1 | Buy good beans
You won't make a good cup of espresso without first having good coffee, no matter what your set-up. Buy the very best beans you can, and grind before each dose of espresso. You want to buy from a roaster that advertises the roast dates on its bags and, ideally, the harvest date to make sure the coffee is from a fresh harvest. Espresso doesn't all taste the same, but is just
one way of brewing coffee, so be adventurous and explore different styles and origins.
2 | Equipment
The common mistake is to spend most of your budget on a machine and underestimate the importance of a good grinder. Baristas use Mythos-One Clima-Pros, Anfims, Robur Mazzer-Es, Mahlkoenig EK43s and the like, but there is a range of great home espresso grinders with smaller footprints, such as the Rancilio Rocky Doser (pictured). You want minimal grind retention and the ability to make micro-adjustments. The espresso machine you buy should deliver constant pressure and temperature and, ideally, both should be adjustable. If it does the same thing each time you're on to a winner.
3 | Know your water
If it's too hard, the water in your espresso machine can damage it by leaving scale. Also, the treatment agents in tap water can impart an off-flavour, and you won't do justice to the great coffee you're now buying. A dream set-up would include a home RO (reverse osmosis) unit – speak to the helpful people at Bespoke Water Systems – allowing you to have clean water at a hardness which works for your espresso. Alternatively, a quick fix while you wait is to find a soft spring/mineral water such as Ashbeck or Waitrose Essentials.
4 | Technique
The key to a quality espresso is mixing taste, texture and aroma – a concentrated shot that can only be achieved by balancing resistance and flow. If using a flat tamper and VST filter baskets, you want the dose and grind to impede the flow enough to create a lush, emulsified texture, but not so much that it makes the shot grainy and too viscous. Even distribution and careful technique allows for a uniform flow through the bed. Experiment with water levels to find a recipe – and strength – that works for you.