That Perfect At-Home Pull

Coffee is always key in my day but being that I'm pregnant and limit my caffeine intake to a maximum of 100mg a day, a GOOD cup of coffee is crucial. I won't be wasting my caffeine allowance on just any old drip, thank-you very much. Lucky for me, my brother S.J. and my husband Tyler are even more into the stuff than I am so not only do we have some well-researched espresso equipment on our kitchen counter (cred to S.J. for buying his first after doing the legwork of comparison shopping), Tyler also takes the added measure of roasting a house blend of green beans. Yup, despite my taking barista training ages ago, my husband gives me a run for my money when it comes to pulling the perfect shot of espresso. What's the key? To get the answers (and to get out of making my own bevvy), I asked Tyler to make me the best Americano I've ever had!

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First things first, let's talk beans. We order bulk green beans from the Green Beanery and every week or so, Tyler roasts them in the kitchen with all the windows open. It only takes about twenty minutes but it's a rather fragrant event. Our recipe has a few components-- neither one of us are sure why "single origin" is popular but are almost sure it's just because the phrase has a nice ring to it. Blends offer more complexity since each country's growing conditions are different and the regions each bring a flavour to the table be it nutty, earthy, or bright; ours began as a suggestion from Tyler's brother-in-law, Brian and has since been adjusted to our taste (we have different machines so that does influence flavour). Here's our recipe:

  • Brazilian Cerrado 40%
  • Indonesian Sumatra 30%
  • Ethiopian Harrar 10%
  • El Salvador Santa Ana 20%

After roasting a small batch of beans, they sit out overnight and part of the next day before we put them in our air-tight canister as they need time to rest and develop flavour. After they enter their little sealed can, they get used within the week as that's their best lifespan. 

Onto making the cuppa! Letting the machine warm up completely is something I'm guilty of skipping and perhaps that's why Tyler's shots never fail and sometimes mine are too quick. Our machine is the Rocket Appartamento and before this, we had a Francis Francis bought second-hand from Ty's brother-in-law which was far simpler, but decent. The Rocket's suggested warm-up time is 15-18 minutes, keeping the portafilter inside the group head right until you're ready to grind. It's good to note that the Rocket Appartamento scores well beyond my own kitchen: has a great write-up on it if you'd like to learn exactly how it stacks up in the wide world of at-home machines. 

A shot of espresso should take 30 seconds to pull, be smooth and thick with crema on top, and coat the bottom of the cup. This won't happen without a good grind. Although many people think of "espresso" as being all about the roast, it actually only refers to the grind (which always makes me scratch my head when bags of whole beans are labelled "espresso"). We use the Rancilio Rocky Doserless, which was a bit of a splurge, but the Baratza Encore Burr served us well for a couple years at less than half the price. We had two other inexpensive burr grinders before that one and they were so staticky, I felt like everything was covered in grinds. Every brand will need to be set at a different number; we set ours at 9 but if we run out of house roast and buy the Museo or Venn roasts (our top picks for Saskatoon roasteries), it might need to be adjusted a bit. You get to know what it should look like. At this point, *I* tamp the grind into place gently, pressing straight on so it forms an even bed, tapping the side a few times to even out any imperfections, and then I tamp again, firmly. Tyler only tamps *once*, using a toothpick before he does so any lumps are dispersed. (We each feel very strongly that our technique is the right one.)

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We use a bottomless portafilter mostly because it looks so pretty when that coffee stream comes out but it's also a good way to judge if your tamp is even and your shot prepared well: if the stream doesn't come together beautifully like so with plenty of crema as it pours, you immediately know your technique is off. It's also easier to keep clean compared to a two-piece, basket-style portafilter.

And that's it! Easy, right? Add a bit of hot water for an Americano, plenty of steamed milk with a bit of foam for a latte, or some steamed milk and heavier foam for a cappuccino. Hmmm... now that I think about it, I got such a well-made coffee from Ty for this post, perhaps I'll do another detailing an entire cafe menu. Look for that soon. ;)