How to Make an Espresso

By Kelsey Casselbury

Start to Finish: 30 seconds to two minutes

Servings: One

Difficulty Level: Beginner

When made correctly, espresso is a rich, vibrantly flavored beverage. When the proper methods aren't followed, however, espresso can take on a sour, bitter or even salty taste. Double-check your roasted coffee beans, grinding skills and water quality to ensure your espresso turns out just how it's supposed to taste.

Cup of espresso
credit: Steve Mason/Photodisc/Getty Images
Enjoy a freshly brewed cup of espresso.

Prepare the Machine

If possible, hook the espresso machine up to a waterline. If you're manually filling the reservoir, ensure the water is cold, filtered and not too hard or too soft. Turn the machine on and allow the machine anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to heat up, depending on the size of the machine.

Grind the Beans

Espresso requires a finer grind than other types of coffee making, and the pieces should end up being around the size of a grain of table salt. However, a too-fine grind can make the espresso taste bitter or woody because it burns the coffee. On the other end of the spectrum, a coarse grind doesn't permit the full extraction of taste. A standard "doubleshot" serving of espresso should be between 18 and 21 grams of ground coffee.

Tamp the Coffee

Tamping the espresso refers to putting pressure on the coffee to create a pellet that the hot water penetrates evenly, rather than allowing the water to take paths of least resistance through the grounds. Add the grounds to the porta-filter basket, and then position your wrist, arm and elbow directly over the center of the basket. Press the grounds evenly and inspect the pellet to ensure it's level. You can also use an espresso tamper, a tool that fills the porta-filter basket and evenly presses on the ground coffee.

Prepare the Espresso

Begin infusion. If your machine offers a pre-infusion stage, do that first to release stored gases. The brew ends when you have about 2 fluid ounces or 30 grams of espresso in your glass. It should have a creamy white crema, which is a light and forthy, on the top, which you can stir in before drinking.