How to make the best espresso and cappuccino

Making espresso and cappuccino is an art that takes practice.

Use our guide to familiarize yourself with the key steps you need to take to brew the perfect coffee, and watch our coffee tasting expert Giles Hilton show you how.

Video: Espresso and cappuccino using a ground coffee machine

Our years of coffee machine testing have taught us that no matter how good your coffee brewing techniques are, if you have a poor quality coffee machine, you will end up with disappointing espresso. So make sure you have the best coffee machine for you.

The machine you choose depends on how much input you want in the coffee brewing process. Here is a brief summary of the different types available:

  • Coffee capsule machine – ideal if you want a quick brew with minimal effort, as they automate the process of brewing coffee.
  • Grain machine – handy if you like a freshly ground bean but still want a machine that does all the work.
  • Ground coffee machine – good if you want to familiarize yourself further and brew the coffee yourself.

This guide explains how to brew coffee with your ground coffee machine, but it also contains helpful tips for getting the most out of other types of machines. If your bean or capsule machine is equipped with manual milk froth (for example, a steam hose), we explain how to use it to successfully froth milk for cappuccino.

If you are not sure which coffee machine is right for you, our coffee machine buying guide can help you weigh the pros and cons of different types.

Video: What makes a great espresso?

Five steps to making the perfect espresso

Follow these tips to get the perfect coffee. Want to skip straight to our coffee expert Giles Hilton’s video explaining what he’s looking for when sipping an espresso or cappuccino?

1. Prime your coffee machine

Don’t skip this crucial first step, no matter what type of machine you have.

  • Fill the tank with clean, cold water.
  • Place an empty cup on the drip tray under the spout.
  • Switch on the coffee machine and press the start button as if you were brewing a single espresso.

The water will be pumped through the coffee machine and through the spout. This flushes out the remaining beans from the last coffee. It also heats the water ready for your real espresso. If the water is not clear, repeat the process until it is clear.

2. Choose the right coffee

With coffee, you get what you put in it. You will need to use the right type of coffee for the best results; if the grind is too fine or too coarse, your espresso won’t extract properly and you’ll end up with a disappointing brew.

Ground machine (traditional)

To make a great espresso, you will need strong, high roast, finely ground coffee, so that water can be pushed through it at the right rate for the best flavor. Look for ground coffee labeled “espresso” or specially made for use in coffee machines – or buy whole beans and grind them at home.

Coffee bean machine

You should be able to adjust the grind level on your machine, depending on how finely grinded your coffee is – see your machine’s instructions for details. Be aware that too fine a grind can clog the machine, and you must make level adjustments while grinding to avoid damaging the mechanism. Some models also warn of fatter roasted beans, which can clog the machine.

Coffee machine with capsules or pods

Pre-measured coffee pods take all the guesswork out of grind size from the equation. All you need to do is purchase a pod that delivers the roasting intensity you are looking for and is compatible with your machine. See our capsule machine buying guide for more advice.

3. Measure the coffee

If you have a ground coffee machine, it should come with a measuring spoon, so it’s easy to know how much coffee to use. This will usually be around 7g of ground coffee for a single espresso, or 14g for a large espresso or two single espressos. For a double shot, you use the larger metal strainer basket (if supplied). This fits into the filter holder that you attach to the machine.

Preparing your coffee:

  • Check that the filter basket is clean.
  • Place the basket in the filter holder.
  • Pour into your coffee.
  • Pat the coffee down using the tamper (this is usually provided on the machine, or is the other end of the measuring spoon).
  • It is important that the coffee is evenly squeezed into the basket, so that it is relatively compact and has a flat top. This allows the water to spread evenly throughout the soil. Don’t overdo it, however, because if it was too compacted it would prevent proper extraction.
  • Install the filter holder in your machine.

If you have a bean machine, your machine will do all the work for you. All you have to do is pour your coffee beans into the machine and it will grind and tamp the right amount for you.

If you have a capsule machine, all you have to do is choose the capsule you want and put it in the machine.

4. Warm up your cup

It’s worth using the built-in cup warmer on your machine if it has one, or filling your cup with hot water to warm it up before using it. This helps your espresso keep its temperature instead of being chilled by a cool cup.

Espresso coffee is cooler than other types, such as filter coffee or instant coffee, so it may take some getting used to if you are used to a hotter brew. Preheating the cup will help.

5. Prepare the espresso

You are now ready to prepare your espresso. This is usually just a matter of pressing the corresponding button on your machine.

The time it takes to brew your espresso will vary, as each coffee machine works differently, and the output will also depend on how the coffee beans are ground and how firm you have tamped the coffee. Usually it should take around 17-24 seconds.

We have found, over many years of testing coffee machines, that some models can drip longer than they should, weakening your drink. If your machine is dripping, remove the coffee as soon as you see clear water.

The perfect espresso should have a golden, creamy top, known as creme.

Video: What makes a great cappuccino?

Three steps to making the perfect cappuccino

To turn your espresso into a delicious cappuccino, you will need to use your machine’s steam pipe to froth milk and transform the texture of your coffee from flat and smooth to light, sparkling and airy. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Prepare the coffee machine

  • Set your coffee machine to its cappuccino setting, which increases the water temperature and creates steam.
  • Expel all water from the steam wand into an empty cup, briefly opening the steam hose control valve.

2. Froth the milk

To make a nice textured milk froth for your cappuccino, it is best to use a metal pitcher, as they heat up faster than ceramic ones.

  • Fill the jar about an inch with semi-skimmed milk.
  • Turn on the steam pipe and hold the pot underneath, allowing the steam to blow into the milk.
  • Gently move the pot up and down to get air into the milk. You will see the milk start to grow bigger and bubbles appear.
  • Listen too. You should hear a high-pitched whine as the process continues. If you hear a growl, stop immediately. This signals that the milk is approaching the boiling point and will soon turn flat.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a good result right away. It may take practice.

If you have a capsule coffee machine, most models can be purchased with an automatic milk frothing attachment that will perform this step for you with the push of a button, although some have traditional steam hoses for manual frothing. Some capsule brands, such as Dolce Gusto and Tassimo, use pre-made milk capsules instead.

If you have a bean machine, you will either have a steam pipe and you will need to follow the steps above, or you may have a model that automatically froths the milk and brews your cappuccino, in which case you will only have to add milk to it. the foaming unit.

If you are looking to buy a new machine, use our coffee machine reviews to refine the results by an automatic or manual milk froth, depending on what you prefer.

3. Mix the milk froth and the espresso

The last step in creating your cappuccino is to add the beautiful milk froth to the espresso you made earlier.

  • Start by pouring in the thickened and heated milk.
  • Then use a spoon to transfer the frothy pieces to the top.

Ideally, your cappuccino should have equal proportions of coffee, milk, and foam.

How to make other lattes at home

Once you’ve mastered brewing espressos and frothing milk, the sky is the limit. Find out how to make different coffee-style drinks in our guide to make macchiatos, flat whites and other popular coffees.

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