How did you learn to make quality espresso?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks for making espresso.
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#1: Post by Momma »

Here's a question for all of you:
How did you learn to make quality espresso? I would love to hear your stories.

Momma Hale

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#2: Post by psycho_supreme »

people blog for months on such a subject!

in the barista world you're constantly learning, products change, produce(plants/bean) change, and there are a hundred and one different variables!

In essence, you have asked what keeps every hardcore barista a barista for life. :)

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Randy G.
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#3: Post by Randy G. »

1- I had some mediocre espresso at a friend's house from a steam machine.
2- I went home and looked around the Internet (CoffeeKid, Bogiesan FAQ, etc.).
3- I found which, at that time, was a helpful place.
4- I read some more.
5- I ordered a machine, a grinder and a roaster.
6- I was told by an member that I had ordered the wrong grinder.
7- I changed my order to a better grinder.
8- I started my own coffee/espresso non-commercial website. (NOTE: you may omit this step)
9- I bought some green coffee beans
10- I roasted coffee and made espresso.
11- I read some more stuff on the internet.
12- I tasted some espresso other people made.
13- I bought lots more green coffee.
14- I roasted more coffee and made more espresso.
15- I read some more stuff on the internet.
16- Repeat steps 13 through 15 for seven years. - 2000-2023 - a good run, its time is done

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#4: Post by HB »

My increased interest in espresso paralleled in my interest in European culture. This led to an overseas assignment for four years, two years divided among France/Austria/Italy/Germany/UK, followed by two years in Paris. Although I had already been casually interested in espresso prior to living overseas, memories of good times at cafes with friends and colleagues at work motivated me to improve upon the Krups variety upon my return.

Alas, I stumbled through bad equipment choices; let's not dwell on those dark days. Frustrated by the swill I called a cappuccino, I searched the Internet and found and CoffeeGeek. I lurked for a long time (see Lurkers for my related delurking story). Then one day I read an article entitled McEspresso Comes to Town by Peter Giuliano, co-owner of Counter Culture Coffee, located less than five miles from my office. A couple months later I attended the SCAA Southeast Regional Barista Competition, which I learned reading online would take place only twenty minutes from my house. There I introduced myself to Peter who was emceeing the event. We got to talking and he invited me to stop by for a Friday cupping at their roasting plant in Durham. The 10am start was too late for a regular thing, so he and Daryn Berlin offered to host regular espresso labs from 7:30am to around 9am. That's been going now for over four years; the local paper wrote about our group in Espresso Obsessed.

The inception of the site was a couple years later (the well-hidden About page provides more background). Through a combination of good luck and good timing, the site boomed with fun and interesting projects in 2005. The thread 2005 in review summarizes the first year.

In summary, I learned to make quality espresso by reading and listening, then applying what I learned. Having the talented professionals at Counter Culture nearby and unlimited access to their lab helps a lot. And of course HB is fortunate to have many knowledgeable, patient, and curious espresso enthusiasts willing to share their years of experience. Chris Nachtrieb of Chris' Coffee Service shared his dad's advice to a successful enterprise: "Surround yourself with people smarter than you." The gentlemen that help run the site, known as Team HB, are the embodiment of that principle, and I shamelessly admit to being one of the largest benefactors. :)
Dan Kehn

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#5: Post by Randii »

Miss Silvia taught me! Really! I only started about 3 months ago, when - thanks to the forums - I bought a Rancilio Miss Silvia and Rocky grinder. Silvia was shipped first, so I decided to practice the techniques I had learned on the forums, using my crappy blade grinder.

I kept reading about this wonderful, sweet espresso, and mine was nothing like that (and I had NEVER tasted good espresso anyway, and thought it was SUPPOSED to be bitter!) One day, I got discouraged and decided that I probably didn't really like espresso. I decided I was going to make a mocha, no matter how nasty the shot was. I was FED UP with temperature surfing, and weighing, and measuring my tamp on a bathroom scale, etc. So I steamed the milk first, then just ground the coffee the way I had been doing, plunked it into the portafilter, did the WDT, tamped it without weighing and took the shot when I was ready - instead of when Silvia was ready. It was slow to come out. It looked like molasses, and I just KNEW I had burnt it, but someone on one of the posts said to "taste every shot", so I did. IT WAS GOD! I never knew espresso was supposed to taste like THAT! It was sweet and spicy, and chocolatey, and complex. I didn't even use the milk! For days, I was in shock! But I had no idea how to replicate it, and I became obsessed!

