The Zoka website features a fairly extensive how-to on brewing espresso at home, which I read before heading off to my very first Zoka Barista Jam last week. (Don't worry, I didn't know "Barista Jam" was a thing that existed either. And no, there is no live music involved.)
I thought I was fairly well-versed in the art of the espresso, especially after reading Zoka's educational guide. I mean, it's fairly simple isn't it? If Starbucks and my college roommate can make one, couldn't everyone?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, everyone can potentially make good espresso. No, it's not fairly simple. A five hour training session (my layman's term for barista jamming) in the Zoka headquarters covered two necessary barista skills: pulling shots of espresso and steaming milk. Two skills in five hours. Nope - not simple at all.
Robbie Britt, barista extraordinaire, headed my small group of beginning baristas where he drilled Zoka's future through every step of the espresso. I will do my best to repeat that same process here.
Step One: Dial Up Your Dose
What is the correct dose of grounds for the perfect espresso? If you answered between 18.5 and 19.5 grams, congratulations. You've got a good head on your shoulders, and should perhaps think about going into the barista business. Around 19 grams will make a very tasty espresso - professionals like Robbie Britt can measure out 19 grams by eyeballing it to within a half-gram. What does 19 grams look like when heaped up in the basket? A tiny coffee mountain, rising up out of the middle of the basket about one inch above the basket's recessed edge. Not a lopsided mountain, not a short mountain, but a regal, perfectly centered mountain.
To make sure things are settled soundly into the basket while you are sifting the grounds, give the portafilter two nice sturdy taps as the mountain builds. But not enough to make everything spill (dare I say, erupt?). That's wasteful, and Robbie will make you do it over.
Attaining this perfectly dosed mountain on a regular basis took upwards of thirty minutes in training... and my mountain was more still more St. Helens than Ranier.
Mold That Sucker
Smoothing out your coffee-grounds mountain into a nice, sealed puck means the water will filter through at the right rate and hit as much of the coffee as possible. Filling the basket unevenly will give the water an easy route through which to flow, and your espresso will be weak and lame.
With a flat finger (meaning definitely not curved... you will be surprised how tempting it is to round your finger to fit over the mountain), smooth the coffee back and forth so the the grounds are spread evenly to the edges creating the perfect seal. The key here is not to spill or wipe any coffee off the mountain and onto the floor.
In the professional Zoka barista world, you are allowed 1/2 gram of spilled grounds - what is referred to as acceptable waste. Granted, if you are making espresso at home, you could probably just wipe the excess grounds from the counter back into your grinder and call it a day. But we all like to pretend we are professionals right?
Sealing the puck is not the time to push or compress the grounds into the basket, so don't go to town packing in the grounds with your fingers. That task is reserved for tamping... a whole art unto itself.
And the subject of our next Daily Dose.