Prepare Espresso with Portafilter | 8 Steps to the Perfect Espresso
make espresso

Prepare Espresso with Portafilter | 8 Steps to the Perfect Espresso

Do you love the small, concentrated drink with the hazelnut brown crema, and would you like to know how to prepare an espresso? Then you are exactly at the right place! We describe in detail the basics of espresso preparation with a portafilter machine and point out possible sources of error during preparation.

If you follow the instructions from our guide, you will surely succeed in making a decent espresso after a short training period. Once you’ve learnt, you will most likely refine your technique with the aim of constantly improving the taste of the espresso. This is exactly what you can expect here:

How to prepare espresso with a portafilter machine explained quickly

You don’t really need much to prepare an espresso: a good espresso grinder, freshly roasted espresso beans, a preheated espresso machine, a tamper (needed to compress the coffee grounds in the sieve), fresh, ideally filtered water and a preheated espresso cup. The list of ingredients is straightforward and the espresso preparation process is also explained in ten steps.

Good espresso beans are the basis for a good espresso.

Recommended Espresso Machines

Our equipment

Espresso machine Profitec Pro 300 *
Espresso grinder Quamar M80E *
Motta Tamper 58mm *
Concept-Art Tamping Station *
Acaia Lunar – Barista scale *

Step by step to the perfect espresso (series of images)

Step 1

Step 1: Preheat the espresso cup with hot water.

step 2

Step 2: grind good quality espresso beans directly into the portafilter.

step 3

Step 3: Distribute the coffee grounds evenly in the portafilter (“level”).

Step 4

Step 4: Press the coffee grounds into the portafilter with a tamper (“tamping”).

Step 5

Step 5: Let the water out of the brew group (“flush”).

Step 6

Step 6: Hang the filled portafilter into the brew group.

Step 7

Step 7: Place the cup under the portafilter and start making espresso.

Step 8

Step 8: Stop the cover after approx. 25 – 35 seconds, stir, drink and enjoy.

Sounds simple and looks simple, doesn’t it? In reality, however, it has been shown that preparing a really good espresso takes a lot of experience. If you are just approaching the topic of espresso and are making your first steps with the grinder and machine, you will most likely find that the first extracted espressos did not meet your expectations at all.

“Too light, too watery, too bitter, too strong, too sour, too cold. Simply inedible ”could be your judgment. “Only a lot of sugar will help” – could be your first solution.

So that at the beginning of your challenge on the way to the perfect espresso – the “Godshot” – you don’t have to pour liters of espresso down the sink or use tons of sugar, we have written these step-by-step instructions. We describe the basics of espresso preparation in detail and point out possible sources of error during preparation.

Does the perfect espresso actually exist?

First of all, there is no such thing as THE perfect espresso. Even if we have already extracted countless really good espressos, we have no patent recipe for the universal perfect espresso. Tastes are just too different.

The espresso is only perfect if you like it perfectly. To do this, you should know all the parameters that you can change to get a little closer to your perfect espresso. Because even small changes in the degree of grinding , the amount of water, the contact pressure, the processing time or the amount of coffee can have a major impact on the taste of the espresso.

Therefore, a lot of experience and a certain amount of experimentation are required when preparing espresso – this in turn makes the topic so exciting, especially when you have an unknown espresso bean in the espresso grinder.

When does an espresso taste ideal?

An espresso tastes ideal when the balance between bitterness and acidity is most balanced and you can taste a certain sweetness in the – naturally unsweetened espresso. The balance between acidity and bitterness can be determined with the extraction rate, which can be measured with the help of a refractometer (measures the density of a liquid).

The extraction rate tells you how many of the ingredients from the ground coffee were released from the coffee during the brewing process. With an extraction rate of 20% and an amount of espresso of 18 g, 3.6 g of substances are released from the ground coffee. The extraction rate should ideally be between 18% and 22%.

espresso with portafilter

Extraction rate? Is it really that important?

We can understand that importance if the topic of extraction rate seems way too big at the beginning of your home barista career and you don’t really want to deal with it – after all, it’s all about preparing a drink.

However, it is really worthwhile to deal with it, because the extraction rate is responsible for whether an espresso is a success or a failure from a “scientific” point of view. Of course, it doesn’t say anything about your personal taste at first: If you prefer an extremely bitter espresso taste anyway and are totally happy with the result, then the extraction rate won’t get you any further.

