The Perfect Espresso Shot: What It Is And How to Make It

What is the etymology of the espresso shot, and how do you brew one perfectly?

Espresso is by far one of the most popular, coffee-based drinks out there, and with very good reason. Its simplicity, rich flavor, instant caffeine hit and smooth mouthfeel make it easy to love.

What’s more, espresso forms the basis of just about any other coffee drink you can think of, including caffe latte, cappuccino, Americano and more.

You might say that espresso is the root of all other coffee. Even the coffees that aren’t based on espresso tend to be based on either ristretto or lungo shots – both variations over the classic espresso.

So what makes the perfect espresso shot? What is its history and how can you make it at home?

Keep reading to learn more.

A brief history of espresso

Coffee was first exported to Europe in the early 1600s, when Viennese merchants brought some home with them from Istanbul, where they had become familiar with the coffee drink. Over the next couple of hundred years, coffee grew and grew in popularity, until coffee houses and coffee beans became available in most parts of Europe and later the rest of the world.

However, it wasn’t until 1884 that the very first espresso machine was invented and the espresso was born. In the early 1900s, Italian businessman Luigi Bezzera was the first to patent an espresso machine – and it wasn’t long after this that espresso became all the rage throughout Italy and the rest of Europe. Before the advent of the espresso, cofee was brewed using ground coffee in a mug, into which hot water was then poured. The result was coffee, all right, but it wasn’t nearly as smooth and clean as espresso.

Espresso machines have become commonplace today, with plenty of manufacturers producing high-quality, versatile espresso machines at reasonable prices. This is fortunate, seeing as you cannot brew espresso without an espresso machine (Brewing coffee by any other method results in drip coffee, pour over coffee and other coffee drinks that are not as short, intense and concentrated as espresso).

Espresso is made by running hot water through finely ground coffee beans for a set duration – usually between 25 and 30 seconds to achieve optimal extraction, although the extraction time can fall anywhere between 22 and 40 seconds with the result still being a delicious espresso.

What defines a great espresso is a smooth and intense shot, without debris from the coffee grounds and without a burnt or bitter aftertaste. What you want instead is a bold yet round taste, with sweet and caramelly taste notes. Although this can vary slightly, the typical espresso is 30 ml.

Because an espresso shot is compact and flavory-intense, it forms the perfect base for most other coffee drinks, including latte, macchiato, cappuccino, mocha, Cortado and so on. In other words, the espresso is what makes or breaks any other coffee drink you might want to enjoy – that’s why brewing your espresso right is so important.

How to brew the ideal espresso shot

Preparing a great espresso is relatively easy, provided that you have an espresso machine at home. You can also use instant espresso powder, although the result is not quite going to live up to the standards of a freshly brewed espresso from a decent espresso maker.

When you want to prepare the perfect shot of espresso, these are the things you are going to need: An espresso machine, finely ground espresso beans, filtered water, a tamp, a portafilter (A portafilter is a filter with a handle attached to it which allows you to insert it into your espresso machine), and of course an espresso cup (This should be at least 30 ml).

It starts with finely ground coffee beans

First things first, the espresso brewing process starts with selecting and preparing your coffee grounds.

Most espresso makers use pre-ground coffee, but some use coffee capsules (These are the easiest to work with, although they don’t yield quite the same freshness and intensity as freshly ground beans), and still others have built-in grinders, allowing you to grind your coffee beans fresh as and when you need them.

The ideal coffee grounds to use for espresso are freshly and finely ground medium to dark roast coffee beans. If your espresso maker does not have a built-in grinder, using pre-packaged coffee grounds works just fine, too. The reason freshly ground is preferable is simply that freshly ground coffee grounds contain that slight little bit more flavor and caffeine.

Prep and run your espresso machine

With your coffee grounds to hand, it is time to prepare your espresso machine for the brewing process. You want to make sure that its water tank is full, and that the thing is switched on.

It is often a good idea to pre-heat your espresso machine by pulling a blank shot – this is done by runnning the machine once with just water, before you add the ground espresso beans and pull your actual shot of espresso.

Now, add your ground coffee (or your coffee capsule) to the portafilter, and use your tamp to apply gentle pressure to the ground coffee and to even out its surface before twisting your portafilter into the espresso maker. If you are using ground coffee rather than a capsule, aim to add approximately 20 grams to the portafilter – not too little and not too much. If your pack your portafilter too full or compress your coffee grounds too forcefully with the tamp, the water isn’t going to be able to flow through. If, on the other hand, you don’t add enough Coffe grounds, what you’ll end up with is a weak espresso.

Of course, the specs of your espresso maker can vary tremendously and can have an impact on everything from the intensity to the overall flavor and texture of your espresso shot.

Pull your shot of perfectly brewed coffee

You have done all of the prep work – now it is time to pull your delicious shot of espresso.

If you haven’t already done so, place your espresso cup under the coffee spout – you do not want to miss a single drop of your espresso – and then press the appropriate button on your espresso maker to start it brewing your desired espresso drink.

The optimal time for an espresso shot to run is 25-30 seconds. Your espresso maker usually falls within this timeframe automatically, but sometimes it can take the water a little longer or a little shorter to run through. As a rule of thumb, anywhere between 22 and 40 seconds is all right. If your shot runs for less or more time than that, chances are you won’t have a satisfying espresso shot and are better off starting again.

If this is your first time brewing your own espresso, it usually takes a few tries to get it perfect – that is completely normal. The important things to focus on is to get the measurements right, i.e. not using too much or too little coffee grounds, and to not tamp the coffee too much or too little.

Looking for a great espresso machine? We’ve got some ideas

As you should be fully aware of by now, a good espresso machine is a key component in being able to brew delicious espresso! If you do not already have an espresso machine, here are our suggestions of some of the best, easy-to-operate espresso machines on the market.

