If you’re looking to rock like a pro barista, you need to perfect the art of microfoam — that glossy smooth steamed milk that makes latte art possible. It’s really not that difficult to pull off once you know the step-by-step process:
- Keep your steaming pitcher in the refrigerator/chilled
- Start with icy cold milk (about 34F degrees)
- Begin steaming by getting the milk to spin rapidly clockwise, then
work the surface of the milk for about 15 – 20 seconds in one of the
- Standard Steam Wand: Bring the tip of the steam wand to the top, so that it just barely breaks the surface to suck in air and milk
- Panarello Steam Wand: Submerge the wand so that the top of the
milk and the air intake slot or hole are even, allowing milk and air to
be drawn in evenly — if you submerged it above the air intake, you’ll
just steam the milk; if you submerge it well below the intake, you’ll
end up with fluffy, bubbly foam
- Plunge the steam wand all the way into the milk and then roll the milk for the remainder of the steam
- Temperature-wise, your milk should measure between 140F – 180F
degrees — if it’s too cold, it will be chalky; if it’s too hot, it
will be scalded
- Tap the pitcher on the counter to settle the milk and force any air bubbles to the top
- Prior to pouring, roll the milk slightly around the pitcher to
incorporate the foam and the milk. The milk should have a shiny, glassy
smooth surface that is free of any bubbles
- Pour to make your favorite latte art
More visually inclined? Check out our video.
When you’ve started up your espresso machine for the first time in the morning, it’s important that you thoroughly warm it up — from the inside out — before you pull any shots. The easiest way to do this is to pull a ‘blind shot’ through the portafilter once your machine’s boiler has reached proper brewing temperature.
What’s a ‘blind shot’? It sounds fancier than it is: Just insert your empty portafilter into the brew group, then initiate your shot. Let the hot water run through to heat up the internal pipes, the brew group head and the portafilter. Incidentally, this is also something you should do if you have machine with an E61 brew group that has been on and sitting unattended for more than 10 minutes.
Remember: Temperature regulation is probably one of the most important aspects of espresso brewing, so take the time to make sure brewing temperature is up to snuff. Otherwise, you’ll end up with poorly extracted, cool, pale shots with little crema.
The Rancilio Silvia is one of our best sellers and we think we know why: It’s an excellent mid-range machine that balances professional quality with economy.
To help you during your decision making process, here is our crew’s review on the pros and cons of this machine:
- Steam Wand – Includes a traditional steam wand generally seen on higher end machines and does not have a pannarello frothing attachment
- Case & Components – It’s stainless steel with a brass boiler and brew group, connected by copper tubing, which results in less mineral (scale) build-up and a
consistently maintained temperature throughout extraction
- 3-Way Pressure Release Valve – After you pull your shot, this valve will release the steam and dry the espresso in the portafilter, resulting in a dry ‘puck’ that is less messy to dispose
- Requires a Quality Burr Grinder – As with all non-pressurized espresso machines, consistently ground
espresso is required; some low-end grinders can’t grind evenly enough, which can result in frustration when first using a Rancilio Silvia
- Single Boiler – Since brew temperature and steaming temperature are different, using a single boiler means you’ll have to switch back and forth between these temperatures
- Poor Pod Adapter – We have received many returns of the Rancilio’s pod adapter with reports that it doesn’t work very well and doesn’t allow you to switch easily between grounds and pods without uninstalling the adapter
If you’re planning on transporting or storing your machine, it’s important that you drain the boiler of any residual water from the last use. The main reason is so that it doesn’t freeze, expand and damage the internal components.
Here’s a guide on how you can drain your boiler before you store or ship it. This care tip is essential to the longevity of your machine, so don’t skip it!
We have written about the shot pulling/extraction process before, and thought it would be a good idea to show you an easy way of evaluating whether or not your shot extractions are ideal.
The secret is in your basket. Once you pull your shot, discard the coffee puck and examine the portafilter basket: If you see a caramelized residue sticking to the bottom of the basket, it’s highly likely that your shot was over extracted and may taste bitter or burnt.