However, if you don’t want to rely 100% on your sense of taste and you are unsure whether your espresso is good or bad, then we recommend purchasing the VST LAB Coffee Refractometer for baristas (price: approx. 1350 $). Sure, you don’t make such an investment every day. But with the help of a refractometer you get absolute control. In addition, it allows you to calibrate the various components of the espresso preparation so that you are suddenly very close to your perfect espresso.

But enough of the long forewords: Let’s finally start with detailed step-by-step instructions for manual espresso preparation with an espresso machine with portafilter.

Prepare espresso in 7 steps:

Step 1: Heat up the espresso machine and preheat the cups.

Before you prepare an espresso, the machine should be ready to go. Ready to go means, on the one hand, that you check whether there is enough water in the water tank and whether the portafilter, the brew group and the brewing sieve are cleaned. Ready to go also means that your espresso machine is preheated to operating temperature. With some machines this can take up to 45 minutes. The more capacity the boiler has, the longer the heating time usually takes. Our experience is that you should generally not trust the manufacturer’s information about the heating time 100%.

The preheating time is usually a few minutes longer than the manufacturer specifies in the operating instructions for the machines (with the exception of the thermoblock machines). The brewing temperature of the water in the kettle that is used to draw off the espresso should be between 88 and 96 degrees Celsius.

The brew group and the portafilter must also be hot. The portafilter should ideally be attached to the brew group during the heating process. You can bring the brew group and portafilter to operating temperature more quickly by running hot water from the kettle through the clamped portafilter. Then you have to wipe the portafilter dry with a clean cloth before filling it with ground coffee.

In our opinion, heating up is essential for good results in the cup. Why? A machine that is not preheated to operating temperature will not produce satisfactory results because the temperature is simply too low for the ideal espresso extraction. The result: The valuable aromas of the coffee beans do not come out and the espresso will usually taste far too sour.

If, for example, you forgot to clamp the portafilter during the heating phase, it is possible that a portafilter that has not been preheated will pull the overall result of your espresso down, even if all other parameters such as water temperature, degree of grinding, bean quality, contact pressure and flow time were almost perfect are.

Because only a very small amount of water is pressed through the espresso powder in an espresso, it cools down quickly if not everything that the espresso comes into contact with on its way into the mouth is properly heated. This also includes the espresso cups, which are best preheated with hot water before making espresso.

So, it is really worth doing everything right in the first step of espresso preparation, because coffee is very sensitive to temperature changes. Even minor fluctuations can have a major impact on the result in the cup.

Step 2: Grind fresh espresso beans directly into the portafilter

In the next step you have to grind whole espresso beans finely and fill the coffee powder into the portafilter. It is best to remember the following basic rules:

We recommend that you never buy pre-ground espresso, because coffee loses around 60% of its aroma within 15 minutes of grinding! You can’t avoid buying a good grind-on-demand espresso grinder that can grind the beans homogeneously and very finely. By the way: a good espresso grinder is more important for espresso than a good espresso machine.

Our recommendation is that you shouldn’t get the beans from the discounter, but ideally from a local small roaster in your city or from an online coffee shop you trust. Check directly with your roaster to find out when the beans were roasted.

By freshness, we don’t mean the time since the purchase, but the time that has passed since the roast. If the roast was only seven days ago or less, then you get really super fresh quality. The longer it has been roasted, the more aromas the coffee has lost. A coffee that was roasted twelve weeks ago can of course still taste excellent.

How much espresso powder goes into the portafilter?


Now you are probably wondering how much espresso powder has to be ground into the sieve insert? As a basic rule you can remember that after the even distribution of the ground coffee in the portafilter, the sieve insert should be filled with ground coffee up to the edge (see photo). After pressing, there must be a distance of approx. 5 mm from the edge of the portafilter to the ground coffee surface. If the distance were less, you would have problems clamping and tightening the portafilter properly.


In principle, the amount of coffee required depends on the size of the sieve insert. Sieve inserts are available for different filling quantities: a 7g and a 14g sieve are supplied as standard with espresso machines for home use. You can also get other sieve inserts in specialist shops, e.g. 16g, 18g, 20g, 22g or 25g. The decisive question is how much do you want to extract?

