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A common misconception is that espresso is a type of coffee bean, a belief further confused by bundles of “espresso” coffee lining market shelves. It’s actually a brewing method, the label merely indicating that a bean has either been pre-ground to the ideal coarseness, or the blend is ideal for making flavorful espresso.
The method involves pushing hot water through coffee grounds cupped in a single- or double-shot portafilter. Truly good espresso relies on the right temperature (205 F) and 9 bars of pressure, which you won’t get with economical home machines, says Greg Vogeley, owner of Drip Café in Hockessin, Newark and, as of a month ago, downtown Wilmington. The right bells and whistles (boiler and pump) start in the $700 to $1,000 range, but the difference is palatable. Once you have a decent machine, follow these tips to achieve rich yet sweet espresso with just the right amount of crema.
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Start with a dark roast. Longer roasting delivers more porous coffee beans, so flavor can be extracted more quickly when ground. Try a traditional roast with a dark finish.
Switch gears. If you’ve been using a blade grinder (with the tapper on top), chances are your coffee grounds are a mix of semi-fine powder and coarse chunks. For espresso especially, you want consistent fine particles, which is why you need a burr grinder.
Install a quality water filter. Coffee is 98 percent water. A quality gravity filter or reverse osmosis system not only removes harmful contaminants like lead, bacteria and fluoride from city water, but it will also give you better-tasting (less muddied) espresso.
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Use only freshly ground beans. Oxygen and coffee don’t get along, so to keep grounds from staling, grind new beans each time you brew.
Heat up all the things. Turn on the machine, let it heat up with the portafilter attached (you want all parts as hot as possible), then flush out any cold water left in the spout.
Dose, tamp, tamp. Remove the portafilter, measure 17–18 grams of coffee grounds and fill; with a 1-pound tamp, press down with about 35 pounds of pressure, turn the tamp and press again. Reattach the coffee-filled portafilter to your machine and pull.
Count to 25. That’s how long it takes to pull a proper 2-ounce shot of ristretto (“restricted,” meaning you’re cutting off the bitter back end of the shot). If you’re not hitting this, adjust your grounds. Think of them like rocks and sand: just as water flows more slowly through sand than through rocks, the finer the grind, the slower the shot (and vice versa).
Clean up. Toss wet grounds in your compost, rinse out your portafilter and give the machine a quick wipe-down.
Enjoy. Stir, sniff and sip (or slam) it.
Drip Café features three locations—in Hockessin, Newark and downtown Wimington—with different offerings. For the full experience, visit the Hockessin location, which boasts a specialty coffee bar and fresh food sourced from local purveyors.