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And so it begins. A home espresso journey

A Moka pot is not espresso, simple as that ;) It's not just about the crema. At 9-14 bar of pressure, there is a whole new world of oils and flavours extracted from the coffee that result in the distinct espresso. The Moka reaches only 2-3 bars roughly. Still sufficient to give it a different taste profile than normal filter.
I do love my Moka - it's our go-to at home. (And so it is for the majority of Italians. There's a reason there's only one (!) Starbucks in the entire of Italy).




You're on your way. The learning curve is steep and rewarding!
My personal opinion: don't waste time on gimmicks like coffee distributors or calibrated tampers. They seem helpful at first but tend to conceil bad technique in the long run.
Get a tamper with a nice handle if you don't have one yet (a Motta for example). 10-15 kg on the tamper is sufficient, just a bit more than the weight of your arm. Maybe measure it once with a scale to get a feel of it. Consistency is more important than the actual weight!
All true, but let's be honest: Starbucks is, or at least was until recently when they abandoned true espresso machines in favor of "automatics", closely modeled after the traditional Italian espresso bar, right down to the sandwiches and little cakes displayed behind glass. What is very non-Italian, and also very American, is the idea of reproducing the espresso bar experience in one's home, with espresso machines and grinders that at their most elaborate (and expensive), are not far removed from their commercial cousins.
The irony there is that espresso was invented as a method for restaurants to quickly produce demi-tasse cups of freshly-brewed coffee. Hence its name. The moka pot, which I too used for years, is much more of a home kitchen implement.
 
I agree that tamp weight is not very critical. That the coffee and the subsequent shot pull can provide the necessary feedback to get it dialed in quickly enough.

But I disagree that distribution is not key. Any user technique or tool that can help insure a uniform coffee bed before tamping is very important IMO. If there are lumps in the coffee (a sign that it is probably ground too fine) or the coffee bed is not leveled in a consistent way then coffee may channel and not provide the best extraction since there will not be uniform resistance.

The attached image is an exaggerated view of the issue, but imagine if this was a side view of the coffee sitting in the portafilter before being tamped and the channeling that would occur.
 
I use this pad that clicks when you hit a certain pressure that you calibrate on a scale, I think I have it at 25 lbs rn
 
Wet-shaving wasn't enough of a rabbit hole for you? Welcome to the wonderful world of good coffee.

I've been through this journey some years back as a student, trying to make proper espresso at home with a (modified) espresso machine, big*** coffee shop grinder and fresh coffee. Maybe that's when I discovered my interest for rabbit holes and chasing dragons..

Some beginner tips and experiences that I found very useful might help you too. Personally I'm not into any of the drinks with milk, with the exception of a good macchiatto (not a latte macchiatto, but the real one, single shot of espresso/ristretto with a dash of dense milk foam). Nevertheless a good espresso is at the base of all coffee variations, so best to get that down first.
Mind the gap!

First off, everything starts with good beans. Get freshly roasted beans, no older than a few days. In the EU that costs me 20-25$/kg. Beans should be a few days, to maximum 2 weeks old for a good espresso. Older beans still work well in a fully automatic, but it does not have the potential you have. Trust me, after a few tries you will understand what I mean.
Tip: Buy 1kg at a time and freeze in packages of 250 gr. to extend lifetime. At the start, buy several smaller packages (and freeze them) to try different flavours.
Older beans also still work splendid for stovetop, french press, filter, etc.


Secondly, optimise the grind and extraction, these go hand in hand. Parameters to optimise are grind coarseness and amount of coffee, the result is evaluated in extraction time, wetness of the puck and the balance of acidity and bitterness.
Important: get yourself a handheld alumium tamper. It will cost about 20$ and makes a world of difference.

Aim for 25 mL coffee in 20-25 seconds for a single, starting off with a nice dark and viscous and going blonder towards the end. Shorter extraction results in too much acidity, longer burns the coffee and results in bitterness.
A finer grind results in longer extraction time, and so does increased amount of coffee. It can vary slightly per coffee, but once you dialed it in for your system the adjustments are minimal.

