Espresso coffee: how to prepare it to perfection in 9 steps

I maestri della tostatura media

After having told and explained how to prepare coffee with the Moka, the ‘Aeropress, the French Press, the Chemex, the V60, the Clever, the Siphon, the Napoletana and the Cold Brew it is finally time to describe how to prepare a perfect espresso!

I waited so long to talk to you about espresso because, even if it doesn’t seem like it, it is the most complicated method of all, both in terms of the instrument used, a real engineering jewel, and for all the variables that affect the result in the cup.

As you have already noticed by reading the previous articles, each method has its own characteristics, thus requiring a coffee, a grinding and a specific water temperature.

All this in espresso reaches its peak and the impact of every variable becomes even more important.

Let’s start immediately with:
  • The history of coffee and the espresso machine
  • The final result
  • The steps for preparation
  • Grinding focus
  • Recommended coffee

The history of coffee and the espresso machine

It is the beginning of 1900, Milan is a city in full development and ferment. It is a time of revolution and growth for the automotive and aeronautical industries, for culture and design, for the arts and crafts. Lots of news and also a pleasant scent of coffee.

That is exactly when the Milanese Luigi Bezzera presented the first espresso machine with steam operation.

Meanwhile, in 1909 the shop in Corso Buenos Aires, the current Torrefazione Ernani, welcomed its first customers. Thus, together with the unmistakable roasted aroma, an authentic passion for coffee begins to spread through the streets.

From the birth of the espresso machine, a new coffee culture was created: from a drink with slow preparation and administration, it became a short and fast-consuming cup, to be “drunk on the fly”, as an advertisement from the 1950s mentions. Hence the social impact of espresso and our great Italian tradition.

Espresso is so called precisely because it must be prepared specifically on the customer’s request, then ground and extracted at the moment, to be consumed in a few seconds!
All this to respond to the ever faster rhythms of metropolitan life, but still leaving the spare time for a “coffee break”.
Foto storica di una delle prime macchine da espresso con caldaia verticale, degli anni '50

As already mentioned, the first coffee machine was created in the early 1900s by Luigi Bezzera and Desiderio Pavoni. They patented the first machine that extracted coffee from a stick of ground coffee, through the use of hot water pushed by the pressure of the steam.

However, they were still very far from the result in the cup that we know today, as the coffee had no body and did not have the cream. Overall it was more like a coffee extracted with the moka pot.

Curiosity: these first machines were dangerous, so much so that a license was needed for use. The large boiler full of pressurized steam in fact risked bursting if not well controlled.


Only in 1948 the “real” espresso made its entrance.

Thanks to Achille Gaggia, the lever was introduced, which activates a system of pumps that attribute greater force and pressure to the water as it passes through the ground dough, so as to create the espresso cream.

In fact, you can see the quote “natural coffee cream” in another advertising poster.

This was a real revolution, both mechanical and cultural.

Foto storica della prima Faema E61

We now come to another great change: the Faema E61, introduced in 1961. This is the first machine with an electric pump and heat exchanger, thus approaching the aesthetics and functioning of today’s machines.

The Faema E61 has now become a symbol, both for historical importance and for its vintage charm.

Finally we come to 1970 when La Marzocco introduced the first dual boiler machine.

Since that moment, espresso coffee machines have innovated at the speed of light, becoming more and more sophisticated, offering the possibility of modeling every single variable according to your needs. They are in fact multi-boilers, with the possibility of creating different pressure and temperature profiles for the different groups, they have integrated scales, intelligent steam wands and a technology to support the barista.

This was the evolution of Made in Italy as an emblem of quality, with an unmistakable taste.

Result of coffee in the cup

Espresso is unmistakable and one of a kind.

It is a short and concentrated drink, with a good body and above all with a thick and compact cream on the surface, which acts as a stopper for the aromas.

The taste is intense and with a very wide range of aromas.

In short, it is a perfect extraction method for all those who want an intense and creamy coffee.

Steps for the preparation of the espresso

We have thus arrived at the main part of this article: the extraction of an espresso in a workmanlike manner.

So let’s define what an espresso is:

It is a hot drink, obtained from the extraction of roasted and freshly ground coffee, with a dose of about 7/9 gr. The extraction takes place using the espresso machine, with an extraction time between 22-28 seconds, at a temperature of about 110-120 ° C in the boiler and a pressure of about 9 atmospheres. All this for a dose in the cup of around 18220 ml, at a temperature of about 80/90 ° C.

As you can guess, espresso has very precise parameters and data, which must be respected, adapting them only to the specifications of the coffee used and the desired result.

