How to use an Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

Have you ever wanted to brew the perfect cup of espresso in the comfort of your own home? Are you a beginner who is unsure where to begin? This article will walk you through the process, breaking down each step to make my favorite espresso drink – a macchiato.

What You Will Need

  • Semi Automatic Espresso Machine
  • Coffee Grinder
  • Tamp
  • Espresso Cup
  • Arabica Coffee Beans (ideally: Espresso Beans)
  • Cold, filtered water
  • Whole Milk
  • Spoon
  • Small Glass
  • Coffee Mug
  • Coffee syrup of your flavor choice
  • Cinnamon for garnish

Steps to making great espresso:

1. Grind Coffee Beans

Espresso can be made with any type of coffee beans, but if you are not sure where to start, try using medium to dark roast arabica coffee beans for a well balanced brew. We have some recommended beans in this article if you’re totally lost.

An image of raw and grind coffee beans.
Pour the coffee beans into the coffee grinder. If you own a scale, it is recommended to use 6 – 8 grams of coffee for a single shot, and 15 grams for a double shot. (1)Pulsing the grinder for 15 – 20 seconds provides a smooth grind. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your end result is about as fine as table salt.“Roasts that are too dark can taste bitter, while ones that are too light may taste too acidic and lack sweetness and balance.” (2)

2. Prepare the Espresso Machine

Fill the water chamber of the espresso machine with cold water. The better the water quality you use, the better the espresso you will yield. Too many minerals in the water will not only reduce that amount of oils that are extracted from the coffee beans, but it can also damage your espresso machine over time.

Turn your machine on to start heating up the water. It goes without saying, but make sure your equipment is clean before beginning. You don’t want leftover mineral buildup tainting your next brew or clogging the valve. If you are using a new machine, run at least 2 cycles of water through it to remove any dust that may have collected.

An image of DeLonghi Espresso Machine

3. Tamp the Coffee

Fill the water chamber of the espresso machine with cold water. The better the water quality you use, the better the espresso you will yield. Too many minerals in the water will not only reduce that amount of oils that are extracted from the coffee beans, but it can also damage your espresso machine over time.

Turn your machine on to start heating up the water. It goes without saying, but make sure your equipment is clean before beginning. You don’t want leftover mineral buildup tainting your next brew or clogging the valve. If you are using a new machine, run at least 2 cycles of water through it to remove any dust that may have collected.

4. Brew Espresso

An image of espresso brewing into a cup through a portafilter
Insert the portafilter into the espresso machine’s designated slot and turn counter clockwise until it is firmly in place. Place a small espresso cup directly below the portafilter. Now turn the knob to the ON position and wait for the espresso to start streaming into the cup. Let it fill up about three quarters full, then turn it off to let the crema drip onto the espresso.

5. Steam Milk

Pour half a glass (or pitcher) of whole fat milk, and turn the knob on the espresso machine to the steam setting. Hold the glass so that the steam nozzle is just under the surface of the milk. Then turn the knob to adjust the amount of steam you want while keeping the nozzle in the milk.

Once you see foam building up on top, turn off the steam first, and then remove the glass. Be careful not to burn yourself.

6. Craft the Drink

An image showing final three step to perfectly craft your drink
Now that you have your espresso and steamed milk, pour the espresso into a bigger mug and give it a little stir to mix the crema into the coffee. Next, pour 1-2 tablespoons of the syrup into the mug. Then, carefully pour the steamed milk into the coffee. Spoon any remaining foam from the glass onto your drink. Garnish with cinnamon and enjoy!

Pro Tips

  • For the best tasting espresso, choose beans that come in a package with a one-way valve, which allows the beans to degas, but keeps oxygen out. This ensures that they will stay fresh longer. Other signs of high quality beans are packages that list the country of origin and the roast date.
  • Always grind your beans right before you are going to use them. Grinding the beans speeds up oxidation and degassing, so if they are not used within a few hours, they will go stale.
  • Pull a shot of hot water to preheat the machine and the cup in order to keep brewed espresso hotter longer.
  • Experiment with different amounts of coffee and milk to find the ratio you like best.
  • Have a wet rag handy for easy cleanup of spills.

Tips on Dialing in the Shot

After brewing your first shot, you can experiment with the coarseness of the grounds. A scale will help you stay consistent through the process by using the same amount of coffee each time. Also be sure to time how long it takes for the espresso to start dripping from the valve. Finer grounds will take longer for water to pass through and fill up the cup, while coarser grounds will do the opposite. The longer it takes to brew the coffee, the more risk there is of pulling out too much and ending up with bitter coffee. Watch the color of the coffee as it brews. You will notice that it starts out dark and gradually gets lighter as the oils are extracted. End the extraction when the liquid turns very light and pale, which is called “blonding.”

Finally, tasting each shot will ultimately help you to dial in that perfect shot. If it tastes too sour, it’s probably under extracted and you will want to increase the brew time. If it tastes too bitter, you have over extracted and will need to decrease the brew time.

References:

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