Basic Coffee Brewing Techniques: Espresso | Lightwave Coffee

Espresso mid-brew

Since its invention in 1906, Espresso has found itself everywhere — So much so, that a drink that was once reserved for dedicated cafes in Italy is now possible to brew on your countertop at home. While espresso may be suited well to a commercial cafe setting, there is no reason the same quality coffee can’t be brewed at home with some basic knowledge, a few pieces of equipment, and an understanding of espresso techniques.

Why Espresso?

Compared to the French Press or Drip Coffee, it’s hard to say that espresso is a “simple” or basic coffee brewing method. Despite that, brewing espresso creates one of the boldest, most nuanced, and most versatile coffees the bean can offer. Typically, basic drip coffee is brewed with hot water at neutral pressure, which enables the water to extract caffeine and flavor from the coffee beans over a period of time, usually three to five minutes. Espresso, conversely, brews with hot water at high pressure (9 bars, usually), which enables the hot water to extract a similar amount of caffeine and flavor in a much shorter amount of time, about 20 to 30 seconds, and at a much smaller volume. This high pressure, combined with extra-fine packed coffee and the right ratio of water, creates a delicious, syrupy, and concentrated espresso shot that can be drunk straight, or made into a latte, americano, or a variety of other espresso-based coffee drinks.

Espresso brewing into a stoneware cup.

Basics of Espresso

Brewing espresso coffee does require a fair amount of equipment. These are the basics:

  • An Espresso Machine
  • A Portafilter – Typically part of the espresso machine, the portafilter is the handled basket that holds your ground coffee.
  • A Tamper – The tamper is used to pack down your finely ground coffee.
  • A Scale – It’s best to have a scale that can measure in grams.
  • A Timer
  • A Coffee Grinder – Though technically optional, a good coffee grinder can strongly improve your espresso. Freshly ground coffee always tastes better than pre-ground.

Once these pieces of equipment are ready, the process itself is not overly complicated:

  1. To start, weigh out finely ground coffee into your portafilter basket. Most double portafilter baskets are designed to hold around 18-20 grams of finely ground coffee, but it is best to use a scale to stay accurate and have repeatable brews. 
  2. Pack down the coffee with the tamp, and slot the portafilter into the espresso machine.
  3. Place your scale under your cup, and start your brew on the machine. Most machines will have a “Double shot” option, but some may only have a manual start and stop.
  4. Brew until your cup has 40 grams of espresso in it.

And that’s it! The basic technique of espresso brewing doesn’t change, but there are a variety of ways to change your end result. Factors like coffee grind size, water temperature, tamping pressure, coffee freshness, and coffee-to-water ratio can all change the end result of your coffee, so experiment with different techniques to see what best fits your taste! Keep practicing, and you’ll be a seasoned barista in no time.