So if your shot is looking a little bit on the long side and you’re not sure of your extraction, save yourself a taste test and check out the basket for clues instead.
You may be sensing a theme here…keep it clean! The best way to keep your machine out of the repair shop and performing optimally is to regularly maintain all of its components.
Your machine’s brew group is arguably the most important part, so taking the time to keep it in tip top shape means it will give you delicious espresso shots for years to come.
We’ve compiled some how-to tips for each of the basic styles of home espresso machines. If you need more assistance, refer to your user manual or give us a call.
We often see single boiler machines (such as some models from Rancilio Silvia, Ascaso Dream Up) that have suffered from one of the silent ills of home espresso machines: Heat element abuse.
Sure, this is a something no one wants to talk about — it’s ugly, it’s bloated and it’s burned out. This is not a sexy subject, but we can’t stand by any longer and watch as it’s so cavalierly swept under the rug! It’s time for us to take a stand…and let you know how you can keep your single boiler machine from becoming just another expensive statistic.
Our How to Brew & Steam – Rancilio Silvia article outlines the basic brewing process that you should follow for any single boiler machine: Namely, steam your milk first and then pull your shots. Following this process enables the machine to pump in and steam the appropriate amount of water necessary to first steam a 12 – 16 oz. quantity of milk and then brew an espresso shot. If you do the opposite and brew the shot before you steam the milk, it will empty out the boiler and, the next time you go to make your coffee, it will attempt to warm nonexistent water, fatiguing the element over time and eventually burning it out.
This burn out could be the end result of hundreds of tiny daily misuses or happen in one big event — like when you’re having a party and need to make many lattes at one time. For the latter, be sure to follow the brewing guidelines and serve your guests coffee in shifts. Make some jokes. Show them how charming you are. Do whatever you need to do — just don’t abuse your espresso machine.
Above Picture: Rancilio Silvia heating element burned out (top) and brand new (bottom)
There’s more to the bottomless portafilter than gorgeous crema and striking pours. In addition to giving you a three shot pull, this tool is fairly unforgiving in the extraction department, making it incredibly useful in helping you perfect your shot.
Without the spout on the bottom, you’ll be able to see your shot as soon as it begins, easily identifying any unevenness in tamp or grind. Once you are able to see an even distribution of the espresso as it pours from the bottom of the filter and coalesces into a thick, tawny stream, you’ll know your shot pulling skills are second to none.
Is your machine having trouble steaming? Do you find that it’s difficult to dispense water for your Americano or a cup of tea? The last time you tried to use it, did the steam wand’s knob blow off, fly across the room and hit someone in the side of the head?
Home espresso should not be a contact sport! Long term uncleanliness can result in clogs of extremely disgusting proportions (such as the internal portion of a Saeco superautomatic frothing wand).
Keep the green cheese out of your frothy milk by thoroughly rinsing out the milk frothing components after each use. You can easily do this by running hot water/steam through the system until it runs clear. Additionally, in superautomatics with automated cappuccino or frothing functionality, we recommend a full weekly cleanse utilizing a cleansing agent such as Urnex Rinza.
Your favorite barista sure makes it look easy: Throw some coffee into a portafilter, pack it down with a tamper, lock it in the brew group and turn it on. Voila! A gorgeous, rich and delicious shot with a heady crema perfect for sipping.
In fact, it looks so easy, you should be able to do it, right? Cut to your house the morning after your new machine arrives, and you’re frazzled and frustrated by the bitter and watery shots coming out of your precious new contraption. Ugh! Well, maybe you just can’t get good espresso at home — maybe that’s what the $4/mug price tag is for, eh?
No way! Anyone can pull a perfect shot — every time — provided they follow a few simple guidelines around preparing and extracting their espresso. In this basic guide, we discuss the four main techniques in pulling espresso: dose, grind, tamp and pour. Take a moment to improve your skill and you’ll be making professional tasting espresso in no time!