Making espresso is not as easy as making other kinds of coffee. If it were, the World Barista Championships wouldn’t be a thing. That said, just because espresso is more complicated than other kinds of coffee doesn’t mean you can’t make it yourself at home.
While there are literally dozens of books written about coffee and espresso, the most basic truth every coffee lover needs to know is that, when you make coffee, what you’re really trying to do is extract specific chemicals from a solid by dissolving them in water. And it’s how you extract these chemicals that determine what kind of coffee you end up with.
So what separates espresso from all other forms of coffee? The answer is pressure. Whereas drip and pourover coffee use gravity to move hot water through semi-fine coffee grinds, espresso is made by forcing pressurized hot water through beds of very fine coffee grinds, which are often called cakes or pucks. This pressure produces a thick coffee concentrate and a silky brown foam called crema.
To make good espresso, you need water at exactly the right temperature to move through exactly the right amount of uniformly ground coffee, at exactly 9 bars of pressure, for exactly the right amount of time. If the water is too hot or too cold, or if you have too much or too little coffee, or if the pressure is too high or too low, the end product will suffer.
If you’ve never made espresso before, the level of precision involved might sound kind of intimidating. But believe it or not, you only need five pieces of equipment and a little bit of practice to pull it off.
Ready to give it a try? Below you can find some of our favorite products to help get you started down the espresso rabbit hole.
Timemore G1 Plus Manual Coffee Grinder
For perfect espresso, at home or anywhere else, you need an ultra-fine, uniform grind that minimizes friction so you don’t add any heat to the coffee while grinding it. The only way to achieve this is with a conical burr grinder made from high-quality heat-resistant metal. Does this type of grinder have to be a manual grinder? Not at all. However, a top-of-the-line manual burr grinder produces high-quality results at a fraction of the price of a top-of-the-line mechanical burr grinder.
When it comes to manual grinders, the Timemore G1 Plus is the cream of the crop. It features 38mm titanium coated steel burrs with an all-metal body and grind system, and it has a full grind range with 35 different settings.
Pro Scale XC2000 Small Precision Scale
There is no universal recipe for the perfect shot. The temperature, extraction time, amount of coffee, and even the grind will depend on things like the type of coffee, the type of roast, and even the humidity in your kitchen. However, once you figure out what works best, you want to be able to repeat the process every time. And a good scale is absolutely essential for doing that. Not only will you need to weigh the amount of coffee you put in the portafilter (a.k.a. the little handle thing that looks like an ice cream scooper), but you’ll also want to weigh the brewed espresso so you know exactly when to cut off the water.
Ultimately, you might end up wanting two different scales. However, if you want to start with just one, the Pro Scale XC2000 Small Precision Scale is an excellent choice. This scale has a very small footprint so it can easily fit on most drip trays. More importantly, it is accurate to 0.1 grams and has a fast response time so you can accurately weigh shot yields.
Prima Coffee Espresso Tamper
Once you’ve got the right amount of coffee in your portafilter, you tamp it down. This helps ensure that the coffee is evenly distributed in the basket so there is no channeling. It also creates a firm puck or cake for the pressurized water to be forced through.
For a good level tamp, you need a heavy, well-balanced tamper that fits comfortably in your hand. And you won’t find a better one for your home espresso setup than the Prima Coffee Espresso Tamper. It has an aluminum handle and heavy-duty steel base, and it comes in 15 different sizes to fit any size portafilter.
Rancilio Silvia Home Espresso Machine
Of course, there’s no making espresso at home without an espresso machine. And when it comes to espresso machines, you can’t go wrong with the legendary Rancilio Silvia. With its solid build, classic design, small countertop footprint, and reasonable price point, this machine is an excellent choice for first-timers. Ready to dial your espresso game up a notch? With the Rancilio Silvia, you can buy new accessories or make aftermarket modifications. And because it has such a huge cult following, there are tons of online guides, forums, and tutorials to help you hone your craft.
Urnex Espresso Starter Kit for Cleaning Espresso Equipment
The last thing you need to complete your home espresso setup is high-quality cleaning supplies. Because nobody makes good espresso with dirty equipment.
The Urnex Espresso Starter Kit has everything you need to clean your home espresso equipment. This includes a detergent for cleaning espresso machines, tablets for cleaning grinders, tablets for cleaning steam wands and milk pitchers, and a brush specially designed to clean the grouphead, which is the part of the espresso machine to which you attach the portafilter.