Now, the importance of tamping is to evenly pack the coffee bed for a homogeneous extraction. "Channeling", water finding the path of least resistance, is your enemy here. It results in an imbalanced taste; some parts are overextracted while the majority of the coffee is underextracted.
In your photo the puck is quite wet and uneven, a clear sign of channeling. The puck should come out moist, not wet or with puddles, and the bed should still evenly flat after extraction.

Tip: start with double espresso's. They are generally more forgiving to small variations. A double is 50 mL coffee, but still in 20-25 seconds! Generally it's 7-11 grams for a single shot, 15-20 for a double. But do not waste time with a scale; it's not about exact grams, it's about taste and extraction! Your grinder has a timer, use it. It's a huge help in getting consistent amounts of coffee in your basket.


Godspeed on your journey! It's a fun and tasty one!
Not bad advice but my espresso got dramatically better when i stopped brewing based on fluid quantity and went directly to weight of the shot. For my current beans i like an EBR (espresso brew ratio) of somewhere around 1:2.25 whereas if i'm using 16g of ground espresso for a double shot my final shot should weigh around 36g.
 
I agree that tamp weight is not very critical. That the coffee and the subsequent shot pull can provide the necessary feedback to get it dialed in quickly enough.

But I disagree that distribution is not key. Any user technique or tool that can help insure a uniform coffee bed before tamping is very important IMO. If there are lumps in the coffee (a sign that it is probably ground too fine) or the coffee bed is not leveled in a consistent way then coffee may channel and not provide the best extraction since there will not be uniform resistance.

The attached image is an exaggerated view of the issue, but imagine if this was a side view of the coffee sitting in the portafilter before being tamped and the channeling that would occur.
Tamp weight is not very critical? Espresso is all based on consistency. Tamping at 20lbs and tamping at 40lbs and the resulting weight of shot over the same brew time will be dramatically different. I've yet to get a calibrated tamper but it makes total sense to me and eliminates one variable once you get it sorted out. One of the newer calibrated tampers that I'm coveting is the one from decent espresso: Decent Tamper: precisely calibrated espresso tamping - https://decentespresso.com/tamper

In my house making espresso is like baking. I have a recipe and consistency is key. Grind adjustments are required periodically to combat the aging of beans and the relative humidity in the house. The nice thing about my rocket r60v is that it has shot profiles that let me mess with my extraction by breaking it down into 5 steps where i can prescribe extraction pressure and length of each of those steps.

My current shot profile can be seen here:
http://instagr.am/p/B6Ivj-QHU8C/
 
Crema you say? I personally love the flavor of crema but i do know lots of people (mostly italians) that scrape it off. I attribute this to the fact that in their blends they don't use full blown arabica and combine robusta (and imo an inferior bean) into them.

Here's one of my little shots:

http://instagr.am/p/B6V-BYkHk1I/
 

syngent

Moderator
Crema you say? I personally love the flavor of crema but i do know lots of people (mostly italians) that scrape it off. I attribute this to the fact that in their blends they don't use full blown arabica and combine robusta (and imo an inferior bean) into them.

Here's one of my little shots:

http://instagr.am/p/B6V-BYkHk1I/
Hey zues that's the cafe equivalent of larger porn. We should have a thread for that. Or at least beauty cafe shots
 
Hey zues that's the cafe equivalent of larger porn. We should have a thread for that. Or at least beauty cafe shots
I'm not a fan of posting on the coffee forums though they are definitely a great resource. I pretty much just stick my coffee posts to Instagram. If anyone wants to chat about coffee, or share anything from IG feel free to pm me there as well.

