Congrats, you have an espresso machine!
Maybe these uncertain times have kept you from your favorite coffee shop far too long. Or maybe your daily Starbucks runs have finally caught up to you. Or maybe you’ve decided to take your work-from-home life to the next level. Whatever the reason, this purchase you made is cause for celebration.
So cheers! *clink* Here's to all the delicious, decadent, warm/cold lattes, cappuccinos, americanos, etc. that are now just an arms reach away.
By now, you're likely already rippin' shots left and right, finding your way around this new hunk-o-machine, and staying way too caffeinated to get any sleep at night. We're hopeful that everything's working out like a dream (like the one's you'd have if you were able to sleep), but if we had to take a guess, there's a good chance you're finding out rather quickly that there are quite a few intricacies about your new machine that aren't so cut and dry.
Often times, one of the most frustrating aspects of a new machine (whether you realize it or not), is that the tools provided with these machines tend to be a bit lacking. They're somewhat cumbersome to use, they leave too much room for error, and they simply aren't the most user friendly pieces of kit that one could hope for -- especially for a new home barista.
As with any skill or trade, the tools you choose for your task are just as important as anything else. A proper set of tools can help remove inconsistencies, can improve your workflow, and can even make your task more enjoyable with something as simple as improved aesthetics.
So without further ado, we've compiled a list of our top 7 favorite tools to help take your espresso game to the next level.
#1: Bottomless Portafilter
Chances are your machine came with a double-spouted portafilter, with a closed bottom.
While this type of portafilter has its benefits (like being able to separate a double shot into two mugs), what it lacks is the ability to fully examine the quality of shot you’re pulling.
A bottomless portafilter is exactly what it sound like -- a portafilter with the bottom removed. The extraction happening while you're pulling a shot is exactly the same with both types of portafilters, but having the bottom removed allows you to view the bottom of the filter basket during the extraction process.
Aside from this being an awe inspiring visual, there's actually function to compliment the form. Being able to visualize the extraction will allow you to diagnose extraction issues you might be having, such as channeling, which can be extremely common. Addressing these issues, which we'll talk about on another blog, will ultimately lead to a more well rounded, balanced, yummy shot.
While you’re searching for the best bottomless portafilter, be sure to consider the material in the handle as well. For example, a wooden handle offers a great, well-weighted feel and adds a beautiful aesthetic to your machine (like this one).
And if you're into something even more unique, you can get yourself on the waitlist for this totally rad portafilter made from used, repurposed and recycled skateboards!
#2: Tampers and Distributors
Proper tamping technique is one of the key variables in making a good espresso, but it's also a skill that typically requires a bit of time and practice.
This is especially true if you're using an entry level tamper. The plastic tamper that's included with most Breville machines, for example, is a tool that leaves a lot to be desired.
When using a tamper like the one that's included with your Breville machine, consistent tamping means learning to apply consistent force every time you tamp your coffee. Without anything to stop the tamper from traveling, it can be a major challenge to make sure that you're tamping with equal pressure every time. Additionally, you're going to need to make sure you're tamping level as well -- another thing that isn't controlled by anything but your own skill with a tamper of this kind.
This is where the Crema 2-in-1 tamper & distributor combo comes into play.
This tamper and distributor combo sports two tools in one, with both sides being fully adjustable in depth.
The distributor side (the one that looks like fan blades), is used to gently "distribute" your coffee grounds in your portafilter, giving you a head start to an even, consistent coffee puck.
Flip the tool over, and you have a fully adjustable palm tamper. During the tamping process, the outer sleeve of the tool will bottom out on the portafilter when you've reached your designated depth. This not only make sure that your coffee bed is perfectly level, but it also ensures that you're tamping with the same exact pressure with every tamp. Easy peasy, espresso squeezy.
**Important Note: be sure to get the right size for your machine’s portafilter! Breville Barista Express, Barista Pro, Barista Touch, Bambino Plus, Infuser and Duo-Temp Pro have a 54mm portafilter, but they require a 53.3mm distributor/tamper. You can also check out the shop for more sizes.
#3: Dosing Cup or Funnel
We've all been there before -- you load up your bean hopper, start your grinder, fill up your portafilter, and before you know it, you've got a leaning tower of espresso teetering a mile high.
One false move and you're sending that precious stack of coffee right down into the drip tray, or scattered across your countertop. This is not only messy and wasteful, but assuming you're weighing your doses before grinding (something we recommend doing), you've now lost a portion of that dose to the abyss.
With a dosing funnel sitting on the rim of your portafilter, you'll have an extra wall of protection to stop your grounds from jumping ship. It's important to note that you won't be able to use the built-in grinder holder on machines such as the Barista Express, but simply pushing the grinder button with your finger and a few seconds of holding the portafilter under the grinder is a great trade off for losing grounds all over your workstation.
