Home Espresso coffee: why it never tastes as good and how to make it better

Home Espresso coffee: why it never tastes as good and how to make it better

With Covid -19 meaning a lot of us are working more from home, the home espresso machine has been a very popular purchase. In an uncertain world there is a given. We need coffee. Coffee can bring us that little moment of happiness, giving us the boost/nudge/strength to face the day and challenges ahead. So why then does that latte from your new home espresso machine just not quite taste right (or possibly outright disappointing)?

In this article we will look into the reasons why and how to make your morning coffee as delicious as it can be.

    Your Espresso Machine

    There are so many different types of machines, from the super automatics (one touch of a button and you have a latte or long black) to the fully manual machines (where you dose your own basket, tamp, extract the shot and steam the milk), and many models in between. When it comes to coffee brewing, espresso machines are not all made equal.

    In general, with Super Automatics (which are usually expensive) you trade off coffee quality for convenience. The very best super Auto will taste at best okish but not great. But you can access a coffee with a touch of a button. Semi Automatic and manual machines (the ones where you prepare the ground coffee for extraction and steam the milk yourself) are the most popular type on the market ranging from super cheap to very expensive. Within reason, the more you spend on the machine the better and more consistent the coffee is produced.

    Espresso machine, Three Llamas Coffee

    A mid range semi automatic espresso machine with built in grinder.


    In general super cheap machines can produce ok coffee but are slow and inconsistent, parts are not maintainable and so will only last a couple of years.
    Super expensive coffee machines are pretty looking and have the ability to make coffee just like commercial espresso machine from your cafe. However they require a suitably expensive grinder to go with them which together take up lots of kitchen space. The happy medium are the machines in between. A lot of these have built in grinders to save on space, cost between $500-$1000, and have the ability to make very decent coffee. For the rest of the article we will be focusing on this type of machine as it is the most popular type of home espresso machine.

    What can make your home Espresso taste bad?

    • Beans: if you use cheap supermarket beans or have really old stale beans that have been sitting on the bench for several weeks your coffee is going to taste bad
    • Espresso machine hygiene: if you haven't cleaned your espresso machine since you bought it two years ago, your coffee will taste bad.
    • Coffee preparation technique: This is a big one. If you don't get the grind right, tamp properly, extract the correct amount or steam the milk properly, the coffee taste could range from a little disappointing to undrinkable.

    How to make your home Espresso taste better

    • Beans: Use freshly roasted beans from a high quality roaster (ideally from Three Llamas Coffee!). Coffee beans age quickly with the flavour becoming flat after a couple of weeks and stale within 3-4 weeks. So the best idea is to purchase only what you need each week. At three Llamas Coffee we roast every week so the coffee you receive is at optimum freshness.
      • Fresh beans or ground coffee: This is next most important aspect of creating a fabulous coffee. Ground coffee ages and stales much faster than whole beans. If you can, invest in a coffee grinder as there is a dramatic difference with using freshly ground coffee verses pre ground and you also have more control with the extraction of the coffee by changing the grind size.
      • Machine Hygiene: Cleanliness and servicing of the machine is also very very important as old coffee stuck in the machine contaminates the next coffee extraction. Using the correct cleaning methods of the coffee machine will also prolong its life span. Follow the manufacturers cleaning instructions for your specific espresso machine and keep up to date with your cleaning regime.
      Dirty espresso handle and basket, Three Llamas Coffee
      Dirty handle and basket will add unpleasant flavours to your brew.
        • Technique - making espresso coffee is not rocket science, but you do need to know what you are doing to get it right, so lets break it down a little........


        Coffee extraction

          The grind: how to set the correct grind to obtain the correct extraction time.
            • Step 1 - Using freshly ground coffee for each extraction makes for a better tasting coffee. Make sure you fill all the basket so that there is a mound of coffee on the top
            • Step 2 – Hold the tamp in the ball of your hand and firmly push down on the coffee so that it is level. Tamp lightly once more and give one twist. The aim is to have the coffee perfectly flat in the basket (not on a slope) and so it is sitting 0.5cm under the surface of the basket. If there is too much coffee in the basket the extraction will run very slowly.
              Tamping on an angle vs tamping the puk level, Three Llamas Coffee
              Pressing the tamp down on an angle will lead to a the coffee puk being on an angle. The resulting coffee shot will have an uneven extraction and lower quality flavour.
                    The Extraction: how long it should be and what to look for to determine if the extraction is correct                                                                 
                      • Step 3 – Purge the hot water through the extraction point, as you need to release excess heat and coffee grinds from the last extraction.
                      • Step 4 - Place the basket into the machine and press the extraction button as soon as possible.
                      • Step 5 – The extraction should begin after 5 – 10 seconds as a slow drip. It will then flow into a thin stream (not gushing). The extraction should finish at approx. 25 - 30 seconds for a double shot basket.
                      Home espresso, Three Llamas Coffee
                      Final part of the extraction: Note the fine stream and no gushing.

