground coffee (which, of course, has to be high-quality) is usually seven grams of coffee powder. The majority of coffee machines have this dose already preset, so you just have to respect it.
Coffee liquid volume
The liquid’s volume, instead, is a bit more complicated issue. The coffee will have to be extracted in thirty seconds and the volume should be between twenty and thirty millilitres (between 0.7 and 1 ounce) in that amount of time. Coffee has a particular chacteristic: it’s hydroscopic. This means that it constantly changes its properties according to the air’s humidity. Therefore the coffee extraction will not always be perfect, and it might be different even when it’s made in the same place and using the same technique.
This is the reason why it’s important to know your way around the coffee grinder. The texture of the coffee changes when coffee beans are grinded differently, and every change has the result of making your coffee more or less extracted. Therefore, it changes the extremely delicate equilibrium between the espresso’s sourness and its bitterness.
Italians – and not just them – often dibate whether a good espresso should be “lungo” (long) or “corto” (short), but that’s not up for discussion: the time of extraction has to be of exactly thirty seconds. If you extract it for less that that, it will lose some fundamental parts of its aroma; if you extract it for longer than thirsty seconds it will end up being too bitter.
If thirty seconds are not enough to obtain the amount of coffee you need, you need to adjust the espresso machine grinder until you get what you desire. Always keep in mind that humidity is a determining factor in the amount of liquid that ends up in your espresso cup in thirty seconds.
Espresso Machines Pressure
The last, but extremely important element you need to control in order to achieve perfection in your espresso-making abilities is the machine’s pressure. The pressure is what determines the extraction of aromas in your coffee, which has to be absolutely perfect. It also allows you to produce froth, which in itself doesn’t add anything to the espresso’s aroma, but it surely helps keeping it inside the cup.
A professional espresso machine can cost a lot of money, but there are some good ones available at much cheaper prices. You need to be particularly careful when buying a cheap espresso machine, though, and always keep in mind that they are going to be smaller than the most expensive ones.
This means that their boiler will be smaller too, and the pressure inside of it won’t be enough to get the perfect density for your espresso.
That’s why, if you decide on buying an economic espresso machine, it’s an absolute must to pick a pump-driven and not a pressure-driven one. A cheap pressure-driven machine will give you a mediocre coffee; a cheap pump-driven machine will still allow you to make a great, high-quality Italian espresso.