I started making espressos when I was eight, long before I had even tried my first sip of coffee. On ski trips with a full house of my parents’ friends, I would sit in an arm chair next to the espresso machine and watch as dozens of double espressos and lattes were made, one after another, in preparation for a full day on the slopes. After a few days of watching engineers methodically tamp down espresso grounds, they started to teach me—I could barely see the milk I was foaming, but it quickly became my favorite part of the morning. Now, I get to take care of the coffee whenever we spend a week hiking or skiing in Canada, and I really can’t think of a better vacation job. After ten years, I know how long it takes for the machine to heat up, how much coffee we’ll need for a week, and how everyone takes their coffee. Making a great latte isn’t too hard, but it involves a few steps, and I thought I would share what I’ve been taught over the years.
While the water for the espresso heats up, grind the beans for the espresso, then place them in the espresso hopper—the grounds should slightly mound above the hopper.
To ensure that the espresso tastes dark and full-bodied, tamp the grounds firmly with the plastic press, known as the espresso tamper, until they are tightly compacted. A lot of professional baristas say to exert 30-40 pounds of pressure on the grounds, but I’ve never actually measured how much force I use when tamping down the grounds; I just like to make sure that the coffee looks like firmly packed brown sugar.
Once the water is hot enough, it’s time to pull the espresso shot.
The ideal espresso is thick and dark, and if it pours slowly out of the hopper you’ll know it’s a good one. The ideal length of time for pulling the espresso shot is 21-24 seconds, and a time closer to 24 seconds will yield a sweet, well-rounded espresso.
The dark gold color is called the crema, and is another mark of a good espresso. Turn off the water right before the espresso coming out of the machine begins to turn into something that resembles watery hotel coffee. Now, you could always stop here and enjoy the double espresso that’s been made, but you can also steam some milk and make a great latte.
To start, you must heat the water for steaming the milk (that’s what the bottom left button indicates), because the water for steaming the milk is heated to a higher temperature than what is used to pull the espresso. While the water heats up, prepare the milk: I’ve found that high-fat milk (either 2% or whole) produces the best foam, and you’ll need five to six ounces (about ¾ cup) of milk for one latte. Pour it into the milk pitcher, and add a thermometer to help gauge the milk temperature.
Turn on the milk steamer and insert the steaming wand into the milk, then slowly draw the pitcher down until the wand just grazes the surface of the milk—this will help create the foam. Let the milk steam here until it reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Then move the pitcher up until the wand is submerged in the milk and turn the steamer up until the milk moves in a slightly circular pattern, until the milk reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off the steamer and set the milk on the counter.
Now it’s time to make the latte. Whack the milk pitcher on the countertop a few times to get rid of any large bubbles.
Pour the milk into the espresso, gently shaking your wrist so that the foam is poured in as well. To finish, use a knife, chopstick, or stirring stick to drag a design in the latte if desired, then enjoy immediately.