Getting Started With Espresso

When we remodeled our kitchen, we knew we wanted to include a home café set up in our plan. Going to a coffee shop had been part of our everyday routine for years. Naturally, the pandemic had made that more challenging, but pretty much every morning, first thing, we’d make a coffee using our beloved Bialetti. And then, once we’d dropped off the kids to school, grab a cappuccino at any one of our favorite coffee shops. I’d grown up in a house where my Italian father would prepare a cappuccino for me every morning throughout most of my teenage years on a Pasquini home espresso machine. So, when we began looking for a partner to work with for our home setup, it truly was serendipitous to find the Pasquini’s had their US operations set up right next door to us in Frogtown. Pasquini Coffee Co. has been around since 1957, and is still a local family-owned and operated business today. They set us up in our new kitchen with a fantastic and handsome Bezerra espresso machine and Mazzer grinder pairing. There is definitely a learning curve in preparing espresso and coffee beverages at home. Still, it’s been a lot of fun and quite therapeutic. I asked Brendan, a 3rd generation Pasquini, for some silver bullets to help us along in the right direction by sharing his 5 top tips to produce great espresso at home:

  1. USE GOOD WATER! Whether you are a complete beginner unboxing your first ever espresso machine or a professional barista prepping for your next competition, water will make the single most significant impact on your espresso quality. Without good water, you will have a broken machine in no time and one thing the entire coffee industry can agree on is that a working machine makes better coffee than a broken one. If you use water with too much calcium carbonate, you will get scaling build-up in the machine which can cause temperature stability problems, flow rate problems, or just cause the machine to fail completely. Even if your set up is dialed into perfection, water damage will render it completely useless. You can learn more about water quality here:

  2. As obvious as it may sound, read the user manual or ask the seller to go over the machine with you. Pasquini Coffee Co., offers a complete training demo with all new machine/grinder purchases. Many espresso machines, especially high-end ones, have features meant to maximize your espresso extraction. However, if you do not know how to use these features correctly, you will miss out on a ton of potential flavor from your extractions. Before you make your first shot, really get to know the machine, what it does, and how it works. Doing this will set you up for the most chance of success.

  3. Don’t be afraid to touch the grinder dial! Even the world’s best espresso machine will make terrible espresso with a poorly calibrated grinder. Learning how to dial in your grinder will produce the difference between great coffee and mediocre coffee. Learning how to properly set the grind for each coffee style, bean, and filter basket will be the best way to ensure you get the most from your espresso. If you have a weak, watery shot with no cream (crema), try making the grind finer, and if you have a dark brown sludge like espresso, you need to coarsen it up. Just remember, more often than not, poor quality shots are because of the grinder and not the machine, so be sure to play with the grind setting before cursing your machine and thinking it makes terrible coffee. Have a look at a grinder tutorial here:

  4. Experiment, and don’t get discouraged when things aren’t perfect. Everyone should expect the first few shots from a new bag of coffee to be atrocious. Each coffee is entirely different and requires its unique grind, temp, and pressure setting. When dialing in a new bag, try out different settings on your machine (if it has them) and try a few different grind settings. You may find the settings you have are already perfect, but you may unlock a new level of flavor by playing with the dials a bit. Unfortunately, most people get too afraid to touch these settings after they dial it in for the first time. If you don’t get the perfect shot right away, then try again but with a different approach. Many calls we get for “my machine is making bad crema” are rectified with small adjustments made to the machine and grinder. In the end, your machine and coffee will change (even if you use the same coffee), so it is essential to learn how to identify what symptoms require what solutions to get the best from your equipment.

Here are a few grind points to keep in mind:

Symptom – coffee is dark brown and tastes burnt.
Solution – grinder is set too fine, too much coffee in the portafilter, or brew temp
is too high.

Symptom – Coffee has no crema
Solution – grind may be too coarse, not enough coffee in the portafilter, brew
temp is too low. Or you simply are using coffee that does not produce crema and/or
may not be roasted for espresso.

  1. Clean your machine regularly. Besides water damage, this is the biggest issue we face from every customer. All espresso machines must be cleaned regularly. Properly cleaning consists of steam and water flushing along with backflushing every two weeks minimum. If you do not clean your machine, you will cause clogs that will prevent the machine from working along with rancid oil build-up, making even the best-calibrated coffee set up taste foul and unpleasant. Regular cleaning will ensure consistent machine performance and keep your espresso tasting as it should. You can find a video on backflushing here:

Brendan says, “these simple steps above will immensely improve your overall espresso experience and apply to beginners and experts alike.”

We’ll keep you posted with our own home coffee journey progress in the coming months. If you’ve got questions for Brendan, you can find him at Pasquini Monday through Thursday, 10am-5pm PST or email him here.

Last but not least, here are some beans we’ve been enjoying that you might like to try as well:

An amazing Gesha Finca Monteblanco roast from our friends at Cognoscenti:

Some straight-up Italian style OG roast from the fine folks at Pasquini:

We’re huge fans of La Colombe over here and have their Colombia San Roque in our rotation:

Photography by Denise Crew.