Here are a few of my home made lattes:

http://instagr.am/p/B2HI8cfDArg/ http://instagr.am/p/B16YI3jDVug/ http://instagr.am/p/B3-irOljRgP/
 
Tamp weight is not very critical? Espresso is all based on consistency. Tamping at 20lbs and tamping at 40lbs and the resulting weight of shot over the same brew time will be dramatically different. I've yet to get a calibrated tamper but it makes total sense to me and eliminates one variable once you get it sorted out. One of the newer calibrated tampers that I'm coveting is the one from decent espresso: Decent Tamper: precisely calibrated espresso tamping - https://decentespresso.com/tamper

In my house making espresso is like baking. I have a recipe and consistency is key. Grind adjustments are required periodically to combat the aging of beans and the relative humidity in the house. The nice thing about my rocket r60v is that it has shot profiles that let me mess with my extraction by breaking it down into 5 steps where i can prescribe extraction pressure and length of each of those steps.

My current shot profile can be seen here:
http://instagr.am/p/B6Ivj-QHU8C/
IMO tamping pressure is not so critical that it needs be fine tuned using a tool, not that such a tool will not help eliminate one variable. I certainly believe one should use the best tamper one can find, whether that is because it is calibrated, has a nice hand feel, perfect fit for the portafilter basket, etc. If I were really rigorous and methodical I would consider getting one of those tools intended for coffee shops to reduce repetitive injuries....I forget the name of it, but a tool where the person is pulling down on a handle, almost like a drill press. This insures all that the tamping force is directed straight down, since when standing over a countertop and try to press down from the shoulder and through the wrist it is difficult to make sure all the tamping force is plumb and equal across the face of the puck.

I just think that the freshness of coffee, amount of coffee, grind size, and coffee distribution/leveling are even more important in my personal experience with a lever machine. That if those other variables are dialed in, slight differences in human tamping are not critical. It may also depend on the machine used, I use manual lever where I can add/subtract a little pull pressure during the pull. So that if hypothetically I undertamped, I can use a lighter touch and get a good extraction. In which case it might have not been brewed at the "ideal 9 bars" but is still balanced. Get the distribution off and channeling occurs and it is harder to brew a great cup .

But I don't rule out that I am doing one or more things majorly wrong in my espresso making. I did try using a spring scale (bathroom scale and baby scale) years ago to get an idea of the tamping pressure that I was applying. But I am sure my elbow is out of calibration by now. :)
 
Tamping at 20lbs and tamping at 40lbs and the resulting weight of shot over the same brew time will be dramatically different.
I meant to ask in previous reply but it is interesting as a separate topic. I not challenging the specific assertion but I have been interested to learn if there has been any attempts in the larger world of "espresso science" to quantify the tamping pressure vs shot time across the spectrum of single/double shot pulls. Something like a graph of tamping pressure vs shot time for a few different amounts of coffee. I would expect to see a cliff or two in the curve given the way ground coffee collapses under a certain load and then only compresses a little more as more weight is added.

This is not the best example, but I once tried tamping some old dried out coffee at 200+ pounds of pressure and it made no difference in the pull as the coffee was just too far gone to make espresso. Which indicates that the amount of moisture makes a big difference as well. That the ideal tamp weight for the same coffee that was roasted dark vs light roast or was 3 days old coffee vs a 3 weeks old coffee may be different.
 
IMO tamping pressure is not so critical that it needs be fine tuned using a tool, not that such a tool will not help eliminate one variable. I certainly believe one should use the best tamper one can find, whether that is because it is calibrated, has a nice hand feel, perfect fit for the portafilter basket, etc. If I were really rigorous and methodical I would consider getting one of those tools intended for coffee shops to reduce repetitive injuries....I forget the name of it, but a tool where the person is pulling down on a handle, almost like a drill press. This insures all that the tamping force is directed straight down, since when standing over a countertop and try to press down from the shoulder and through the wrist it is difficult to make sure all the tamping force is plumb and equal across the face of the puck.

I just think that the freshness of coffee, amount of coffee, grind size, and coffee distribution/leveling are even more important in my personal experience with a lever machine. That if those other variables are dialed in, slight differences in human tamping are not critical. It may also depend on the machine used, I use manual lever where I can add/subtract a little pull pressure during the pull. So that if hypothetically I undertamped, I can use a lighter touch and get a good extraction. In which case it might have not been brewed at the "ideal 9 bars" but is still balanced. Get the distribution off and channeling occurs and it is harder to brew a great cup .

