Espresso can be simply described as a shot of hot caffeine, with a strong aroma, thick and heavy consistency, intense flavor, and delightful aftertaste. Topped with a thick layer of delicate frothy crema, espresso is more than a drink. It is an experience to savor.
While describing the taste of an espresso can be done easily, the process of making one is more complex. Even though there are only a few steps, each one needs to be carried out with both precision and accuracy. If the proper attention is not given, many things can go wrong and affect the flavor and overall taste. One giveaway that your espresso may not taste as good as it could is the consistency of the puck after it has been brewed.
There are several different options for making an espresso at home. With that being said, the process is relatively the same whether you are using an espresso machine or a portable espresso maker. For the sake of this guide, I will focus on using an espresso maker.
When looking at the steps to brewing espresso, the first thing is to grind your coffee into fine grounds (if you are not using pre-ground coffee). Once grounds are ready, roughly 9 g of them should be added to the portafilter. In order to distribute the grounds evenly throughout the basket, a tamper is used to pack them down firmly.
Placing the filled portafilter into the espresso machine, it is not time to pull the shot. With many machines you can either manually force the hot water through the coffee grounds quickly or the machine can do it automatically. After 30 seconds and lots of pressure, the espresso will be complete.
What Is An Espresso Puck?
The circular disc of leftover coffee grounds that comes out of the portafilter after making an espresso is referred to as an espresso puck. If an espresso has been made correctly, the puck should easily come out of the basket in a solid, dry form.
Why is your espresso puck wet?
If you go to clean out the machine’s portafilter and the puck falls apart and is mushy, the consistency of the espresso might be thinner and lack flavor. There are also several factors that can cause this to happen, resulting in an underwhelming espresso.
1. Coffee Grounds & Basket Size
Perhaps one of the most common mistakes has to do with the first few steps of making an espresso. If the grounds have not been ground down fine enough or there are different-sized grounds all mixed together, it can lead to a squishy puck. If the portafilter is underfilled or overfilled, this will also affect the puck’s consistency.
Having a basket that will not hold the correct amount of coffee grounds for the size you are brewing, whether the basket is undersized or oversized, can lead to both a bland beverage and a messy puck. When the portafilter is not properly sized or filled, it can lead to more water being used, causing an undesirable result.
2. Tamping & Air Pockets
When coffee grounds have not been evenly distributed in the portafilter or there are clumps scattered within the basket, this can cause the puck to appear soggy and unformed. Also, if the tamping has not been done with enough pressure, air pockets can become trapped in the portafilter.
Fixing Your Puck
Even though there are a lot of things that can go wrong when making an espresso, these are all easy fixes. After all, having an espresso is not just about sipping on something that tastes wonderful. It’s also about the brewing process, paying attention to details, taking your time, and perfecting the perfect coffee extraction.
1. Coffee Grounds & Basket Specifics
Before filling the portafilter, make sure that the basket is the right size for the desired espresso size. Having the correct basket size will eliminate some potential problems while brewing.
Once you are sure that the basket size is correct, it is time to fill the basket with ground coffee. Make sure, however, that the grounds are very fine (almost powdery). Also, be sure that the consistency throughout the grounds is the same and that there are no clumps.
When filling the basket with just the right about of coffee grounds, measuring/weighing is very important. Oftentimes, there will be specific amounts written out on the basket itself. If there are not, however, a good rule of thumb is to make sure that the puck sits 5 mm below the top of the basket after tamping has been completed.
2. Puck Screen
Another trick to making for perfecting the espresso brewing process is to use a puck screen. This tool simply sits on top of the tamped coffee grounds, filling up the 5 mm space from the top of the puck to the top of the basket. This allows for less water to be left over and to keep the puck from breaking apart.
With three different types available, a sieve, screen or paper filter, there are plenty of options available depending on the desired outcome. Despite which screen type you choose, this tool will help distribute the water and create an even coffee extraction.
It is important to tamp down the coffee grounds as evenly as possible. This means that there should be an even thickness throughout the puck. To do this, be sure to use a lot of pressure to get rid of air pockets and to distribute the grounds thoroughly. Before the espresso is brewed, the puck should already look solid, flat, and even.
Listen To the Espresso Puck
Creating the perfect espresso can be challenging. It takes a lot of accuracy, precision, and patience. If the steps are not carried out the right way, or a mistake is made, the espresso puck will let you know. Not only will it be soggy, but it also will not hold its shape. To enjoy a decadent espresso is to enjoy the process of making one. And you will know you are getting the best espresso possible, if your puck is dry and solid after the brewing is complete.