Do you dream of drinking amazing coffee? Following your dreams might not seem like an easy way to save money, but it can be. I have spent decades building businesses that center around creating dreamy coffee experiences while serving up award winning beverages, and I have instructed more professionals along the way than I can remember. Anyone can brew like a pro, afford high end specialty coffee beans, and save money to boot.
You can learn to make the exceptional coffee you usually get from your favorite barista if you are interested enough to put in the initial effort. With a little instruction and lots of fun practice, anyone can make an excellent latte at home. Save money making coffee at home and invest a little into tasting complex coffee beans you will not find at any old coffee shop. Considering about 4/5 people drink coffee, I am willing to bet that you will also have lots of family and friends to impress with your new talents!
If you are spending $3+ a day on coffee, then you have already got a $1000 annual coffee budget to use on the best coffee money can buy. With the right skills and tools, you can save hundreds of dollars a year and discover a new form of meditation and a deeper insight into your own genius. All you must do is join me for a little learning and let me keep you interested.
First, you have got to decide how much you want to spend on your espresso set up. The less you spend the more details you will have to manage on your own and the more time you might have to spend on cleaning up. Check out my other blog “Espresso Set Ups under $599” to help you make up your mind.
Remember to consider the space where you will be doing your brewing. Most importantly, ensure that you are close to a sink and a trash can to make your brewing, and most importantly, your clean up experience easier and more efficient. Do your best to be next to the fridge for cold milk when you are steaming and set yourself up in the most air-conditioned place with the most stable room temperature and mildest humidity.
Once you have selected your espresso brewer and grinder, set them up in the space you have selected, and read through the manual at least once. Read through this blog too, and if you have any questions after that, post them in the comments here.
5 Steps to Make Amazing Lattes at Home
- Calibrate the Dose and Grind
Fill your grinder with coffee beans, and adjust it so that it is grinding the coffee to the smallest size that it can. Coarsen the grind slightly and try your first brew with about 16-18 grams (a full level basket of coffee works too if you do not have a scale). You can increase or decrease the amount of coffee to speed up or slow down the extraction, but it is best to figure out the optimal weight and stay as close to it as you can when brewing. The broader the number of size settings available from your grinder, the less you will need to adjust the weight of the coffee you are using. The goal is to eventually only adjust the grind and to use it as a control for your extraction. Ideally, adjustments to your dose and any variables other than grind size will be needed infrequently if at all once you have practiced and developed some best results for your space and set up. Most of the time minimal adjustment is needed, so try adjusting it only one or two notches at a time.
2. Extraction- Presoaking and Channeling
Presoaking or “blooming” is an important part of any brew method. Coating the espresso grounds in water allows the particles to break down and expand releasing carbon dioxide trapped inside. If we do not release the carbon dioxide from inside the espresso, it will be released while the brewing is taking place and will keep the water from interacting with the espresso grounds or making contact with the thousands of molecules we want to capture for the optimal extraction. Presoaking in espresso brewing commonly takes place for 8-15 seconds but can sometimes last for up to a whole minute! There is no wrong length of time to do it. If the brew tastes good then you are doing it right, but 8-12 seconds is a great place to start. Most espresso extractions take between 22-45 seconds total to complete.
Espresso extractions are usually “double shots” because singles and triples are difficult to extract reliably, so pros stick to 14-24 grams of coffee and a fluid yield of 35-65 grams of espresso. This is what is commonly referred to as a “double shot.” Think of this in ratios of coffee to water. I like around 2.5 parts espresso in my cup to every part grounds. If I start with 18 grams of coffee, it usually tastes best when I end up with about 45 grams of fluid espresso (2.5 x 18 = 45). Whatever tastes the best is the only way to know what the right way to do it is. Experiment with your brews, but these numbers I am giving you are my favorite place to start.
The flow through an espresso puck is turbulent. Channeling is when water over-extracts part of the puck and under-extracts the other part Instead of passing through the espresso evenly. Water does not flow through the puck in even straight lines. The flow has random eddies and currents within it. The faster the flow, the more likely there will be channeling. Think of the water as the weather and the grounds as a plane. The plane can experience turbulence in certain weather, in this case, faster flow and higher pressure. If you can presoak your espresso before pressurizing the extraction, slowly saturate the puck so there is no flow from the portafilter screen in the first 4-12 seconds of the brew. 12 seconds is usually best but not always possible. Not every set up allows for presoaking, so you can always use other variables like manual pressure, grind, and dose to help control the rate of flow and reduce channeling. If you are experiencing channeling or restricted flow during your shot, adjust the grind coarser when the extraction is going too slowly and finer when the extraction is going too fast. If you are still having issues, increase the dose to slow down the extraction and decrease the dose to speed it up. Now you know the basics of pulling a double shot of espresso.
