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Espresso Week: An Illustrated Guide to Better Espresso

Posted by Lori Bailey on

This week, we’re talking all things espresso! Because, as it turns out, getting the extraction of your dreams at your home bar isn’t as hard as you might think.

Here at Olympia Coffee, we're still riding high on the excitement of our first-ever release from Brazil: Sweetheart Sítio Vista Linda, our single-origin espresso roast now hailing from the State of Espírito Santo. So, with fresh bags of Brazilian espresso in hand, we're here to share all the ways to get the best possible brew at home.

To get all the juicy details, we solicited the help of our Director of Training & Innovation, Reyna Callejo. Yes, same Reyna who's brewed thousands of espressos in her time—everywhere from behind the bar at our cafes to the semifinal stage at the U.S. Barista Championships.

Illustration of Reyna Callejo

We compiled her pro tips on getting better espresso, from the bare-bones basics (hint: start with good coffee) to the really glamorous stuff (like cleaning your machine!!!). Excited yet? Ready to level up your espresso? Then let's turn it over to Reyna!

Illustration: start with the good stuff

Tip #1: Start With the Good Stuff

And by this we do not mean the expensive, bougie stuff. Sure, there are countless fancy unitaskers in existence should you want to collect them. Our recommendation? Spend your money on things that really matter… like GOOD COFFEE.

But if you simply must drop some dollars on equipment? Spend a little on a solid grinder. A good grind is essential to a good brew, and we're big fans of the Baratza Encore Burr Grinder. Its commercial-grade, 40mm conical burrs deliver a quality, consistent grind. And it's cost effective, to boot!

[Bonus Reyna-exclusive DIY content: you can make your own WDT distributor by taking an old wine cork and poking some long skinny needles through it. You're welcome.]

Illustration: Change one variable at a time

Tip #2: Take It One Step at a Time

Want to make tweaks to your recipe? Have a few ideas about what you'd like to change: extraction time, grind setting, brew ratio? Hold on to those ideas! Choose one, and only adjust a single variable at a time.

As a note: for our “evergreen blends” (such as Sweetheart and Big Truck) we recommend brewing at a ratio of 1:2 to 1:2.3 (espresso to water). We like to start with an 18g dose of espresso and go from there. But, you know, do what you want!

Illustration: Color Isn't The Only Thing That Matters

Tip #3: Color is a Great Indicator, But...

...It's not the be-all-end-all gauge of good extraction.

Many modern-day espressos may turn out lighter than you might expect, owing to lighter roast profiles. So if you're brewing something really dark n' stormy, you can expect a darker color in the cup. But the lighter you go on the roast profile, the lighter your espresso will get.

Another fun fact: many third wave coffees will yield bigger espressos because of the brew ratio. For these bigger shots, a traditional-size espresso cup might feel cramped. So, for the best espresso experience, we suggest going for a drinking vessel with a wider mouth. This approach has a couple of advantages: it helps disperse the crema a bit, and it also allows you to fit more of your nose into the cup to get at those beautiful aromas. Reyna likes a small cappuccino cup, but a teacup could also do the trick.

Illustration: Clean your machine

Tip #4: Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

Now here's an oldie but goodie. Cleaning your home espresso machine will solve most of your problems, and we advise doing it not as troubleshooting, but as basic, regular maintenance. If you're Pedro Pascal over here doing five espressos a day, you might need to clean your machine once a week. More of a balanced, one to two drinks a day kind of person? You could probably get away with cleaning once every couple of weeks.

We will always recommend following the manufacturer cleaning specs for your particular home machine. And if you need to get a hold of cleaning products, you can find stand-bys such as Puro-Caff and Cafiza at most restaurant supply stores (or, you know, on the internet).


Have espresso questions? Join First Crack, Olympia Coffee's very own SMS channel, and ask away all week long for a chance to be featured in a follow-up post!

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