What makes a good espresso coffee?

Often at parties and special occasions I get asked to make people a coffee because well, I’m the barista. I’m often presented with a cheap $200 coffee machine or even worse a Nespresso. So what makes me feel uncomfortable at that time? What makes me feel like a surgeon given a rusty knife and no anesthesia and forced to operate on a poor victim? Well, there is to put it simple complexity in coffee. Here are the 5 main factors that contribute to a good espresso – or a bad one for that matter:

1. Personal choice – first of all there is no such thing as a perfect coffee. One person likes it hot, one likes it warm. So I do not push my preferred type of coffee. Some like filter, some like espresso. The main difference between filter (drip, syphon, aeropress) and espresso coffee is a) Espresso contains LESS caffeine – about 1/3 b) Espresso contains more actual coffee granules – around 20% of the contents c) that is why espresso looks and tastes stronger yet filter feels and is stronger or purer
2. The machine – Espresso coffee requires a pretty exact science of 9 to 11 bars of pressure where 1 bar is the pressure found at sea level, and around 92 degrees Celsius (200 F) for the extraction. Extraction is the process of pushing around 30 millilitres of water through around 20 grams of coffee for around 25 seconds using the same pressure as pushing a grown man through that little filter called a portafilter.
3. The barista – Like all mechanics or cooks or surgeons for that matter a good barista makes all the difference. A barista is not a grown up DJ taking requests from the kids as he sits behind his two or three turntable (or in this case portafilters). No, he is a servant. His job is a barman. He is a) a machine operator – see point 2. b) a scientist – also point 2 c) an artist. Yes, I believe if he sings to the coffee it will respond better. A bit of love is taste-able in the food. All you need to do is eat my grandmas cooking to prove it!
4. The coffee – Coffee is an amazing thing also. A green coffee bean will last for around 12 months. A roasted coffee bean will last around 30 days. And ground coffee granules will last around 4 minutes. That is why it is imperative to drink freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee. Pre-ground coffee is like buying pre-toasted bread toast. Not good. There are many other factors such as climate, altitude, processing, shipping and so on. The usual roast is around 12-15 minutes at around 200 degree Celsius.
5. Technique – This is sort of a wild one to explain. Basically even if you have the best barista on the best machine with the best coffee you need to know what you are doing and PAY ATTENTION. I want to be looking at the shot (the coffee coming out of the portafilter) preferably through a naked ground handle so that I can see what I’ve done and how’s its reacting with everything else. I want to watch my dose and pay attention to every aspect of the coffee and the customer. I want to watch for who is taking the order, what they like and commit that to memory. You can be too distracted. Once you stop chasing that perfect cup, you’re not a good barista.

I hope you enjoyed that very brief, incomplete explanation. Now when I go to parties rather than sighing I can show you this post!

A coffee I made today
A coffee I made today

Here is one coffee that I made today. It is a cappuccino using freshly roasted (10 days since roasting) Nepalese coffee ground to a certain setting on my grinder, extracted at around 85 degrees and poured with love…Perhaps my grandma will like one??

  • Type: Cappuccino
  • Coffee: Padre Nepal Terai Estate
  • Machine: Rancilio
  • Temperature: 55 C
  • In Coffee Supreme Cup

One thought on “What makes a good espresso coffee?

  1. When I originally commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the same comment. There has to be a means you can remove me from that service? Kudos!


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