Belly of the beast

This massive post is archived as an espresso training guide. I figured because the Schomer book is somewhat expensive & a little overwhelming for non-obsessive baristi that I'd gank the man's idea and set up a little pictoral lesson on how we at Joe do the espresso thing.


Step One: Remove the portafilter from the group head. Unless it is the first shot of the day, your basket should be full of spent espresso grinds.

Once you remove the portafilter from the head, fill your shot glass with clean hot water directly from the empty head. While you are doing this, you can discard the used grinds into the knock box to the side of the Marzocco.

Step Two: This is what the portafilter will most often look like after you give it a whack or two on the knock block.

Before filling it with fresh grinds, take a dry rag & wipe whatever leftovers are in the basket. This way you can ensure that every cup is crafted using only the freshest stuff.

Please excuse how blurry this is; it's hard to hold a portafilter in one hand & a digicam in the other!

It's also at this point that you can start the grinder, but try not to do so any sooner in the process. The second the espresso comes in contact with air it begins to lose flavor, and since there will be more surface area due to the fine grind, the little guys will oxidate quickly. We try to keep each dose as fresh as possible by waiting until this point to grind.

Step Three: Now you have a clean, empty portafilter.

Place the portafilter under the grinder & dispense what has been ground. Since our grinders are on timers, you should find that the dose is just about perfect. If you are under-dosed, however, feel free to either adjust the time on the timer or to push the "Pulse" button to dispense a little more of the good stuff.

Step Four: So, now you've got this lump of grinds in your basket.

Because water will travel unevenly through the grinds if given the chance, we have to make them as consistent as possible within each cup. To do this, we simply spread the grinds out within the portafilter basket, creating a smooth, flat, and most importantly, even dose of espresso.

That's me moving my finger across the basket to evenly dispense the grinds.

It should look something like this once you've dosed properly.

Step Five: On to tamping. This is another really important step in the process, and the final one before getting your shot on. To do this properly, you'll have to get a good sense of the amount of pressure you inflict on the grinds, as well as developing a sturdy, steady hand.

Tamping is important because it pretty much dictates the amount of space between the grinds, which is the path through which the water will travel at very high pressure. This is how we extract the most flavor from the coffee, and of course flavor is the key. You will need to tamp consistently & keenly, and you'll know if a tamp isn't correct or not as you get to know our methods & become acquainted with our bean blend.

As per David Schomer's recommendation, we tamp with 30-35 pounds of pressure (and have a special tamper which will measure that pressure for you: we'll go over that in real-life training), pressing straight down on the espresso to create an even, flat surface.

Notice how my elbow is raised and my forearm goes straight on down. This helps not only get the flattest possible tamp but also prevents a lot of wrist injury. Booyah!

After the first tamp at 30-35 pounds of pressure, we lightly tap the little guy with the small end of the tamper. This loosens some of the espresso from the sides of the basket and deposits them into the center.

We tamp again after loosening the slackers, and clean off the sides of the portafilter to make sure it fits cleanly into its group head (notice the two notches at the sides of the portafilter are clean of espresso. that's what I'm talkin' 'bout).

This is what your final dose should look like.

The espresso dose should fall just short of the "dosing line" in the basket. This is because the water infusion causes the grinds to swell, and if you don't leave enough room for the growth, the pressure will cause leakage and, if you're particularly unlucky, an unpleasant kind of mini-explosion that is a wicked bad pain in the tush.

Everyone doses a little differently, but I find that this kind of measurement works the best for my personal use on the bottomless portafilters. You'll find your own way, my coffee samurai.

Step Six: PAYDIRT Put your perfectly dosed little buddy in his little home, dump the hot water out of your shot glass, line 'er up with the bottom of the portafilter, flip that switch, and boy oh boy, look at that sucker go.

Is that a beautiful thing or what?