What Do You Need To Make Good Espresso At Home? Essentials


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Want to start making that delicious espresso at home but don’t really know what you need and where to start? Here’s a list of essentials that helps you get started making good espresso at home.

To make good espresso at home, you need: An espresso machine, grinder, coffee scales and a tamper. With a fully automatic espresso maker you don’t need anything outside of that machine. For lever and manual espresso machines the other items are necessary.

That might seem like a lot of stuff and quite complicated. It’s not that bad though, the explanation below will help you.

What you need to make good espresso

There are a few things you need to make a proper espresso:

  • Espresso machine
  • Grinder
  • Scales
  • Tamper

The type of espresso machine you choose has an impact on if you need the other three items on the list. There are fully automatic espresso machines that do everything for you. You just put the water and beans in the top and the machines weighs, grinds, fills the basket and tamps the coffee for you. If you buy an automatic machine with everything built in, you don’t need anything else.

Suggested: Can you make espresso in a normal coffee maker?

If you don’t get a fully automatic espresso maker, you do need the other items.

Espresso machine

Of course the first thing you need is an espresso machine. This is also the most difficult part to pick. Because there are so many different types and models it can be hard to choose what you want and need and what fits in your budget.

  • Lever espresso machine: These machines don’t have a pump so you have to pull the big lever to pull the shot yourself. Some of these have a built in boiler so you don’t have to pour the water from a kettle but some don’t and are completely manual.
  • Manual espresso machine: Manual espresso machines have a boiler and pump so you don’t actually have to pull the shot with your own power like with a lever press. However, you do have to put the grounds in the basket, tamp it, put it in the machine and turn the pump on and off yourself. This gives you a lot of control over the shot but also requires a bit more skill to get it right. The machines are generally cheaper than fully automatic ones but don’t forget you’ll need a good grinder which costs money as well.
  • Automatic espresso machine without grinder: Where with the manual espresso machine most things are up to you, with an automatic espresso machine you just push the button. Push the button and the machine regulates the temperature, pressure and volume so you always have the same cup of coffee. You’ll still have to grind your coffee in another machine though.
  • Automatic espresso machine with grinder: This type of machine does almost everything for you. You just put in coffee beans and water in the top and it does the rest. These machines are the most expensive and are obviously the easiest to use. They’re also quite large usually. These machines make good espresso, no question about it. For the coffee aficionado/nerd they often don’t have enough options to really dial in the taste they like but for most ‘normal’ people, they do a good job.

The cheapest and simplest way to make espresso at home is with a Flair NEO (Amazon). It’s relatively cheap and built to be used by people who are new to making espresso and don’t want a huge complicated machine. It’s a great way to get started with making espresso and have that really hands on feeling. For people who like the lever machine but want a bit more control over what’s going on, the Flair PRO 2 (Amazon) is a great option.

The manual espresso maker is good for people that want to make quite a lot of espresso and want to have control over what’s going on. For people that want to control every part of their brewing process, this is the best option. There is a bit more skill and effort involved in brewing with a manual machine but the possibilities are also almost endless. The type of espresso machine you see in good coffee shops is the manual type. The ones for at home involve pretty much the same brewing process but are usually a lot smaller than the commercial machines.  

In the manual category the Gaggia Classic Pro (Amazon) is generally considered to be a great choice. It makes great espresso, It’s well built and has a large group of fans. New you can buy them for under $500 while second hand you can expect to pay about half of that.

If you want to just push a button and get your cup of espresso and have no interest in finding out how to make espresso and what variables influence the taste, and then figure out what you like best, it’s best to stick with a fully automatic espresso machine with grinder. If you get the fully automatic machine, you can also forget about the next essential parts because everything is built into the machine and everything is preset so you don’t have to worry about it.

Suggested: Why are espresso machines so expensive?

The Breville Barista Express (Amazon) is affordable and makes good espresso while also being an all in one machine. Grinding the coffee and brewing the espresso is all done in one machine. Under about $600 this is the best you’re going to do.

Money is not a problem and you just want something that makes pretty much every every coffee drink you can think of (and probably a few more) just with a touch on the touchscreen or even by just opening the app on your phone? The Jura Z8 (Amazon) is what you are looking for. It’s big and expensive but if your time is valuable and you want to have a choice of different drinks at the touch of a button, look no further.

Coffee grinder

Espresso grinder with full portafilter

The best espresso is made with freshly ground beans. Grinding your own beans makes a marked improvement in the taste of your coffee compared to pre ground coffee. Freshly ground beans are so much more aromatic and have more depth of taste. Not everyone wants to go through the trouble but if you have an interest in making your espresso as good as you can, it’s worth grinding your own beans.

However, it does cost more money than buying pre-ground coffee because espresso grinders can be quite pricey. You’ll have to balance your budget and quality.

For most brewing methods a relatively simple hand grinder is sufficient. However, with espresso, the grinder needs to do a few things well:

  • Grind fine enough for espresso
  • Grind very consistently
  • Able to make very small grind size adjustments in the espresso range.

