Woman tamping espresso next to machine

HOW TO USE AN ESPRESSO MACHINE

A good shot of espresso yields a rich and complex drink. But the process of making espresso itself doesn’t have to be complex. Learn how to use an espresso machine for cafe-style drinks in your own kitchen, and start experimenting with new flavors and techniques for your best cup.

WHAT IS AN ESPRESSO MACHINE?

An espresso machine is a coffee brewing appliance that uses high pressure to push a small amount of hot water through tightly packed ground coffee in order to brew 1-2 ounces of a concentrated form of coffee called espresso. This high-pressure process also creates the characteristic crema, a caramel-colored, dense foam on top that lends a creamy texture to espresso.

Having an espresso machine at home opens the door to a world of delicious coffee drinks made just the way you like them. Certain types of espresso machines let you play with a number of variables and hone your technique to craft your perfect espresso whether it’s extra strong ristretto, or a more sippable lungo pull that lets you linger over your cup just a little longer.

WHAT IS AN ESPRESSO MACHINE USED FOR?

Most at-home espresso machines can make up to 2 shots of espresso at once. If the machine includes a steam wand or milk frother, you can create a wide range of cafe drinks from classic cappuccinos and macchiatos, to the ever-popular latte and all its flavor variations. Espresso can also be used in other recipes like mocha mousse with espresso caviar or added to marinades and simmer sauces for savory dishes. Take a deep dive into the different types of espresso drinks with our how-to guide.

WHAT COFFEE DO YOU USE FOR AN ESPRESSO MACHINE?

Espresso beans are usually just a darker roast of “regular” coffee beans. Sticking with a dark roast will help you achieve the deep flavor you expect with espresso drinks. While you can buy espresso coffee beans, any dark roast such as a French roast will work. However, you will always need to grind your beans to a fine consistency if using them to make espresso. Experiment with different types of roasts until you find a flavor profile you love. When it comes to making espresso at home, it’s all about finding flavors that inspire you to create even more.

Metal KitchenAid(R) espresso machine on counter making espresso

HOW DOES AN ESPRESSO MACHINE WORK?

While there are many types of espresso machines that all work a little differently, there are some basic commonalities. Espresso machines heat water to near boiling and force it through tightly-packed and finely-ground coffee in a portafilter basket to extract a concentrated “shot” of coffee. Here are some of the main parts and the role they play in making espresso.

espresso machine water reservoir
Water Tank/Reservoir:

A container that holds water ready to be drawn into the machine and heated. Commercial espresso machines may have a direct connection to water lines instead of a water tank.

espresso machine cup warmer
Cup Warmer:

The space on top of the espresso machine where you can preheat cups to help maintain the temperature of your brewed espresso.

espresso machine boiler
Boiler:

Espresso machines will feature one or two boilers to heat water for brewing and/or steam for the steam wand.

espresso machine drip tray
Drip Tray:

The surface on which your cup rests while brewing, it also collects water drips that occur once you’ve removed your cup and is usually removable so you can easily empty it.

espresso machine steam wand
Steam Wand:

Creates hot, pressurized steam to heat (or steam) milk as well as create milk foam by frothing. On some models, this doubles as a hot water spout for Americanos or brewing tea.

espresso machine group head
Grouphead:

The area that dispenses water into your portafilter filled with coffee grounds.

espresso machine portafilter
Portafilter:

The device that connects to the grouphead and holds your coffee grounds while brewing.

espreso machine portafilter baskets
Portafilter Baskets:

Usually available in single or double shot sizes, these removable filter baskets hold the coffee grounds within the portafilter.

espresso machine tamper
Tamper:

An accessory used to press (or tamp) down coffee grounds within the portafilter and create a coffee "puck.”

Black espresso machine surrounded by parts
Hand tamping espresso grounds in a portafilter

For an idea of how these parts work together, you will place the portafilter baskets into the portafilter, fill them with ground coffee and tamp to compress the grounds. Then, connect the portafilter to the grouphead and finally select your brew cycle settings.

HOW TO OPERATE AN ESPRESSO MACHINE

The process for making espresso varies based on what type you have. The most popular type for home use and at coffee shops is a semi-automatic espresso machine. While you’ll always want to refer to your owner’s manual, here are some general steps for making espresso with this type of machine:

Illustration of hand pressing on button for espresso machine

PREHEAT THE ESPRESSO MAKER

If you’re making espresso at home, your machine likely has a water tank that will need to be filled before getting started. Once you have enough water in the reservoir, switch your machine on. Most models will automatically draw water into the boiler and begin heating it to the right temperature. Let it heat up while you move on to preparing your espresso beans.

 Illustration of beans in grinder and closeup of settings

GRIND AND MEASURE YOUR COFFEE

Freshly ground coffee will yield the best results. Remember to finely grind your coffee beans so the resulting texture is similar to somewhere between sand and powder. A burr coffee grinder can help produce more uniformly sized grounds for even extraction. Some models have a specific espresso setting to take the guesswork out of the grinding process. Learn more about types of grinders to find the best one for you.

Woman grinding coffee into a portafilter

The KitchenAid® Burr Grinder features 70 precise settings and Automatic Smart Dosing Technology that automatically adjusts grind time to deliver the proper volume and consistency for your selection. It also features a Built-In Adjustable Portafilter Holder so you can grind directly into 54-mm. or 58-mm. portafilters depending on the size and number of shots you’re brewing.

