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How to Use an Espresso Machine for Beginners: Top Tips for Making Great Espresso

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Today, we’re going to be looking at how to use a classic espresso machine. 

There are a few different types of espresso machine. But I’ve managed to use the vast majority in my time as a barista, so now I’m going to show you some hints and tips. 

Here are the subjects we’ll be tackling in this article:

Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

Here are the most important things you need to know about using an espresso machine:

  • Creating a cup of espresso takes about five minutes
  • The most popular type of espresso machine is a semi-automatic one
  • You can add milk in a variety of ways to make lattes etc.
  • Around 15 g of finely ground coffee is required for a couple of shots
  • Automatic and super automatic machines make life easier 

How to Use an Espresso Machine at Home 

The most popular type of espresso machine by a long way is a semi-automatic espresso machine. 

How you use this varies slightly from the other two main types of espresso machine as we’ll find out in the next section. But for now, here’s a step by step guide on how to use a semi-automatic machine to make a shot of espresso.

1. Prepare your coffee

Use a coffee grinder to grind up coffee to an even and fine grind. This is the level of grind finesse you want to be at for an espresso brew. 

You can buy pre-ground espresso coffee but I’d recommend grinding from fresh as this way, the taste and aroma is locked in for longer, resulting in a better brew.

If you do want to buy pre-ground coffee then you can find out the best examples of it in this article.

If you don’t already own a coffee grinder, you can find out some of the best ones for espresso machines here

I recommend starting with around 15 g of coffee for a couple of shots. But of course, you can add a little more if you want more coffee. That being said, you might not be able to fit much more than this in your portafilter.

I wouldn’t recommend pouring any less than this though as the coffee can come out a little watery. 

2. Preheat your espresso machine

Now, turn on your espresso machine and allow it to preheat. It could take around 20 minutes or so for this to happen, but it varies from machine to machine. 

You should be able to find out the exact time required for preheating by searching with the model number of your espresso machine online. 

3. Tamp the coffee grounds

To make sure you get a well distributed and great tasting cup of coffee, this step is important. ‘Tamping’ means leveling the coffee grounds across the portafilter and squashing them into it.

You can simply tap on the side of the portafilter to do this first part. Then, take the tamper that probably came with your espresso machine and push down on the coffee grounds. Make sure to do this directly from above and straight so that you don’t mislevel the grounds. 

You’re going to want to apply a fair amount of pressure but there’s no need to push too hard. Ensure that the grounds are still level once you’ve completed this, then reattach the portafilter to the espresso machine.

Make sure to shake off excess grounds here too, otherwise they might fall into the machine and end up loosely in your coffee.

Tamping is the area in which you’re most likely to negatively affect the taste of your coffee in the early stages. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to get the pressure just right in order to get the perfect compactness for your shot [1].

4. Pour the first shot 

Make sure to put your cup under the pouring tap. Then, once the portafilter has been reattached properly, hold down the lever to pour your espresso shot.

You should hold it down for around 20 to 30 seconds. That’s about the sweet spot for your first cup of espresso.

If the shot doesn’t look or taste quite how you wanted it to then don’t worry! Pouring an espresso shot can be a dark art and it’s going to take a few shots to get it perfect.

5. Use the gauge to prepare the next shot 

You’ll need to make sure the pressure is right to pour your second shot. Your pressure gauge should be in the ‘espresso range’.

Not all espresso machines have a pressure gauge though, so don’t worry about that if you don’t see one. You can also use the time that the pull took to work out if you got the prep right.

If it pulled too slowly then your grind was too fine or you didn’t tamp enough. If it pulled through rapidly then your grind was too coarse or you tamped with too much pressure.

Using Other Types of Espresso Machines

There are three other types of espresso machines around: manual, automatic and super automatic. Two of these are actually easier to use than a semi-automatic espresso machine. Although the manual one requires a bit more work. 

Let’s take a look at how to use each of them.

Using an automatic espresso machine

If you’d prefer a slightly easier way to make espresso then an automatic espresso machine might be the best option for you. 

1. Prepare your coffee

The first step to making your espresso is going to be the same here. Once more, you’ll need an even, fine grind. It’s worth adding around 15 g of ground coffee for a couple of shots.

2. Power on and warm up

Once again, you’re going to need to switch the espresso machine on and wait a few minutes for the water to get to a good coffee making temperature. 

Then, place a coffee cup in the bay before you move to the next step. And, add the coffee to the machine in the way described above.

