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Tips on Making Espresso

posted in Beverages by Kathy Maister

Oberbreckling sent me this great e-mail that I thought everyone would benefit from:

“Just wanted to say I love your videocasts. I was just looking through some of the blog entries and came across the “how to make hotel room coffee” entry. I noticed that below it was the Nespresso machine you had in Germany. (How fabulous that they set you up with an espresso machine?!)

At any rate, I thought I’d chime in with a couple of tips on making espresso for your next trip to Germany. (I was a shift manager at Starbucks up until about 2 months ago when I resigned to spend more time at home with my 2 year old.) I have an espresso machine at home and have become quite particular about my espresso.

Making Coffee is a true art form. I personally find a lot of comfort in making coffee for others and drinking coffee myself. I can’t really put my finger on just what it is but it’s the one thing that I could do forever. I never get sick of it. Anyone can learn to make a good cup of coffee, with a lot of practice :) And as far as I’m concerned, everyone deserves a great cup of coffee at least ONCE in a while!


When making espresso, there are three parts:

1. The heart-the dark part at the very very bottom

2. The body -the pretty creamy caramelly part in the middle and

4. The crema -the sweet froth on the top

It takes 10 seconds for an espresso shot to “go bad”. That is, for the heart, body and crema to blend together into a big black bitter mess. If you’re drinking espresso straight, it doesn’t matter.

I prefer (personally) to add a little half and half just after I pour my shot of espresso to “save” the shot and keep it sweet. (At home I also pull a long shot which seems to be sweeter and give me more crema…but Starbucks wouldn’t probably encourage that) A shot of espesso should be slightly sweet and caramelly. It should leave hardly any aftertaste. A ruined shot will taste bitter and will taste very “dry” and feel almost like the skin on an almond on your tongue. Blech!

Steaming Milk

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS steam the milk before pulling your espresso shots. It will stay warm longer than the espresso, and it takes longer to steam the milk and you could jeopardize your espresso shot before you’re done steaming. Especially in a home machine which takes longer than a commercial machine.

For a sweeter milk, aerate or foam the milk to 100 degrees then steam the rest. ( has a great article on it here) That is, replace the steam wand below the surface of the milk. For a latte, expect a 1/3 increase in volume, and double for a cappuccino. NEVER NEVER NEVER steam milk over 170 degrees unless asked (it’s best steamed between 160 and 170). This scalds the milk. Some people like it this way but I personally think it’s totally icky. has a great website about making coffee. He knows way more than I do, and it’s fun to see someone else who is so passionate about coffee!”

Thanks Marcy!

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Neera said:

Is it good to add cinnamon in Coffee?

Kathy Maister said:

Cinnimon in coffee is wonderful! Sprinkly some on the fresh coffee grinds before you brew it.

Kali Lingen said:

I like to add cinnamon to the milk before I steam it. I think it gives the cinnamon a smoother texture so it’s not so grainy when it is drank.

Mark said:

Cinnamon is great in coffee, very true. I also like adding a drop or two of almond or vanilla extract to the beans. Smells fabulous as it’s brewing. Does leave a hint of the flavor for a few of the next brews though, so beware if your partner doesn’t care for “flavored coffee”.

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