Understanding Espresso

Espresso isn't just for espresso drinkers as the espresso shot is at the heart of all espresso-based coffees including lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites, macchiatos and long blacks. 

With a little knowledge you will be able to get a great coffee every time. I have refined my Home Barista Workflows over many years and have brought everything back to basics. It may look tricky at first, but have no fear as my son has been making great coffee at home with my Italian espresso machines since the age of 10. Yes, it really is surprisingly simple. 

K Bean’s Rule of Fourths

To make great espresso with an Italian coffee machine you really need to understand coffee extraction. My Rule of Fourths technique will help you with that. I show everyone this technique when they visit my Melbourne coffee machine showroom. If you can’t visit then try if for yourself. It really is simple so give it a try.

Here is the process. Follow my Espresso Workflow and begin an extraction using a 20g coffee dose. Keep the stream running and take away 4 consecutive parts of approx 10g each.

Taste each part. Start with the last part, Part 4, and work your way back to the first part, Part 1. 

  • Part 4 is thin and bitter

  • Part 3 is a little bitter but also sweet

  • Part 2 is sweet and fruity

  • Part 1 is thick and intense

My Rule of Fourths technique is a great way to show the difference between a ristretto and an espresso, and it will also show you why it is so important to stop your extraction before your get to the thin, bitter ending (Part 4). Here is a summary:

  • If you mix Parts 1 & 2 you will get a ristretto (20g)

  • If you mix Parts 1, 2 & 3 you will get an espresso (30g)

  • Never extract Part 4 - the thin, bitter ending

This technique will help you understand extraction and it will also help you to find the point where you need to stop the extraction.

When you start out with home espresso I recommend that you extract by weight using a brew ratio of 1:1.5 (1g of coffee to 1.5g of liquid). This means that for a 20g coffee dose you will extract 30g of liquid. Aim to do this in 30s. Although every coffee bean and every extraction is different, this is a great guide, and a rule of thumb. I call it the 20:30:30 rule:

20g of coffee to 30g of liquid in 30s

Although you can continue to extract by weight, you will find that as you get more experienced you are able to extract by colour. Extracting by colour involves stopping the extraction as the steam changes from thick and dark to thin and watery. This transition is known as blonding. With a little experience you will be able to extract by colour to get the results that you want in your cup.

It's Easy to Become a Home Barista

There are many ways to make espresso and every barista has a different way of doing things.  My own Home Barista Workflows have been refined over many years, and I have trained more than 500 new home baristas.

A key goal of any barista's workflow is to reduce the number of variables. Weighing your dose is a great way to reduce the "amount of coffee" variable. Consistent dose distribution and tamping are other variables that need to be controlled. It's not difficult at all, and my Free Training will help you to get the technique right so you can distribute and tamp consistently.

I think of the grinder collar as the steering wheel to the process, as with a good workflow, the grind size in the only variable. This means that you can "drive" your espresso machine by changing the grinder setting. If follows that making your espresso without a consistent workflow is like driving your car with with a jelly steering wheel.