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 Espresso Machines  

Reducing Espresso Bitterness


Espresso - What is So Special About It?

Purchasing the first espresso machine is just the beginning of a long journey to explore the higher consciousness for the best in coffee. Espresso preparation is an art that demands precision and dedication of science. It is a passion and not just a stimulant. Espresso machine is only a tool for making espresso. It is important that the operator knows as much about the tool and how to use it properly for creating the best extract from the beans. Unlike diluted brown watered down hot coffee drink, espresso is a volatile drink which needs attention to details and strict criteria for source and quality of its ingredients, art of blending and roasting and the process of selective extraction. It is a continuous learning effort and a never ending pursuit for the best that coffee beans have to offer.

Information on this page is made available in the hope that it will help readers to understand why good espresso in the cup is not just coffee and why this nectar of Coffea Arabica and Coffea Robusta is so elusive. Those who love coffee know it when they have good espresso in their cup. Every sip is a joy  and the last sip leaves a desire for more.

 Espresso Essentials

 The following requirements are essential for making good espresso

98% of Espresso is water. Fresh clean water without any chemical taste in it, is necessary.  

 Water must be freshly heated using heat exchangers (Narrow diameter tube with heat source
 around its length. Water enters cold and with proper heat control will come out instantly heated
 to between 95 to 98C. Pre-heated or boiling water is not used for making espresso.

Ideal espresso beans are freshly roasted (within a week or two), properly stored in air and 

 moisture tight container to prevent chemical inter-action to render the coffee oils turn rancid)
 Beans are preferably a medium roast without the oils coming out on the surface.

Uniform grind, preferebly using a conical burr grinder 

 Fineness of grind like the grain of table salt.

 Mild compacting (enough to make water flow through with soluble ingredients)

Pre-infusion to allow coffee grounds to soak 6 to 8 seconds before extraction 

 Extraction with nine Bars pressure. No more, and no less.

Espresso dose not more than 2-Oz. in the cup. Shorter quantity (1 to 1.5 Oz) is better. 1-Oz.

 For quality check of each shot of espresso, use of a shot glass is recommended. Transparent glass allows one to check dark/black color of espresso with 1/4" thick Crema.

that will not disappear for 5 to 10 min.

 Crema is a mix of micro globulrs of air and coffee oil, extracted when water is pressed through
 coffee grounds at 9 Bar pressure. Crema gives the coffee extract a golden honey color.
 The air and oil globules slowly rise to the top and float over dark black coffee below. 
  • The quality of roasting, grinding and the method of extraction determines the final taste of espresso in the cup. No matter how expensive it may be, espresso machines do not come with a licence to make espresso.

  • The grind must be right, relative to the type of brewing method used. Ground coffee is like a shoe. One size of grind fineness does not fit all espresso machines.

  • Method of extraction can swing the taste of espresso from a bitter unpalatable sip to a highly aromatic sweet taste.

  • Most coffee forums discuss & recommend "hands on" experience of making espresso. This is easier said than done, especially if this has to be done in a hurry in the morning, every day! Visitors to the internet coffee forums find recommendations that apply to commercial methods for making espresso. I recommend caution about what is promoted on these forums. Very little is discussed about the quality of espresso but too much is focused on comparing notes on who did what and who did it first to tweak the original settings in a machine. The enthusiasm expressed on these forums misguides new coffee lovers, and quickly ends up in  frustration.

  • Buying an Espresso Machine 

    Whether it is the first purchase or an upgrade over an existing home espresso machine, there is a large number of makes, models choises, sizes and categories of espresso makers to chooes from. Even for an experienced buyer, it can be a daunting experience! It is normal to seek the opiniong of others and receive confusing and even wrong advice.

    Seeking opinions from others for purchase of a home espresso maker is common and normal. One should seek opinions from persons with experience of using or testing more than one type of espresso machine.  Experience with only one espresso machine is not enough. The following considerations will help:

    • The machine is for home use and not for a coffee shop inside your home. 
    • Espresso machine is only a tool. The buyer should know how to use the tool properly and correctly. There is no espresso machine that comes trained for making the best espresso. It is not the machine but knowledge of espresso & the adjustment of the variable requirements for making espresso that the operator must know, that will determine the quality of espresso in the cup.
    • Espresso machine and its operator are like the two wings of a bird - strong & precise to make a bird fly; one without the other will not make it happen.
    • Matching the decor of one's kitchen is just one requirement for selection of an espresso machine. Some dealers will highlight unnecessary and harmful 'features of comfort' in a machine to push the sales. Do not be influenced by the following non espresso sales features:
      • Leave the machine "on" - after 5 or 10 minutes, the machine switches automatically to energy saving mode. This is like leaving a car running through the night in freezing temperatures for a warm and cosy cabin next morning. The energy saving mode leaves power on to the  heating element (and electronic board in automatic models). This causes the seals to lose the sealing property and cause malfunction of electronic controlled parts.

