Pulling an Espresso

Has Bean, my goto place for beans and guides to brewing coffee, doesn't have a guide for pulling espresso (which is fair enough, I suppose, seeing as they're brew guides!). So here's what I do. I wrote this note in EverNote a few weeks back, and was showing it to Annabel this morning (in the hopes of getting a coffee in bed!). She suggested I publish it here.

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Has Bean, my goto place for beans and guides to brewing coffee, doesn’t have a guide for pulling espresso (which is fair enough, I suppose, seeing as they’re brew guides!). So here’s what I do. I wrote this note in EverNote a few weeks back, and was showing it to Annabel this morning (in the hopes of getting a coffee in bed!). She suggested I publish it here.

I’m building espressos with a Rancilio Silvia, and I’ve got a Rancilio Rocky grinder without a doser. The grinder settings vary wildly between models, so test and adjust as necessary!

Numbers

  • Grinder 8

  • Dose 18g coffee beans. Our scales are a bit variable, so 18g can range all the way from ‘not enough’ to 'too much’. Err on the side of too much; you can discard the excess levelling it off.

Method

  1. Run some water through the espresso machine into the cup. This warms up the portafilter a bit, and warms up the cup.

  2. Set the grinder to the right setting while it is still empty. Weigh the beans and dump into the grinder. Make sure none get stuck on the guard.

  3. Remove the portafilter and dry it off with a cloth. This stops any of the ground coffee from clumping.

  4. Grind the beans directly into the portafilter, giving it a wee shoogle now and then so the grinds stay relatively level.

  5. Give the portafilter a wee tap on a hard surface and level the grinds off with your finger – the grinds should be about level with the top of the portafilter at this stage.

  6. First tamp. I tamp on a set of bathroom scales for two reasons: I get some feedback on how much pressure I’m applying; and I don’t damage the kitchen worksurfaces! I aim to apply about 3 stone (40ish lb) pressure when tamping.

  7. Tap the side of the portafilter a little with the tamper to loosen up the edges.

  8. Second tamp. Much like the first. Sometimes I slightly rock the tamper pointing to North, East, South & West because I read somewhere that’s a good technique. Can’t tell if it makes any difference though. :)

  9. Dust any grinds off the top of the portafilter. Keep it nice and clean so that grinds don’t unnecessarily clog up the machine, or reduce pressure.

  10. Firmly reattach the portafilter to the espresso machine.

  11. Discard the water that was keeping the cup warm, and place under the portafilter.

  12. Pull an espresso. Ideally, you’d expect the coffee to start coming through after about 5 seconds, and for it to continue to pull the espresso for about 20 seconds. But my way of knowing the pull is “done” is to watch for the stream of coffee to change colour. It’ll change from a rich looking crema colour to a weak beige. That’s a good time to stop.

  13. Take a slurp of the crema from the cup right when it’s freshest. (Unless you’re making the coffee for somebody else. Oh, go on, even if it’s for somebody else, if they’re not watching!)

  14. Remove the portafilter and dump the grinds. Rinse the portafilter under the group head, then wipe them both clean. Replace the portafilter and you’re ready to pull the next espresso!

Things to note:

  • Once you get into the swing of it, you can time things right so that the Silvia is just at the right temperature when you’re pulling the espresso. I tend to pull enough water in step 1 that the boiler clicks on. By the time I get to step 12, the boiler has just clicked off. This seems to get a better pull of espresso.

  • Cleaning is a key part of the ritual! Make sure you’ve got a clean cloth kicking around, and keep the espresso machine clean, and free of grinds.

It seems like a very long winded process, but in reality it takes just a couple of minutes. In fact, it’s about the same length of time as boiling the kettle and making a cup of tea, something I often do in parallel.

What would you do differently?

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