The espresso recipe of the “Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano”

The “Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano” is an association that was established in 1998 to put the espresso recipe into writing. The association is practically the guardian of the Italian espresso. The recipe for making an espresso is as follows:

We are of the opinion that this recipe offers some initial help, but seems somehow outdated. It doesn’t give us enough scope for experiments. Because in the end, it is a question of taste, how much coffee you use and how much you want to extract with it. If you want a more intense taste, you should increase the amount of ground coffee while keeping the amount in the cup.

The espresso recipe from the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe

We love really strong and intensely tasting espressos. We therefore usually prepare our espresso in a brewing ratio of 1: 2. Incidentally, this is also the specification of the SCAE, the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe. For every gram of ground coffee, two grams of espresso are extracted, so for example 18g of ground coffee should result in 36g of the small, concentrated drink with the hazelnut brown crema.

With the requirement to extract your espresso with a brewing of 1: 2 to start with, you can’t go wrong for now. Even so, this is no guarantee that the resulting drink will turn out perfectly. In the end, every coffee needs an individual recipe. However, the mentioned brewing guide value of 1: 2 can serve as a rough guide. However, you always have to work out the right parameters for the preparation in your own experiments.

It is essential to weigh espresso exactly


Especially for beginners, we recommend that you weigh the amount of ground coffee and the amount of extraction exactly with a digital scale. We admit that this means that the espresso-making ceremony is somewhat lost. A scale will help you immensely to get a little closer to your perfect espresso, because you can use it to have significantly more influence on the preparation process.

You can change the two adjusting screws for the amount of coffee grounds and the extraction amount with the help of a scale. On the other hand, a scale also helps you to reproduce the recipe of your favorite espresso over and over again. We use the Acaia Lunar barista scale. When buying, make sure that the scale is able to weigh in 0.1g intervals.

Step 3: distribute the coffee grounds in the portafilter (“leveling”)

If you have now filled the sieve insert with ground coffee, the next step follows: the so-called leveling. The leveling ensures that the coffee grounds are evenly distributed in the sieve insert. This is especially important so that the so-called “channeling” is prevented.

The result: the espresso tastes under-extracted, will have little body and a flat aroma profile. You can recognize the water channels in the form of cracks after you have taken them in the coffee puck. So you have proof that obviously not everything went right.

You can level with different techniques, which we introduce below:

You can use these level techniques individually or in combination. It is crucial that you find the right craft for you so that the coffee grounds are really evenly distributed in the sieve insert.

There are baristas who use a grist dozer for the level process. We too have had first-class experience with this tool.

Step 4: Press ground coffee in the portafilter (“tamping”)

After leveling , the tamping follows . This describes the compression of the coffee grounds with a tamper before brewing. A tamper is a kind of small pestle with a smooth (metallic) surface that should have the diameter of the respective sieve insert.

Tamping is important because it compresses the ground coffee in the sieve insert into a firm cake. The counterpressure surface on the ground coffee is required to be able to withstand the water that flows out of the espresso machine at a pressure of 9 bar.

The aim of tamping is to compress the ground espresso straight and at the same height in the sieve so that the water can move evenly through the espresso. As you have already read above, water always looks for the path of least resistance.

So, if you press at an angle, the water would flow through the thinner part of the coffee puck and thus prevent the even extraction of all the coffee grounds. With this in mind, we recommend that you practice proper tamping. The following points are particularly important when tamping:

With a simple plastic tamper, which the espresso machine manufacturers usually include as an accessory to the espresso machine, you will probably not do the tamping ideally. We advise you to invest in a higher quality tamper made of stainless steel.

During the espresso extraction, the water will shoot through these cracks first (keyword: channeling). This prevents even extraction. The result is an under-extracted espresso.

Step 5: Flush the brew group


Before you insert the portafilter into the espresso machine with a quarter turn, you should briefly rinse the brewing group by briefly pressing the coffee switch. In technical jargon, this process is called “flushing”. This step is important for two reasons: On the one hand, when you flush the brew group, use the hot water to remove any espresso residues that have deposited on the brewing sieve. On the other hand, you let off the first bubbling torrent of water before you actually use it, bringing the water to the ideal brewing temperature for your perfect espresso.

Espresso machines with heat exchangers (two-circuit machines ) are designed in such a way that the water has an almost constant temperature when it flows. If water is left in the water chamber for too long, it will overheat and be too hot for espresso to be dispensed (the ideal temperature should be between 88-94 ° – depending on the espresso bean and roast).

