Making Espresso Drinks Article -
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Making Espresso Drinks

Get tips for making lattes like a seasoned barista.

While there's definitely an art to preparing the perfect espresso drink, the process doesn't have to be a foreign concept.

Starting From the Grounds, Up

There are two main types of espresso machines, and they each require a different grind, so first you'll want to determine if yours is steam-driven or pump-driven. (Check with the manufacturer or store where you purchased it.) When you buy beans, specify your machine-type and the barista should know how coarse or fine to grind the beans.

If you want to use a home-grinder, read this article for tips on getting the correct grind:

Got Aerated Milk?

Steaming the milk is the first step in preparing an espresso drink, and the trick to getting creamy, velvety quality is aerating as you steam:

  • Fill your milk pitcher no more than half-full (milk will expand when steamed). 
  • Submerge the steam wand into milk, then turn the steam wand on.
  • Begin to aerate by lowering the pitcher a bit while guiding the steam wand so the tip is just kissing the surface of the milk. Find that sweet spot where a layer of foam is beginning to form, creating a sprinkler-like sound, but the wand isn't blowing big bubbles in the milk.
  • Once you have a layer of foam, submerge the steam wand again. Continue steaming to between 145-165 degrees F.
  • If while steaming, the sound begins to get high pitched, repeat the aeration process, lowering the milk pitcher, until the sound mellows to a soft hum.

When you're done, wipe the steam wand with a wet towel (folded over), then blast the steam wand for a second or two into the towel to blow out any milk that's been caught inside.

    Anatomy of an Espresso Shot

    Producing quality espresso will be much easier if you become familiar with the three components of a shot. Yes, there will be a little memorization required, but not in the scary biology way.

    • The crema is the top thin layer and sweetest part of an espresso shot. A good crema should be a light golden-brown color.
    • The body makes up the middle and "umph" of the shot and should be a caramel-brown color.
    • The heart is the very bottom of an espresso shot and is the bitter balance to the crema's sweetness. It should be a deep, rich brown color.

    For a great example of what shots should look like pouring, empty a can or bottle of Guinness® beer into a pint glass. Notice how it seems to be pouring in rich, creamy layers--dark to light--from the bottom of the pint up. This is exactly how an espresso shot should appear. Just don't expect them to taste the same.

      Pulling Shots

      "Pulling" actually refers to the first espresso machines that had levers to pull down in order for shots to pour. Pulling shots doesn't entail quite the workout it once did, but you'll still have to put a little muscle into it. Here's what you need to know to pull shots at home:

      • Watering the grounds: for the best results, use filtered water in your espresso machine.
      • Portion control: scoop 4T of grounds into your portafilter to pull two one-ounce shots. 
      • Tamp it like you mean it: "tamping" is just a fancy way of saying "packing the coffee grounds down." Use a medium forced tamp to start, then adjust if needed. If your first shots pour too fast: tamp harder; too slow: tamp lighter.
      • Timing is everything: in addition to how a shot looks, the amount of time it takes for shots to pour is also a good indication of quality. Two one-ounce shot glasses should take roughly between 12 to 18 seconds to fill.

      Now that you understand the basic elements in making an espresso drink, it's time for a coffee break. Ready? Pull!

      Get more tips for making espresso drinks:

      Feb. 12, 2010 8:03 am
      After you pull your shots be sure to use them right away. A shot is only fresh for about 10 seconds before it starts to "bitter-up"
      Oct. 12, 2010 8:00 am
      Great article. I would love to see more coffee house type recipes making those yummy flavored espresso-based drinks!
      Oct. 26, 2010 1:36 pm
      What does coompana mean. I order this drink all the and cold. Cold is 3 shots over ice and I add a tat of cream and hot is 3 shots and topped with whipped cream.....then I get asked what does the name mean.....HELP!!
      Jan. 13, 2011 1:32 pm
      Do you mean Con Panna? It means "espresso with cream" in Italian. And yes, it is the single or double shot of espresso topped with whipped cream.
      Feb. 12, 2011 6:28 pm
      I enjoyed all them drinks. I made them all and drank them all by myselfs, since Lele had to go to a birthday partay. Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed drinking them shots, specially the dopio redeye with panna.
      Feb. 16, 2011 12:12 pm
      also keep in mind, especially with espresso, that weather can affect the grind. it is always best to keep the beans whole & grind as needed. even throughout the course of a day you may have to adjust the grind.
      Mar. 9, 2011 1:55 am
      I'm sorry Ms. Lynda Wright but I don't quite agree when you say to consume within ... 10 seconds? If the cup the shot is being poured into has first been doused with water from the machine, so as to avoid a souring of the shot that can occur when the cup is too cold, that heat will keep the espresso above a drinkable temperature for almost a full minute. I think this passage of time is okay. I don't think the oils in the shot will breakdown quite that aggressively, in +10 seconds that is, but I may be wrong.
      Mar. 9, 2011 1:57 am
      Thank you Kate. By weather do you mean humidity? or temperature as well? haha surely you're not referring to barometric pressure as well?
      May 13, 2011 2:57 pm
      Actually, according to the most recent IASC Barista Certification tests, an espresso shot has a total of seven seconds to be added with milk before it goes bitter.
      May 29, 2011 7:02 pm
      I just recently learned how to make espresso at home. It took a lot of practice and reading articles like this to get it right... but practice makes perfect. I became motivated to help other "home users" like myself to learn how to make espresso drinks, so I ended up filming some videos and making this website. It's not perfect, but hopefully it will help some other people skip part of the learning curve: Thanks for this article!
      Sep. 3, 2011 4:30 pm
      By way of explanation only, the flavor of the espresso is in the 'bubbles' - if you watch an espresso shot through a shot glass, you can see these 'bubbles' begin to dissipate - the black heart spreads upward from the bottom until you lose all brown color (in the body). This is what is meant by 'bitter' shots - not the temperature or oils or anything else. Combining shots immediately with milk or water preserves the sweet, caramelly notes of the body. As a side note, letting espresso shots pour directly over ice or pouring hot shots directly onto ice instead of water produces a similar 'seized' flavor - while it is not undrinkable to most people, it has an astringent flavor with very little of the developed sweetness of a shot combined with water - for a similar reason: the espresso shot just did not fully develop into the distinct layers essential to a great shot of espresso. Happy brewing!
      Jul. 20, 2012 8:36 am
      Lynda is right. I've been a barista for years now and have had numerous coffee trainings. If you do not transfer the espresso to a mug or add something (such as flavor, milk, etc.) the shot will burn, which is where the "sour" flavor comes from. EspressoKnowKnow- the problem is that the shot glass KEEPS the temperature, which ruins the shot by burning it. This has been emphasized in EVERY coffee training I have gone through, and not just by coffee shop owners or managers, but by roasting companies themselves. If the shot goes dark, as shown in the video, it is bad. I would never serve a shot that color, it should be light in color, the "body" should be mostly there, and the "crema" should definitely still be there.
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