How To Use An Espresso Machine: Top 10 Things To Consider When Brewing

how to use an espresso machine

Even if you're a lover of drip coffee, it never hurts to know your way around an espresso maker, especially if it is one of the best automatic espresso machines. Knowing how to use an espresso machine, mastering the art of pulling shots and using the steam wand can be an awesome addition to your barista arsenal. 

When it comes to brewing espresso, being able to hit the sweet spot and getting the perfect cup is truly an art. Whether you're new baristas, or just trying to impress your friends, knowing the ins and outs of one of these machines to make good espresso is an all around solid skill to learn.

Best Espresso Beans 

How To Use An Espresso Machine

Today at Black Ink Coffee, we are going to tell you all about how to use an espresso machine, with everything from steaming milk, and to pull that perfect espresso shot. So get your milk pitcher, espresso grounds and your espresso cup ready, and let's get right into this awful brewing process. 

Unlike your typical brew coffee maker, espresso machines aren't as simple, but don't let that discourage you. There are a few very important considerations to cover here, before we get started. 

Coffee Scale Required

coffee scale

One thing to know is that every espresso has a sweet spot, in terms of perfect water to coffee grounds ratio. If you want a perfectly calibrated cup of espresso without any excess coffee grounds, it may be a good idea to invest in a scale. 

Grinding the right amount of beans for a good strong shot, but also getting rid of any excess grounds is an absolute must! Luckily for you, most machines have a built in grinder and scale that produces the perfect amount of coffee grounds.

Using the Correct Water 

water for espresso

Water is tricky! You can always fill the water reservoir with tap water from your sink, but if you're really looking for high level quality, bottled water with minerals is the way to go. Your filtered water at home is good enough though and most espresso machines have a built in filter anyways.

There are also products available to change the acidity levels of the water you are using to make it more suitable for brewing espresso. The bottom line is that the PH level of your water will most certainly impact the final outcome of your espresso, so try and use the best water possible for the best results. 

Grinding the Beans

grinding espresso beans

This can be a point of contention for many people, but we suggest grinding the beans a few seconds before you put the grounds into the machine. Yes, you can certainly add ground coffee instead, but you're going to lose some of the freshness if you do. 

Some machines actually do come with a built in grinder, so if you have one of those, we suggest just buying the coffee beans and doing it yourself. Make sure you set the grind size on your machine to finely ground. Using a finer grind than you use while making coffee is essential when you use an espresso machine. 

PRO TIP: Put your espresso beans in the freezer for an hour before making your espresso shot. This prevents the beans from heating up during the grinding process which makes for a better espresso shot!

Fire It Up

power on espresso machine

Espresso shots may be smaller than your morning cup of coffee, but the process to make them right is much more involved. For starters, make sure you get that machine up and whirring for up to a half hour before you're ready for your daily double shot. Getting the machine to a preheated temperature is extremely important, so make sure you're not in a rush here. 

Bonus Tip: If you're super eager, you can pull what is called a blank shot into your espresso cup. This simply means to pour a single shot of espresso from the machine without any coffee inside the portafilter, in order to help the machine get hot quicker. 

Adding the Espresso Grounds

espresso grounds

This here is the part where a scale really comes in handy. Once you have your espresso machine all preheated, and your coffee beans finely ground, it is time to measure the right amount.

Place your portafilter on your coffee scale and set the scale to tare. Now, once the scale is set to tare, add 20 grams of your favorite roast. If your personal espresso machine already has its own grinding capabilities, even better! Just grind your beans directly into the portafilter. 

We highly recommend to use an espresso bean for this one, since, well, we are making espresso, after all. Once you have that delicious mountain of coffee in the basket, you can use your hand to smooth down the grinds and shave away the excess coffee before we begin the tamping phase. 

Tamping Down the Grinds

espresso tamping

It is important to have the ground coffee as evenly distributed in your portafilter as possible. In order to do this, you can use your finger to level them off, shaving any excess coffee back into the basket. Now, lets get tamping!

When you tamp, its important to press as straight down as possible, to make sure the espresso puck comes out even. Use a fair bit of pressure, but don't white knuckle it. If your face is turning red, you are trying too hard! 

So, press down until the top is level and the ground coffee is finished settling, which ensures for consistency in your next shot. Next, give the tamper a little spin, which will leave the espresso push nice and polished. After this, wipe clean any excess grounds clinging to the edges of the portafilter and congratulations:

You're ready to pull a shot. 

pulling espresso shot

Ready, Set, PULL! As you pull your first shot, it is ideal for you to time how long it takes to reach a double shot size, or two ounces. Normally this should take about 30 seconds per pull. If you can hit this sweet spot, you should have the rich, dark flavor of espresso you've been craving in that morning latte. 

Dialing it in

dialing espresso

The average espresso maker will usually have a pressure gauge. As a pro barista, you should take note of the pressure reached after the shots you pull. This will help you to calibrate for your next shot, and to make sure each one is extracted perfectly. 

Without a gauge, its a a simple test. Did your shot pull too quickly? Did it pull too slowly? If it pulled too quick, use a coarser grind. And if it pulled too slowly, use a finer grind next time. 

Taste Test

taste testing

Another way to test for the perfect sweet spot is by the flavor of the shot. If the taste is too biter, the espresso is over extracted. This means either use a coarser grind, or choose a lighter roast. On the other hand, if your espresso is too acidic or sour, you have likely under extracted. So, a finer grind, or a darker espresso bean is your best bet here.

Make sure once you change the grinds, you must empty out the portafilter, as well. otherwise, you will create a mix of ground sizes, and that will likely confuse the process. Now that we are all calibrated, its time to put that steam wand to use. If you like a nice cappuccino with extra foam, this part is for you! 

Can You say Latte?


Now, if you're going to use an espresso machine, you've got to try your hand at some other delicious espresso based drinks. Half the battle of using an espresso machine is in mastering the steam wand. 

Start with cold milk in your stainless steel milk pitcher. Insert the tip of the wand into the milk and turn on the steam until the milk froths to the consistency you enjoy. It is important to keep the tip just below the surface, but not too deep at this phase.

Once you have your desired texture, insert entire steam wand into the bottom of the pitcher, and steam until you get it to the desired hot temperature. Afterwards, give the wand a nice wipe, and then turn on the steam once more to keep it nice and sanitary. 

Steaming the milk is a delicate balance when it comes to temperature. If it's too hot, your drink will have an unpleasant burnt taste. Not hot enough and all your delicious foam will come apart. 

Verdict, Espresso Yourself!

Now that you know how to dial in the perfect shot of espresso, and to steam milk like true baristas, its time to get creative. try different roasts, experiment with the grind sizes, and mix up your latte game with some interesting little additions to each drink. Put those machines to good use!

Best Espresso Beans 
Author Profile Picture

Parker Russell is a coffee professional and the founder of Black Ink Coffee. As an expert in the field of coffee roasting, cupping (professional Q-Grader) and brewing, Parker has established Black Ink as brand that fuels the grind of dreamers.