The holiday season is just around the corner, and that means gatherings of family and friends who may or may not be looking for some coffee to perk them up after a big meal. Anybody can throw on a pot of brew, sure, but in order to really impress your guests, fresh-pulled espresso is the way to go! You’re probably thinking: “I don’t run a coffee shop! How am I going to make espresso for this huge group using only the coffee gear in my kitchen?” That’s a legitimate concern, and if you’re hosting dozens of people then this may be a lost cause! However, if your family is a little less unwieldy in size, it’s certainly possible – with the right tools – to get the job done!
First, we’ll assume you have a solid espresso machine, for obvious reasons. Second, let’s also assume you own a good burr grinder. The Sette series is a great example. Third, make sure you have fresh coffee on hand! You want consistently delicious espresso (obviously), equipment that will perform repeatably (to save time and effort), and the tools/technique that can help you work fast and efficiently (let’s not make this harder on ourselves). Let’s explore some tips and tricks for showing off your coffee chops this holiday season.
The Right Tools for the Job
Professional baristas don’t just wing it when it comes to making awesome espresso over and over again. They have tools at their disposal that make it possible to perform at that level. While their tools are likely a little more advanced than you need, you likely already have good enough versions at home!
A scale (or, alternately, a grind-by-weight grinder), is a powerful tool for maintaining a consistent dose of ground coffee. Having the same amount of grounds in your portafilter every time you pull a shot means one huge variable in extraction is nailed down.
A brush - as silly as it may sound - is a huge boon to cleanliness which helps keep stress down. This, in turn, makes work much easier on you. Using a simple brush, even a clean paintbrush, to sweep ground coffee away from your countertop is a quick motion that will keep things tidy for you.
Professional baristas are rarely more than arm’s length from a brush when on bar.
Coffee is complicated. There are tons of variables at play that determine what coffee tastes like after you make it, only a few of which are even under your control! If you’re looking to maintain a consistent beverage for your guests, you want to minimize the number of variables at play that you can’t directly affect.
Don’t aim for absolute control, as that’s probably not possible. Instead, focus on the “low-hanging fruit.” Depending on the espresso machine you’re using, the temperature of the water it provides may dip as you keep working. Home espresso machines are designed for lower volume, and may not be able to keep up with how much water you need for so many espressos. In this case, try to give the machine some time between operations to heat back up.
Similarly, your grinder has an amount of rest-to-use that best extends its working life. This is called “duty cycle” and sticking to it will help keep your grind repeatable and consistent. Every machine is different, but the basic rule to follow is: for every dose you grind, spend as much time as it takes to pull a shot leaving the machine alone. Thankfully, this works really well with the process of making espresso - grind a dose, pull a shot, grind again, etc is well within duty cycle.
Making espresso is a complicated process, and it’s easy to make mistakes. Developing a good workflow is crucial to making espresso over and over again for a group.
“Mise en Place” is a term in the restaurant world that, basically, describes having everything ready and in its place. Keeping a full hopper, your brush handy, the tamp in the same place each time, etc makes it easier to use each of those tools over and over again without having to go looking for them each time.
Getting your espresso recipe dialed in up front and keeping the parameters written down is a great way to ensure that you don’t serve a different beverage to each of your guests. Stick to the recipe you set up and you can be confident that all of your shots will taste just as great as the one you tasted when you dialed in.
With these tips in mind, you can confidently prepare delicious espresso with your family and friends as you head into the holidays. Although the process may seem daunting, you’ll be well equipped for the occasion. Just remember to have fun while you’re at it. Coffee is a passion for many professional baristas, and doing something you’re passionate about is fun! There’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy yourself as you share this delicious beverage with others.