But I don't rule out that I am doing one or more things majorly wrong in my espresso making. I did try using a spring scale (bathroom scale and baby scale) years ago to get an idea of the tamping pressure that I was applying. But I am sure my elbow is out of calibration by now. :)
Which machine do you have? Looking back I wish I got a spring lever machine like the londinium 1 (LONDINIUM I - P - https://londiniumespresso.com/store/lever-espresso-machines?product_id=141)

If your machine is a true lever then yeah, you can adjust as you go and tamping pressure definitely isn't as critical. For spring lever and semi-auto machines I think it's as important as other variables. Lever machines don't produce a constant 9bar of pressure and I think that the espresso world has pretty much all but forgotten about that magic 9 for a more organic curve of pressure being applied to the puck - machines like mine that allow you to program a pressure profile are actually trying to mimic the profiles that naturally occur with lever machines.
 
I meant to ask in previous reply but it is interesting as a separate topic. I not challenging the specific assertion but I have been interested to learn if there has been any attempts in the larger world of "espresso science" to quantify the tamping pressure vs shot time across the spectrum of single/double shot pulls. Something like a graph of tamping pressure vs shot time for a few different amounts of coffee. I would expect to see a cliff or two in the curve given the way ground coffee collapses under a certain load and then only compresses a little more as more weight is added.

This is not the best example, but I once tried tamping some old dried out coffee at 200+ pounds of pressure and it made no difference in the pull as the coffee was just too far gone to make espresso. Which indicates that the amount of moisture makes a big difference as well. That the ideal tamp weight for the same coffee that was roasted dark vs light roast or was 3 days old coffee vs a 3 weeks old coffee may be different.
I think it's more about making adjustments and sticking to it, to be honest. Obviously with a finer grind, tamping pressure can't be as high or you'll choke the machine. Some coffee benefits from a finer grind while others prefer a coarser grind where you could tamp at a higher pressure. Balance is key and there is some trial and error here (the fun part) where you get to taste all kinds of shots, some good and some bad, and dial it in to your specific taste! Once you've done that, consistency is key!
 
Which machine do you have? Looking back I wish I got a spring lever machine like the londinium 1 (LONDINIUM I - P - https://londiniumespresso.com/store/lever-espresso-machines?product_id=141)

If your machine is a true lever then yeah, you can adjust as you go and tamping pressure definitely isn't as critical. For spring lever and semi-auto machines I think it's as important as other variables. Lever machines don't produce a constant 9bar of pressure and I think that the espresso world has pretty much all but forgotten about that magic 9 for a more organic curve of pressure being applied to the puck - machines like mine that allow you to program a pressure profile are actually trying to mimic the profiles that naturally occur with lever machines.
I have a La Pavoni and Rok/Presso. Sometimes I think about getting a non-lever machine but then think wouldn't a Cafelat Robot be more fun to try. :)
 
Honestly, it is a whole lot easier (and much cheaper) to just use a moka pot and Medaglia d'oro from the grocery store.

Tastes just as good, maybe better.
 
Honestly, it is a whole lot easier (and much cheaper) to just use a moka pot and Medaglia d'oro from the grocery store.

Tastes just as good, maybe better.
I started my espresso journey with stove top Italian coffee with my father/mother in law making it after family meals. There is nothing similar about the coffee I make and the coffee that stove tops produce.
 
Honestly, it is a whole lot easier (and much cheaper) to just use a moka pot and Medaglia d'oro from the grocery store.

Tastes just as good, maybe better.
While I have nothing against Medaglia d'oro, obviously it wouldn't be such a successful brand if it wasn't any good, I like to get locally roasted coffee beans, or at least beans that were roasted only a few days earlier, and grind them myself, regardless of brewing method. I'm the only coffee drinker at home and these days I have to limit myself to one or two each day, so convenience and speed aren't that important, but that one cup or two had better be good!
 
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