      • Descaling warning light - comes on to remind the operator to descale the machine. This feature is based on the espresso counter pre-set for reminder. The pre-set quantity does not take into consideration the level of water hardness in different regions. This revcommended feature is like advising one to wait for a heart attack before going on a fat free diet.

      • Electronic descaling -  The convenient electronic descaling feature is promoted in fully automatic machines. This feature does not fully descale the machine. It flushed descaling solution from the steam pipe and leaves the espresso side of the machine untouched.


      Categories of Espresso Machines


       Lever Models -  LaPavoni Lever Models


    LaPavoni Europiccola

    Lever model machines do not have a pump. The water is pressed through ground coffee by manually moving the lever. The technique for making espresso using lever models requires a good knowledge of the balance between the fineness of coffee grind, tamping, pre-brewing and the extraction time, to bring the lever from the high lifted position to the lower end.

    The lever is lifted up all the way to draw water into the group. It is held in the top position for five to eight seconds to allow water to soak coffee grounds (pre-brew). Depending on the pressure in the boiler, some coffee may pass through the coffee and trickle in the cup. If this happens, check and adjust the boiler pressure. The lever is then pressed down slowly, to press the water through the compacted coffee grounds taking an average 10 seconds for one press. Use the lever action by pressing it down only once. This is not a manual tube well lever to move it several times up & down until a bucket is filled with water. For a larger dose of espresso, the process must be repeated all over again, with fresh ground coffee. Espresso extraction must be done at 9 bar pressure. The skill to create 9-Bar extraction pressure can be developed over a period of use. There is no guarantee that extraction pressure in a lever operated machine can be maintained at 9 bars without installing a gauge attached to the bottom of the filter holder to read the pressure.


     Semi-Automatic Home Models with Commercial Portafilters

    Semi automatic home models (Rancilio's Silvia & Audrey; Gaggia's Coffee, Baby, Tebe and Espresso; Astra Pro, ECM's Giatto; Fiorenzato's Briccoletta) use commercial style portafilters. Astra, Giatto, and Bricoletta have the E61 commercial group. These machines provide hot water and steam on demand. There are adequate controls for right temperature and steam pressure. The pressure of water pumped is regulated for 9 Bars. The steam is generated at 1 to 1.1 Bars. There is no pre-brewing mechanism built-in any of these


    Astra Pro

    machines. Therefore, good knowledge of the variable factors to make good espresso is important. The pre-infusion method for extraction is possible. The knowledge for use of the variable factors to make the best use of these machines is up to the operator. The variables include: the temperature of water, freshness of roasted beans, storing of beans, fineness of grind, uniformity of grains in ground coffee, the tamping pressure of 25 to 30 pounds, the extraction pressure at 9 Bars and the extraction time of 20 to 30 seconds. 

    There is a a lot to care for and worry about for making a good cup of espresso. A gauge can be installed at the bottom of the filter holder to determine extraction pressure of water passing through the coffee grounds. If this one condition is not met, then all other variables are of no consequence. The result can be a dark over-extracted espresso with heavy consistency, bitter and burnt taste. The extraction of insoluble ingredients gives a syrupy appearance to espresso. This also causes fine coffee grounds to char and adds the bitter and burnt taste.  One should not be over excited and judge the quality of espresso for its over extracted thickness, burnt and bitter taste. 

    Espresso made without pre-infusion requires powdery fine grind, tamping with a pressure of not less than 25 lb. to slow down the extraction time to make 2 oz. of espresso in 25 to 30 seconds. The extended high pressure for pumping hot water for 25 seconds results in extraction of soluble as well as insoluble ingredients. To reduce the bitter taste either extra sugar is added or otherwise espresso is served diluted with milk (Latte and Cappuccino).  Espresso recipes with milk not only camouflage the bitterness but also cover up the inferior quality of espresso.

    Double Shot Espresso

    A single shot of espresso is made with 7 to 9 grams coffee. A double shot is made with 12 to 16 grams coffee. The quantity of extract does not necessarily mean that it is twice that of a single shot. Shots longer than 3 oz. means longer exposure of coffee grounds to water at 95C. This contributes to the burnt and bitter taste.

    Espresso extract without pre-infusion:

    • destroys the aroma and flavor
    • caramelizes natural sugar and glucose to render it less sweet
    • destroys the caffeine ingredient to less than 1/3rd
    • chemically alters many known elements & increase the bitter taste and
    • increases the extraction of bitter tasting tannin


    Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines and Manual Pre-Brewing

    • Use freshly roasted medium roast beans without coffee oil coming out of the beans.
    • Portion the contents of sealed bag of beans into four or five zip lock bags. Squeeze the air out and seal the zip. Open one bag at a time without having to overload the bean hopper or use the bean hopper capacity as storage space for beans to be used over several days.  
    • Grind enough beans for one shot of espresso at a time, they are fresh for 10 seconds only before chemical changes occur with exposure to air and moisture.
    • Use coarser grind - no finer than the grain of table salt.
    • Fill coffee grounds to level the cup; tamp lightly or just lock the handle in the group.
    • Turn the espresso switch on to activate the pump for 5 seconds & turn it off. After 5 seconds, turn the switch on again for 8 to 10 seconds to extract 2 oz. espresso.
    • Espresso machine is not designed for making Cafe Americana. If large quantity is what makes Americana, then it is better to add hot water from the same machine instead of allowing large quantity of water to push through the same coffee grounds.

    Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines with Electronic Delivery

    The espresso machines with electronic delivery are also termed as "automatic". There is really nothing automatic about the process of making espresso. The "automatic" refers only to programming the quantity of water for espresso for automatic stop when that quantity of water has been dispensed. The term "automatic" is misleading for many buyers and compromises a much higher price.  

    gourmet auto 2gr elect.jpg

    In order to improve the quality of espresso from semi-automatic machines with electronic delivery, program the dose for espresso for 2 oz. delivery. Press the coffee selection button for three seconds. Press the selection again to stop the pump. Wait five seconds for pre-brew and then press the same button again to complete the programmed dose.

     Semi-Automatic Home Models with Pressurized Portafilters

    All of Saeco's semi-automatic machines (Espresso Classico, Barista, Estro profi, Via Veneto, Magic Cappuccino, Gran Crema) come with pressurized portafilters. The pressurized portafilters are different from commercial portafilters in that they have a valve below the filter basket which delays the passage for espresso for 5 to 8 seconds. This pause in extraction is equivalent to "pre-brewing" (Soaking ground coffee to prepare for extract) and build the extraction pressure to 9 Bars. Pressurized portafilters make it possible to use coarser grind of beans (coffee grounds not finer than the table salt grain), eliminate the need for tamping (just level the ground coffee in the filter basket) and lock the filter holder in the group.  Light tamping occurs automatically as necessary by the shower screen when the filter holder is turn to the right. The result is a superior quality of espresso without effort or intense training. Unfortunately the pressurized portafilters are patented by Saeco and therefore not seen in other brands of espresso makers.

    barista tn.jpg

    aroma espresso.jpg

    saeco gran crema.jpg



    Gran Crema 

    The pictures show Saeco's semi-automatic machines which are very convenient to operate. All semi-automatic espresso machines manufactured by Saeco use a pressurized portafilter as a standard feature.  These models are a good option for those who like a hands-on method of making espresso and also prefer the convenience of not worrying about the fineness of grind, tamping and manual pre-infusion technique. All semi-automatic models of Saeco come with patented frother (Pannarello or Plug-in Pannarello). The frother makes steaming and frothing of milk a breeze. 

    Fully Automatic Home Espresso Machines

    villa silver 80.jpg

    Fully automatic machines have a built in grinder, a removable electro-mechanical brewing device, waste box, drip tray and a built in frother. A series of electronically controlled automatic functions follow at the push of a button. Once programmed, the machine delivers consistent quality of classic espresso every time. It grinds one cup at a time, empties the doser, pre-infuses and extracts one or two shots of classic espresso at the push of a button. No mess, no fuss or regrets. As many as six safety switches protect the machine from errors in operating. The machine displayed on the right is amongst the simple, compact and dependable fully automatic espresso makers, and an excellent choice for home use. 


    Fully automatic machines meet almost all requirements for making classic espresso. Instant heating of water, instant grinding before extraction, light tamping as required, extraction with pre-infusion at 9 bars, lowest extraction time between 10 and 14 seconds with 3 seconds pause for pre-brewing. These espresso makers need non-oily medium roast beans and a finger to push the espresso selection button.


    The price range is from $595.00 to 1700.00. One cannot argue about the price, convenience and quality for home use.  


    Comments: Fully automatic home espresso makers by Saeco, Spidem and Gaggia are reliable & efficient.   One can certainly choose the color to match the kitchen decor.

    The more expensive models like Italia, Italia digital, and Incanto, Charisma, Divina and Synchrony compact models have problems in steam delivery valve. Besides the steam valve failures the location of electronic control board is very close to the steam valve. Steam or water leakage damages the electronic board.  



    Fully Automatic Digital Home Espresso Machines

    Fully automatic digital model home espresso machines have a digital display window in which the operator can read not only the function in progress displayed, but also any message on functional faults or display what  is missing in the machine. Most of the digital models have dual boilers and a pre-ground function (grinder by-pass) for manual pre-ground coffee feeding.  

    royal professional redesigned 120v.jpg

    Espresso Bitterness


    The popularity of espresso and espresso based drinks is growing steadily. More new stores are opening in every neighborhood. There is an increasing number of homes with one or more espresso makers. Yet, there is very little attention given to the quality of espresso drinks. Bitter espresso is served everywhere.


