I have a challenge for those of you who own an espresso machine but still think that their favorite coffee barista place makes a better coffee. Are you ready?
“Imagine that you are the owner of such a shop, perhaps you are the owner of an entire chain of shops. Above all you need to be profitable or else you will go out of business. How much money and effort do you think you can invest in the actual coffee?”
I am not putting this problem to you to make you feel even worse about your coffee brewing skills than you already do. The quality of your coffee beans is paramount, and, as we will come to see, coffee shop owners go to some length to buy the best coffee. The good news is that, despite what the media outlets are saying, the world is becoming a more and more stable and peaceful place to live in from a geo-political perspective. That means industrious, hard working people from what were once third world countries like Columbia, are beginning to reach out and try to sell their product to aficionados like us.
So let’s get right down to it and see how you can achieve the perfect cup of espresso.
It all starts with the coffee.
The bitterness of a coffee cup does not come from the actual coffee but from how well that coffee was roasted. The obvious conclusion you can draw from here is that the strength of the coffee has no connection to its bitterness. You can have a coffee that will be too bitter for anyone else to steal, or you could brew a cup of coffee that, with just a teaspoon of honey will be thought of as a nice treat by a child. Not that you should give coffee to children, mind you!54
So, in your personal quest for the perfect espresso, you should start by buying the minimum amount of coffee you can from a local farmer. I say minimum because that usually means about 22 pounds or 10 kilos – my farmers worked in the metric system. Once you have that coffee you should roast anywhere between 3 and 10 samples at increasing levels of darkness. You can, then, follow the next suggestions, to achieve the best possible coffee each one of those roasts can yield, drink and compare
You should probably start with a smaller number of roasts because the next step will further increase your variables. That is to say, unless your coffee machine has a built in grinder, you will need to grind the coffee at different levels of coarseness. What you are looking for is to achieve that specific granulation level where the espresso has a thick layer of foam. If your grains are to course, the water will just flow through them and you will end up with a very thing, watery coffee. If the grains are too fine, and the coffee machine does not have enough pressure, you may not even get any coffee coming out.
So, do play around with how find you can get the coffee grounds because, eventually, you should get at least a .2 inch foam on top of your espresso.
Personally I find this video by Yankee Prepper to be absolutely fascinating although he does not demo the latest roasters on the market
Finally, we get to the actual brewing of the espresso. I have been fixating on it because I love a good cup of cappuccino and that is the first step in achieving it. If you prefer coffee you can just brew a coffee instead. A new method of making coffee, one that will get its own article and perhaps its own video in time, is pour over method, where you have a simple filter that you put on top of a coffee cup. Next you are to pour a bit of hot water over the coffee in the filter so that it will start to open up and develop the flavors, and only then pour the rest of the water. But that is for another time! In the meanwhile you may find the following video entertaining and a good introduction.
For now, you should know that it is very important to pack the coffee grounds as tightly as you can in the espresso machine’s filter. The coursness of the grains should be enough to let the water through no matter how tight you press in the coffee.
One other thing that you should know is that the type of filter that your espresso is using will greatly affect the quality of your coffee. You could even buy a cheaper espresso maker but buy an aftermarket filter. All the best shops use filters that span the entire surface of the coffee holder above it. The cheaper ones will have just a single, center spout, or 2 so you can have 2 cups of coffee at the same time. My advice would be to avoid those and go for a professional filter.
Once you have found your preferred level of roasting, you can and should roast the entire bag as soon as possible. After that you should vacuum seal the coffee in smaller bags and only ground it when you are preparing to brew a fresh cup.
Looking back on all the steps listed here I feel that someone who has never gone through the entire process might feel like it is a daunting task. However I can guarantee that it will not feel so monumental when you are in the middle of it. Each step of the process is so packed with flavors and aromas that you will fall even more deeply in love with your coffee. Assuming that you already have an espresso maker, the rest of the tools you will need are relatively cheap. A coffee grinder that will allow you to choose how fine the coffee is ground would be very useful, and there are special coffee roasters for home use that will give you better control over the roasting temperature and time. However, the coffee itself will be premium coffee and you will actually be paying less than you would for a store brand version, so overall, in time, you will be paying less for so much, much more!