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Last Updated on October 12, 2021
If you are new to your espresso machine, or even if you’ve had one for a while, it can seem like a difficult contraption to use. We are often amazed at the way that the barista at our local coffee house seems so at ease with the giant machine that pumps out our cappuccinos and lattes. Making them at home seems a bit more scary.
However, if you don’t want to spend the cash at the local coffee shop, or if you just want to have full control of your espresso making experience, then you want to become comfortable using your espresso machine.
An automatic espresso machine, the countertop size, not the coffee house size, is perfect for making a delicious espresso machine at home.
So, how do you start? Well we’ve put together a step-by-step guide for how to make a great cup of espresso, using your automatic espresso machine.
7 Steps: How to Use an Automatic Espresso Machine
So, to help guide you to success, here are the seven steps to a perfect espresso.
Step 1. Turn on And Preheat Your Espresso Machine
You wouldn’t throw a pizza in the oven without preheating the oven first, right? Well, your espresso machine is no different. In order to avoid bitter, burnt espresso, make sure you warm up your machine.
Some machines will give you instructions on how to do this. However, the easiest way is to simply run some water through the machine before you add the grounds.
Step 2. Measure and Grind Your Espresso Beans
This is paramount to making a great espresso. You want to weigh your grounds, not just guess the volume.
First you’ll grind your espresso beans. Always use fresh grounds, and make sure that your grinder is set to fine grind the beans.
Then, take the portafilter (this is the little metal cup in your espresso machine. It has tiny holes in the bottom), and set it on your kitchen scale. Tare the scale to zero.
Into the portafilter weigh around 20 grams of coffee grounds. It is important to mention that you should read the owner’s manual of your espresso machine to find out the amount that is recommended by the manufacturer.
Some espresso machines will grind the perfect amount of coffee for the machine. If this is your espresso machine, congratulations! Just hit the grind button and the work is done.
Step 3. Tamp the Grounds
Level off the grounds in your portafilter to make sure that they are evenly distributed in the cup. This will ensure that the water is evenly distributed through the grounds.
Before putting the portafilter back on the machine, you will need to tamp down the grounds. You can use your fingers, the back of a spoon, or if you’re really serious, you can buy an espresso tamper.
Make sure that you press down straight and even so you get a level puck. A level puck will eliminate or reduce the potential for channeling in the grounds, and a better cup of espresso. How do you know when the puck is ready? Well, when the grounds stop settling, you’ve hit your mark.
Step 4. Pull Your First Shot
Now, you’ve got your machine warmed up, and your grounds are tamped into a perfect puck, it’s time to make your first shot of espresso.
Make sure the portafilter is set into the group head (this is the part that holds the filter in the machine), and that it is locked securely in position. Because your espresso machine creates a lot of pressure it is important to make sure that everything is secure.
It should take 20 to 30 seconds to pull a double shot (2 ounces) of espresso. There is some variation on this time depending on your machine and if it uses a pump or steam to generate pressure.
Congratulations! You’ve made your first shot of espresso.
Step 5. Dial Your Shot In
To be fair, if this is the first time you’ve tried making espresso, the chances are good that it’s not going to be as tasty as you think. You’ll need to do a bit of experimenting with your machine, the amount of grounds, and the type of beans you use to get to the perfect shot of espresso just like Starbucks.
If your espresso machine uses a pump to create pressure, you may need to dial in the pressure for the best tasting result. Watch the pressure gauge to see where it usually falls when you’re making your espresso. If your espresso is weak, you may need more pressure. If it’s bitter and too strong, maybe a little less pressure is the answer.
Ideally, your espresso should have a bit of foam when it’s done, and this is a good indicator that your machine is set to an acceptable level of pressure.
Other factors that you may need to alter to make the best tasting shot include: grind coarseness, bean type and water.
Step 6. Steam the Milk
Now part of the fun of having an espresso machine is making those yummy espresso based drinks like cappuccinos and lattes. To do this you need to steam some milk.
Some espresso machines have a built-in steam wand. This feature concentrates steam to heat and froth milk. To use this feature, pour cold milk (whole milk works best) into a stainless steel pitcher.
Insert the wand into the milk, and slowly turn on the steam. Be mindful of this process. The pressurized steam can eject hot milk from the pitcher if you aren’t paying attention, and this can lead to burns.
Do make sure you clean the steam wand promptly after making your steamed milk. If the milk dries on the wand it is really hard to get off.
If your espresso machine doesn’t have a steam wand, you can invest in a small milk frother and steamer. These work great, create the same result, without the steam.
Step 7. Cleaning and Maintenance
Cleaning and maintaining your espresso machine appropriately is really important to ensuring that every shot of espresso is delicious. We recommend that you follow the instructions that came with your espresso machine for best results.
Some automatic espresso machines will tell you when they need to be cleaned, emptied or the bean canister filled. This is a nice option, but these machines are a bit pricey.
For less fancy machines, after every use, dump the portafilter and rinse with water so that grounds don’t plug the holes in the filter. Periodically, you’ll want to run plain water with a bit of white vinegar through the machine to knock down hard water mineral build-up and to get rid of lingering tastes.
And don’t forget the steamer wand. This attachment can get really gross, so make sure that you disassemble the wand as much as possible so that you can clean milk from all of the nooks and crannies.
For the coffee lover, an espresso machine is an essential for the kitchen. Once you learn the ins and outs of your new espresso maker, you’ll find that you would much rather have an espresso in the morning than settle for a boring cup of drip coffee.