    There is a general misconception that dark and oily roast beans make stronger espresso; this is not true! An over cooked charred Steak cannot taste good. Beans are roasted to bring chemical changes, enough to leave aromatic ingredients in tact. The nectar of the aromatic ingredients is oily, it is better left inside the bean until it is ground for immediate use. Bitter taste in an espresso is due to dark roast and extended extraction time exceeding 15 seconds.  The extraction of good espresso depends upon several factors  like the freshness of roast, fineness of grind, the mineral content of the water,  temperature of water for extraction, duration of extraction,  and brewing procedure.

    • Oily beans become rancid very fast (less than an hour); aromatic oil that come out of the beans interacts with Oxygen, turns rancid & contributes bitter taste.
    • Dark roast results in caramelization of sugars and reduces sweetness.
    • Bitterness is proportionate to the total dissolved solids of coffee; powdery fine grind results in over extraction and bitterness.
    • Robusta coffee is bitter as it contains higher levels of both caffeine and chlorogenic acids, which are partly responsible for bitterness and astringency in coffee.
    • Extended extraction time of over 20 seconds,  causes chemical alterations to form Furfuryl alcohol. Furfuryl alcohol contributes a burnt and bitter taste to coffee.
    • Bitterness is reduced somewhat in coffee brewed with clean freshly heated water.

     Reducing Bitterness in Espresso

    • Medium & light roasted coffee has less soluble solids, a higher acid content, and a potent aroma when compared to darkly roasted coffee; all of these factors are known to reduce perceived bitterness. 
    • Coarser grind definitely reduces extraction time and therefore, reduces bitterness. However, the proper grind size should always be used to ensure proper extraction. Grind size like the table salt grain has proven to give best results.
    • Soaking the coffee grounds for 5 to 8 seconds (pre-brewing) prepares the aromatics for smooth extraction and reduces bitterness.
    • Reduced extraction time with coarser grind and pre-brewing makes a phenomenal change in taste as it reduces the extraction of bitter tasting tannin and other soluble bitter ingredients.
    • A shot of espresso should not be more than 2 oz. as it will increase the extraction time and contribute not only to bitter taste but also burnt taste.  
    • Bitterness is lower when coffee is brewed with hot water (195F to198F ) than water at temperature below 180F. This is due to the intensity of aromatics released in hot coffee, which counteract the bitterness. 
    • Decaffeination slightly reduces the perceived bitterness of coffee.

    Additional Steps for Reduced Bitterness of Espresso

    1. Freshly roasted beans have stronger aromatics and reduced bitterness.
    2. Oily espresso beans when exposed to moisture and oxygen for longer than two hours cause chemical changes in the aromatic ingredients. This contributes rancid and bitter taste. Once the contents are removed from a sealed bag with one way valve, beans should be transferred into a sealed, air tight container. Beans exposed to air and moisture should be used up as soon as possible. This means that beans should not be filled to the top in grinder hoppers to be consumed over several days.
    3. Always use freshly ground espresso beans. Once beans are ground, it should not be left unused for more than one minute. The rule is "grind beans one cup at a time."
    4. Use 7 gms. of freshly ground espresso beans per shot of espresso. When using 14 gms., the espresso dose should not exceed 2.5 oz. Triple shot espresso drink is 3 or more oz. It will contribute bitterness due to extended time for extraction. It is preferable to make two single shots than a double shot or a triple shot.


    Pre-brewing can be defined as a short pause of between 5 to 8 seconds in the process of espresso extraction. Water is pumped for 3 to 5 seconds, for just enough water to soak the coffee grounds. After a short pause of 5 seconds, water is pumped again until the desired dose of espresso is in the cup. In the semi automatic espresso makers, pause for pre-brewing can be applied manually by actually turning the switch off for 5 seconds. After 5 seconds, the switched can be turned on again to activate the pump for 2 oz. of espresso. The brew group in a fully automatic machine and the pressurized portafilters in semi-automatic machines have valves built in, to delay the extraction for 5 to 8 seconds.

    There is no substitute for the taste of espresso when it is prepared using the following rules:

    1. Pre-brew each shot  for 5 seconds
    2. Use instantly heated chemical free water at 95C
    3. Tamp lightly
    4. Pump water through coffee grounds at 9 bars pressure
    5. Use freshly roasted beans, do not use oily beans
    6. Grind beans for one cup at a time
    7. Maintain extraction time as low as possible; with pre-brewing the extraction time for 2 oz. shot will be less than 13 seconds

    The FAQ section is compiled with questions that our customers have asked us about espresso machines, about making good espresso, and the best choice of espresso beans. Our specific answers, illustrations and explanations are shared in the following paragraphs.

    Frequently Asked Questions 

    Question: I am looking to purchase a home espresso maker.  I have the option between a LaPavoni Europiccola and pump operated semi automatic models.  Which one do you recommend and why?


