Getting the most out of your coffee can seem like a big task. You might find that sometimes you get a cup of delicious coffee, and yet other times you’re left wondering what went wrong. Luckily, we’re here to break down 6 simple tips to help you get the most from your coffee machine.
So grab a cup of coffee, and get ready to dive in. Even if you learn one new thing, your coffee will be much better for it.
- Grinding your coffee
- Distribution and Tamping
- Extracting your shot
- Steaming milk
- Cleaning your machine
Grinding Your Coffee
To get the most from your beans, it’s best to grind them just before you go to make your cup of coffee. As whole beans, your coffee has a lot less surface area – making it easier to stay fresh. We grind our coffee so it’s much easier for the water to extract the oils from our beans, but in doing so the ground coffee releases it’s aromatics and the coffee begins to deteriorate.
Think of a fruit salad – fresh fruit in a bowl will sit on the counter fairly well for a week. Once the fruit is cut into a fruit salad however, you’ll see the freshness and the crispness of the fruit pieces fall away. Same thing with coffee!
If you’re currently buying ground coffee, simply purchasing a grinder will rapidly improve the quality of your morning cup. If this is not currently an option – consider purchasing just enough preground coffee to get you through a couple of weeks.
After grinding your coffee, the next thing to be aware of is your dose. Your dose refers to the amount of coffee you are putting into your portafilter, which the water will then run through to create your espresso shot. The key to consistently great coffee is to keep your method as consistent as possible. In our kafe, this means we weigh our dose to make sure that we have the same dose every shot, with an accuracy of ±0.1g.
If you’re unable to weigh your dose before you extract your coffee – the next best thing is to dose with the same routine each time. This could mean running your grinder for a similar amount of time every time you make your coffee or filling up your portafilter with the same number of scoops of coffee each time. Anything you do to help make sure you use the same amount of coffee will help to improve the consistency of your extraction and in turn your cup of coffee.
Distribution and Tamping
Before we lock the portafilter into the coffee machine and brew our espresso shot, we need to prepare our dose so that the water runs through it as evenly as possible. First of all, we need to distribute the coffee – which basically means levelling the coffee out, and trying to keep the density of the coffee in the portafilter even as well. In our kafe, our grinders drop the coffee evenly into the middle of the portafilter. As the portafilter basket fills up, the grind slowly disperses out across the whole basket. With a simple tap of the portafilter on our hand, we can level the coffee grounds out further.
Lastly before inserting the portafilter into the machine, we tamp the coffee. The most important aspect of tamping is finishing with a nice level tamp. In terms of tamp pressure, we want to push down on the grounds until we feel resistance to pushing any further. Pushing any harder than this will have little effect on the extraction, but tamping with less pressure than this will lead to the water finding a channel through the puck, which will cause an uneven extraction.
Making sure your coffee dose is evenly distributed will make it a lot easier to tamp nice and straight. Aside from this, sit your tamper on the untamped coffee gently, line up the tamper with the sides of the portafilter, and gently start to press down. As you do, be sure to keep even pressure on the tamper so that you don’t slip and push more to one side than the other.
Extracting Your Shot
The next step in improving your cup of coffee is to watch your coffee extract, and understand how to adjust your coffee equipment if the extraction doesn’t go to plan. As you start extracting, you should notice it takes about 6 or so seconds before you see espresso start to drip from the spouts. This is just because during this time, the pump is pushing the water through the dry puck. Once the puck has been saturated, it is easier for more water to run through, and you should notice the coffee run faster as the extraction progresses.
The next thing you should look for is coffee evenly flowing out both spouts. The extraction should start off a deep, rich brown colour, but will lighten over the course if the extraction. Your extraction should come to an end just as the liquid seems to resemble discoloured water – as this shows the coffee has been extracted from the grounds and you’re just running more water through a coffee puck with nothing left to give.
As a guideline, you should aim to extract about 40-50mLs of espresso for your double shot, in about 26-32 seconds. You can measure this volume out with water and pour it into your coffee mug, to get an idea of how high it comes to in your cup. If your extraction pours this volume in less than 26 seconds, you’re possibly under extracting your coffee and ending up with a sour shot of espresso. If however your extraction runs slowly, and it takes more than 32 seconds to brew this volume, you run the risk of over extracting your coffee, which could lead to bitterness.
For fast shots, adjust your grind a little finer to slow down the extraction.
For slow shots, adjust your grind a little coarser to speed the extraction up.
When it comes to steaming milk – a few simple tips will help you improve your flavour and milk texture. Firstly, start with cold, fresh milk. Pour out just enough for the cup(s) of coffee you’re about to make, and try to have as little wastage as possible. This way you can rinse out the jug with the leftover milk and start again fresh next time you make coffee.
In terms of your milk jug – make sure you have the appropriate size jug for the milk you’re steaming. If you’re just making one small cup of coffee, a small 400mL jug will hold more than enough and ensure you have a big enough volume of milk so that you get the whirlpool in your jug.
For milk texture, silky milk is a combination of two things. Firstly, you need to add air into the milk. This is done by lowering the jug, which will move the steam tip to the surface of the milk, and as a result, will add air. This is always done at the start of the milk steaming process, while the milk is cold. Gradually add air until you have the desired amount of foam in your jug.
While this is occurring, you need to have the whirlpool spinning to incorporate the air you’re adding into the milk. The easiest way to achieve this is to have your steam tip sitting slightly off centre in the milk jug, and have your jug tilted on a slight angle so the steam is pushing into the side of the jug. This will push the steam around in a circle and soon your whirlpool will form.
Lastly, for the best milk flavour, try to aim for a temperature of around 65°C. At this temperature, the coffee will be quite an enjoyable drinking temperature for most, and also retain most of the milk’s sweetness.
Cleaning Your Machine
The last, and often most overlooked, tip for improving your coffee at home lies with your equipment itself. You can have delicious beans, your coffee dialled in perfectly, and silky milk, but if your equipment isn’t kept clean, your coffee can be ruined. From portafilter baskets to steam wands, to the group head itself – keeping your equipment clean is a fundamental of consistently great coffee. For home use, it is recommended you backflush your group head with cafetto at least once a week if you use your coffee machine on a daily basis.
Along with this, the water going into your machine also plays a big role. Filtered water will help improve the taste of your coffee, but in Perth, we also need to be wary of the hardness of the water we use. Perth water is notoriously hard, containing Calcium Carbonate. When water is heated up in the boiler of your coffee machine, the Calcium precipitates out – causing scale. If this goes unchecked your machine will slowly deteriorate as the calcium clogs up the inside of the machine. When purchasing a water filter, look for one which softens the water as well as cleaning out impurities.
We hope you enjoyed this guide to help you improve the coffee on your Espresso Machine. If you live near one of our stores – you can book into our Barista Induction course to get some practical experience texturing milk. Read more about our locations and our book.