Extraction steps:
  1. First of all you have to select the desired coffee, (we see it in the following parts of the article);
  2. Now empty the filter from the previous, now exhausted coffee, clean it with a brush with food bristles and dry it with a microfibre cloth;
  3. Grind the coffee (we see this too later);
  4. Weigh the ground. The dose must be constant: between 7-7.5 g if we are talking about a 100% Robusta coffee, between 7.5-8.5 g if we are talking about blends with a higher percentage of Arabica and between 8 , 5-9,2 g for single-origin Arabica coffee;
  5. Level the ground coffee in the filter with a few taps or with a special tool, this to distribute the coffee evenly and prevent lumps or thicker walls from forming in any point;
  6. Press the dough with a pressure of about 15 kg vertically, then perpendicular to the support surface, being very careful not to create one side thicker than another. This is because water, being a liquid, tends to pass where it finds less resistance and therefore where there is less coffee. This is why it is very important to be precise in all phases, to ensure that the water extracts the substances uniformly from all our ground;
  7. Drain the machine, then purge the water without the filter holder attached, so as to clean any residues of the previous coffee;
  8. Start the extraction. The coffee thread that arrives in the cup must be a “rat tail”, therefore a continuous thread, wider on the top and finer on the bottom;
  9. Check the seconds of extraction, which must be around 25 seconds on average. If it goes beyond 25-28 seconds, the drink is over-extracted and therefore very bitter, if instead it is under 22-25 seconds, the drink will be under-extracted, therefore not very aromatic, astringent and sour.
The coffee is ready!

Grinding focus

Grinding in espresso is FUNDAMENTAL!
If you do not make this right, it is impossible to make a well-made espresso.

But unfortunately I can’t give you a specific indication to always make the perfect grind, because there is no rule!

To understand if the grind is correct, you can only observe how the coffee goes into the cup and correct it accordingly.

So very simply I tell you:

  • Does the coffee go down dripping a little at a time and exceeds 28 seconds of extraction? The grinding is too fine and the water cannot pass between the ground grains, so it must be enlarged;
  • Does the coffee go down in a few seconds and it looks like a swollen river? The grind is too large and the water runs away through the coffee, not taking any substance and perfume with it. It must therefore be tightened.

Attention! When you change the grind, remember to empty the entire tank of previously ground coffee.

Once you have found the right grind, the work is not finished… In fact, you have only found the right grind for the coffee for that precise moment.

If the environment changes, it becomes wetter or drier, it starts to rain, temperatures rise, you change the coffee and so on, the grind must be corrected immediately!

Watch the video to find out everything about grinding! (PS. From minute 9.12 see just how to extract a correct espresso)

To grind coffee, you have three solutions:
  1. Professional electric On Demand grinder, the best solution for obtaining quality coffee, which grinds on the spot only the dose of coffee required for the order, always keeping the product fresh and constant possible;
  2. Electric grinder with dispenser, the solution currently most used in the premises due to its speed of service, even if, if it is not used well, it does not always offer great quality. This is because after 15 minutes from grinding, 60% of the aromas are already gone. Therefore, if you grind a lot of coffee, filling the entire tank, and leave it there to rest, the coffee will be compromised. Therefore, only a small dose should always be ground based on the amount of work in the room;
  3. Manual, perfect for home use, portable and space-saving.

But be careful that all these must have in the grinders, conical or flat, which break the beans evenly, creating a real “powder” of coffee.

Do not buy grinders, especially manual ones, which instead have blades, similar to those of the blender, as they would not break the beans, but would chop them in an uneven and very coarse way, as with a knife, definitively ruining the final cup.

Recommended coffees

For espresso you can indulge yourself with any coffee!

From deep-sea washed Arabica monorgine to 100% natural Robusta.

Each coffee is fine, but you have to adjust the parameters described above …

If you choose more delicate coffees, such as Arabica coffees, to make up for any lack of body or intensity, you increase the dose of the ground a little, on the contrary if you opt for a Robusta, decrease the dose and so on.

What is the rule?

Your palate! taste and experiment, so you will find the perfect coffee that suits your tastes.

However, all these coffees you have selected must be Medium Roasted!

In fact, espresso requires body and a nice cream on the surface: shiny, compact, smooth and without bubbles. Finally, the taste must be intense, full and round.

These characteristics are not possible if the coffee has a too light roast, preferable more for filter extractions.

In the same way, a dark roast would not give the coffee more body or creaminess, but only more bitterness, as with this type of roasting you can practically burn the beans.

Our favorite coffees?
  • I, Martina, in this period love Guatemala Huehuetenango
  • Paolo, our roaster, prefers Indian Kalledevarapura
  • Luca, Ernani’s founding partner, would never change Allegro for anything else
  • And finally Fabio, the Bar Manager of the Roasting in Milan, chooses the Strait, intense and with greater bitterness

In the next articles we will then talk about the structure of the espresso machine, analyzing it in depth, and its cleanliness!

Do you want to become an espresso wizard and discover many other things?
We are waiting for you at the Ernani Academy Cafeteria course!

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    Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager
    Coffee Lover


    Martina Mazzoleni

    Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager Coffee Lover

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