Chances are, your favorite type of coffee drink, contains a shot of espresso.
The term café-espresso dates back to the 1880’s. The word “espresso” came from the concept of coffee made to order or expressly for the person ordering it.
The word also means fresh coffee – made from freshly roasted beans, not older than two weeks, and freshly ground before brewing. The first espresso machine was invented by Luigi Bezzera, an Italian inventor, in 1905.
An espresso shot is a concentrated, coffee beverage with a layer of crema on top. The espresso puck, tightly packed finely-ground coffee, is put into the espresso machine and water is forced through the grounds to produce a very strong little cup of coffee.
Types of Espresso Coffee Drinks
The list almost seems endless! A few of the popular once you would easily recognize include an Americano, Cappuccino, Affogato and a Latte. Other variations include a Doppio, Café Bombón, Antoccino, Cafe Zorro, and Espressino.
If you like the potent taste of a pure espresso, you can drink it straight up. Usually when you order one in a restaurant or café, you will receive a glass of water to balance the intense taste. The espresso forms the base of quite a few milk-based variations, such as the cappuccino. There are a few speciality drinks that even add tea to the espresso! You can also make an Irish coffee, espresso with alcohol, which is a delicious dessert drink.
For now we’ll stick to the basics, teaching you how to make some of the most popular espresso drinks. Using an espressos machine makes it much quicker, but there are alternative ways as well.
How to make an Espresso
Needless to say, this is the most important step for you to make all the other drinks. If you invest in a good machine, this step will be very easy.
We have saved you the hard work of comparing espresso machines. Refer to our guide of the best semi-automatic espresso machines here.
A few important elements to get right are the type of water you use, how fine you’ve grinded your coffee and how much coffee you use. If you can use filtered water, you are almost guaranteed a better tasting end product. An espresso uses extra fine coffee grounds, as an estimate, the coffee grinds need to be as fine as table salt particles. You need to pack your espresso puck quite full to make sure it comes out strong enough, push down the tamper nice and hard to compress the coffee grounds.
If you are using an automatic machine to make an espresso, all you need to do is get these three elements in place, and press a button. Or if you are a more advanced coffee brewer, you have probably experimented with your semi-automatic espresso machine to get it just right.
Another alternative way to make an espresso without a machine, is to use a Moka pot on your stove. The pot basically uses the same concept as a machine, forcing water through the coffee grounds with steam pressure. The trick is to use the right type of coffee blend and to grind them as fine as possible. A dark roast is best for an espresso.
Timing is everything when making an espresso. If you don’t leave the puck in the machine for long enough, the coffee will be too weak. When you leave it in for too long, the coffee will be too strong and taste bitter. The best extraction time is roughly 25 to 30 seconds, half a minute for the perfect cup.
To produce the best espresso, you need to consider investing in good equipment, such as an espresso machine and grinder. With all that in place, you’re ready to make an espresso. If you want to use a Moka pot, we’ve got a handy YouTube video you can watch. For now we’ll focus on making one with an espresso machine.
Refer to our guide for the best espresso machines for home use
First fill your machine with cold, preferably filtered, water. Turn on the machine and wait for it to heat up. Depending on the type of machine, this could take between15 to 45 minutes. Place an empty porta filter into the group head, run your machine for a couple of seconds to push fresh water through the machine’s steaming parts.
To make sure that the coffee is grinded fine enough, check that it clumps loosely and it should appear almost powdery, but still a bit gritty if you rub it between your fingers. To create a nice strong cup of coffee, place between 18 to 21 grams of fresh coffee grounds into the portafilter, compacting it before you compress it with your tamper. Level out the grounds with your forefinger, ensuring there aren’t any air pockets in between. Make sure you put quite a bit of force behind the tamping action, pressing the coffee grounds down evenly.
Place the portafilter into the grouphead to begin brewing. Follow all the stages as listed by your specific machine, such as the pre-brew stage. Begin the infusion of coffee grounds with the water, timing it to maximum half a minute extraction time. Before you serve the espresso, mix in the crema to enhance the flavor.
How to make a Cappuccino
Once you’ve mastered the art of creating the perfect espresso, you can move onto the next challenge: creating creamy foam from milk. If you’re using an espresso machine, the trick is to get the angle between the milk jug and the steam wand or nozzle right.
First you need to fill your jug with the right amount of milk. This is a very important step, too much milk and it will bubble over when you start frothing it. Only fill the jug half way.
To start the steaming process, or as the baristas call it milk stretching, sink the steam wand below the milk surface and wait for the hissing sound to start. Micro-foam will start to form as you gently let air into the milk. Keep the nozzle just slightly under the milk surface to create the foam. If the milk starts spinning into a whirlpool-like motion, you know you’re doing it right. This step should take about five seconds if you’re doing it right. A cappuccino needs a bit more foam than a latte.
Next you need to submerge the steam wand to about one fifth of an inch or half a centimeter from the milk surface, while the milk is still spinning in a whirlpool-like motion. By this point you shouldn’t hear any hissing, maybe just the occasional bubble that is still popping. The micro-foam that has been created will be mixed into the rest of the milk.
To create the perfect milk whirlpool, tilt the jug a little bit. The sweet spot is just off-center, try to keep the wand there from start to finish. Keep the whirlpool going until the milk heats up to the point where it’s almost too hot to touch, this is about 140°F or 60°C. If you are making froth for a latte, you can stop when the milk is at about 122°F or 50°C.
Tip: to produce the best foam, use full cream milk. The fat soluble found in it helps to create nice frothy foam.
Once you’ve removed the steam wand, give the milk jug one solid thumb on the counter, to get rid of any big bubbles that got stuck. Leave the jug on the counter while you get the espresso shot ready. Before you pour the milk in, swirl the jug around to evenly mix the micro-foam and milk. Don’t swirl too rough, otherwise you’ll create extra bubbles. The milk should be all shiny, like wet paint.
Creating pretty barista art with the pour is a story for another day, but as long as your foam comes out first when you start pouring, you’ve spun your milk sufficiently. Rest the spout of the jug on the side of your cup for the perfect pour.
If you want to make a cappuccino without a machine, use your Moka pot to prepare your espresso shot and an electric mixer to create the foam. Steam the milk in a saucepan with the stove plate on medium. Don’t boil it, just let it simmer until bubbles start forming. After removing it from the stove plate, start whipping it, increasing the speed as the foam starts to thicken the milk. Mix until you are happy with the foam density.
How to make an Americano
The Americano almost takes the best of both worlds between a pure espresso and a traditional filter coffee, combining the perfect amount of strong coffee and water to create a lovely refreshing drink. You can decide if you want to drink it black or if you want it to be closer to a creamy cappuccino by adding some milk.
To make the perfect Americano, you need to mix 2 parts water for every shot of espresso. On the very technical side, it is called an Americano if you first pour in the shot and then add the water. This way the crema is mixed in nicely to create a creamy drink. If you add the water first and then the espresso, the crema will mostly remain at the top and it’s called a Long Black.
Experiment with the taste difference between these two versions to decide which one you prefer best. With this drink the water you use will again play a big role. For the best results, try to use purified water.
Happy espresso drink making! Let us know what your favorite is.