The so-called “Cooling-Flush” helps here, because it drains the overheated water from the water chamber. So, you must not forget to flush with two-circuit machines. With machines of this type you can also drain the water a little longer (duration: approx. 3 seconds or half a cup of water) than with the dual boiler system.

In dual boiler systems, flushing is generally not necessary to regulate the temperature, because the temperature in the boiler, which supplies water for making espresso, is almost constant. A short flush is enough to remove any espresso residues from the brewing sieve. Flushing for too long on espresso machines with dual boilers can result in the boiler being completely emptied.

The consequence would then be that cold water would have to be pumped from the water tank or the fixed water connection into the boiler, which would then have to be heated again to the ideal extraction temperature of 88-94 ° – the espresso dispensing would be unnecessarily delayed a little.

After flushing, you should briefly wipe the drip grid, on which you will be placing the cup (s) in the next step, so that coffee residues do not stain the cup (s).

Step 6: Espresso extraction

Your machine and espresso cups are preheated, you have freshly ground the ground coffee, leveled it cleanly in the sieve insert and tamped it and you (briefly) flushed the brew group? After this important preparatory work, the most visible step in espresso preparation follows: the actual espresso extraction.

Insert the portafilter into the espresso machine with a quarter turn. The portafilter should be at an angle of 90 ° to the machine. Now start the brewing process immediately and place the preheated espresso cup directly under the outlet of the portafilter. To prevent the coffee grounds from burning in the hot brew group, we recommend that you start the brewing process immediately after inserting the portafilter into the machine.

After a few more seconds you will (hopefully) see the first crema flow out. The stream should now run out slowly and smoothly, like slowly flowing honey, and should not break off. After about 25-30 seconds you have to stop the brewing process, because then – depending on the recipe you are using, the espresso filling quantity of approx. 25-30 ml is reached.

espresso with portafilter

Step 7: stir and enjoy

Before drinking, we advise you to stir the espresso with an espresso paddle so that all of the aromas come out. And then: Enjoy and let the aromas melt on your tongue.

This is how you can tell whether the preparation of the espresso went well

There is probably no other way of preparing food or drinks that is less difficult than making espresso. As described above, you can recognize a clean extraction by the flow rate. If everything goes well, the espresso will pour slowly and smoothly into the cup. Then the crema will also have a nice medium brown color, close again when stirred, between two and four millimeters thick and still be visible after two to four minutes of “standing”.

The crema is a typical and very meaningful characteristic for the quality of an espresso and gives you information about whether the espresso preparation went optimally. Not every espresso extraction will always go optimally at the beginning of your career as a home barista. The most important factor in espresso extraction is an ideal grind.

Our tip: Use a stopwatch & digital scale for the espresso extraction

Our recommendation is fundamentally not to leave too many things to chance during the extraction process and to work with a stopwatch and digital scale in order to precisely measure the extraction time and fill quantity. You may find this precision excessive.

However, we are of the opinion that you cannot avoid purchasing these tools on the way to your perfect espresso. You will notice that even the smallest change to the filling quantity or processing time can have a surprisingly large effect on the espresso taste.

Espresso recipe

Espresso recipe (25 ml)
by Linata Alam
January 14, 2020

Recipe Category: specialty coffee
Tags: prepare espresso, espresso recipe, make coffee, espresso cook
Description: The preparation of a real good espresso is a science in itself. Here you can find our espresso recipe for 1 cup (25 ml).

Nutritional information (25 ml):
2 calories
0.2 grams of fat

– 12 – 15 g fresh espresso beans (freshly ground)
– hot water (90 – 94 ° C)
– portafilter machine
– preheated espresso cup
– digital scale & stopwatch

Instructions for preparing 25 ml espresso with the portafilter machine:
Step 1: Heat espresso cup
Step 2: Preheat water 
Step3: grind 12 – 15 g whole espresso beans Step 3: Fill the portafilter with the coffee grounds
Step 4: Distribute the coffee grounds evenly in the portafilter (“level”)
Step 5: Press the coffee grounds into the portafilter (“tamp”)
Step 6: Flush the brew group
Step 7: Hang the filled portafilter in the brewing group
Step 8: Place the cup under the portafilter
Step 9: Start espresso extraction by pressing a button
Step 10: Wait for around 25-35 seconds and stop extraction when 25-35 ml of espresso is extracted.
step 11: stir & drink

Valuable tips

A few valuable tips to conclude on the topic of “preparing espresso with a portafilter machine”: To bring about changes in the taste of your espresso, keep many factors as constant as possible and only vary one of them.