So I have been chasing that "God Shot" ever sense, and with the continued practicing of "the basics", I have learned to make good espresso (and what good espresso tastes like, with the help of some local baristas). I will soon be taking a home barista class with Heather Perry, and she will help me to hone my skills, so maybe we can figure out HOW I got that "God Shot".

The thing I think is funny, is that Heather told me that the espresso I was using - her WBC Competition Blend - has a very narrow range to extract properly, So I started learning to make espresso with a finicky machine and a hard to master coffee blend. BOY did I ever set the bar high! :lol:

Momma (original poster)
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#6: Post by Momma (original poster) »

Well, you are all fascinating people and I love to listen to what you all have to say. I learn from everything I read. I knew for all of you to be so obsessed with espresso, there must have been a catalyst and then some challenge to keep you resetting the bar higher and higher.

Myself, I began drinking coffee lattes (more latte than coffee) when I was three! Its an addiction, but even I will toss a full cup of coffee or even refuse to buy gas at a place with disgusting coffee (they should suffer for what tortures they put their patrons through). About ten years ago I discovered espresso..... well, that is enough said. hah! Now, I'm 75 miles from a coffee house and am forced to find a way to get that good taste without the drive.

Those who brew, do. Those who can't, drive.

Now with all the fantastic advice I'm getting here (THANK YOU!) I'm planning to open a little mom and pop coffee house in the middle of Iowa.... (corn and snow).... and very rural Iowa at that. I'm hoping they, too, will get that first taste of espresso and become obsessed. After all, its a healthy obsession.

Oh, and I'm honored to be here among you. Thanks for making me feel so welcome. Of course, you know you are feeding the addiction :)
Momma Hale

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#7: Post by another_jim »

I started slightly differently, since I grew up in Europe and vacationed frequently in Italy. I also had cheap home espresso machines since the mid seventies. For 25 years, my espresso knowledge was one accurate sentence: one got real espresso in Italian bars; everywhere else one got, at best, cappa starter. When the machine salesmen or some cafe anywhere else said it was just as good as in Milan, I'd just smile and nod.

When one of a long line of machines broke down in 2000, I decided to see if the internet had any info on home machines. After that, it was pretty much like Randy.

As far as I can tell, the only place anyone ever learned to make good home espresso is on the internet.
Jim Schulman

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#8: Post by Merlino »

I think my main reason for getting into the whole espresso thing was that I wasn't satisfied with what we served at work. After having first tested the water with my boss and having been shot down I decided to learn about espresso at home. So I started to do some reading on the best home machine for my budget and found HB and CG. Decided on buying a Silvia. We worked together with store-bought preground coffee until I could afford a Mazzer Mini. A while after that I started to order fresh coffee and improving my technique while continuing to gather all the info I could possibly read. Two months ago I took up home roasting (bought a lot of different kinds of beans and a Gene Cafe Roaster) and I couldn't be happier. Right now I'm trying to learn how to pour latte art.

But to answer the how question: Read, read, read. :)

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#9: Post by Rosemary »

Merlino wrote:But to answer the how question: Read, read, read. :)
I agree. I found this site because of a machine in need of a lot of TLC. Even though I'd had a machine for 10 or 12 yrs I had my eyes opened reading the coffee sites.

I also think most people in the industry whether your local barista, roaster or technician are very generous sharing their knowledge.


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#10: Post by cannonfodder »

Practice, practice practice. My revelation came from Tony at Metropolis coffee in Chicago. I had bad espresso, pseudo cappuccinos, hotel swill and the green mermaid. Then one stormy evening in Chicago on a business trip I made my way to metropolis (they had just opened a couple months prior) and had had my eyes opened by Tony as to what espresso should be. I started tinkering at home, had a garbage machine or two, found coffee geek, found HB never looked back.

I still hit the pro shops when I can so I have a benchmark to work against, but in the end all you need is a decent bit of kit, good coffee and lots of practice. When I am at a real cafe, I will spend time talking to the barista (when they have time) and spend an hour just watching them. How do they grind, how do they distribute, how much coffee are they using, how to they tamp, how do they hold the pitcher and work the swing to get Rosettas. A lot can be learned from just watching.
Dave Stephens