Making a masterful cup of coffee with an espresso machine

Being able to make a rich, flavourful cup of coffee is a useful skill to have. After all, coffee is a hospitality staple. Can you even count how many times you’ve been offered a hot beverage at someone’s house?

Bored with instant? Espresso machines are available at any department store, and basic models can be purchased for less than you’d think. Using an espresso machine and its steam wand is a skill that’s easy to learn the basics of, but takes time and dedication to master. If you want to take things to the next level, consider doing a two-day barista course.

A cup of joe is only as good as its beans. Supermarkets stock a variety of strengths and flavour profiles, and your favourite café can be a great source of information. Coffee beans are best when fresh, reaching their peak flavour just days after being roasted, and should be consumed within a month of their roast date. They rapidly lose aroma and flavour once ground, so it’s best to brew them as soon as possible. Store coffee in a resealable bag or airtight jar in a cool, dark place (not the fridge or freezer).

It takes practise to create perfectly textured milk. Basically, submerge the steam wand near the bottom of your metal jug, and once the jug is hot against your hand, raise the steam wand until it starts creating foam. Angle the steam wand to create a soft whirlpool, and keep frothing until it’s shiny and glossy. This also works with dairy-free options like almond or soy milk. The steam wand can also be used to whip up hot chocolates and chai lattes.

Maintain your espresso machine to ensure the best-tasting brew. Flush the group head and steam wand before and after making a coffee, and finish by wiping the machine clean. Descaling solutions remove coffee residue and prevent corrosion, though diluted white vinegar can be used with similar results.


  • Grind consistency matters. Too coarse and you’ll have weak coffee, too fine and it will taste bitter. You want a medium grind the consistency of sand.
  • Keeping track of how much coffee, water and milk you use will allow you to figure out the mathematics of your ideal cup.
  • Want more taste? Try flavoured syrups like caramel, vanilla, peppermint, or Irish cream.
  • Trying to be healthy? Skim milk and artificial sweeteners can help.
  • At the end of the day, your quickest, cheapest and simplest option is instant coffee. Snobs may turn up their noses, but there are a number of “gourmet” options you might find quite palatable.

By Grant J Everett, Panorama magazine


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