After being trained as a barista, I became even more frustrated with my home espresso machine. There are definitely a lot of advantages to those big, industrial espresso machines you see in coffee shops. But making my lattes at home is one of the main ways I save money – so I was determined to make my espresso machine work for me. Here are the tricks I’ve compiled to make delicious lattes on a home espresso machine.
1. Make sure your espresso machine has plenty of water.
The easiest way to break your machine is to run it on empty!
2. Check to see that the machine is fully heated.
Turn on the steam wand (aim it into a hand towel, so it doesn’t burn you). If your steam wand issues a flood of water, it isn’t ready. If it spews billows of steam (dangerous, burn-causing steam), it’s ready.
3. Steam your milk.
You need to steam milk for your latte before you begin to pull shots. If you don’t have any milk to put your shots in, your shots will expire (more on that later). By milk I mean anything you are using as the base of your latte: non-fat, 1%, 2%, whole milk, half-and-half, almond milk, soy milk, eggnog. They all steam up pretty much the same way.
Pour yourself about ¾ C of milk into a steam pitcher for a 16 oz. latte. Exact amounts will vary by your machine, but expect the milk to nearly double in volume through the steaming process.
Your goal is to get the milk to swirl silently around the steam pitcher. Silently is important. If your machine sounds like a cat getting hit by a train, you will have either no foam or dry foam. Dry foam is made up of large bubbles that look like soap suds. Some people like dry foam for their cappuccinos, but it has no place in your latte. When you’re done, you should have smooth, creamy foam made out of tiny bubbles.
4. Grind your espresso beans.
There are plenty of great espresso blends out there – try some different roasts to find out what you like. Whatever beans you choose, the most important thing is freshness.
Avoid buying beans in bulk from the grocery store. There is no way to tell how long the beans have been sitting there, exposed to air and light. You want beans that have never (well, not since they were packaged) seen the light of day or experienced the fresh air. Store your beans in an air-tight container away from moisture and light. Sheltered beans will make the best possible shots. If you don’t believe me, leave your coffee beans in a bowl on the counter for a week and see how bitter they make your coffee.
You will have to experiment to figure out how much to grind your beans to suit your machine. More powerful machines can handle a finer grind – which is ideal.
5. Pack your shots.
For two shots, pack about 2 heaping tablespoons (again, you will have to experiment with the perfect amount for your machine and preferences) of ground espresso into your portafilter. Ideally, you should be able to pack the espresso quite firmly (as in 30 lbs of weight) but I’ve found that most home espresso machines aren’t powerful enough to push water through espresso that is packed too tightly – so again, experiment.
6. Select your flavor.
Put about 1 ½ tablespoons into your mug. I prefer DaVinci coffee syrups. You could also use Torani, Ghirardelli, or Hershey’s. Whatever tastes good! Note: sugar-free flavors are much sweeter than regular flavors – you will need to use less.
7. Pull your shots.
If you used a large portafilter you will pull two shots at once (as I did in the picture). Each shot should be one ounce (or two ounces total if you put them in the same glass, like I did). Don’t try to get more than two ounces out of your espresso – it will taste bitter and burnt.
Shots should be a rich, dark color with caramel colored foam on top. This foam is called crema. Good crema is the best signifier of a delicious shot of espresso.
8. Put it all together.
After you pull your shots, place them immediately into your mug along with the syrup you chose. If you let your shots sit, they will “expire,” which is a fancy way to say they will get bitter. Last, add the milk you steamed, using a spoon to ensure that you get all the creamy foam.
Be proud of yourself and enjoy your delicious homemade latte!