Strictly Speaking: Espresso 101, nailing that shot

There are many ways of brewing a top notch coffee - drip, pour-over and French press to name a few. You can read up on our preferred methods for creating your own home brew here in a former 'Strictly Speaking post, however today we're focussing on more of a cafe approach.
Espresso is a coffee-brewing method originating in Italy, where a small amount of hot water is forced through finely-ground coffee beans under 9-10 bars of atmospheric pressure. It uses significantly less water than the aforementioned methods, with the combination of finer grounds and more pressure resulting in a thick, creamy and strong tasting coffee shot.
Espresso isn’t necessarily superior to the likes of a pour-over method as they all have their time, place, pros and cons, however it's the style of coffee that has become synonymous with cafe culture as we know it today. Whether taking a break from work for a mid morning pick-me-up, having a social gathering of an afternoon at a favourite cafe, or heading out for breakfast on the weekend, a quality espresso coffee immediately springs to mind with all of these occasions. 
If you regularly grab a coffee on the way to work, a home espresso machine can be a good investment and a source of motivation as you strive to create that perfect morning brew yourself. As much as our lives can be built around the daily morning trip for a flat white, the ritual of making it yourself at home can be equally rewarding.
Here are our recommendations of simple steps you should follow in order to ensure a sweet, balanced, full-bodied espresso.

Dose

Ensure you’re dosing between 19g-20g of freshly ground coffee into the basket. You can use scales to check. Alternatively, over-fill the basket, give it a gentle knock on top of the dosing chamber and then scrape the excess coffee flat before tamping.

Tamp

Always keep your tamp flat and even. Aim for a consistent, firm pressure across the entire bed of coffee. You don’t need to twist while applying pressure. Some people like to add a little spin after tamping to ‘polish’ the coffee, just remember this is without pressure.

Extraction

Monitor the appearance of your extraction. It should look syrupy and dark brown and gently lighten to a caramel colour as the shot progresses. Your final espresso should weigh around 40g (this will look like 60ml, as crema has lots of gas and bubbles but will eventually settle.)

And that is espresso in a nutshell! An espresso machine is the most worthwhile when you know exactly how your machine works and how produce a quality shot, so practice makes perfect. Learn about your machine and hone your skills, so that your morning cuppa can rival that of your favourite barista down the road. 
If you're looking into an espresso machine of your own, there are many factors to consider including the technical features you require, your desired level of investment, amount of usage, barista experience and product quality. Feel free to pop into Strictly HQ as we are more than happy to offer our five cents worth, but remember, a good coffee always begins with good quality beans.
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