Illustration of basket lowering into a portafilter

SELECT YOUR FILTER BASKET AND ADD GROUNDS

Select your desired filter basket depending on how much espresso you’ll make. Press the Filter basket into the Portafilter until it clicks into place. Add finely ground coffee to the filter basket. While exact dosage will depend on your espresso machine design and the size of your filter baskets, this quick reference chart can give you a good idea:

Basket type

Shot

Dose (gram)

Use for

Single wall 1 shot 10 - 12 Freshly ground whole bean coffee
Single wall 2 shot 18 - 20 Freshly ground whole bean coffee
Double wall 1 shot 10 - 12 Pre-ground coffee
Double wall 2 shot 18 - 20 Pre-ground coffee
Illustration of hand tamping grounds

TAMP THE ESPRESSO GROUNDS

Tap the Portafilter to level the ground coffee bed and rest on a flat surface. Use a tamper to press down on the grounds within the portafilter basket. Make sure to press firmly and evenly to create a level puck of compressed grounds. Sweep excess coffee grounds from the rim.

Having a level, consistently compressed bed of coffee grounds (known as a puck), is important in ensuring even extraction. If the coffee bed is uneven, it can cause the water to channel, over-extracting the grounds in contact with the water while leaving the rest under-extracted. 

The spouts on many portafilters stick out from the bottom which can make it challenging to level the puck. The KitchenAid® Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines feature a portafilter designed with two recessed spouts to enable a flat base for easier, more stable tamping vs. traditional residential espresso portafilters.

Illustration of espresso machine portafilter lock icons

LOCK IN THE PORTAFILTER

Position the portafilter under the group head, then raise it into the group head and twist to lock. The exact process will depend on your model. KitchenAid® espresso machines feature clear unlocked and locked icons to help you line it up correctly. It’s important that the portafilter is locked into place as this helps create a seal crucial to the high-pressure extraction process.

Illustration of hand pushing brew button to pull a shot of espresso

PULL A SHOT

Most semi-automatic espresso machines automate this part of the process and you can simply select the number of shots and sit back while the machine brews your espresso. Some models require you to control the amount of water and the preinfusion time. Others automate this, but let you adjust the settings ahead of time to your preference.

Hand holding pitcher of milk up to espresso machine steam wand

STEAM THE MILK

If making a coffee drink with steamed or frothed milk, fill your pitcher with milk, select the steam mode (if applicable), and steam until the desired amount of foam or milk temperature are reached. Get more tips on steaming below.

For more detailed instructions on how to brew espresso with the KitchenAid® Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine, see our product help article.

DIAL IN THE ESPRESSO

Depending on your espresso machine, you may be able to adjust a number of factors to brew your perfect shot. “Dialing in” is the process of adjusting grind size and amount, length of extraction and other factors to your taste. A manual espresso machine allows you to adjust nearly every factor but requires a high level of experience and skill. A semi-automatic espresso machine allows you to control the amount of coffee, size of the grind, tamping and more to create a customized flavor profile to your liking. An automatic or super-automatic espresso machine will offer little opportunity to dial in your espresso but can produce ultra consistent results.

Woman pouring steamed milk into glass next to white espresso machine

HOW TO STEAM MILK WITH AN ESPRESSO MACHINE

Espresso is the base for most coffee shop favorites like lattes, cappuccinos and mochas. Adding steamed milk and foam is what transforms a robust bit of coffee into a creamy indulgence with a nearly endless number of variations.

Steaming and frothing milk for a range of beverages is an art in and of itself. Learn about different types of milk frothers and how to use them with our guide, or check out our basic tips below. 

Illustration of milk being poured into a pitcher

Add Milk to your Pitcher

Fill a pitcher about ⅓ full with milk. You can also use plant or nut milks like almond, soy or oat milk. You may have to experiment with the ideal temperature and time to achieve similar results to dairy milk, but rest assured, you can still create thick and creamy dairy-free foam.

Illustration of hand inserting steam wand into milk pitcher

Insert the Steam Wand

Select the steam mode on your semi-automatic espresso machine to begin heating the water. Once it’s ready, submerge the tip of the steam wand into the milk to steam, or just below the surface to create foam.

Illustration of person steaming milk with espresso machine

Create Desired Amount

Froth until desired level of foam and temperature is reached, then add the correct ratios of steamed milk and foam to your espresso along with any other flavorings.

Some espresso machines automate this process as well to eliminate guesswork. The KitchenAid® Automatic Milk Frother Attachment is compatible with the KitchenAid® Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine and effortlessly steams and froths milk for delicious lattes, cappuccinos and more, The programmable dosing and a variable micro-foam adjuster allow you to adjust the milk amount and texture to match your taste and preference. It can be purchased separately, or bundled with the espresso machine.

BRING THE CAFE TO YOUR KITCHEN WITH AN AT HOME ESPRESSO MACHINE FROM KITCHENAID

For a semi-automatic espresso machine that gives you both control and consistency, shop a range of models from KitchenAid. Or shop the entire coffee collection to find the tools you need for your perfect cup from grinders to cold brew coffee machines. We studied with top baristas to ensure that our collection of kitchen coffee products will help you easily brew exceptional coffee at home.

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