    Answer:  Your options include three different categories of espresso machines:

    1st category : LaPavoni Europiccola, Professional or Millennium lever models

    2nd category: Traditional semi-automatic machines using commercial portafilters without pre-infusion mechanism (Silvia, Audrey, Gaggia Coffee, Classic, Baby, Espresso, Tebe, Briccoletta, Giatto, Oscar & others)

    3rd category: traditional semi-automatic machines with pressurized portafilters to make espresso with pre-infusion (Espresso Classico, Magic Cappuccino, Via Veneto, Barista, Estro Profi)

    Between the three categories, I recommend the semi-automatic model with pressurized portafilter. The  pressurized portafilters takes away the attention to fineness of grinding, tamping and extraction quality of espresso. One only needs to know the use and proper cleaning of the portafilters by Saeco (Espresso Classico, Aroma, Magic Cappuccino, and Via Veneto). LaPavoni's Pisa, Cellini, Club Combo are other models that use pressurized portafilter. Machines are made by Saeco for LaPavoni .


    Question: I have a Gaggia Coffee, semi automatic espresso maker. I am having a hard time making good crema. The espresso is bitter too. I grind fine, tamp it well and timed the extraction time at 28 seconds. What am I doing wrong?


    Answer: A straight answer to your question is that you are repeating the process of making espresso as you have seen at the coffee shops or as recommended on the coffee forums. Please use freshly roasted medium roast espresso beans, and follow the instructions mentioned on this page for semi-automatic machines.  


    Question: We have a Saeco SUP21YR espresso machine.  Our question is this: could you tell us, in level tablespoons, the recommended & maximum amounts of ground coffee we could add to the machine without breaking it?


    Answer: The quantity of coffee to be used depends on the fineness of grind. The larger grains take more space besides the space in compacting large grains.

    To determine the correct amount of ground coffee, you have to first determine the fineness of the coffee grounds as adjusted in the grinder. For fully automatic machines, use the grind like the table salt grain.

    With ground coffee fineness like the table salt grain, the Saeco brew group takes a maximum of 9 gm. For determining the dose of coffee, it is better to weigh as it is based on weight measure and not volume to be measured in spoons. Once the quantity is weighed, an appropriate size of scoop can then be selected for easy one scoop feeding at a time. The standard coffee measuring spoons are for approximate measure of 7 gm. 

    Having answered your question first, here is what we recommend:

    Every machine model has different characteristics. There are at least three different types of brew groups introduced by Saeco. One type is for Vienna line, another for Magic and Royal line and the third for models like Italia, Charisma, Divina Deluxe, Syncrony Compact, Incanto etc.). In some models, like the Rondo and Incanto, the brew group has a wider cup to accommodate up to 12 gm. (obviously for those coffeeholics who want stronger espresso than others would like). 

    The best method to use maximum coffee is to adjust the grinder settings. The three factors that are used to adjusting the coffee dose for espresso include the fineness of grind, the quantity of coffee and the quantity of water used per shot. These three factors influence the strength and final taste of coffee. Here are some suggestions:

    1. First adjust the fineness as suggested above. In the fully automatic machines (like the one you have), powdery fine grind is a NO-NO! It is like asking a 10 year old to lift 50 lbs. of weight.

    2. Make espresso, first with the factory settings (grind fineness set at 8, coffee quantity adjustment per shot set in the middle - approx 7 gm.). Once espresso is made, check the size of puck, which should be well formed like a tablet. Set the water dose to 1-1/2 oz. Use a shot glass to make espresso. The quantity of espresso should not be more than what fills two shot glasses (1.75 oz.). The espresso should be all golden color in the glass. Watch how the golden foam (which is fine oil drops and air bubbles) rise to the top to collect as Crema and note the thickness of collected thickness of Crema; about 1/4" should be good. Then check the color of espresso, which should be dark brown to black. Brown or charcoal black is not good. Brown will be watery and like Dunkin Donuts coffee while charcoal dark will be bitter and burnt tasting like Starbucks coffees.

    If desired results are not noted, then you need to reset the quantity of beans (one notch at a time) or the fineness of grind (one notch at a time). Observe the result from the 2nd shot made after each reset. You may need 1 to 2 lbs. of beans before you can finally find the espresso of your taste.   

    Espresso is an amazingly tasty drink that is aromatic, dark brown, 'sweeter' to taste than 'bitter', and not 'burnt' tasting. Those who feel satisfied using very oily beans and think espresso is stronger with the use of oily beans do not have a palate for finer taste of coffee or alcohol. The difference between espresso made from non-oily fresh roasted beans and freshly ground beans is what separates fine dining from fast food.

    Do not use oily beans (roasted beans with shining oil on the surface). Oily beans soil the surface they come in contact with, for example, the storage container and the bean hopper. Those are not the espresso beans for use in fully automatic espresso makers.

    Oil is the nectar of coffee formed as a result of complex chemical changes during roasting. This nectar should be protected from air and moisture that is in the atmosphere. This is best done by leaving the oil inside the bean until it is ground. Beans should always be ground immediately before use to keep them tasting fresh. Roasted beans are thirsty and highly hygroscopic. Air and moisture react with aromatic chemicals in the oil to make it rancid within a couple of hours of exposure. Once beans are ground, they should be used up within 10 seconds.

