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The perfect espresso

Updated on December 21, 2009

The perfect espresso is something every barista aims for - the so called god shot. What most people who frequent a coffee chain don't realise is that an espresso is actually defined within fairly strict standards - it isn't just a shot of coffee from an Italian inspired espresso machine. Instead, a perfect espresso, expressed (if you'll pardon the coffee pun) in technical terms is 30ml of liquid prepared from 9 grams of freshly ground coffee through which clean water of 92 degrees centigrade has been forced at 9 atmospheres of pressure for 30 seconds.

That's a pretty tight definition of an espresso, but it gives the parameters which, through the test of time (and the test of some scientific equipment) gives us the most delicious espresso - one which is thick with crema....a drink where the aromatic oils and sugars have been coaxed out of the freshly ground coffee beans to provide a small cup of coffee that is close to divine.

Espresso actually means express or prepared upon request, and really, an espresso does not keep well. It should be drunk immediately. Good coffee shouldn't need sugar or milk to taste delicious - not too bitter, not too sweet, not too sour. Any of these and you have been served a poor espresso.

Of course, the rise of coffee chains has also given rise to a new of home baristas - people who are passionate about fresh coffee in their homes and are prepared to invest in quality equipment with which to make the perfect cup of coffee. And make no mistake, being a home barista is something of an expensive hobby. Expensive and messy. If you are thinking about buying yourself an espresso machine to use at home, think twice. The allure of having espresso on tap is very strong, but consider a number of things - it isn't just a coffee machine you'll need, you also have to have a grinder good enough to grind freshly roasted coffee beans fine enough for espresso; and with grinding comes a lot of mess. So, unless you have a passion for coffee, find a local coffee shop that can make you a great espresso, and buy it!

The three cornerstones of perfect espresso are beans, grinder, coffee machine. In that order. Freshly roasted bean are the most important factor in creating great coffee. You cannot make great food without fresh quality ingredients, and coffee, or at least espresso can be considered fresh food, so get the best qualty beans you can - freshly roasted. A great grinder...something like a Mazzer Mini that can grind your beans fine enough for espresso is the next step in creating fantastic coffee, and finally, a good espresso machine - and we aren't talking a tiny little $100 affair that you can buy in your department store. A decent pump driven espresso machine is not cheap.

Once you have all these, then you need to grind your beans fresh for each shot. Tamp with an even 30lbs of pressure, lock the portafilter into the espresso machine and go! The result should be beautiful - dark, rich with a full head of crema.

There is one more secret ingredient to espresso - fresh water


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