Traditionally, the secret behind fine espresso coffee can be summed up in 5 rules:
coffee-making machine, grinding-dosing unit, skill, maintenance and – naturally – a good blend.
Obviously, these rules involve a great deal of work. Let’s try to list some of them, well aware in any case that coffee-making skills largely depend on direct experience of coffee machines and true passion.
• Coffee packs should be opened even two hours prior to use so that the coffee itself can adapt to the surrounding environment.
• The grinding-dosing unit should be thoroughly cleaned at regular intervals, since coffee releases oils that over time may become rancid and spoil even a high-quality product.
• A dose of coffee should be around 7 g (6.8- 7.2) to ensure optimal infusion.
• Avoid overheating the grinding-dosing unit – at over 40/50°C, it may compromise the integrity of the product.
• The dose of coffee should be firmly pressed into the filter with decisive, horizontal and regular pressure so that the infusion water uses the entire dose within the time limit.
• If the coffee does not pour “on time”, modify the grinding settings (not the compression!).
If the coffee pours too slowly (more than 25 seconds, with the risk of remaining in contact with the very hot filter-holder too long and thus burning), then it should be more coarsely ground. On the contrary, if the coffee pours too quickly (less than 20 seconds with fast and incomplete infusion) it should be ground more finely.
Generally speaking, the grinding unit can be set 1 or 2 notches up or down as required.
• The usual cause of such changes is the degree of humidity in the air absorbed by the coffee powder. It is therefore advisable to grind coffee only as required and avoid leaving it in contact with the air for too long.
It is a good rule to finish previously ground coffee in the evening so that in the morning and during the day it is always freshly ground. Coffee, especially when already ground, is a “live” product that breathes!
• Always check blade wear and replace the blades after 400 kg for flat blades and 1000 kg for conical blades. The coffee must be finely ground and not crushed by blunt blades.
• Always use fresh, decalcified water – hard water makes heavy, creamless coffee.
• The temperature of the water must be about 120°C in the boiler and about 88° at the pouring spout; the pump should ensure a pressure of 9 bar; minor variants depend on the type of machine used.
• It is of fundamental importance to keep espresso machines clean. The gaskets, pouring spouts (that must ensure free flow of water) and filters should be cleaned thoroughly every day with a special blind filter. Filters and filter-holders must also be cleaned, since – like the spouts. They tend to accumulate burnt coffee (and thus spoil good “espresso”). Deposits of milk on the steam jets should be frequently removed to prevent them going rancid. The drip tray underneath the machine should be cleaned to avoid blockages caused by deposits of coffee grounds.
All these rules of cleanliness must be scrupulously and regularly observed, accompanied by frequent checks of the entire system by specialist personnel.
• Always use warm cups; cold cups “block” espresso coffee and spoil its body, while if they are too hot (over 65°) they overheat and tend to “burn” it.
• Constantly verify infusion and delivery times. This short time-scale (20/25 seconds) involves a very delicate process: the boiling water initially wets, swells and mixes with the coffee powder, absorbing all its aromatic properties; it then passes through the dose of coffee and is poured into the cup.
If the coffee is properly regulated and flows in a thin and continual line (the so-called “mouse tail”) with the colour of a “friar’s habit” into the cup with concentrated perfumes and aromas enclosed in a thick, hazel-coloured cream… we can proudly say we have achieved our objective.
“Espresso” coffee is an Italian tradition, style and taste. For decades, it has been one of the most highly appreciated and characteristic Italian products abroad. This is truer today than ever before.
In Italy, espresso coffee is a daily custom, an important moment of pleasure, a ritual – perhaps excessively so.
Every tradition is a link between past and future and espresso coffee must always keep pace with the times to ensure its future. It must be kept up-to-date and made important even for generations with different lifestyles and stimuli from those who created and developed the espresso coffee tradition.