    Here are some tips on how to preserve freshness of beans:

    1. Immediately after opening a bag of roasted espresso beans, portion the contents in four to five ziplock bags, squeeze air out and seal. Store the beans in regular cabinets and never refrigerate or freeze beans.

    2. Do not fill the bean hopper full; fill enough for one day's use.

    3. Grind fresh for use within 10 to 20 seconds.

    4. Clean the left over espresso in the machine before switching the machine off. In semi-automatic machines, make a last blank shot of espresso to flush the filter screen and the filter basket. In a fully automatic machine with pre-ground cycle, make the last espresso without adding coffee.

    Question: I am told that semi-automatic machines make better espresso than fully automatic models. What is your opinion?


    Answer:  I am sorry to say that I disagree. It is not the espresso machine that makes better or bitter espresso. All espresso machines are tools to make espresso. It is the person who is operating the machine who should know how to make best use of the machine. Better espresso is a relative term and depends on how it is made and who is approving the taste. I have not met a single person who likes the taste of bitter espresso & swallows it without making a bad face at a Starbucks coffee shop. Espresso is a sweet beverage. Please review the information explained on this page under each category of espresso machine. Compare the convenience of using fully automatic machines with semi-automatic. For home use I cannot recommend semi automatic machines when fully automatic machines make classic shots of espresso without much effort. The fully automatic espresso machines are not expensive.


    Question: I use a fully automatic Trevi Digital model. When I push the espresso selection, the LED window displays the various stages of making espresso. One such display reads "pre-brewing." What is pre-brewing? Do the non-digital fully automatic machines also have the pre-brewing function?


    Answer: Pre-brewing or pre-infusion is a short pause of 3 to 5 seconds after initial pumping of water for 3 seconds. This allows the coffee grounds to be soaked before extraction starts. You may have also noticed that the message "pre-brewing" appears for 3 to 5 seconds. During this period the pump stops pumping. The sign disappears as the pump starts to pump water again. Pre-brewing is a very significant function that results in better quality of espresso. It helps to use coarser grind and therefore, reduces extraction time to less than 14 seconds. In the semi-automatic machines, pre-brewing should be done manually, by turning the switch off for three seconds.


    The quality of espresso from fully automatic machines is effortless and consistent as programmed. It grinds for one cup at a time immediately followed by brewing, one shot of espresso at a time. It pauses for pre-brewing (some fully automatic models need pre-brewing function activated) and pumps hot water at 98C, with a pressure between 9 to 10 bars (135 to 150 p.s.i.). The result is sweeter espresso, the way it is supposed to be. 


    Question: For home use I was suggested to purchase a Mazzer grinder in order to grind beans for use in semi-automatic espresso machine. How does that help make better espresso?


    Answer: One does not need a Mazzer or any other commercial grinder for use at home.  Mazzer grinders are for commercial use and have disc type flat burrs. The disc burrs spin at a very high speed of 1800 to 2000 r.p.m. to grind fine coffee. At that speed, excessive heat is generated which alters the quality of coffee.  Purchase of a Mazzer grinder for home use is like buying a size 12 shoes for size 7 feet!  For home use, there are a few conical burr grinders available.


     doge grinder silver tn.jpg  mazzer grinder burrs-21.png conical burrs pair tn.jpg 1virtuoso_for_web.jpg baratza home grinder conical burr.jpg 1virtuoso_side_bottom_burr.jpg

     Ducale Commercial Grinder with Conical Burrs

     Disc Type Flat Burrs

    Saeco Conical Burrs

    Virtuoso Conical Burr Grinder 

    Conical Burr in a Virtuoso Grinder

      Conical Burr in a Virtuoso Grinder

    Saeco's Titan, Infinity Maestro by Capresso, Solis Maestro and Baratza's Virtuoso grinders are available at a much lower price. Conical burrs grind uniform & consistent quality at a much slower speed of 500 r.pm. Conical burrs are quieter, have a longer life, generate much less heat and grind one cup at a time. Do not purchase or store pre-ground coffee; ground coffee has no tomorrow. Instead, it is recommended to purchase a grinder for home use. I recommend LaPavoni Moka or Virtuoso by Baratza. These are excellent choices for home use and are available for lot less money. I do not recommend Rocky or Mazzer grinders for home use: they are expensive, a mess to use for one or two cups a day and do not grind uniform. These grinders are for coffee shops.


    Roasted coffee is a perishable item. Ground coffee is 100 times more perishable as it is exposed to oxygen from a larger surface. Grinding just before brewing will protect the aroma of coffee. Once the beans are ground, it interacts with the air around it, and within a few seconds, absorbs moisture and loses a great deal of aroma and taste. The longer the ground coffee sits around, the less aroma you will find in your cup later. It is a good idea to have a grinder for grinding freshly one cup at a time and using it immediately.


