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Making Espresso Coffee

If you have a home espresso machine, here are some tips and information on how to make great espresso coffee.

The Coffee and the Equipment

Only use freshly roasted and ground coffee beans. Fresh meaning, coffee that has been roasted in the past 4 to14 days (this is because the flavour takes at least 4 days to fully develop). Where possible grind finely as the coffee is being made rather than using stored ground coffee.

Wagtail Coffee is roasted weekly and stored in bags with a one-way valve. This prevents moisture and oxygen being absorbed into the coffee beans and allows CO2 gases to be expelled after roasting, preserving the best flavour & freshness for your coffee.

Invest in a grinder, ideally one that is adjustable in grind. Minor adjustments to the fineness of the grind may be necessary to get the best flow rate through the espresso machine. Aim for a grind that is fine enough to restrict the flow (salt/pepper feel).


The grinder is one of the most important pieces of equipment used to making great espresso. Invest in a good quality grinder to ensure that consistency in the grind for espresso shots is achieved.

Buy a good tamper that fits the espresso machine basket and one that has a nice weight. This gives better control over the pressing of the coffee, and will improve the consistency of tamp and flow of coffee.

Some espresso machines have a built in tamper, most requiring an upward movement to press the ground coffee. Using a separate tamper enables a downward movement to press the coffee grounds making tamping easier.

Espresso machines vary in basket and handle size such as 51, 52, 57 and 58mm diameter. It is important to get the tamper size that suits the machine, otherwise the coffee is not pressed correctly. A stainless tamper is better than plastic as it takes less effort to apply the right pressure.

Make sure the espresso machine and group handle have been warmed before trying to pull a shot of coffee. Some machines are quick to heat up while others need 10-15 minutes. To speed up heating, flow water through the group handle after around 5-10 minutes, this has two benefits:

· It bleeds the machine and stabilises the shot temperature (88o -92oC)

· It heats the group handle and basket to operating temperature

Failure to bleed the machine can allow hot air or steam to hit the shot and break up the puck (pressed coffee in basket) causing incorrect extraction and weak and/or burnt coffee. Use this time to warm the cups as well.

The Shot Calibration

Once the espresso machine is warmed, its time to test the machine by pulling the single shots until the calibration is right. Follow these steps to make the ideal coffee.

· Use 7 grams of freshly ground coffee in a single basket

· Tamp the coffee and twist to polish the packed coffee in the basket

· Use fingers or flat edge implement to wipe coffee grounds from handle ears and top of basket

· Lock group handle into machine and place pre-heated cup under spout

· Press button to start pour

· A delay of 3-5 seconds is normal and then the coffee should start to pour slowly. You want the coffee to look like “rat tails” and be a nice dark color

· If everything is calibrated right you should get a 30ml shot in around 25-30 seconds max.

· If it takes too long to pour the grind could be too fine or the basket overpacked or tamped too hard and inconsistently. If this is the case you need to practice your dosing of the basket and tamping make it repeatable and accurate

Milk Texturing

1. Try to use only the necessary amount of cold, fresh milk. A small jug half full will make two coffees. Also use the smallest jug available for the job, this is easier to work with and requires less steam.

2. Purge steam wand briefly over the drain tray to release any condensation or stale milk in the wand.

3. Submerge the wand in the milk ensuring the steam arm is pointing towards the middle of the jug. Turn the steam fully on.

4. Put a slight angle on the jug to either the left or the right to enable the milk to spin in a circle. This achieves the best results. The milk and froth should be blended together as one.

Do not burn the milk. Once milk has been heated the protein breaks down and it will not texture again successfully.

5. Lower the jug until you can hear the correct frothing sound (should be a hissing sound) this will aerate and draw the milk. It is important that the aeration takes place at the start as it is hard to aerate hot milk without big bubbles being formed (which you don’t want)

6. As the milk aerates and becomes thicker, make sure the wand stays just below the surface of the milk until you have reached your desired temperature and amount aeration of steamed milk.

The milk should remain liquid in appearance all the way through the process. The end result should be very rich and thick microfoam. If using a thermometer the correct temperature of the milk should be around 60-65 °C.

7. Once the milk has textured, submerge the arm to heat the milk. Do not submerge the arm completely to the bottom and make sure it is off the base of the jug.

8. Tap the jug on the bench to flatten any bubbles and make sure you keep the milk swirling, you do not want the milk and froth to separate, use straight away.

9. Pour the cappuccino first, latte second and flat white last if making several different coffees from the same milk.

The Drinks

After successfully following the above steps, the espresso shot you created is the basis for most of the drinks that can be bought from cafés. With practice you can make any of the coffee drinks below at home. The coffees that are made with a single shot are:

Short Black 30ml espresso shot

Latte 30ml espresso shot, and textured milk

Cappuccino 30ml espresso shot, and textured milk, foam, chocolate sprinkled on top

Long Black Hot water + 30ml espresso shot added to top

Mocha 30ml espresso shot + teaspoon of chocolate powder, plus textured milk, foam, chocolate sprinkled on top

Short Macchiato 60ml espresso shot with a dollop of froth on top or cold milk (ask customer)

Long Macchiato Hot water + 60ml espresso shot added to top with a dollop of froth or cold milk on top

These shot quantities are for a 7-8oz cup, for a mug or 12oz use a double shot i.e 60ml from 14 grams in a double basket.

Finally, remember practice makes perfect, with practice and now having technical knowledge, you can perfect a great coffee. Good Luck and let me know how you go. If you need some more tips watch this space or send me an e-mail ian@wagtailcoffee.com.au

Visit our online shop to purchase coffee making accessories and freshly roasted coffee in various flavours, either whole bean or ground.