I have been making espresso at home for almost a week now. I bought the Flair Espresso maker so I could get into espresso without having to spend too much on a machine. I have many reservations about espresso machines—if I could fit one in the kitchen, cost, if the machine would be compatible with my power—so I thought I would stick with lever espresso making. There is something quite special about being able to make espresso with (almost) no electricity.
I never thought that I would be slinging the best espresso shots I could make within a few days of buying the Flair. I did not have any thoughts on how long it would take me to learn how to make espresso. Now, however, I have a clearer idea of what it takes to brew espresso at home.
Making espresso at home is a challenge, more so than I expected. I knew that espresso was, in a word, finicky. Grind size, dose, ratio, temperature of the brew head, and more factors all influence how espresso tastes. I have been taking notes on all of my most recent shots and I have still not pulled one that I would be happy to serve to someone else. I have pulled some good shots. One tasted really good as an Americano. But these judgements are by my personal standards on what I will drink rather than what I would want to give someone else to drink.
Home espresso has taken a lot of trial and error, like any other brewing method. James Hoffmann says that you should not get into espresso unless you want a new hobby. I agree with that statement. I spent hours over the weekend with my Flair Espresso maker and I tried over 10 recipes. I read prospective solutions to the issue I was facing time-and-time again—sour shots—and tried to use the feedback I received to improve my coffee. I feel closer to the goal, but I am still not quite there yet. Getting to a better espresso shot is going to take time.
I like how the Flair espresso maker gives me so much insight into what is involved in making espresso. Lever machines do take a lot of work, not just in terms of the force required to push down the lever but also in the research you need to do and the preparation required to make a brew. At the moment, I am boiling my group head in a pan. I need to boil water in a pan to make my espresso. (NB: There are better ways around this but none that I can explore yet with my current setup, which I do not intend on changing much aside from the addition of the new grinder I have ordered.)
I have noticed that small changes on my Encore have massive impacts on the final espresso. This, evidently, is down to the changes that the grinder makes each time I change the step. I have learned why stepless grinders are useful: they give the barista more control over their espresso. Reflecting on my journey so far I realise exactly why I am spending so much time learning about coffee: I love it. I love making coffee in a vast range of ways.
Taking notes has been helpful as I try new combinations of shots. I do not have a fancy journal or an app I use. I use Apple Notes, which is the most convenient for me. I take notes on dose in, yield out, grind size, time for the shot, and what the shot tastes like. Right now there are a lot of "sour" and "too sour" notes in my journal but I hope with some practice I will be able to get to more "good" and even a "great" shot.