    Almost all fully automatic machines have built-in grinders with conical burrs (except Incanto Sirius). Conical burr grinders give a more uniform grinding result than the grinders with flat burrs.




    Question: The steam in my Vienna Superautomatica appears to be quite wet, even after being on for over one minute. Is there a way to adjust this and get dry steam?


    Answer:  Wet steam has almost the same temperature as dry steam. The only disadvantage is that 1/2 teaspoon water is added by wet steam during the process of steaming. The easy solution is to start with 1/2 teaspoon milk less and not worry about it. Wet steam does not influence the taste of the drink in any way. For steaming, we are dealing with milk and not with coffee. Whether it is a Vienna or Trevi, enjoy the espresso maker. You have the best espresso maker for what it does and how much it costs.


    Question: I like to make large cups of American type coffee in the morning (don't really have time for frothing)...Currently, I use the small cup setting and press it twice....then I mix it with hot water - is this the correct way?


    Answer:  It is possible that you are making bitter espresso which is too much for you to take straight. You are doing the right thing by adding hot water to espresso instead of longer extraction time. You can try using a Pannarello frother to speed up frothing without effort. It takes only 2 minutes or less with Pannarello and less than 30 seconds with Cappuccinatore auto frother. If you are really rushed, you can microwave milk and mix 2 parts of milk with 1 part espresso. There is no prescribed rule for how & what is mixed with espresso, as long as the recipe includes the best quality of espresso. 


    Question: I consume 6 cups regular drip brew coffee at work every day. On the weekends, I love to enjoy espresso but I cannot take more than one espresso. I feel jittery if I take more than one espresso. How much caffeine is in regular coffee and espresso?


    Answer: It is difficult for many coffee lovers to believe that there is less caffeine in espresso than regular coffee served at McDonald, Dunkin Donut or 7-Eleven, but this is true. Roasting coffee beans for espresso is timed between 9 to 16 minutes for the type of roast. This is almost twice the length of time; the beans are roasted for drip coffee. Extended roasting with hot air at 440F destroys a significant percentage of caffeine. On an average, there is only 1/3 caffeine in espresso roast. That means one can consume as many as 18 espressos on each day during the week nd to consume same amount of caffeine from drip coffee. There is no need to hold back on espressos drinks over the weekend.  


    Question:  What is a bottomless portafilter? What is the advantage, if any?


    Answer: A bottomless portafilter is one where the lower half of the filter holder is cut out in a machine shop.  This concept is without purpose. A normal portafilter has a single or double spout at the bottom to channel espresso to fill one or two cups. It does not make any sense why the dispensing spout should be removed.


    Question: I have received a Spidem Trevi automatica as a gift. I was told that fully automatic machines have many problems due to automatic functions. I love this machine for its simple operation. What should I do to prevent breakdown?


    Answer: I do not know the source of your information. I am sure your sources do not think programming a video, using digital cameras, using and programming cell phones, internet technology, copiers or scanners is difficult. Please do not pay attention to what poorly informed people have to say. Do not rely on what is discussed on coffee forums. The Spidem Trevi and Saeco's Vienna models are amongst the very efficient and best designed machines. Pay attention to instructions in the manual for use and maintenance of the machine. You will enjoy them and even get hooked on to their daily use. See additional details on Espresso Maintenance page of this web site under the title "DOs & DONTs" and "Descaling Espresso".


    Question: I have a Saeco Italia which has the following problem: When coffee beans are used, it keeps grinding until the grinder stops and the "No Beans" light comes on. When I open it up, I find the doser is packed with coffee and does not empty into the brew group funnel. I can make espresso without problem using the "Pre-ground" cycle. What can be the problem? Please help.

    Answer: Italia models have a design problem. The grinder outlet and the doser have a 3" long channel in between. Coffee grounds have to move forward through this channel. After making espresso when the machine is turned off, the coffee grounds trapped in this channel stay trapped until the next time machine is used. There are following disadvantages with this design:

    1. The coffee grounds trapped in the channel stay until fresh grind pushes the trapped coffee forward. The stale coffee grounds will make the first one or two shots of stale espresso every day.

    2. When freshly ground coffee is not able to push the trapped coffee, the grinder times out and "No Coffee Beans" message will come on.

    The solution is very simple. Stop using oily beans and be prepared to clean the 3" channel between the grinder and doser, when the grinder times out. Espresso machines that have this design flaw include Starbucks Italia, Italia Digital, Spidem's Divina Deluxe, Gaggia's Syncrony Compact & Compact Digital.


     There are as many opinions about Espresso and espresso machines, as there are coffee lovers. Very few recommendations are backed by comparative evaluation between different categories of espresso makers. Learning the art of espresso making and comparative evaluation of espresso makers is the responsibility of the buyer.


    Making Espresso at Home


    Making espresso at home should be an effortless and a comfortable experience, without sacrificing the quality. There is nothing wrong with the "hands on" method of making espresso. In the fast paced life with little time for making coffee, fully automatic machines offer great convenience. 


