Monday, August 10, 2009

Java Talk - Espresso, Latte And Cappuccino (Part 1)

After going to Europe on my honeymoon in 2002 I fully became a java connoisseur and hated the dreaded coffee that I drank for so many years. It was a life turning experience for me because I truly never new what I was missing until I was having cappuccinos and latte's for breakfast and a double espressos after dinner. From France to Rome the java flowed 24/7.

I'd wake up and have like 2 cappuccinos with my croissants and beignets every morning. I could have stayed at the bistro all day long and drank those drinks. In the evening we would have amazing 2-3 hour dinners that we thought would never end. The French and Italians love their multi course dinner extravaganzas. In order to have energy left after these feasts my wife and I would order either 1 or 2 double espressos after dinner. I would usually jack it up another notch with the fancy sugar cubes that they provided with the drinks.

When I arrived home to the States I was done with crappy automatic drip coffee. We had some money left from our wedding gifts and we bought a basic Saeco Espresso machine. It was a good machine that lasted me for several years until it finally needed one to many repairs. It was a good starter machine but as I got more into making coffee drinks I found it had some drawbacks: you could not brew coffee and steam milk at the same time because the boiler could not hold enough hot water. You would also have to wait after brewing coffee for the boiler to heat up again to steam your milk. The portafiler (the piece that attaches to the machine in which you put the coffee) was not a commercial handle but rather a pressurized one. This was good for the beginner because it allowed some leniency when it came to how much coffee and how hard you tamp it down but the downside to the pressurized portafilter handle was that it could not produce the same type of crema (a thick golden brown layer of foam at the top of an espresso) as a manual commercial portafilter.

When the Saeco finally was put to rest I needed to step up my barista and I went with a Expobar Office from Spain which is has a commercial portafilter and a huge boiler that can brew espresso and steam milk at the same time. The Expobar also lets you set brew 4 brew times so your machine will run for a set time then shut off. (I will discuss to this more in a later post on the process of making the perfect espresso.) At the same time I got the Expobar Machine I also purchased a Mazzer Mini Grinder. It allows me to adjust the grind for whatever type of bean I am using.

The Process

Lets talk about how to make the perfect shot of espresso. Espresso is produced by pushing hot water, around 195 degrees F, at 135 pounds per square inch, through a bed of finely ground compacted coffee.

You want to grind up your favorite espresso beans but I would start with grinding only a little bit at first because you might have to alter the fineness of your grind as you will read later.

A single shot is made with about 7 grams of coffee and it should produce around 1- 1.5 ounces of liquid.
A double shot is made with about 14 grams of coffee and it should produce around 1-1.5 ounces of liquid.

First you want to run some hot water through your portafilter to get it nice and hot before you you put the coffee in it.

You want to put your 7 or 14 grams of coffee into your portafilter and then taking your tamper and press down with a good amount of force and give a little turn.

Typically there are guidelines for how long it should take to extract the liquid. These are the typical extraction times.

Single shot of espresso: 1-1.5 ounces: 18-20 seconds
Double shot of espresso: 2-2.5 ounces: 20-25 seconds

The nice thing about my Expobar Office is that once I perfect the grind fineness I can set 4 different brew times. So I can use one for a single shot and one for a double shot. I can program the machine for custom brew times and it will run for either 20 or 25 seconds. So basically I can be on the other side of the kitchen cooking my omelette and not have to run over to shut the espresso machine off after 20 or 25 seconds. Nice feature.

The only way on a commercial portafilter machine to effect the extraction time is to change the pressure that the water exerts on the coffee grounds. The only way to change the pressure is to change the fineness of the coffee grinds or change the tamp pressure on the grinds. This is where you might have to play with the fineness of your grind and how hard you tamp. To further complicate things, as I learned, every bean is quite different and the settings on my grinder for one bean do not work for others. I began sampling many beans and then finally landed on a few I liked and I wrote down my grinder settings for each.

Types Of Coffee Drinks

1. Espress0 - 1 or 2 shots containing 7 or 14 grams of freshly ground coffee. This is brewed to 1-1.5 ounces and 2-2.5 ounces of liquid and extracted within 18-25 seconds. It must have a little crema foam at the top.

2. Macchiato - It is an espresso that has a dash of milk or dense froth added.

3. Cappuccino - It is an espresso that contains steamed milk and foam. The espresso should sit at the bottom then a layer of steamed milk and the top should have a layer of foam from the steam milk.

4. Cafe Latte - It is an espresso that contains steam milk.

5. Cafe Mocha - It is an espresso that has chocolate syrup added to the bottom and then steam milk.

6. American - It is an espresso with hot water added

Be sure to check back later for Part 2 - Starbuck's It Ain't What It Used To Be

And, Part 3 - Video Demonstration of how to make the perfect espresso by me.


  1. And... now I want a Cappuccino... :)

  2. Well come to Atlanta and I will make the best Cappuccino you ever had!