Understanding Espresso: A Six-Part Series Explaining What It Takes to Pull the Ideal Shot

It does­n’t take long to learn how to pull a shot of espres­so. Search for that phrase on Youtube, and you’ll find hours’ worth of sound instruc­tion, most of it in the form of brief and eas­i­ly digestible videos. All of them cov­er the same basic stages of the process: grind­ing, dos­ing, tamp­ing, and brew­ing. When exam­ined close­ly, each of those stages reveals a for­mi­da­ble body of knowl­edge to mas­ter. If any one Youtu­ber can lay claim to hav­ing mas­tered all of them, it must be James Hoff­mann, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his videos on sub­jects from deep-fried cof­fee to the clas­sic Bialet­ti Moka Express. In the six-part series above, he offers view­ers an overview of all they need to know to achieve a true under­stand­ing of espres­so.

Episode by episode, Hoff­mann explains how to choose the right dose of cof­fee, ratio between the amount of ground and liq­uid cof­fee, brew time, grind size, brew tem­per­a­ture, and pres­sure. Of course, there is no sin­gle uni­ver­sal­ly cor­rect set­ting or amount of any of these things: each is a vari­able with its own range of effects on the shot of espres­so ulti­mate­ly yield­ed.

Each drinker, too, has a dif­fer­ent con­cep­tion of the taste and tex­ture of the ide­al espres­so shot, and con­sis­tent­ly real­iz­ing those qual­i­ties — or at least get­ting close — neces­si­tates no small amount of tri­al and error. But those who lis­ten well to Hoff­man­n’s expla­na­tions will sure­ly end up with few­er errors, and in any case get more enjoy­ment from the tri­als.

Watch “Under­stand­ing Espres­so,” and you’re going to want to know how Hoff­mann pulls shots for him­self. This he address­es in a bonus episode — unsur­pris­ing­ly, the longest one of the bunch — which shows his entire process in detail, from prepar­ing the beans to stir­ring and sip­ping. Along the way, he also intro­duces the vari­ety of spe­cial­ized devices he uses: a strong draw for his many cof­fee-gear­head sub­scribers, but one he presents with the caveat that you real­ly don’t need to go high-end all the way in order to live your best espres­so life. Even so, the ded­i­cat­ed home enthu­si­ast must put in con­sid­er­ably more time and atten­tion than the aver­age chain-cof­fee-shop barista. “Cafés want to make good espres­so as quick­ly and eas­i­ly as pos­si­ble,” he reminds us. “We want to make incred­i­ble espres­so every time.”

You can watch the entire playlist, from start to fin­ish, at the very top of the post.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Birth of Espres­so: The Sto­ry Behind the Cof­fee Shots That Fuel Mod­ern Life

Cof­fee Col­lege: Every­thing You Want­ed to Know about Cof­fee Mak­ing in One Lec­ture

All Espres­so Drinks Explained: Cap­puc­ci­no, Lat­te, Mac­chi­a­to & Beyond

Every­thing You Ever Want­ed to Know about the Bialet­ti Moka Express: A Deep Dive Into Italy’s Most Pop­u­lar Cof­fee Mak­er

Life and Death of an Espres­so Shot in Super Slow Motion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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