You’ve done your homework and found your perfect espresso machine. Now it’s sitting on the counter waiting for you to brew! Before you start, let’s talk about three common mistakes made when making espresso at home.
Using the wrong water
Coffee is approximately 98 percent water. If you don’t like the way water tastes when you drink it plain, you will most likely not enjoy the espresso brewed with that water. It’s similar to cooking with wine — you want to use a wine you enjoy drinking, so you will enjoy the taste of the food!
Hard water will cause scale buildup which will result in your machine having a short life. Purchasing an espresso machine is an investment and so you want to treat it well so it will last for many years to come. Looking to see how hard your water is? This map is super-helpful!
If your tap water is delicious — and not hard — go forth and brew that espresso! Filtered water from your fridge, sink, or bottled water are all great options, too. Be aware: distilled water won’t do a great job, as your water does need some minerals to extract those tasty flavors.
Not cleaning your equipment
As we’ve previously mentioned, we want your machine to last a long time. Proper cleaning is one of the most important factors in prolonging your machine’s life. Small everyday cleaning tasks will keep your machine in its prime. Waiting until it stops working to give your machine a clean is too late. Some basic cleaning tasks include:
- After you brew an espresso shot, it's important to immediately flush, or purge the group head. Take your portafilter out as soon as you can after pulling your shot and wipe it clean. Place the portafilter back on the grouphead and run water through.
- When steaming milk, purge the steam wand by placing a rag over the end of the steam wand and turning it on for one to two seconds before steaming your milk. This ensures you aren’t getting any residual water from the steam wand into your milk. Be sure to wipe down your wand with a damp towel every time after you use your steam wand.
- At least three times a week, give your portafilter and basket a good soak using a detergent specifically made for espresso machines, such as Cafiza, and hot water for at least ten minutes, rinse, and dry. Take your portafilter and use a “blind” basket (a basket with no holes) or a backflush disc to backflush your grouphead. Grinds and oils get stuck back in the inner valves of the machine and you need to flush them out. Add a small amount of Cafiza and lock the portafilter into the group head and run the water for ten seconds and then turn the water off for five seconds. Repeat this process three times. You’ll know it’s clean when you take the portafilter out and the water in the blind basket has no grinds left. Replace it with your regular basket and run water through the portafilter and basket. Discard the first espresso shot you pull after cleaning to be extra sure there is no residual cleaner left behind.
- Soak your steam wand with water and a milk wash such as Rinza for 15 minutes. Repeat the process with just water and then purge the steam wand.
If you brew more than two espresso beverages in a day, we recommend doing the last two steps almost every day.
Using too young or too old coffee
We all know that fresh coffee gives us the best brewing experience. But did you know that there is such a thing as coffee that’s too fresh? When coffee is roasted, a process called degassing occurs. When coffee is roasted, carbon dioxide is created inside the bean. A lot of the gas is released in the first few days after roasting. The released gas creates air pockets, which can disrupt the contact between the coffee grounds and the water. This causes an uneven extraction of the flavor and aroma in the dry coffee.
Have you ever brewed coffee that you at first did not enjoy, but you tried again two days later and it tastes much better? That’s degassing at work! The right amount of carbon dioxide stops the coffee tasting stale and flat. About three to five days after the roast date is right around when degassing has started to slow down. There are less air pockets for better, more even extraction!
Around two weeks from the roast date is when coffee begins to have less carbon dioxide — and just as having too much carbon dioxide can affect espresso brewing, so can too little! A solid time frame for brewing espresso at its peak flavor is three to 14 days.