When it comes to dosing cups, the workflow will be slightly different, but can offer a few extra benefits as well. The dosing cup linked above is designed to be a perfect fit to sit directly in the Breville grinder holder, and even has a tab to activate the grinder. After grinding, you'll then flip it over the top of your portafilter (or vise versa), and can now shake your grounds around before removing the cup. Shaking the grounds helps to de-clump the grinds, which will help reduce channeling.
As a few added bonuses, the dosing cup can be used as a vessel to weigh your beans (if you're single dosing), and can even be used as a shot glass when transferring your espresso into a larger container that doesn't fit under your machine -- such as a travel mug.
If you ask any chef, they'll tell you that presentation is half of the experience. Take a beautifully crafted meal and toss it on a paper plate, and you'll lose an enormous chunk of the essence that meal carries.
The same can be argued for espresso. The experience you enjoy with the delicate, yet full-bodied taste of espresso, will vary based on the kind of vessel you drink it from. A shot glass, a ceramic mug, a stainless-steel thermos, or if you must (but not recommended), a paper to-go cup....will all change the experience of that espresso (or latte, or...).
Now our opinion might be biased, but we believe that the best taste for espressos and lattes comes from a ceramic vessel. After all...what's the first picture that comes to mind when you think of an espresso? The classic tiny white (**pinky out**) ceramic shot glass on a saucer? Yep - Ceramic!
While there are tons of options out there for ceramic mugs, our personal favorite is: the LENNY.
#5: A New & Improved Steam Lever [for Breville]
If you’ve got a Breville Barista Express, Infuser, or Barista Pro, you’ll know what we’re talking about when we say how flingin’-flangin’ tricky it is to use the steam knob.
Well, ok...it’s not that tough, but it sure can be cumbersome at times. And let's be honest...with the beautiful form of these machines, there's something about a plastic dial that just doesn't quite complete the experience.
To ease those slippery, white-knuckling fingers, and to help level up the function and form of your machine, we present to you...the upgraded steam lever for Breville machines.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This steam lever requires disassembly of the upper lid/tray of your machine and requires removal of the manufacturer's original parts. This process may void your manufacturer's warranty. But hey.... #worthit
#6: Proof You’re Now A Barista
We know...you're spending a lot of time with your machine, and your portafilter is probably starting to feel like another limb. If you're like us, and just can't bare to leave home without it...check out this keychain. :)
#7: Fresh Coffee Beans
Contrary to what you may believe, like many (most) consumable products, coffee beans do in fact have a shelf life.
While the actual shelf life time may vary based on the consumer and how the consumer plans to use the coffee, it's extremely important to understand that when it comes to espresso, fresh (like REAL fresh) is best.
From the very date that the coffee is roasted, the clock starts ticking. The longer coffee sits (say...in a hot warehouse, or on a store shelf), the more the coffee will decline in freshness, losing the essential oils that give coffee it's yummy goodness.
This process is exaggerated even further when the coffee is pre-ground.
Let's compare to something we're all familiar with -- apples. Take an apple and leave it out on the counter for 2 weeks. What will happen? The apple will eventually dry up (or rot, of course) and be quite undesirable. Now take an apple, slice it up and leave the slices on the counter. Dries up much quicker, right?
Coffee is no different. After coffee is ground, it takes mere minutes for coffee grounds to begin oxidizing, which accelerates the coffee to a stale, lifeless pile of powder (relatively speaking).
So to simplify, and to spare you from too much of the scientific nonsense, when it comes to choosing beans for espresso, fresh is best. If you don't see a roast date on the bag...they don't want you to see a roast date on the bag. Drop that bag-o-beans and run the opposite direction. Whenever possible, try aiming for no later than 3 or 4 weeks past the roast date (and that's even pushing it).
When looking for you next bag of coffee, skip the supermarket and buy fresh from a roaster instead. We're big proponents of supporting small, local businesses, so it's always a good idea to check and see if you have any local roasters in your area. Alternatively, there are a number of wonderful options to purchase fresh roasted coffee online as well. One of our favorites, Good Brother's coffee, will ship your coffee the same day it was roasted, ensuring that your beans arrive as fresh as humanly possible. Often times, this is even fresher than you'll get at a local roaster that has bags sitting on their shelf!
Fun side note -- with every purchase from our website, you’ll receive a 10% off coupon to Good Brothers, which can be used for your first purchase. Definitely give them a shot!
And there you have it folks -- 7 tools to take your espresso making skills to the next level. If there's anything we've missed, or anything you'd like to hear us discuss next, shoot us a line and let us know. We'd love to hear from you!
Crema Coffee Products
P.S. Want to see all these tools in action? Follow us on Instagram for tutorials, candid shots, and sneak-peaks at any new tools coming to market soon.
Crema Coffee Products is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any way connected with Breville Pty Limited (Breville), or any of its subsidiaries or its affiliates.
Photography by: Sidecar Studio, Canada