What Makes a Perfect Espresso?

extracting espresso
Coffee University Tutorials

pulling espresso shot


Going out and ordering a fresh espresso at your favorite coffee shop can be a great way to start your morning with plenty of energy, but it can also be a great way to spend more money than necessary. Drinking espresso is becoming both easier and cheaper these days thanks to espresso machines becoming more affordable and of higher quality.

As long as you can learn what makes a perfect espresso, you will quickly be able to brew espresso better than your favorite barista. Any hobby is overwhelming to learn, but with the will to learn and the right amount of practice, you can learn to do something simple like brewing espresso. Here are the things you will need.


Important Factors (in this order)

  1. A burr grinder
  2. Coffee
  3. A tool (espresso machine)
  4. Barista skills



A great espresso starts with a grinder. Period. This is one of the key tools to making that delicious espresso you desire. You can splash out on fancy espresso machine but if you haven’t got proper burr grinder you’ve wasted your money. There are several types of burr grinders and materials they are made of like ceramic or stainless steel. The taste of your coffee will indirectly depend on what type have.

coffee grinder and coffee beans


This types of coffee grinders have various settings from coarse to super fine and will let you grind the coffee beans to the desired level accordingly to your brewing method. For espresso, you would use a finer setting and this usually takes some testing involved. Mainly because of the coffee beans type you use and your espresso machine capabilities.

Depending on where you buy your coffee, you may or may not need to get a separate grinder for your espresso. Many large wholesale markets like Costco have fancy expensive grinders available for customers who buy their coffee. If you do decide to purchase your own grinder, just make sure that it is a good quality one with lots of grind settings.



While there are many different methods for creating espresso, when you are shopping for coffee beans for espresso, keep in mind that you can use whatever type of coffee bean you prefer. Some people prefer dark roast coffee beans that are more oily but contain less caffeine than the light and medium roasts, but at the end of the day, it really depends on your preference.

Part of the journey in learning how to make the best espresso is creating it to match your own personal style and taste, so it is best to try out many different types of beans before deciding what your go-to coffee bean will be. The coffee subscriptions are perfect for that. With enough practice, you will undoubtedly find a recipe that could be much better than what you are used to at the coffee shop.


Espresso machine

Purchasing the best espresso machine for your personal needs requires you to consider several factors. For instance, you will need plenty of counter space to place one of the most elaborate espresso machines in your kitchen, and some serious budget to buy it. You also need to ask yourself whether you want a fancy espresso machine with plenty of automation, or if you don’t mind using one where you will need to measure out beans and replacing the filter basket with fresh grounds.

So the question is. Do you want to get your hands dirty with a semi-automatic or do you go for convenience and buy a super-automatic espresso machine?

However, at the end of the day what is most important is that you set your budget to match your own personal needs for espresso. If you are running on a budget of less than $500, you will still be able to find an excellent espresso machine with all the features that you need.


Barista skills

As easy it might sound to make espresso at this point, there are still some skills that you will need to learn if you hope to make espresso that will compete with your favorite coffee shop. For simplicity sake, let’s break down the most important barista skills one-by-one.

Under-extraction and over-extraction

This can be one of the hardest part to get your head around when learning how to make espresso. If you purchase one of the best espresso machines on the market with full automation, you might not need to worry about this, however, this still will need some fine tuning(like the coffee beans grind settings, the volume of and temperature of water, amount of coffee grounds used). Those of you who need more hands-on experience will need to take notes.


coffee grounds for espresso in portafilter


To put this simply, over-extraction happens when you take more from the coffee grounds than you should, and under-extraction occurs when you don’t take enough of the wonderful coffee from the beans. There are several factors that affect pulling a shot and that is the amount of coffee, grinder setting, water temperature and volume and pressure.

Over-extraction usually happens when there are too much coffee grounds used, they are ground to fine and the pressure is too big. The taste of espresso is sour/acidic.

Under-extraction is when the grounds are too coarse, not enough grounds is used and there isn’t enough pressure to extract the coffee. What we receive is a hollow tasting shot and lack of crema.

Pulling a perfect shot of espresso takes some practice and testing and at the end of the day, your taste buds will be the best judge of whether you prepared the espresso right.


Water temperature

Having the right water temperature is of critical to creating the perfect shot of espresso. Many fancy machines have set water temperature and will heat it up for you to a certain level. But if you’ll able to change the settings a good range is between 87°-97°C (or 188°-206°F) to ensure proper extraction.

Keep in mind that the temperature which is best for extracting espresso varies from person to person, so experiment a little and soon you will find one which best suits your personal desires.


Water volume

Similar to the dilemma with over-extraction and under-extraction, water volume plays a role in how good your espresso will turn out. If you put too much water through your grounds, you will soon end up with coffee that is too bitter and too watery to drink. Considering that each, single espresso shot should be around 1 oz. (or 30ml) try using shot glasses with a fill line at this level and do one espresso shot at a time until you have a feel for how much water you should use for your espresso machine.



Pre-infusion is a feature usually found in higher end espresso machines. You may ask what it does. Well, it helps to wet the coffee grounds briefly before brewing for better flavor extraction. So that’s another factor that has an impact on pulling that perfect shot.



Lastly, a pressure is another key ingredient in making espresso. For simplicity sake, stay at the 9-bar setting on your espresso machine, which will keep you at the same setting that most professionals use.



There hasn’t been a single caffeine fan who has learned what makes a perfect espresso overnight, so do not worry! With enough practice, you will soon be able to quickly prepare espresso at a fraction of the cost of visiting your local coffee shop every day.


If you got some tips on pulling a perfect shot don’t be shy and let me know in the comments below! 🙂



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