Does Espresso Taste Better at Home?
The desire to make espresso at home is often rooted in a deep-seated nostalgia— an acute longing to recreate a moment in time, a fragmented memory that invokes feelings of comfort, excitement, love, and belonging. As a profession, the barista is not only a monger of this most delicious potion but a conduit for the most precious moments that we share with ourselves and others.
As colleagues, the Clive staff often share their origin stories in the coffee industry, reminiscing fondly of that first epiphany where you truly experienced coffee differently, igniting an innate passion that will last for a lifetime. Some discuss the first time they had a coffee without milk and sweetener, a single-origin Ethiopian Sidamo that had a vibrant and juicy blueberry flavor that transported them back to their childhood, reminding them of mom’s famous pie. We’re constantly chasing this feeling of pure yearning and possibilities of joy.
Simply, our passion is not only great espresso; no, we have a more noble quest: we want to ensure that you pull exceptional espresso, and when you’re not successful, we coach you. We give you the tools to be successful. We’ll spend an hour on the phone with you, coaching you on dialing in a new espresso on your grinder. We’ll hop on a Zoom call and teach you how to steam milk perfectly with instant feedback. We’ll chat with you and email you until our fingers bleed golden brown because we love espresso, and we want you to nail that extraction so badly because we know what it’s like when you’ve tasted ambrosia from Mount Olympus.
Clive Coffee’s mission is to help unlock the inner barista in everyone; if you even have a clue of wanting to make espresso at home, do it; we’ll help you chase that flavor and help you become the best barista you can be.
Better Espresso is Accessible to All
Apart from the risk of being leading with the title of this blog; espresso can taste better at home for a myriad of reasons. Often, the home barista’s long and noble journey begins in the café space, learning the norms and mores of the craft, immersing themselves in café culture, and embedding themselves within the community in which they live. The experience mentioned above typifies the café-going experience of most folks who live in a medium-sized to a major city, but what about those espresso lovers who cannot access good espresso?
Access can also be an issue when it comes to making espresso at home because it is by far the most expensive brew method. Still, if you’re passionate about espresso, we can help set you up for success and give you a good blueprint on what to expect, building up your confidence and giving you the push to decide that this is a worthwhile hobby. This goes for figuring out how to choose an espresso machine and grinder, dial in and troubleshoot your espresso recipe, and how train your palate and taste coffee better. As people keep getting turned on to making espresso at home, their relationship with coffee becomes more profound and intense. To get to know a coffee is to know a region of the world, to glimpse at hands harvesting the coffee cherry and processing the beans.
Dialing in against logistical speedbumps: Clive can help solve that.
There can be many roadblocks to a good espresso experience, but all of them can be overcome with the help of the Clive Coffee staff. A vendor rarely has so many coffee experts at your disposal who have worked at every level in the coffee industry— take advantage of us and let us help you kindle that passion into a full flame.
- Inconsistent café experience: This can be uneven for a plethora of reasons, including but not limited to shops being unable to train their baristas, having a sub-par coffee program, or even things like not cleaning the equipment or using sub-optimal water. Making espresso at home makes you the barista and puts you in complete control of the brewing process from start to finish, making you the artisan and the judge— thus, the unique position of the home barista.
- There are no specialty cafés in my area: The coffee world has expanded and shrunk so much in the last few years that getting great coffee is at the click of a button. Curated subscription services such as Mistobox specialize in getting you the best coffees in the US roasted fresh to your doorstep, with your Coffee Curator to build out your personal brew queue. Ideally, the espresso experience is only a short walk or a drive away, but if that’s not possible, accessing delicious and interesting coffees online is more expedient than ever. You can even access a selection of Mistobox coffees through the Clive website if one-stop shopping is your thing. Whether you select a coffee à la carte or subscribe to a coffee you fall in love with, there are many roast levels and flavor profiles to choose from to find your daily driver espresso. Great espresso shots start with freshly roasted whole-bean coffee; let us help you find one that will make you smile.
- What does good espresso taste like? Can we define it? It’s more challenging to illustrate what good espresso tastes like than what a lousy shot tastes like, mainly because everyone’s palate is different. Coffee is a living and complex commodity with more tasting notes than wine, so there’s a coffee out there with a profile that can please any espresso lover’s tastebuds.
The best-prepared espresso shots have at least three main attributes to anchor your tastebuds: acidity, bitterness, and sweetness. This hypothetical hero shot can have a thin crema or a thick, pillowy layer; it could be a longer lungo shot or a tight ristretto. Great espresso does not look a certain way. The worst espresso shots tend to have too much sweetness, bitterness, and acidity, or not enough of these attributes, and may only have one—the only way to know what good espresso tastes like is to taste a lot of espressos. The best thing about espresso is that it is akin to cooking; you start with a recipe and make changes as needed, listening to what the coffee tells you along the way.
Tasting espresso: Keeping the score and how to find the sweet spot
Discovering the perfect balance between acidity, bitterness, and sweetness is the sweet spot. The sweet spot is the confluence of doing everything properly, from temperature, tamping, distribution, and dialing in. Yet, how do we get to this seemingly mythical place of wonder? The answer is easy! Keep a tasting journal, spreadsheet, or a log in your notes app—anything that illustrates the data or your espresso recipe, coffee comparisons, and tasting progress.
Clive Coffee Recipe Card:
Putting it into practice
Each shot you pull and taste makes you a better, more discerning barista. Comparatively tasting coffees are your top strategy for discovering the perfect balance. Pay particular attention to the coffee's bitterness and acidity. Excessive bitterness lends a prolonged aftertaste (drying effect and ashy on the tongue) and is often a signal over-extraction. In contrast, overly intense, sour acidity indicates under-extraction and hits the sides of the tongue straight away and will produce a puckering effect. In a well-executed extraction, your shot should embody a harmonious trio: bitterness, acidity, and sweetness, each complementing the others in ideally equal proportions.
- Buy a coffee with a roast date, not a best buy date, from a local coffee roaster. We cannot stress this enough: grinding coffee fresh each time and storing it in a container that keeps out light and oxygen will keep your coffee fresher and your extractions more relatively consistent. We recommend spending a week or two with this same coffee to become familiar with it. Seek out an espresso blend or a medium roast with chocolate, caramel, and nutty notes. These coffees are very approachable to those with an untrained palate and can work well as a straight shot and with milk.
- Keep detailed notes—tasting bad espresso helps you know what good espresso tastes like. Compare as many coffees as possible as you’re developing your palate. Setting aside some time to do some comparative tasting, whether one coffee or two to three, will help you build a frame of reference and strengthen your dialing-in abilities. Heck, you can even create your own SCA-inspired coffee wheel. Everyone tastes coffee differently.
- Keep your head up and your tastebuds engaged—making espresso at home is a luxury, a hobby, and a lifestyle; as such, it should be fun! We love to get down and dirty and troubleshoot intricate coffee-tasting issues and help solve them. Remember that you get to learn this at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home, so don’t worry about a weary-eyed customer demanding a 16oz cortado at 6 a.m. when you already don’t have the energy to explain that it is just a large latte.
If you’re still on the fence about investing in a home espresso setup or have an inkling about whether it’s a good idea, give in to that feeling. There are few pleasures in life better than waking up in the morning and pulling a delicious shot of espresso. Does espresso taste better at home? It sure does, and with some practice, yours will too.