Beginner’s guide to making great espresso at home

Coffee & Accessories

It can take years to perfect your espresso-making skills completely, but with the right equipment and a little practice, you’ll be pulling excellent shots of espresso within hours.

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How to make espresso at home

With its rich, complex flavors, espresso is one of the most delicious types of coffee and one of the most challenging kinds to make well at home. If you’re new to brewing espresso, the prospect can seem daunting, but it’s perfectly achievable. Sure, expert baristas can take years to perfect their craft, but you can learn the basics and make an excellent espresso in an hour or two. 

You can make great espresso at home with the right equipment and a little know-how as a beginner. The best thing to do is learn the basics, buy what you need and dive straight in.

Choosing an espresso machine

You can’t make espresso without an espresso machine, so if you buy nothing else, get yourself an espresso machine and some coffee. Though you can find cheap espresso machines, these often don’t produce enough pressure or maintain the pressure levels and temperatures required to make a great espresso. Though you can spend thousands of dollars on an espresso machine, you don’t have to. However, you should expect to pay at least $300-$500 for an entry-level espresso machine good enough to make quality espresso.

The best coffee beans for espresso

There’s no point buying an expensive espresso machine only to use inexpensive, subpar coffee. Everyone’s coffee preferences are different, so there’s no single best coffee to use for espresso. Still, you should always use whole beans that you grind yourself over ground coffee because coffee quickly goes stale once ground so that pre-ground beans won’t make great espresso. If you’re serious about making the best espresso, choose artisan beans that have been recently roasted, for instance, from a local coffee roastery.

How to grind coffee for espresso

When aiming to make quality espresso, use a decent burr grinder to grind your coffee beans as a blade grinder just won’t do the trick. Your beans must be finely ground to make espresso, so it can take some adjustment if you’re used to grinding beans for filter coffee. Aim for a grind that’s just slightly finer than table salt. It’s possible to grind coffee too finely, so don’t overdo it.

Always measure the amount of coffee you’re using. You’ll also need to weigh out the amount of ground coffee to use. The ideal ratio of coffee to water for espresso is 1:2, so for an average double shot of espresso, you’ll need roughly 1 ounce of coffee. Invest in a kitchen scale to weigh coffee if you don’t already own one.

Tamping coffee for espresso

Once you’ve measured the correct amount of coffee into the portafilter, you need to tamp it by pressing it down. You’ve probably seen baristas do this, but some beginners underestimate the importance of this. Smooth the beans out to distribute them evenly, then press down with a tamper, using firm, even pressure to compress the ground coffee in the portafilter.

Pulling espresso shots

It should take somewhere between 20-35 seconds to pull a shot of espresso, so measure this to make sure you’re getting it right. Some espresso machines let you have total control over the shot time, whereas others pull shots automatically.

If your machine does the latter and the shot time is off, you might have the grind size wrong or not tamped the coffee correctly, so experiment with these variables until the shot time is just right. 

Best espresso machines

Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine

Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine

An excellent entry-level choice that’s simple to use but gives superb results. It’s exceptionally solidly made and will keep going strong for many years.

Sold by Amazon

De'Longhi La Specialista Espresso Machine

De’Longhi La Specialista Espresso Machine

With its built-in grinder and tamping station, you don’t need to buy as many accessories separately. The pump produces 19 bars of pressure for a quality espresso with a rich cream.

Sold by Amazon and Sur La Table

Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine

Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine

The built-in, conical burr grinder provides great control over grind size for excellent espresso. It has one and two-cup presets and a manual option for when you want more control.

Sold by Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond and Sur La Table

Calphalon Temp iQ Espresso Machine

Calphalon Temp iQ Espresso Machine

Thanks to the simple dial interface, brewing espresso is a breeze in this affordable espresso maker. It might not rival thousand-dollar machines, but it can still make a good espresso.

Sold by Amazon

Saeco PicoBaristo Super Automatic Espresso Machine

Saeco PicoBaristo Super Automatic Espresso Machine

If you have the budget, this fully automatic espresso maker is great for beginners who don’t necessarily want to learn the ins and outs of manual brewing. It can even make lattes and cappuccinos at the press of a button.

Sold by Amazon

Best coffee grinders

Gevi Burr Coffee Grinder

Gevi Burr Coffee Grinder

This is an affordable burr grinder that’s great for anyone who doesn’t want to spend a fortune. It’s easy to adjust the grind size with a range of settings suitable for espresso making.

Sold by Amazon

Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder

Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder

Another entry-level burr grinder option, but this one won an award from the Specialty Coffee Association. It’s simple to use, with 40 grind settings.

Sold by Amazon

Fellow Ode Brew Grinder

Fellow Ode Brew Grinder

The flat burrs in this grinder give the kind of precise, even results that can take your espresso to the next level.

Sold by Amazon

KitchenAid Burr Coffee Bean Grinder

KitchenAid Burr Coffee Bean Grinder

With 15 grind settings from extra fine to coarse, you can grind beans to make the perfect espresso, as well as other types of coffee of your choice.

Sold by Amazon

Best coffee tampers

De'Longhi Coffee Tamper

De’Longhi Coffee Tamper

Compatible with all pump coffee machines, this tamper helps deliver the even pressure you need to tamp down coffee for a top-notch espresso properly. It’s sturdy and has an attractive natural wood handle.

Sold by Amazon

LuxHaus Calibrated Pressure Tamper

LuxHaus Calibrated Pressure Tamper 

This pressure-sensitive tamper will tamp coffee perfectly each time, so it’s hard to go wrong, even if you’re entirely new to making espresso. It comes in several sizes to suit any portafilter.

Sold by Amazon

BlueSnail Stainless Steel Coffee Tamper

BlueSnail Stainless Steel Coffee Tamper

An affordable coffee tamper that will get the job done. It might not be calibrated or pressure-sensitive, but it won’t take long to learn to use it effectively. As it uses solid stainless steel, it’s highly durable.

Sold by Amazon

Best kitchen scales

Hario V60 Drip Coffee Scale

Hario V60 Drip Coffee Scale

Measuring in increments of 0.1 gram, this scale is perfect for weighing out the precise amounts of coffee necessary to make great espresso. If you also like drip coffee, it has other handy features to give you the perfect bloom time.

Sold by Amazon

OXO Good Grips Precision Coffee Scale

OXO Good Grips Precision Coffee Scale

Another digital kitchen scale with the precision to weigh out coffee in small increments, though you can also weigh other ingredients on it, so you’ll surely get your money’s worth.

Sold by Amazon

Apexstone Coffee Scale

Apexstone Coffee Scale

With accurate measurements from 0.1 ounce, you’ll never need to worry about incorrectly measuring your coffee.

Sold by Amazon

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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