                        Coffee running TOO FAST (less than 20 seconds) = make the grind finer or put more grind in the basket before tamping

                        Coffee running TOO SLOW (more than 35 seconds) = make the grind coarser or put less in the basket before tamping

                         To change the grind: the grinder usually has notches on the grind setting and only move it a maximum of one notch at a time.

                        • Step 6 – Empty the coffee puck from the basket, wipe it and place it back into the coffee machine.



                        Steaming milk is split into two distinct phases: stretching the milk and texturing the milk. Stretching the milk creates the microfoam for your flat white, cappuccino etc, while texturing the milk incorporates that microfoam so the whole body of the milk is thicker and more lush in texture.


                          Stretching: Is carried out first and can only be done until the milk is warm (around 35-40C). After that any more stretching will create big hard bubbles. The degree of stretching depends on what coffee you want to produce; a flat white has little foam so only needs to be stretched a small amount, a cappuccino has a lot of foam on top so needs to be stretched more.

                            To stretch the milk place the wand tip just under the surface of the milk and to the side of the jug. Start moving the wand away from the milk gently at the beginning when the milk is cold. The aim here is to pull in some air. You want to hear some light sucking noises. If its super loud you have pulled the wand out too far and will be creating huge bubbles. If this occurs, lower the steam wand a little, back into the milk.

                            Milk steaming, Three Llamas Coffee

                            Stretching the milk: note position of the jug and steam wand.


                              Texturing: is carried out after you have finished stretching the milk. The aim of texturing is to incorporate the foam into the body of the milk and finish heating the milk.

                                Once your milk has been stretched enough move the wand deeper into the jug of milk to blend, texture and heat (say 1-2 cm deep, but no more). You want to be creating a whirlpool action, so jug angle and steam wand angle are important here. Adjust your jug until you get the whirlpool action. The ideal temperature for you steamed milk should be between 60 and 65 degrees. This is generally just after the milk jug starts to get too hot to hold.

                                Once you have finished stretching, texturing and heating the milk, give the jug a bang onto the bench top, this helps any bubbles in the milk to rise to the surface and pop.

                                Swirl your milk to keep it from splitting and pour your milk strait away. If it sits to long it will split and be difficult to pour. The milk should have a smooth and silky consistency with only micro bubbles.

                                 Home espresso coffee, Three Llamas Coffee

                                 Different coffee types

                                • Short Black – A straight extraction with no extra water added
                                • Long black – Approx 85-100 mls hot water, ( 2/3rds full in a tulip cup ) with an extraction added on the top
                                • Ristretto – A restricted shot that is served as a black or white coffee
                                • Flat white – An extraction topped with textured milk. A 0.5cm foam cap
                                • Latte - An extraction topped with textured milk. A 1 cm foam cap
                                • Cappuccino - An extraction topped with textured milk. A 1.5 cm foam cap and a dusting of cinnamon or chocolate
                                • Hot Chocolate – Hot chocolate powder mixed with hot water, topped with textured milk. A 1.5 cm foam cap. A dusting of chocolate on the top, marshmallows on the side
                                • Mochaccino - Hot chocolate powder mix mixed with hot water and an extraction added on then top then stirred. Topped with textured milk. A 1.5 cm foam cap. A dusting of chocolate on the top, marshmallows on the side
                                • Chai Latte - Chai powder or syrup mixed with hot water, topped with textured milkm. A 1 cm foam cap and a dusting of cinnamon
                                • Dirty Chai – Chai powder or syrup mixed with hot water and an extraction added on top, stirred, then topped with textured milk. A 1 cm foam cap and a dusting of cinnamon
                                • Short Macchiato - A straight extraction with no extra water added. A tablespoon of foam is added to the top of the coffee
                                • Long Macchiato - Approx 85-100 mls water, ( 2/3rds full in a tulip cup) with an extraction added on the top. A tablespoon of foam is added to the top of the coffee





                                Back to News