DeLonghi Dedica Espresso Machine

Delonghi Dedica Espresso Machine is an ultra-slim, Italian-made, semi-automatic espresso machine with a small footprint but powerful internal brewing technology. It comes with a three-in-one filter, enabling you to brew espresso using either ground coffee or coffee capsules, whichever you prefer.

Additionally, the Delonghi Dedica Espresso Machine features a 15 bar pressure pump, 1300 watt Thermoblock brewing system in stainless steel, a simple, intuitive control panel with three buttons, cup storage area, automatic flow stop – and a bult-in steam wand!

Where to get it

The Delonghi Dedica Espresso Machine is available from 1st in Coffee.

Illy Y5 Espresso & Coffee

The Illy Y5 Espresso & Coffee is a fabulous choice of espresso maker if you are a single person and would like an espresso machine that is also able to brew regular drip-style coffee.

The Illy Y5 Espresso & Coffee is crafted from a combination of aluminium and tempered glass, making this machine both sleek and sturdy. The internal thermoblock technology heats up and brews coffee in a matter of seconds using pre-packaged capsules.

This sleek little espresso maker additionally features a 30 ounce water tank, built-in capsule bin, adjustable cup platform and, for the sake of simplicity and ease of use, just two simple brew buttons – one for espresso, one for regular coffee.

Where to get it

The Illy Y5 Espresso & Coffee is available from 1st in Coffee.

La Pavoni Europiccola

If you are an artisan espresso lover, you are going to adore the La Pavoni Europiccola.

This little wonder of an espresso machine combines a simple and stylish chrome silver exterior with next-level internal brewing technology, including internal thermostats, heat diffusers, dual brewing baskets, a stainless steel heating element and La Pavoni’s trademark dual frothing cappuccino system.

The La Pavoni Europiccola is manual lever operated, and it utilises ground coffee only – no pods here!

Where to get it

The La Pavoni Europiccola is available from 1st in Coffee.

Espresso shot FAQ

Are espresso shots stronger than coffee?

In one word, yes. Ounce for ounce, espresso is much stronger and more intense than regular coffee.

In fact, espresso contains approximately 63 mg of caffeine per ounce, whereas regular coffee only contains somewhere in the range of 12-16 mg of caffeine per ounce.

Of course, espresso usually comes as a much smaller portion, so the overall caffeine content for an espresso vs a cup of regular coffee might be on par, depending on the size of your mug.

Is as shot of espresso the same as a shot of alcohol?

Not quite. A single shot glass is 1.5 ounces (44.4 ml), whereas an espresso shot is approximately 1 ounce (30 ml).

How long should a shot of espresso take?

The ideal brewing time for a shot of espresso is somewhere between 25 and 30 seconds.

However, anywhere between 22 and 40 seconds is considered acceptable for espresso. If your espresso shot takes less or more time than this, you are better off scrapping your espresso and trying again.

If your espresso takes more than 40 seconds to pull, it is probably because you have used the tamper a little too forcefully to compress the coffee grounds – try tamping your coffee more loosely next time.

If, on the other hand, your espresso shot runs for less than 22 seconds, the issue is most likely that you haven’t used enough coffe grounds, or that you haven’t compressed them using the tamp at all. For the ideal espresso shot, approximately 20 mg of ground coffee beans is required.

How long can an espresso shot sit?

When it comes to enjoying espresso, there is a fine line between a good shot and a dead shot. If an espresso shot is left to sit for more than a few minutes, it will start to release bitter flavor notes.

Ideally, a shot of espresso should be drunk very quickly after the brewing process has ended – the sooner the better.

presso shot is used as the basis of another coffee drink, such as latte or mocha, in which case the espresso blends with the other ingredients which makes it drinkable for a longer period of time.

Can you save espresso shots for later?

Technically yes, ideally no.

A freshly brewed shot of espresso should be imbibed and enjoyed as soon as possible after the brewing process has ended. The reason for this is that espresso releases some of its more bitter flavor notes after it has been left to sit for more than ten seconds.

Do espresso shots expire after 10 seconds?

Yes and no. Espresso shots do not expire after 10 seconds – but they do start to release bitter flavor notes, which most people don’t enjoy! The trick to espresso is to drink it quickly.

What is a perfect espresso shot?

The perfect espresso shot takes between 25-30 seconds to pull, and it comes out at or very close to an even 30 ml (more if it is a double shot). The texture of the perfect espresso shoot is smooth and clean, and the flavor is intense but sweet, with no hint of burn or bitterness.

The perfect espresso shot also has a delicate layer of crema on top, consisting of micro bubbles formed by CO2 that is released during the brewing process.

Why does my espresso shot taste burnt?

If your espresso shot tastes burnt, the issue is most likely that your shot is overextracted, meaning that the hot water has flowed through the ground coffee too slowly during the brewing process. Your coffee grounds might be too finely ground, or you might have overfilled or overcompressed your filter basket.

Does espresso loose caffeine over time?

No, caffeine does not evaporate over time.

Espresso shot – in closing

Are you excited to try your hand at brewing your own espresso at home? We certainly hope so.

Brewing espresso is easy, provided that you have a good espresso machine and get the hang of it. Don’t worry if your first espresso shot comes out a little weak, or even if it doesn’t come out at all because you have tamped your coffee grounds too forcefully. Getting your espresso shot just right on the first try is a rarity – it usually take a few tries before you get the hang of it.

Once you do get the hang of it, you are 100% of the way to enjoying delicious, home-brewed espresso – and as a wonderful bonus, you are more than halfway to brewing just about any other of your favorite coffee recipes, including latte, macchiato, cappuccino and many others.

Espresso is the basis for most other coffee drinks, so it is well worth learning how to do it well.

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