It's surprisingly easy to make great coffee at home with an Italian coffee machine. I have refined my home espresso workflow over many years and brought it all back to basics with simple steps.
Start with the video below to see my home barista espresso workflow in action.
Espresso Workflow Steps
Switch the machine on with the portafilter attached and the cups on top - to warm the portafilter and the cups
Remove the portafilter and wipe off any water droplets
Grind 18g of coffee (for the double basket)
Recommended - K Bean Coffee Scales
Important - don’t use the single basket until you have mastered the double basket - to understand why scroll down to my FAQ on “how to choose and use baskets”
Distribute the grind evenly across the basket
Recommended - K Bean Precision Distributor
Tamp in 2 steps:
Place the tamper onto the coffee and level it using your fingers and thumbs
Tamp down firmly to compress the coffee
Attach the portafilter, activate the pump and start timing
Start timing as soon as you activate the pump
First drips 6-8 seconds after you activate the pump is a good sign
Stop the extraction (by volume or by colour) and note the extraction time
If extracting by colour - stop at stream blonding
If extracting by volume - stop when you have 50ml of liquid
Tune your grinder so it is ready for your next shot
If extraction time was less than 30s adjust for a finer grind (lower number)
If extraction time was greater than 30s adjust for a coarser grind (higher number)
Remove the portafilter, knock out the puck, rinse the portafilter, put it back onto the machine
If making a milky coffee it’s time to steam the milk now. See my Milk Workflow
If you are ready for another coffee go back to the top and repeat
Home Barista FAQs
I know the questions that come to mind for new home baristas, and if I get asked a question 3 times I write an FAQ. This has become a great way for me to share handy tips online. Scroll below to learn more.
+ How long does it take to warm up a machine?
All Italian coffee machines warm up quickly. Typical boiler heat up time is 5 minutes. This is followed by a little time for the metal in the machine to warm up. For a machine with a standard group this can take 5 minutes. For a coffee machine with an E61 group this can take 15 minutes. If you are in a rush you get always speed up the heating time by running water through the group. This is known as a warming flush. I can get any Italian coffee machine ready for espresso in 10 minutes with a warming flush.
Of course, you can always get a power point timer to switch your coffee machine on as you wake. You can even use a wifi timer if you want to make your coffee machine smart.
+ Can I leave my coffee machine on all day?
Most Italian coffee machines that I sell are designed to be left on all day long. In fact, many of my domestic coffee machines are used commercially in offices, coffee carts and restaurants.
An advantage of leaving your machine on is that it is always ready. A disadvantage of leaving your machine on is power consumption. This is a minor issue as most power is used during start up when heating your coffee machine from cold to hot. Typical idling power consumption is tiny, with running costs of just several cents per hour.
A disadvantage of leaving your machine on is the continual exposure of internal components to heat. Although most machines are designed to be left on all day it is only logical to assume that lifetime of internal components will be improved if you turn your machine off when it is not in use.
I recommend that you heat your machine in the morning for your first round of coffees then switch it off and give it a rest. When at rest a heated machine will still stay warm for many hours so if you want another coffee a few hours later switch it back on and it will get up to brewing temperature really quickly.
+ How do I use the gauges on my coffee machine?
Most Italian coffee machines have 2 gauges.
- Gauge 1 - Steam boiler pressure (typically 1-1.1 bar, but up to 2 bar)
- Gauge 2 - Brew pump pressure (typically 9-12 bar)
You will find the gauges interesting when you first get a coffee machine as they will help you to understand how the machine works. They are also useful to technicians during machine set up, and they can come in handy when diagnosing technical problems.
I’m often asked I watch the gauges when making coffee and the answer is no. I may glance at them occasionally but I don’t drive with them. Gauges on an espresso coffee machine are a little like gauges on a car. When driving either a coffee machine or a car you only don’t need to look at the gauges but it’s good to be aware of them and to understand when they are there for.
+ How do I use the lever on my coffee machine?
Most manual Italian coffee machines have a lever operated E61 group. Although these look complex, they are are amazingly simple to use.
When you first play you will notice 3 lever positions, but there are actually 4.
- Position 1: lever at 90° (down) - water channel closed, pump off
- Position 2: lever at 45° - water channel closed, pump off
- Position 3: lever at 40° - water channel open, pump on
- Position 4: lever at 0° (up) - water channel open, pump on
Positions 1, 2 and 4 are easy to find as they lock in. To find position 3 you need to have a play. Position 3 is where most E61 coffee machines will allow you to pre-wet the coffee puck when running off of a tank or to pre-infuse when running plumbed.
I don’t recommend pre-wetting or pre-infusion, so keep it simple and forget about positions 2 and 3. To start brewing coffee simply lift the lever up, and to stop brewing simply push the lever down. That’s it. So simple.
+ How do I choose and use portafilter baskets?
When you start out I recommend that you use only your double basket and avoid the single basket. The reason for starting with a double basket is that with a double basket the coffee puck is thicker and less prone to water channeling. So start off with a double basket to master your espresso extractions.
After you have mastered your double basket extractions you can try the single basket. When it comes to dosing, the best approach for a single basket is to add the amount of coffee that gives you the same extraction speed that you get when using your double basket.
You should find this sweet spot at around 12g. When you find the sweet spot you will be able to toggle between double and single baskets without any need to adjust the grinder setting.
Here is a guide to dosing and extraction:
- Standard single basket - 12g of coffee for 30ml of liquid in 30s
- Standard double basket - 18g of coffee for 50ml of liquid in 30s
- Precision double basket - 22g of coffee for 60ml of liquid in 30s
+ When should I stop espresso extraction?