If the extraction results are disappointing for you, the first step is to change the grind. If the grind is not right, you will try to change other factors but, in vain, you will not still be able to achieve a better result.

Ultimately, it’s about producing a harmonious drink. And harmonious means that the taste and aromas create a coherent overall picture. The goal is to bring the two opponents – acidity and bitterness – into a pleasant relationship. And that’s the case when the extraction rate is between 18% and 22%.

We hope you have come a lot closer to your perfect espresso with the help of our step-by-step instructions. Perhaps you have already managed to perfect espresso preparation so that acidity and bitterness are in a pleasant, harmonious relationship and you can send every guest out with your espresso.

If your espresso tastes too sour, you will find a summary of the reasons why this could be.

If your espresso tastes too bitter, it could be because:

Just like us, you will have to try a lot and change one or the factors in order to extract your “godshot” at some point. We hope you enjoy it and look forward to sharing this post with your friends and acquaintances.

Other ways of preparing espresso

In addition to the traditional method of preparing espresso with a portafilter machine, which we described in great detail in the above section, you can of course also prepare espresso with other methods: You can also prepare espresso with a fully automatic coffee machine, a capsule / pod machine or an espresso maker. We now want to introduce you to the latter method in more detail because, in our opinion, it is one of the most widespread and inexpensive methods with which you can prepare a small, strong, black coffee in your own four walls.

Espresso variants

The following terms are variants of espresso, which we would like to briefly introduce you to here:

Espresso Doppio:
To prepare a double espresso (also called Caffè Doppio), you simply double the amount of a normal espresso. The drink has twice as much caffeine.

The ristretto is also known as “shortened espresso”. Compared to an espresso, only about half the amount of water is required for a ristretto. This also results in a shorter lead time. The amount of coffee powder is identical, however. The flavor is even more intense than that of a classic espresso.

Translated from Italian, lungo means “long”. The word “long” means that twice as much liquid is extracted from this drink as from a classic espresso. This creates a mild espresso variant with a leaner body. The longer brewing time means that a lungo does not taste as strong as a classic espresso.

Espresso Macchiato:
With this variant, the espresso is refined with a touch of milk. With a teaspoon a small dollop of milk foam is placed in the middle of the espresso. This makes the espresso look stained and that is exactly what the word macchiato means.

Espresso con panna:
“Con panna” means “with cream” in Italian. In this espresso variant, a tablespoon of whipped cream is added to a single or double espresso. That makes a nice top of whipped cream.

Caffè Americano:
With this espresso variation, the espresso is diluted with hot water. This reduces the intensity of the espresso, but does not lose its characteristic taste. When preparing one-part espresso, about three parts hot water are used.

A frappé is a simple espresso that is served with crushed ice and sugar.

A coretto is a simple espresso that is served with a dash of grappa.

Basically, you should be aware that the quality of an espresso is not only reflected in its taste, but is also influenced by how and in which it is served. Espresso cups are available in the most varied of variations in terms of color, material and shape. The cup filling volume should be between 40 ml and 80 ml so that there is enough space for at least 30 ml espresso.

The ideal material is thick-walled porcelain, which stores heat well and protects the espresso from loss of temperature. 

As a further recommendation, we can recommend the espresso cups from Acme & Co from New Zealand. These are also made of thick-walled porcelain and ideally store heat. These cups are available in great bright colors. Back then we decided on the color red.

The magic four “M” in espresso preparation.

To conjure up a good espresso in this cup is not easy to learn, it requires some basic knowledge and practical experience. Preparation with a traditional espresso machine is certainly the “supreme discipline”. Perhaps you have already heard of the magic four “M” in this context. The following four points are hidden behind the magical four “M”:
Miscela = coffee mixture, Macinacaffè = espresso grinder, Macchina = espresso machine and Mano = the hand (of the baristas)

With these four points you can reduce the very complex preparation of an espresso to the decisive factors. When you have discovered the secret of the magic four “M”, you will be able to extract an exceptionally good espresso in your own four walls. Therefore, in our opinion, you should also deal with the magic four “M”. We have prepared suitable articles on these topics, which we have linked below:

Miscela = coffee blend (espresso beans)

Macinacaffè = espresso grinder
Macchina = espresso machine
Mano = hand (of the baristas)