Espresso grounds are much finer than for pour over coffee and so small differences in grind size can make a big impact on taste. Many grinders that are meant for pour over and other brewing methods can grind coffee small enough for espresso but they can’t make the fine adjustments necessary to really get the best espresso.

Suggested: How much does a hand grinder cost?

Some espresso machines have a built in grinder. On the entry-level machines, these built-in grinders aren’t all that good and you’re probably better off with pre-ground coffee. On high end automatic espresso machines a built in coffee grinder can be a good all-in-one solution.

If you get a manual or lever machine, you’ll need to get a separate grinder if you want to grind fresh coffee. Hand grinding is an option but the finer you grind, the more time and effort it takes so hand grinding coffee for multiple shots of espresso a day will give you a pretty good workout. For one or two cups a day that’s not a huge deal for most people. And you can get a higher quality for less money if you opt for a hand grinder.

Mind you, to get a good espresso grinder you’re still looking at the upper end of the price range of hand grinders. The good news is that you can buy one that does espresso very well, is finely adjustable and can also be used for other types of brewing easily. The 1ZPresso JX-PRO (Amazon link) is one of the best hand grinders you can find and it’s pretty much perfect. It looks great, works great, feels good in your hand and is very well built.

For espresso, electric burr grinders are a much better choice. There are a ton of those and just like with espresso machines there are good and not so good ones. The good ones will cost some money. Expect to pay around $300 and up for a good electric burr grinder that can grind well for espresso. For pour over and French press, cheaper grinders do a great job but for espresso you need the fine adjustments and consistency which just costs quite a bit of money to engineer and build.

If you’re looking to get a good electric grinder that does espresso well take a look at the Baratza Sette 270 (Amazon link).

Coffee scales

Full cup of espresso on a coffee scale

This might seem nerdy and excessive but if you have a manual espresso machine, a scale is a relatively cheap too that makes your espresso much more consistent and allows for small adjustments.

With an automatic machine where you just press a button and it grinds enough coffee, places it in the filter and start and stops the pump automatically when enough liquid is in the cup, a scale isn’t really necessary. You can still use it to figure out how many beans to grind and get a consistent amount of grounds in the basket.

With a manual espresso machine where you have to start and stop the pump by yourself, a scale is very useful. That’s because you want to brew espresso (and any other type of coffee) to a certain ratio of grounds to water. That ratio is around 1:2 for espresso which means 1 gram of grounds in the filter basket for every 2 grams of liquid in the cup.

While you can try to guess how much coffee you put in the basket and how many milliliters are in the cup, it’s quite difficult to get it right by eye and by the time you get it right, you probably wasted so much coffee grounds it would have been more efficient just to get the scales.

A good coffee scale is low profile so it fits under the group head of an espresso machine with the cup on top of it, it’s accurate to 0.1 grams and has a built in timer.

The TimeMore scale (Amazon) looks sleek and is made from high end materials so it won’t look out of place next to your expensive espresso machine. It’s made as a coffee scale and does everything you want it to do. It’s also low-profile enough that it fits in most espresso machines.

Tamper

A simple and cheap thing that is also necessary to make good espresso is a tamper. It basically looks like a stamp with a flat bottom. You use a tamper to even out the coffee bed in the basket and compress it. Compressing the coffee grounds will get rid of all the air in between the particles.

An espresso machine pushes hot water through the grounds at high pressures. If there is too much air between the particles, the pressure pushes the water through without the bed providing any resistance and that means the grounds are not extracted properly and you get very weak coffee.

A tamper is a simple tool but very useful for making good espresso. The only thing that’s important when buying one is that you get one that is the same diameter (or slightly smaller) than the diameter of the filter basket your machine uses.

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Recommended Espresso Equipment

Besides an espresso machine, there are a few other tools that can make your espresso better. Here are my favorites:

  • Espresso Machine: The Breville Barista Express (Amazon) is the sweet spot in price and quality for most casual home baristas. It comes with a built in grinder and most tools you need to brew espresso.
  • Tamper: A nice tamper helps you tamp your grounds in the filter for the best result. Any correctly sized tamper can do the job but a nice heavy one just feels so much better in your hand than a plastic model. This Luxhaus one (Amazon) has a nice trick up it’s sleeve to make tamping very consistent.
  • Beans: Good espresso starts with good beans. Using fresh beans is a big improvement over pre-ground coffee.
  • Scales: Getting consistently good espresso means you have to know how much grounds is going into the machine and how much is coming out and how long this takes. A coffee scale is going to make your espresso much more consistent and also makes adjustments a lot easier. The Apexstone coffee scale (Amazon) is cheap and doesn’t look too sleek but is just as accurate as more expensive scales. The TimeMore scales (Amazon) look and feel a lot nicer but cost a bit more.
  • Distribution tool: After grinding you can get some clumps in the coffee grounds. Those clumps should be broken up so the water can extract all the coffee grounds equally. Distribution tools are very simple things but this one (Amazon) is beautifully made and will look good in your kitchen.

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