We are often asked what makes a perfect espresso?
There is no simple answer, as this is subjective and different people have different criteria when choosing an espresso shot.
So let us look at Espresso beans, roast and extraction methods and help you decide what you need to make your perfect Espresso shot.
The factors that need to be considered are…
- Bean Type
- Roast Strength
- Freshness of bean and roast
- Weight of Coffee grinds
- Size of coffee shot extracted
- Duration of extraction
- Temperature of extraction
So let’s look at each of these factors so you can make that perfect Espresso.
Choosing a bean for Espresso
Personally I like the chocolate, cherry and caramel taste profiles of a Brazilian coffee bean, and it should be Arabica coffee.
Robusta beans tend to be less flavoured, and contain more caffeine and when compared to Robusta they tend to taste more bitter.
I like to think that when people are rewarded for their hard work they will put more effort into producing a quality product rather than cutting corners and extracting as much profit as they can.
There are too many companies that exploit coffee growers so we feel it is important that you source a reputable coffee supplier and Fairtrade is a good benchmark to go on.
If you can buy direct from the grower it will be better, but you often have to buy in bulk to make this cost effective.
You will find each region has different flavour profiles, so experiment and find the region that suits you.
Choosing the best Espresso roast
Darker roasts offer a stronger taste, so for me it has to be Italian or French roast, but if you prefer lighter berry taste profiles then a lighter roast would be better suited to your needs.
See our guide to roasts for a full explanation of what roasts provide in terms of taste profiles or refer to the chart below.
Coffee is only really at it’s best within 30 days of it being roasted, after this time you will lose much of the essential aroma, oils and experience, and if not stored correctly you will defiantly taste the difference between a week old roast and couple of month old roast.
The difference in taste between a 7 day old roast and 3 month old roast is stunning, and surprises many coffee drinkers. Once you’ve had fresh coffee there is no going back.
Where you are making an Espresso this is more true than ever as the taste is not diluted with a milk or other additives.
How to pull an Espresso shot
Too many people assume an espresso shot should fill the cup, THIS IS NOT THE CASE, and will result in over extraction and a bitter taste.
For tips on which coffee makers to use see our Espresso machine buyers guide.
How much coffee grind for an Espresso shot?
I would use 7-9 grams of coffee and a fairly fine grind through a 12 bar Espresso machine to extract 1.5 ounces of coffee. This will be very strong tasting, and carry very little bitterness.
If you prefer your Espresso to provide a caffeine hit, then you should use a blend with more Robusta coffee, and increase the extraction time, to achieve around 2 ounces of coffee.
Extraction size & Duration for espresso.
The longer you extract the shot the more bitter it will taste.
This pulls more caffeine out of the bean, the first ounce of coffee has a very sweet strong taste, but by the 4th ounce you are extracting a more watered down, heavily caffeinated shot.
It will have a bitter taste but you’ll maximise the amount of caffeine extracted. Sometimes you want this, most times you won’t.
See our how to avoid bitter coffee guide for more tips on this.
Temperature of extraction
We find that a lower temperature works best, the idea of using hot steam fills me with horror!
The pressure of the espresso maker is more important than how hot it is, so bear this in mind and look at our guide to bar pressures for espresso makers.
Experiment with your machine, extraction time and water temperatures, the Espresso is one of the best ways to fine tune your extraction and machine setup as you get to taste a pure shot of coffee.