Introduction: How to Use an Espresso Machine ~ Pulling Shots, Steaming Milk, and More!

About: I went to school for animation and visual effects. Follow me on twitter, tumblr, and DA!!

I'm a traditional art student- that is to say, I worked as a barista while in college. But it wasn't just because it's the thing to do- it was also because I love coffee.

In this Instructable I'll focus on basic operation. We'll go into deeper theory in other instructables.
There are varying opinions on coffee and the best way to make it.

In my opinion you should make your coffee in the way that:
- doesn't break the machine
- it tastes good to you

Making coffee on a full rig can be scary. This is partly due to all the knobs and levers and craziness.
But once you understand the parts of a typical espresso rig, and how they operate- you'll feel more comfortable knowing which button to press. (or at least giving it a guess)

Let's go over the common parts to a rig first!

Step 1: Get to Know Your Rig

Most rigs share common features, even if they are from different manufacturers. Here are some common elements to a typical espresso rig:

- portafilter
A portafilter is an assemblage of a brew basket, a handle, and a spigot. The espresso grounds go in here to be brewed.

- grouphead
The grouphead is the place where the portafilter gets secured to brew coffee. Large machines have more than one grouphead. Up inside the grouphead there is a metal filter and a rubber gasket. 

- steam wand
This is a long metal tube that spits out steam. It will have a knob or a lever to control the flow of steam. Large machines may have more than one steam wand.

- hot water spigot
This spigot spits out boiling hot water for tea & americanos.

- shot buttons
These buttons send water through the machine into the portafilter. They  are programmable to cater to individual tastes. The icons typically go like this : single shot, single long, double shot, double long. There is also usually a 'free pour' button, and sometimes a hot water button for the hot water spigot.

- warming rack
This is a feature usually found only on commercial machines. The top of the rig is purposefully warm to heat mugs before coffee is poured into them.

- pressure & temperature dial 
As an end user, you should not need these unless something is very very wrong. If something is very very wrong, you should call a technician.

Step 2: Portafilter Breakdown

A portafilter needs three pieces to work properly:

Handle - this is what you hold.

Spigot - this is where the coffee comes out.

Brew basket - this is the metal filter where the coffee goes!
There are different sizes that hold different amounts of coffee. This correlate to different shots- e.g. single, double, triple. 

You can assemble the portafilter to be any way you like it.

It's a common misconception that if there are two spigots, the portafilter makes a double shot.
That's only true if you're using the double shot brew basket, because you can assemble the portafilter to be any way you want.


Be sure to take a look at the portafilter and check to make sure it has a brew basket, and that it's the shot size you want it to be.

If you're like me: make it simple.
You're just looking for the largest one possible. 

Step 3: Pulling a Shot

Place the portafilter in the grinder, and press the button.

Our grinder has two settings: double shot and triple shot.
Remember to check your portafilter's brew basket and see which setting you need to use.

Use the metal tamper to push the mound of coffee grounds down into a neat little puck.
The top of the grounds should be smooth without breaks or straggly bits.
Wipe clean any excess grounds from the edges and top.

Take the portafilter and place it in the grouphead. This can be tricky- the metal tabs on the side of the portafilter have to align with slots in the grouphead. Typically, you start from a parallel position with the machine, and pull the handle to the right until it is perpendicular to the machine. It should feel very tight and should not be loose or fall off. 

Because you never know if someone set the buttons properly, I always press the 'free pour' button. This will just run water through your coffee until you press the button a second time to stop.

A single shot should take anywhere from 15-20 seconds, a double from 20-25, a triple from 25-30.

Our machine has a handy timer that counts the seconds that have passes since you began your shot.

Once your shot is finished, immediately dump the grounds into the knock box.
Leaving a shot on the grouphead can not only warp the metal portafilter, but also cook the espresso to be stuck inside and gross and grimy. Rinse any leftover grounds out of the portafilter using the sink.

Step 4: Steaming Milk

In other offices I've seen signs saying not to waste milk.
This is great advice, but know that milk should never be steamed twice.
 Instead, try to learn to steam the right amount of milk.

The proteins in milk break down only once- any further heating will scald the milk and cause a burnt taste.

Eyeballing the milk can be tricky when you are first starting out.  A good way to measure is to take your mug and fill it with cold milk 2/3 of the way full. Pour that into the metal steaming pitcher. The milk will expand when heated.

 When it's not in use, water pools in the bottom of the steam wand. You'll want to purge this before starting to steam your milk. Just give the lever a quick tug until steam comes out.

It's not necessary to rotate the steam wand in the pitcher as long as you are able to create a vortex of milk. By angling the pitcher and slowly moving it around, you should see a small whirlpool appear in the milk. This whirlpool will evenly heat your milk- so once you've found it - keep it there.
Every wand (and pitcher) has a different sweet spot- so this will take some experimentation to get right. 

For lots of foam, let the steam wand float right below the surface of the milk once you have found the sweet spot. This integrates more air into your milk and creates foam. The milk will expand as it gets hotter, so keep following just beneath the surface as it slowly rises.
For no foam, bury the end of the wand deeper in the milk and find the vortex.

Stop steaming when the milk has reached the temperature you desire. Typically, this is around 150f.
I hold my hand on the side of the metal pitcher to feel how warm it is. When it's too warm for me to touch comfortably, I stop.

Because the steam wand is hot, the leftover milk will cook into the wand and is a health hazard. Take a paper towel, fold it in fourths and wet it. Wrap the towel around the end of the steam wand and hold it. Give it a few short bursts of steam, being careful that your hand is protected by the towel.

This pushes any extra the milk out of the wand. Take the towel and wipe off the outside of the wand to clean off all residue.

Step 5: Assemble Your Drink

Since you were a good barista and cleaned up after yourself, all that is left is to put it all together, and enjoy!