Some might argue espresso may not be the best method to appreciate the full spectrum of specialty coffee. It is inherently “flawed” to a degree where it poses some limitation for coffee brewing. However, a nicely crafted shot of espresso is such a dose of magic, the syrupy texture, the explosion of intense flavors, the lingering aftertaste and the ascend of spirit, there simply is no other substitute. Espresso making has a higher entry level threshold from some perspectives, say investment in gear and comparatively less forgiving brewing parameters, but a delicious espresso from home is absolutely possible and you should definitely give it a “shot”.
This post is about making espresso at home with Espresso Forge, a manual espresso “press”. It covers a little bit of general information about espresso, and some specific tips about the espresso maker itself.
Gear: burr grinder and espresso “machine”
Grinding coffee for espresso is a complex subject. A well engineered grinder can give you consistent, more narrow grind particle distribution, which will make brewing espresso less frustrating. It doesn’t mean home grinder won’t work. A decent burr grinder with proper alignment is a good place to start for most brewing scenarios.
I’m using Virtuoso from Baratza, which may not be designed particularly for espresso. Grind size adjustment is a bit limited here. I can only use the finest setting for espresso. But you can absolutely make it work.
Espresso is a pressurized method. For home brewing, you need a method that could generate a brewing environment between 6 bars to 9 bars. It doesn’t have to be pump operated. There are plenty of espresso maker out there that isn’t a “machine”. A popular method is using Aeropress. Fellow has a screen cap replacement that can help make “aeropresso” an easier process.
Espresso Forge is another great espresso maker that’s fully manual. It somewhat resembles a Faema E61 espresso machine, except instead of a pump, you’re manually pressing water through a cylinder to generate pressure. There’s a pressure gauge so you can monitor/control brewing pressure in real time.
Water for espresso
Coffee is 98% water. If you don’t like the water as is, you won’t like the coffee made from it. Use a soft water that has some mineral content for making coffee. If you use water that smells of bleach, the coffee will taste even worse.
A little note for engineering your own coffee brewing water. Calcium can really introduce some vibrant bright notes to your espresso, I personally find a ratio of 1:2 of calcium and magnesium hits a perfect spot for me (105ppm, PH7.1).
Coffee for espresso
You can make espresso with any coffee and roast level even if it’s not an “espresso blend”. In my experience, single origin is actually a lot easier to dial in. Different origin has different varietal and process method, the resulting roasted coffee bean will varied in density. So the more origins there are in a “blend” the more finicky it will be.
Resting and storing your coffee properly can also make sure you end up with a nice cup. There are come compounds that we associate with “roasty” through taste. These compounds react with other compounds, and then turn into less aggressive tasting compounds a couple days after roast. Also, by waiting out the period where the bean is still violently pushing out gas will improve the over all consistency of the ground. I usually rest coffee for a week to 2 weeks.
“espresso is hard enough, you don’t need your basket making your life harder.” ~ James Hoffmann
If you hear that sentence and did not think for one second it’s a joke. Congratulations, you know THE PAIN.
Your dose depends on the size of your basket. A straight walled basket is more t constant than traditional “single” baskets. Ideally, you want to dose give or take 1g from what the basket is designed to hold. This should provide enough clearings between the shower screen and the puck so there’s room for expansion, but not so much room that the spent puck is wet and mushy.
Espresso Forge has a bottomless “ring” to hold the basket, so any 58mm basket will work with it. I’m using a IMS 20g precision basket. I’m dosing at 20g. (I also swapped out the standard shower head with an IMS shower head.)
We fashion and tamp fine coffee ground into a dense puck to create adequate resistance during the extraction of espresso. Before tamping your coffee, make sure the ground are reasonably void of large lumps and are evenly level. You can use a coffee comb or a spoon to break up any lumps if any. Some has suggested misting your coffee with water before grinding would help against statics clumping. I personally prefer using a dosing cup to shake the ground loose.
Purchase a tamper that tightly fits your basket can reduce the chance of size channeling, which means the water will go through the void on the side instead of going through the puck evenly. I’m using a tamper from Mugshot New York which is a precise 58.5mm that fits IMS precision basket to a tee.
Preheat your forge and basket. One of the challenges with Espresso Forge is heat retention. Water dissolves better at higher temperature. Be gentle and careful with the basket after you’ve prepared the puck. I usually use boiling water. *caution advised.
I find that Espresso Forge sits perfectly on top of my Bonavita kettle, so after rinsing it with hot water, I’d simply swap it in place of the cap, so the steam from the hot water can help maintain some heat.
Basket securely screwed on, cylinder filled with hot water with at least 1/4” clearance, forge is ready for action.
Gently push down the piston and maintain the pressure at 2 bar to pre-infuse the puck. This means that some water is gently pressed through the coffee ground to saturate it, wetting the ground throughout to help maximize the extraction in the later stage. Also, pre-infusion will expand the ground, which reduces the chances of channeling.
Ramp up the pressure to 9 bars immediately after the first drop. Maintain its course till the espresso weights 25g. Than gradually reduce the pressure to 0 and stop when the espresso weights 36g. By suddenly pull up the piston slightly, it will create vacuum to stop the flow.
If you are observing how the espresso comes out in real time. You should see an even output throughout the basket. A center pull is another good indicator that the espresso is being evenly extracted. However, there are exceptions, especially when you are brewing a very light roast, or when your grinder produces less fines.
28 to 32 seconds duration is a good starting range. However, don’t be afraid to extend that brew time especially if you’re using a lighter roast. A light roast washed Ethiopian at 45 seconds might be the thing your life is missing. (wink!)
Taste and dial in
Stir or transfer espresso to another vessel to encourage proper incorporation. If the espresso taste intense and slightly salty, try pulling a longer shot at 40, 42g. If it’s too bitter, wait 30 seconds and take another sip first. If it still tastes bitter, coarsen the grind size so the brew time is shorter. If it’s too light and the brew time is short, make the grind size finer to extend the brew time, or prolong the pre-infusion time.
I must not tell lies. The truth is, some coffee aren’t really meant for espresso. If you bought a bag of coffee that looks paler than almond skin, be brave and move on.
Yes, the short answer is, Espresso Forge can make a shot with nom-nom crema. The long answer is, more of a question, why do you want crema? It is simply a layer of micro bubbles and suspended fine ground that often tastes of nothing. It is a nice sensation. But it has more to do with your coffee and your grinder. It is by no means any indicator of great espresso.
I have been a fan. It’s long been my preferred method for espresso at home. It’s versatile. It makes a great shot of espresso. Especially with my grinder producing good amount of fines, the espresso are often balanced, lively with a comforting texture. And maybe just because the mechanic element of it, it is satisfying to pull shots with literally your own hands.
It does have a learning curb. And there’s a lot of moving pieces that needs an extra bit of attention. But hey, what good things come easy?
Espresso Forge dissembles easily for maintenance and parts exchange./A barista is only as good as they clean, don't forget to regularly clean your forge with fragrance free detergent.