3. Choose a brew

Here’s where things are a little different. This time around, you’ll need to use the control panel to select a type of coffee drink. It’ll tamp the coffee for you so you don’t have to worry about that either.

Now, simply wait for your coffee to pour and enjoy your drink. The machine will reset itself so you can back and make yourself another cup whenever you like. 

Using a super-automatic espresso machine 

The benefit of a super automatic espresso machine is that it reduces the chance of human error, meaning you’re going to get a great cup of espresso regardless. That’s because it eliminates the need for tamping altogether. 

This is probably the easiest way to make an espresso at home. Here’s how to do that with a super automatic machine:

1. Prepare your coffee

The super automatic espresso machine goes one step further than a regular automatic espresso machine as it actually grinds the beans up for you. It’s an all in one device!

So, all you need to do for this stage is pour your coffee machines into the top of the device. There will be a bean hopper there. You don’t have to worry about how much coffee you pour in, you can simply fill it up if you like. 

2. Start your grind 

You can use the control panel to select the coffee you want to make and how much of it. Just press the button and the machine will measure out how much coffee you need and grind it up.

It’ll then begin the process of the roast. You can just sit back and let that happen!

3. Enjoy your drink

You don’t have to worry about dialing in the next espresso shot at this point as the automatic espresso machine resets itself. Now, you can make another cup of coffee right away if you like. 

Using a manual espresso machine

A more niche type of espresso machine is the manual. You might see one of these from time to time, so here’s a quick look at how to do that.

By the way, you might also see this referred to as a lever machine. They’re the same thing!

1. Add hot water

This machine requires you to add your own hot water so boil the kettle and add it to the machine.

2. Prepare the coffee

Once again, you’re going to need to weigh out your coffee and place it into the portafilter, then go through the tamping process.

3. Push the drink and swap out the grounds

The rest of the process is the same as with the semi automatic espresso machine except at the end, you’ll need to swap out the used coffee grounds. They don’t clear themselves out like the other devices.

How to Make Lattes and Other Espresso Drinks

Want something a little different to just a cup of espresso? Here’s a look at how to make a few other types of espresso-based drinks. 

These are based on the semi automatic espresso machine as the other two types are likely to have their own built-in functions for lattes, cappuccinos etc. 

Making an americano 

It’s really simple to make an americano coffee. All you need to do is add hot water to your espresso! 

So, boil up the kettle or warm up your pan and pour some water that’s just off the boil into your espresso. You don’t want it to be too hot or you might end up burning the coffee.

You’re probably going to want to have one part espresso for three or four parts hot water. But it depends on personal preference, of course. 

Making a latte

A latte is simply an espresso shot with steamed milk on top followed by a light layer of foam. 

So use a milk frother to the point that the milk has around 2-3 ml of foam on top and pour this on top of your shot of espresso. 

Some espresso machines come with a frother but the chances are that you’ll need to buy one for yourself. Don’t worry though, you can get one for a few dollars!

If you do specifically want an espresso machine with a milk frother then you can check out a few of the best ones here.

You can also make a latte macchiato which focuses more so on the espresso than the milk [2].

Making a cappuccino 

Cappuccinos are more foam than frothy milk so the only difference to the process described above is that you need to froth the milk for longer.

Use it to the point that the milk is mainly completely froth and then pour this on top of your shot of espresso.

How to Use an Espresso Machine: FAQ 

Here’s some more food for thought about using an espresso machine. 

Which espresso machine should I buy?

I recommend a semi automatic espresso machine as it’s the most satisfying way to make espresso but you can save time and reduce human error with an automatic or a super automatic one.

You can find out everything you need to know about buying an espresso machine in this article.

How do I grind up coffee for an espresso blend?

Espresso coffee requires a fine, even grind. So make sure you own a coffee grinder that’s able to do that.

Some coffee grinders have an espresso setting. But if you’re using a cheaper electric grinder or a manual grinder then you’re going to need to do this by eye. As long as it’s consistent and fine then you should be good to go.

Wrapping Up

Espresso machines might take a bit of work to get used to at first but with some practice, you’ll be able to make a great brew at home.

If you prefer, you can use an automatic or a super automatic espresso machine to make your life easier. I prefer the semi automatic machine though as I find it quite fun! 

Not sure which coffee to use to make your espresso? Check out my directory to the best coffee all round here.

Photo of author


Tim Lee is, as you might have guessed the founder of He is a former barista and a professional web publisher. He has now combined his knowledge and expertise in both subjects to create
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