3. Steaming Milk- Stretch, Swirl, Treat and Transfer
Milk is full of fat, sugar, and protein. The sugar is called lactose which is made up of galactose (my favorite sugar because it sounds like a supervillain) and glucose. These are both sweet sugars on their own, but stuck together as a disaccharide, they are only mildly sweet. The smaller the sugar molecule, the faster it dissolves on your palate and the sweeter it tastes. We heat up the milk to naturally sweeten it. Keeping milk cold before we heat it up keeps the proteins tightly coiled and ready for micro-foaming. Always use milk between 37-40F for steaming. As you heat the milk the fats get thinner and melt so that the protein molecules loosen up. The proteins become hydrophobic and attach to the fats to avoid the water molecules. As air is introduced into the milk by lowering the pitcher on the steam wand, the proteins and fats create a resilient bubble around the air and the bubble gets harder to pop. This allows us to compact the bubbles through swirling and create a dense shiny micro-foam. Only introduce air into the milk before 95 degrees and the bubbles will lock in at a tiny size and become micro-foam. If you keep steaming the milk beyond 95 degrees, the protein will become completely denatured causing big loose bubbles. At this point the foam goes past the point of being fluid, and it becomes rigid and stiff on top. When this happens, the milk does not glide across your palate the same way that micro-foamed milk does. At around 140 degrees, the milk is sweet and flavorsome, and the sugars have broken down to their sweetest form. Steaming the milk above 145 degrees scalds the milk and there is less sweetness because the sugars have completely broken down, and the protein becomes completely denatured tasting almost burnt. Be aware that milk temperatures continue to rise after steaming stops like a resting steak continues to cook even after its out of the pan.
Once you are done steaming the milk you need to treat it. Knock the bottom of the pitcher gently and flatly on the counter to pop any larger bubbles and swirl the milk pitcher firmly in a tight, level circular motion until it is shiny. Pretend there is a thread running through the very center of the pitcher from top to bottom and you are making the tightest circular movement possible around it. Once there are no visible bubbles and the surface is shiny like glossy white paint, you are ready to pour. Some baristas transfer the milk to another pitcher before pouring. This is done to remove floating fats from the milk and is especially helpful when using milk alternatives that can be greasier and difficult to steam into micro-foam.
4. Pouring and Presentation
Once you have freshly brewed silky espresso in your cup and steamed shiny micro-foam in your milk pitcher, you are ready to pour. Tilt the cup so that it is at a 45-degree angle and pour a thin stream into the center of the espresso. Move the pitcher’s stream slowly in a circular motion to blend the espresso and the micro-foam in the cup. Do your best to maintain the golden surface on top while mixing the espresso and milk into one homogeneous fluid. Once the cup is half full, center your pour in the cup and move the pitcher backwards and forwards once quickly. Once you move the stream you are pouring forward, stop at the bottom center of the cup and rapidly move the pitcher in a tight left-right-left-right wiggling motion while you pull the pitcher towards the center top of the cup. At this time, you must pour quicker and closer to the cup than at any other time so far as you start your wiggle and pour. It is counter intuitive, and you will want to slow down because you are filling the cup but now is when you must pour the hardest. As you start your wiggle and pour motion, move the cup slowly from a 45-degree angle to flat and lift the pitcher as you guide the stream through the white circle to make a heart.
5. Practice and Take Notes
Practice, Practice, Practice. Everyone that is good at latte art kept practicing and trying it until one day it just happened for them. Muscle memory comes with time. Keep a log of the details of your favorite brews and anything you learn as you go. How do darker or lighter roasts behave in your set up? Which coffee origins taste best to you? Do you like blends or single origins best? What brand of milks and alternatives work best for you? What tips do your favorite baristas have for you? This will be a priceless reference as you start your journey to making excellent coffee, and a great guide for others who want to join you.