Espresso at home: An essential guide (Part 2)
In my previous blog post, I looked at some of the essential items you need in order to create a set up at home to create great espresso. I focused primarily on espresso machines and the different types on the market – in this blog post, I want to look at some of the other bits of equipment you need to complete your set up, including grinders and measuring equipment.
Should I buy a grinder with my espresso machine?
Absolutely 100% yes!!!
Coffee reacts very aggressively with oxygen. When we grind coffee, we produce billions of little particles that then react with the surrounding air. This happens so fast, that you will measurably lose aroma and flavour within the first 3 minutes after grinding. Your coffee will taste stale and will not reveal its full potential.
Which grinder should I buy?
There are so many grinders on the market, it’s hard to say in one word. So let’s talk about the types of grinders first. We have conical burr grinders, flat burr grinders and blade grinders.
Blade grinders are more like blenders, they crush the coffee and create a quite inconsistent particle size. This is absolutely ok if you want to make filter coffee, but for espresso we definitely need a very fine and even particle size.
Conical burr grinders often work with smaller rotation values than disc grinders, but are not quite as uniform in terms of the grinding result.In grinders with a conical grinder, the coffee beans are crushed between the inner cone and the outer wall. The distance between the cone and the wall becomes smaller and smaller, so that the beans are ground more and more finely. The degree of grinding can be changed via the distance between the cone and the wall. In contrast to a disc grinder, the grist is not carried to the side, but rather falls down - and into a collecting container. For this reason, the speed of a conical grinder is lower and the coffee is ground very gently.
Disc grinders/flat burr grinders are the most widely used today. The beans are ground between two inwardly curved grinding discs lying on top of one another. One of the two discs is driven by a motor, the other is stationary. The distance between the two panes is slightly larger on the inside than on the outside. The bean gets between the discs from the inside, is broken up here and then transported further outwards by centrifugal force.
Since the grinding discs are closer together on the outside, the bean is ground finer and finer. To adjust the degree of grinding, the distance between the discs is changed. The grinding discs are mostly made of steel or ceramic and are very durable if it is a good coffee grinder.
What material should my grinder be made of?
In my experience a solid espresso grinder doesn’t cost less than 400 Euros. There are exceptions of course, for example hand grinders that are very durable but they also cost about 230 Euros and obviously you have to manually grind each dose. There are two main materials used to make coffee grinders, both of which can affect the quality of the coffee you’re making: (i) stainless steel, and (ii) ceramic.
Stainless steel grinders are becoming increasingly more popular among coffee fanatics. While some purists swear by ceramic, these blades have a couple important features worth considering. Stainless steel, because it contains chromium, is corrosion resistant. So, these grinders should not rust when you wash them. However, steel does conduct heat and these grinders are slightly more affected by hot environments, shortening their lifespans. Also, these blades will lose their sharpness faster than a ceramic blade. But, stainless steel will start out much sharper than ceramic, giving you more precision in your grinding. This means you can expect more uniformity with these grinders. They also don’t typically produce any fines, which can help increase the longevity of your filters. But this also means that your espresso may taste a little different. With a steel grinder, you are going to get a cup that tastes and feels clean in your mouth. Because of the precision you can expect with a steel blade, you´ll be looking forward to coffee that is brewed exactly how you like it regardless of what brewing method you use. That being said, steel grinders, both automatic and manual, work especially well with alternative brewing methods such as pour-over and French press. They are also preferred for single-source, non-espresso beans.
Ceramic grinders are currently more popular than steel for domestic use. There are a couple of reasons for this, but it's mainly due to their high-strength blades, which are especially long-lasting. They start off less sharp than a steel blade; however they will retain their original sharpness almost indefinitely. However, ceramic will not stand up so well against bigger impacts. So if it stays on your counter, it’ll last you a long time – just don’t drop it or put anything too strange in your grinder. Also, some coffee-connoisseurs like to claim that because ceramic does not conduct heat, you won’t have to worry about the temperature affecting the oils in your coffee. However, aside from a few vehement palates, there is little to no evidence to back this up. While heat conduction might be irrelevant, the fact that ceramic does not rust or otherwise deteriorate when exposed to warm environments or moisture can be a considerable plus. These kind of burrs are mainly used in manual grinders.
What else do I need?
The most important and most under-appreciated item to make coffee is a SCALE!!! Making coffee means following a recipe. If I am trying to bake bread and just add whatever I feel like, I will most likely not get the same results. It’s going to be wildly inconsistent!!!
It seems like the hardest challenge for me to convince not only home baristas but even baristas that work in cafes to use scales. It is so important, I can’t even emphasise it enough. If you do not weigh your coffee, you will never get the same result twice and you can not dial in your coffee and changing grind size will not make any sense.
Let's use the following recipe as our go to recipe:
18g in the basket
25 second extraction time
Without a scale, I cannot check any of these variables. Because the extraction time depends not just on the grind size but also on the amount of coffee that we use.
If I use 18g and my extraction time is only 15 seconds, I will have to change my grind size to a finer grind setting. If my coffee with 18g is running 45 seconds for 38g out, I will have to use a coarser grind setting.
To make life a little bit easier with handling the output weight, I think for at home it is definitely ok to use a shot glass with a mark so you know roughly if it's enough.
You can not make a full cup of coffee with an espresso machine!!! Our espresso has a set recipe. Letting more water pass the basket until the cup is full will only extract bitterness! Your coffee will taste bitter and washed out.
What you should do is: prepare a cup, fill it up with hot water out of the hot water output on your machine and let your espresso run on this water. We call this americano if using a single shot of espresso or long black if using a double shot.
But what is very important to know: there is NO SUCH THING as a cafe crema!!! This is simply an invention for full automatic machines and does not work for espresso machines.
I recommend a tamper that fits perfectly into your basket. The machines all have different diameters but are easy to find out online. A tamping mat will also help you to keep your kitchen bench protected. Microfiber cloths are a perfect and sustainable solution to keep your machine and portafilter clean and can be washed at 90 degrees, perfect to get rid of any milk germs. They are also a good tool to clean the portafilter instead of using a brush, as the cloth cleans the basket and dries it at the same time.
A knockbox should be appropriate for the amount of coffee waste that you will be producing, to save space, I recommend a draw that fits underneath the grinder. This way you can also just swipe the coffee that might have sprayed into the draw with a…
A grinder brush will help you to keep your grinding area clean, and will be helpful when you want to get into hard-to-reach places, such as the inside of your grinder or machine.
If you are into milk and latte art, there are so many different companies nowadays that specialize in making the best latte art jugs. Just keep in mind, you are making the patterns, not the jug.
Once you have all your equipment sorted, and you weigh your coffee, you will get way more consistent results. If you want to know more about how to store your coffee, check out my article about ageing coffee and if you want to know more about dialling in, read my article “how to dial in coffee”
I hope you found this helpful and if you have any questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to message me via my contact page.