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| Written by Miles Spencer

Tips for Using an Espresso Maker – Get the Most from Your Machine

For those of us coffee-lovers who are looking to create barista-style, perfect brews from the comfort of our homes, there’s no doubt that a quality espresso machine is an indispensable piece of equipment to own.

With a well-made espresso maker, you can create delicious, aromatic espresso shots every time, with a perfect crema, to be enjoyed on their own or as the base for a wonderful latte, cappuccino or Americano. By experimenting with the amount of ground coffee and the coarseness of your grind, you can tailor your beverages to your unique preferences.

The ease and convenience of an espresso maker makes the preparation process fast and hassle-free, while the sleek and efficient design of many espresso machines, including our range of Gaggia espresso machines, means that they will easily fit into your kitchen or office.

How Does an Espresso Machine Work

Espresso machines create rich, full-flavoured coffees by passing pressurised water through coffee grounds. Ground coffee is first placed into a metal ‘basket’, which contains small holes that allow water, but not the grounds, to pass through. The ground coffee is compressed, or ‘tamped’, in the basket, so it is flat, and the handle of the basket is locked into the espresso machine. The machine then pumps near-boiling water from its reservoir through the ground coffee. The liquid from the basket drips into a waiting cup below, creating an espresso shot that includes one of the defining features of espresso, the ‘crema’, a dense layer of foam that tops the drink.

Choosing the Right Coffee Bean

It’s no secret that the most important aspect of creating the perfect espresso is in choosing the right coffee bean variety to suit your tastes. While there are a great number of coffee beans that work excellently as espressos and when used in espresso machines, there is much to explore within this selection.

Differences in acidity and oil levels, roast levels and body, aroma and, of course, flavour profiles, mean that there is plenty of room to experiment and try different varieties of delicious, freshly roasted coffee in your espresso maker.

We recommend using our handy Coffee Finder tool when searching for your new favourite bean.

Getting the Right Coffee Grind

At Coffee-Direct, we offer pre-ground options across our range of freshly roasted coffees, including a grind specifically for use in espresso machines. However, you may well prefer to grind your own beans with a grinder, such as a burr grinder.

The aim of grinding coffee beans before brewing is to expose sufficient surface area to extract the wonderful flavours that are locked inside the beans. The finer the beans are ground, the more surface area will be exposed, but there are different levels of grind coarseness that work best for specific brewing methods. For espresso machines, you should aim for a fine grind, which resembles coarse powder.

Most electric grinders have settings that will allow you to select your grind type, from fine to coarse, allowing you to find the perfect grind for your espresso maker.

Tamping the Ground Coffee

The term ‘tamping’ refers to the act of compressing ground coffee before brewing and is an essential part of preparing coffees with an espresso machine. Because ground coffee is fluffy in texture, it has to be compressed; if uncompressed coffee is added to the basked of the espresso maker, the high-pressure water would find the air pockets between the grounds and pass through quickly, avoiding much of the coffee and not extracting the delicious coffee flavours.

When tamping your coffee grounds using a tamper, simply push out all of the air (you won’t need to apply a great deal of pressure, but do be firm) and aim to have an even surface in the basket, so that equal water and temperature is applied to the grounds when the water is added. 

Cleaning and Maintenance
Maintaining a clean espresso machine is just as important in achieving consistent results as is the bean type and grind coarseness. An unclean machine can result in bitter and unpleasant drinks that can easily put coffee novices off of the beverage.

Ensure that the basket of your espresso machine is kept clean, using warm soapy water and a scourer, and also aim to use suitable water when preparing drinks, as hard water can cause limescale to build up and potentially damage the machine. You can also purchase a quality espresso machine cleaner after each use of your machine to ensure lasting results and delicious, clean-tasting coffees.

Our Recommended Espresso Machines

Gaggia Classic 2023 - £499.00
The Gaggia Classic 2023 is the winner of the Expert Review 2023 award for the Best Manual Espresso Machine Under £500.

Designed to professional standards, the brew head is made of lead-free brass and the outside of the brew group is covered with a stainless steel cover, giving the best in espresso quality and machine longevity. The heavy stainless steel filter-holder ensures a consistent and stable brewing temperature throughout the entire brewing process.

Gaggia Carezza Deluxe - £279.00
Combining the tactile benefits of a manual espresso machine with many of the digital innovations of an automatic machine, the Gaggia Carezza Deluxe features a pre-infusion function for espresso, allowing for maximum flavour to be extracted from the coffee, as well as an auto-clean function that gives the machine a short rinse every time it is turned on.

The Carezza’s boiler is a thermoblock boiler, so that steam and hot water are generated quickly and on demand, reducing the overall power consumption of the machine for an energy efficient operation.