It doesn’t take long to learn how to make a shot of espresso. Search for the phrase on Youtube and you’ll find hours of audio instructions, mostly in the form of short, easy-to-digest videos. They all cover the same basic stages of the process: grinding, dosing, tamping and cooking. Upon close examination, each of these stages reveals a formidable body of knowledge to be mastered. If any YouTuber can claim to have mastered them all, it has to be James Hoffmann, who has previously featured here on Open Culture for his videos on topics ranging from roast coffee to the classic Bialetti Moka Express. In the six-part series above, he gives viewers an overview of everything they need to know to truly understand espresso.
Episode by episode, Hoffmann explains how to choose the right amount of coffee, the ratio between the amount of ground and liquid coffee, brewing time, grind size, brewing temperature and pressure. Of course, there is no single universally correct setting or amount of any of these things: each is a variable with its own range of effects on the resulting shot of espresso.
Each drinker also has a different idea of the taste and texture of the ideal espresso, and consistently realizing these qualities—or at least getting close to them—requires a fair amount of trial and error. But one who listens carefully to Hoffmann’s explanations will surely end up with fewer mistakes and in any case will enjoy the exams more.
Watch “Understanding Espresso” and you’ll want to know how Hoffmann takes his shots. He addresses this in a bonus episode – unsurprisingly the longest of the batch – that details his entire process, from preparing the beans to mixing and sipping. Along the way, he also showcases the range of specialized equipment he uses: a strong draw for his many coffee subscribers, but one he presents with the caveat that you really don’t have to go all the way to high-end equipment. live your best espresso life. Still, the dedicated home hobbyist must devote much more time and attention than the average chain-cafe barista. “Cafés want to make good espresso as quickly and easily as possible,” he reminds. “We want to make an incredible espresso every time.”
You can watch the full tracklist from start to finish at the very top of the post.
The Birth of Espresso: The Story Behind the Coffee Shots That Power Modern Life
Coffee College: Everything you wanted to know about coffee preparation in one lecture
All espresso drinks explained: Cappuccino, Latte, Macchiato & Beyond
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Bialetti Moka Express: A Deep Dive into Italy’s Most Popular Coffee Maker
The life and death of espresso in super slow motion
based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastson cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books about cities, book The Stateless City: A Walking Tour of 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.