With espresso machines it can be very confusing and daunting. We prefer the type that have separate grinders and their own group handles, just like the commercial machines. We find you have better control over the end results with these than automatic push button machines that do it all. You also get what you pay for, buy a quality machine and separate grinder with adjustable burrs, not the blade sort used for spices.
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Espresso is delicate and the flavour can be tainted easily by dirty equipment. Use filtered water, backwash regularly and descale your machine as advised by the manufacturer.

Grind your coffee first. The sooner you can make your coffee after it has been ground the better. The grind particle size is critical when it comes to espresso. A finer grind will result in a much slower extraction of espresso through the machine, while courser is, a faster extraction. 

STEP 1

Start with a clean and dry group handle. With a dry cloth wipe away water or coffee grinds from group basket. A dirty basket will taint the flavour, a wet basket can cause channeling. 

Step 2

Dose the coffee into the filter basket. If you are grinding fresh, a few gentle taps against the grinder forks as you dose will settle the coffee into the basket eliminating air pockets. It is important to keep your dosing technique consistent.

Step 3

Tamp down the coffee grinds using a firm and even pressure. Keep your forearm straight, lightly twist the tamp to polish the coffee grinds. Check your tamping technique, the surface of the puck should be flat not angling to one side. 

Step 4

Flush water through the group head for a few seconds, this will clean any remaining coffee grinds from the heads and ensure the water is running at the correct brewing temperature. 

Step 5

Lock the group handle into position. Start the extraction process and watch the magic happen! Things to look out for here are; the speed of the extraction, the colour of the shot and the thickness of the pour. You want to see the coffee start dripping out at first before flowing like warm caramel. When you notice the coffee turning paler in colour, stop the extraction, the best of the coffee flavours and nuances have been yielded. We find our espresso tastes great when extracted in around 35-45 seconds, yielding a volume of around
25-30ml. 

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However, every bean, blend, machine and grinder is unique. So experiment with your espresso extractions, anywhere from 25 to 45 secs with a yield of 15ml to 30ml (and in between all these parameters) you will find what works best for that particular bean and machinery but most importantly, a sweet spot that works for your palette. The espresso should have a balance of fruity acidity, rich bittersweetness, and a thick velvety mouthfeel, espresso heaven!