January 29, 2018

Barista Basics: How to Make an Espresso in 14 Steps


Espresso: roughly 30 ml of coffee goodness. An amazing espresso can be complex, full-bodied, and sweet. It can be the best thing about your day.

And an espresso isn’t just a beverage in its own right – it’s also the heart of many customers’ favourite drinks, such as the latte, cappuccino, Americano, flat white, cortado, macchiato, and more…

In other words, learning how to make an espresso shot may be one of the most important things you learn as a barista. And as someone who spends my days coaching baristas, whether for employment or coffee championships, I’m here to talk you through how to do it.

A word of warning: making a great espresso requires dedication, attention to detail, and consistency. But the effort is always worth it. So, let’s get started!

Lee este artículo en Español Aspectos Básicos del Barismo: Cómo Hacer un Espresso en 14 Pasos


The final moments of pulling an espresso shot. Credit: Paul Mordheweyk

The Basic Parameters of an Espresso

When making any coffee beverage, you need to know the dose of dry coffee grounds, the amount of water, the extraction time, and the final volume. All these factors are related – and, with espresso, you can actually ignore the water volume for now.

Let’s break it down:

  • A generally good starting place for extraction time is 25 seconds. Stick to this until you’re ready to experiment with espresso recipes.
  • The amount of dry coffee grounds will vary depending on your espresso basket, but you’ll probably be using 8–10 grams per single dose.
  • A single espresso shot is generally 25–35 ml, which should easily be achievable with these parameters.

Looking for more advanced instructions? Check out a barista’s guide to Perfecting Your Espresso Shots!

However, remember that these are flexible guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. Every coffee is different. Some will taste better with a shorter extraction time, others with a slightly longer one. Roast profile and grind size will also affect the best parameters.

Learn more! Discover the differences between espresso & ristretto!

While you learn how to make an espresso, use these guidelines as a base – but as you advance in your coffee knowledge, don’t be afraid to experiment. Remember: taste is key. That moment when you drink the espresso is when you know if you’ve pulled a great shot. These parameters will help you to do so, but they’re not the criteria by which customers will judge their drink.

And now you have your parameters, it’s time to begin.

Espresso and barista

Espresso ready to be enjoyed. Credit: Nate Dumalo

Step 1: The Cup

It’s important to warm the cup before using it. Rinse it with hot water so that the porcelain or glass won’t cool down your beverage on impact.

Step 2: The Portafilter & Basket

Next, check your portafilter handle to ensure it’s clean and dry. Remember, old coffee residue will affect the taste of the new espresso you’re making. A wet basket will affect extraction, as it will make the coffee moist.

Step 3: Grind & Dose

Dose your ground coffee into your portafilter. Pay attention to the grind size as well as the dose to make sure you don’t over- or under-extract your shot. (Remember: under-extracted coffee will taste sour; over-extracted coffee will be bitter.) If you have a calibrated on-demand grinder, then it’s easy to check the dose. If not, it’s best to use a scale.

Dosing ground coffee into the portafilter. Credit: Paul Mordheweyk

Step 4: Distribute Grounds

Tap the portafilter handle gently on the tamp mat to distribute the ground coffee evenly, or – if you have one – use a distribution tool. This is a very important step, as it will ensure that you don’t have any air pockets in the coffee. The presence of air pockets means water will channel, i.e. it will take specific routes through the ground coffee rather than spreading evenly. In turn, this means that some grounds will extract more than others.

Find out more about coffee distribution in our video guide!

Using a distribution tool to avoid air pockets. Credit: Onnivian Yuan Yana

Step 5: Tamp

The next step is to tamp. Again, the aim is to remove any air pockets and ensure the coffee is completely level.

Take your tamper and press it down onto the ground coffee, making sure you both tamp straight and use sufficient pressure. The pressure is important as this will ensure the coffee is adequately compressed and that the puck will retain its shape. (However, you probably don’t need 30 lb of pressure, despite the popular myth.) Similarly, a straight tamp will make sure that the coffee is even. In this way, it will help you avoid channelling and, in turn, over, under, or inconsistent extraction.

Learn more! Check out our video guide to tamping!

Tamping coffee

Tamping before pulling an espresso shot. Credit: Angga Adi

Step 6: Polish

Finally, using the tamper, polish the surface of the ground coffee. To do this, place the tamper on top of the puck and spin. This will smooth out any small ridges, ensuring the surface of the coffee really is smooth and flat.

Step 7: Clean

Can you imagine ordering a cappuccino and finding coffee grounds in it? To avoid this ever happening, make sure to clean any excess dry coffee off the top, ears, and spouts of your portafilter.

Coffee grounds

A ripple tamper has left concentric circles in the ground coffee. Credit: Paul Mordheweyk

Step 8: Rinse

Rinse the group head before inserting the portafilter (brush the group head if you need to). This will remove any old coffee particles from the shower head. Be careful not to overlook this step! If any of those particles did make it into your espresso, you could expect it to taste inconsistent or stale.

Step 9: Pull The Espresso

Finally, you’re ready to insert the portafilter handle into the group head and start brewing your espresso! Make sure to begin brewing immediately, otherwise the heat might cause the surface of the coffee to burn.

A well-brewed espresso flows smoothly into a waiting cup. Credit: Paul Mordheweyk

Step 10: Serve

Once the machine stops – either automatically or because you’ve manually stopped it at 25 seconds – remove the cup from the machine tray. You can now either serve the espresso or start steaming milk for a latte or cappuccino.

A freshly brewed espresso, ready for serving. Credit: Methodical Coffee

Step 11: Discard The Puck

Remove the portafilter and knock the coffee puck out into the knock box. Remember to never skip this step!

Step 12: Clean The Handle

Clean and rinse your handle ready for the next shot. Don’t forget to dry it, either!

Step 13: Clean The Group Head

Rinse and brush the group head. You need to clean it thoroughly to remove any oils or particles that could spoil the next shot.

Step 14: Replace Equipment

Put the portafilter back into the group head, ready for the next round. This will keep it clean and hot, and also prevent it from getting lost!

Serving up a freshly brewed espresso. Credit: Claudio Alejandro

So, there you have it: the 14 steps to pulling a great espresso! This is a basic set of instructions but it’s important that you never overlook the foundations of good brewing.

With time and experience – and let’s not forget the fancy barista tools – your steps may change. They will become more advanced, evolving with you as a barista. There is always more to learn in this industry (which is what makes it so fun!) However, if you begin with this process, you’re off to a very good start.

Perfect Daily Grind

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