    Making Classic Espresso


    Ideally, espresso is an extraordinarily sweet and aromatic extract of the same flavor as freshly ground coffee. It is smooth, thick dark liquid that should taste sweet, and never bitter. When sipped straight, it should not be pleasing to swallow.  A good espresso leaves a pleasant after taste of coffee that would linger on the palate for several minutes. There are several factors that go into making a good espresso. The more important ones are following:


    The Blend 

    Any single origin of beans has limited taste outcome. When blended with beans of different origin, it is possible to create a balanced aroma and a rich sweet taste with a smooth mouth feel. 




    Roasting espresso beans is a process by which aromatics, acids, and other flavor components inside of coffee beans are altered and balanced in a way that it enhances the flavor, acidity, after taste and body of the coffee as desired.

    It is a process aimed at enhancing the espresso potential for the sweetness and aroma of the coffee while minimizing the bitterness and acidity. The freshness of the roast cannot be over emphasized. If freshly roasted beans are like flowers on a tree, stale beans are like withered flowers fallen to the ground without any scent.


    It is important to compare and familiarize the aroma of freshly roasted beans and stale beans with unknown date of roast, purchased from supermarkets, Starbucks or from distributors of Lavazza and Illy.  The shelf life of roasted espresso bean is following:


    Pre-Ground Espresso


    Ground espresso beans must be used up immediately (within 10 to 15 seconds). Pre-ground espresso purchased at the supermarket to be used over two or three weeks is not a good idea. Storing ground coffee in a refrigerator is an even worse idea. Ground coffee is highly hygroscopic. Refrigeration increases condensation of moisture and makes coffee rancid very fast.


    Pre-ground coffee gets rancid if contents of the package cannot be used up immediately after opening the bag. It does not matter if it is purchased in vacuum pack bricks or cans. Once opened from a vacuum pack, it only has 15 seconds to be used-up.


    Pre-ground espresso is not a Llatex glove that fits all sizes. Fineness of espresso grind must be adjusted for the type of espresso machine in which it is being used. Grind must always be different (coarser) for espresso extraction with pre-infusion and relatively finer grind for extraction without pre-infusion.


    Pre-ground coffee absorbs moisture fast and changes the chemistry of its aromatic and useful components. It is not possible to prevent or stop deterioration of the quality of pre-ground coffee no matter how it is stored or protected.


    Oily Espresso Roast


    Roasted beans are hygroscopic and sensitive to oxygen in the air. Both of these elements turn the roasted beans rancid very fast. When oil comes out of the beans it is more important to prevent its contact with air and moisture. All espresso beans are packaged in bags with one way valve to allow gases to escape and prevent air and moisture entering the bag. The espresso beans sealed in bags have shelf life of 4 to 6 weeks. Once the bag is opened,  beans must be consumed within 4 hours. This is possible in coffee shops where they open bags every four to six hours. Roasted beans in which oil has come out on the surface should not be used for home consumption because:


    1. The beans cannot be used fast enough before they turn rancid.
    2. Oil is the nectar of the beans. It is preserved better if oil is preserved inside the bean for longer shelf life.
    3. The oily beans are bad for the fully automatic machines. Oils increase caking of coffee grounds and accumulate in crevices that are difficult to be seen and cleaned. Accumulation causes automatic machines to malfunction. 


    Non-Oily Espresso Roast


    Non-oily espresso beans packaged in bags with one-way valve have a shelf life of 6 to 8 weeks. The beans should be used up within two weeks after the bag is opened, provided that during the consumption beans are stored in air-tight containers to protect from moisture and air. Protection from air and moisture can easily be done as following:


    • Do not empty the beans in the bean hopper. Beans will stay for few days exposed to air and moisture. Use enough beans for one day's use.
    • Immediately upon opening the bag of beans, divide the contents of bag in four to five ziplock bags. Squeeze the air out and zip. When a zip lock bag is opened, only a small quantity is exposed to air and moisture and will be consumed faster.
    • Remember: beans with moisture damage the grinder burrs (rusting and fast wear), cause caking and stick inside in places that are not easy to access for cleaning.


    Storage of Espresso Beans


    Roasted coffee beans are very hygroscopic and rapidly turn rancid. They should always be stored in air tight containers (ziplock bags with air pressed out are better than large jars with air-tight lids), away from light and heat. Espresso beans should not be refrigerated.  

    Long term storage of espresso beans: there is no need to purchase large quantities of beans that have to be stored for long periods. Roasted beans have perishable aroma and should be purchased in small quantities, enough for 4 to 6 weeks use. When large quantities have been gifted and received free, then long term storage makes sense. For storage over three months to a year, espresso beans should be stored in air tight containers, preferable double seal zip lock bags and placed in a freezer at -10C. When removed from the freezer, it should first be thawed to room temperature while still protected inside air-tight bag. DO NOT FILL BEAN HOPPER WITH COLD BEANS out of the refrigerator.



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