Espresso coffee - how to make the perfect espresso

Author: Jon Dart


This article, taken from issue nine of Kitchen, explains everything you need to know to make the perfect espresso at home. We asked Francis Bradshaw, the founder of Hampshire roasters Moonroast Coffee, to guide us. With many of his speciality coffees winning Great Taste awards, he knows what a good coffee should taste like.

You might not hammer a double esoresso before rushing out for work in the morning, but the short caffeine hit is the foundation for all your favourite coffees. Whether you drink a cappuccino, an Americano, a flat white or a latte, it all begins with the espresso. So it's important to make it a good one, and the journey from bean to cup begins with the quality of the beans. From there, you need to store them correctly, get the size of the grind right, and stretch and texture your milk like a pro barista. Finally you'll need a great grinder and a top quality coffee machine.

Espresso Coffee Cup

There are different types of espresso

“For me, an espresso is best-served ristretto, which is a shorter espresso – about 24ml. You’ve got an espresso, which is about 36ml and then you’ve got a lungo, which might be 45ml. The espresso and the lungo would be better for making a milky drink, a tall drink, but when making espresso, I tend to make it a bit shorter. I would never go for a lungo because you’re not going to get that much milk into your cup as the espresso shot is so long.”

How to make the perfect double espresso

“You need fine ground coffee – we would put 18g of ground coffee into a handle and extract it in 28 to 32 seconds. The shot it would provide would be a ratio of one to two – so you would produce 36 grams of liquid.”

A good espresso should taste like this

“Espresso is obviously a short drink, but it’s more intense than a normal coffee. Your dream espresso is going to be sweet, well balanced and have some fruit flavours. It would also have a nice crema [the thin layer of foam at the top of a coffee]. If you’re using old beans, you’ll get a stale coffee and you wouldn’t get so much crema.

“If you over extract the coffee – if you went on for 40 seconds – the crema could be quite dark and have a tendency for more bitterness. So, the longer the extraction, the more bitter it is likely to be, and the shorter, the more acidic. An under-extracted coffee – if it, say, took 20 seconds, it could be quite light and watery tasting, and too acidic.”

The importance of good beans

“What a roaster is trying to achieve is to make sure you get that nice fruit favour cutting through the milk. So, the slight danger is losing the interest once you add the milk, particularly with speciality coffee.

“At Moonroast, we only roast speciality coffee that’s graded over 80 out of 100. You’ve got speciality coffee and everything under that is commodity coffee, so when you’re buying premium arabica speciality coffee, what you don’t want to do is roast too dark and create a ‘roasty’ coffee flavour. You’re trying to draw out different characteristics of the bean. Getting the roast profile and the extraction right on the machine is what you’re trying
to achieve to get the fruity, sweetness balance. If you roast dark you get a one-dimensional flavour.

“A lot of our coffees are ethically sourced from smallholder farmers, and they’re being very well rewarded for quality. Because it’s scored over 80, it’s going to be good stuff – that’s our assurance that it’s minimum base quality. If someone is buying coffee that’s not speciality grade, they don’t quite know what they’re getting.”

How to store coffee beans

“The element that deteriorates the beans quickest is oxygen. As long as there’s no oxygen in contact with the bean at all, you’d ideally use a bean within a month, but up to two months really. It’s really a matter of storing the beans in a cool, dry place – it doesn’t have to be the fridge. We put the roast date rather than the best before on our bags, to give it a shelf life of three months after roast date, but it’s really at its peak after four or five weeks. If you buy ground coffee it does go off quicker.”

The importance of perfecting grinding

“There’s a sweet spot when you’re trying to get the grind right. You’re trying to achieve this perfect extraction – if the beans are ground too coarsely, the water is going to come through too quickly and you’re going to get a thin, tasteless coffee. If it’s too fine, it’s going to slow the water coming through and you’ll potentially get a bitter coffee. The humidity in the air changes things – every day is different, so you might have to do tiny adjustments on your grinder to achieve perfect extraction. You get to know that – if you’re at home with an espresso machine and a grinder, you’ll do fine adjustments. You can’t really advise on the size, it’s just experience and timing it. Start timing your yield – you’ve got to achieve your 36ml in 28-32 seconds. People who get into it get their stopwatches out!”

The importance of stretching milk

“If you’ve got a steam arm on your machine, this is probably the most tricky part of making a coffee. It is a two-stage approach – the stretching process draws air into the milk, so the top of the nozzle should be just out of the milk. Once you’ve stretched it as much as you want, you then want to texture it, where you’re spinning the milk and giving it a nice creamy texture.

“For a cappuccino, for example, you’re incorporating bubbles by stretching, essentially increasing the volume of milk by sucking a little air in. Then you put the tip of the steam wand deeper into the milk and you just want to spin the milk and that’s called texturing, which is very important because it’s like whipping the milk up.”

Buy a good grinder

“If you want to improve your coffee making at home, buy a grinder. It’s practically impossible to make an espresso with pre-ground coffee because the grind size won’t be right for your machine. Some would say that a grinder is more important than an espresso machine, but it needs to be a burr grinder because what you’re trying to achieve is an even grind. If you buy a cheap grinder you’ll end up with big particles and small particles, so the extraction isn’t going to be very good.”

  1. Cuisinart Coffee Burr Mill

    In Stock

    Cuisinart Coffee Burr Mill

    RRP: £65.00

  1. Judge Coffee Grinder

    In Stock

    Judge Coffee Grinder

    RRP: £40.70

How to choose the right coffee machine

“I would always go for manual, because then you’re in total control. With a separate grinder, you can adjust the grind and extraction time. Bean to cup is a little more automated so the grind is incorporated into the machine, but you should still be able to adjust the grind and you should still be stretching the milk.

“On a manual machine, it takes time to stretch the milk with the steamer, but some of the more fancy bean to cup machines will do the milk for you.

“Capsule machines probably work out more expensive per cup, but it’s easy. If you’re interested in coffee, with micro roasters popping up all over the country, there’s a good chance that someone will have one nearby. So get it freshly roasted and you’ll be able to discover different coffees, different varieties and different countries. There’s more room to explore coffees with a bean to cup or a manual machine.”

What else do you need?

“You do need a tamper as the tamping part of making your espresso is important. When you’re forming your shot, it needs to be level because otherwise, the water goes down the side. How we recommend it in our barista training is that you put the pressure of mashing potato on it. You also need the right-sized milk jug.”

About the Expert

Francis Bradshaw is the founder of Moonroast Coffee. Based in the Candover Valley, Hampshire, this artisan roastery makes small batch coffee with beans sourced from some of the best smallholders in the world. Francis is the fourth generation of coffee and tea traders in his family. His father, Haydon, one of the country’s top coffee tasters, still helps craft single original coffees and blends that regular win Great Taste awards. For more details go to