To get the best results from an Italian coffee machine you really need to understand espresso extraction. To learn about espresso extraction and to understand the point where you stop extraction visit my About Espresso page.
After visiting my Understanding Espresso page, follow my Espresso Workflow to make amazing coffee time after time.
+ What should I do if my extraction is too fast?
- Make sure that you are following every step of my Espresso Workflow.
- Remember to start timing when the pump starts, not when the first drips come out.
- Your extraction should start slowly with drips. For a 30s extraction, first drips at 6-8 seconds is a good sign.
- The most likely cause of fast extraction is coarse grind, so adjust your grinder for a finer grind to slow down the extraction.
- Make sure that your tamp is even and firm, and only tamp once as over-tamping can break the coffee puck and cause channeling
- Check the grind distribution as poor distribution can result in water channeling and uneven extraction.
- Are you trying the single basket? Don't use the single basket until you have mastered extractions using 18g in a double basket.
- Are you trying supermarket beans? If you are, you will need to adjust your grinder to a very fine setting to get a slow extraction. This is because supermarket beans are generally stale
+ What should I do if my extraction is too slow?
- Make sure that you are following every step of my Espresso Workflow
- The most likely cause of slow extraction is fine grind, so adjust your grinder for a coarser grind to speed up the extraction.
- You may have too much coffee in your portafilter.
- Are you trying the single basket? Don't use the single basket until you have mastered extractions using 18g in a double basket.
+ Why can't I get a 30s extraction every time?
Even the most skilled barista won't get a 30 second extraction every time.
Even with a perfect workflow you can expect up to 5 seconds of variation from shot to shot. From one day to another you may even experience variation as high as 10 seconds due to changes in temperature and humidity.
The good news is that this is not a problem as 30 seconds is a rule-of-thumb goal. You don't need to hit 30 seconds to get great espresso.
I'm sure that you will enjoy espresso produced in a blistering 15 seconds, as well as super slow extractions that take more that 45 seconds. You might want to throw away the 10 second extractions though ;)
So keep steering towards 30 seconds, but don't expect to hit 30 seconds time after time. 30 seconds is a target, not a destination.
+ Why is my espresso thin, watery and bitter?
If your extraction speed is near 30 seconds and your espresso is thin, watery (without crema) and bitter, it’s time to take a good look at your coffee beans.
Make sure that you are using high quality and fresh coffee beans. Beans are really important.
+ Why doesn't my coffee taste right?
You may wonder why your coffee doesn't taste the way that you expect it to taste. You may even wonder if this has something to do with your machine.
Although there may be very minor variations in coffee flavours from machine to machine, you can be confident that the real solution to "taste" lies with the beans. Beans are at the heart of every coffee so make sure that you always use beans that you absolutely love.
+ What doesn’t my coffee puck look right?
After you extract your espresso you will wack your portafilter on to you knock box to knock out the coffee puck. The perfect (text book) coffee puck looks like a compressed disk. This disk will crack up as you knock it out.
Of course you don’t need a perfect puck. Pucks vary in appearance and consistency. Sometimes they are a little hard, sometimes they are a little sloppy. This is not a problem at all.
Don’t worry about he puck. Focus on great extraction by aiming for your target ratio of coffee dose (g) : coffee volume (ml) : extraction time (s). Once you get this correct a decent puck should just happen. If it doesn’t happen don’t be concerned as it’s the coffee in the cup that matters, not the puck in the knock box.
+ What is the best brew pressure for espresso?
The traditional brew pressure setting for Italian espresso machines was 9 Bar. There's a misconception that this was because 9 Bar was the best pressure for espresso. This is not the case at all. The reason for 9 Bar on traditional machines was that pumps on traditional machines typically produced 9 Bar as standard. Today, manufacturers set their machines a little higher. Typically in the range of 10-12 Bar.
What is the best brew pressure? As with almost everything in this home barista hobby there is no indisputable “best.” I have played with brew pressures in the 9-12 bar range and with similar extraction times (near 30s) I have not been able to taste any difference between the coffee extracted.
My advice is to leave the pressure at the factory setting. Brew pressure has little effect upon the results in your cup so just leave your Italian coffee machine at the factory setting and brew away with confidence.
+ What do I need to know about tamping?
There is surprisingly little skill involved when it comes to tamping. Here is a little guide.
- Before you tamp, make sure that you distribute the coffee grounds evenly. Do this by dragging your finger across the top of the basket, or for better results use a coffee distributor.
- Place the tamper gently on top, then work it down gradually to a point when the coffee grounds are semi compressed with the tamper sitting level.
- Add pressure for a firm tamp - best described as the point where you can feel that the coffee puck is fully compressed, and pushing harder doesn't move the puck down any further.
- Remove the tamper slowly. If you want to get fancy you can twist the tamper on the way up to polish the surface of puck.
+ What is the best way to store coffee beans?
To protect coffee beans from oxygen they are packed into bags with one way gas valves. The valves allow post roast gases to exit the bags, and as this happens the gases push out oxygen. These beans stay fresh far longer than beans in the open air because of the oxygen free environment.
Coffee beans are generally at their best at 5-30 days after roasting. This is the goldilocks period. However, roasted coffee beans that have been stored in bags with one way valves can be great for far longer than 30 days. I have had coffee >3 months post roast which has still been amazing.
My advice is to keep your bag sealed until you need the beans, then open the bag, fill the hopper, and enjoy.