Sage makes some of the best domestic espresso machines available right now. There are, however, a few best practices that you need to follow in order to make great espresso, rather than just merely good espresso.
Here we will go through our top tips for making the best possible espresso with your Sage machine.
1. Use a Single Walled Portafilter Basket for Coffee You Grind Yourself and A Dual Walled Basket For Pre Ground Coffee
All Sage machines come with four types of portafilter basket. They are:
- A single walled portafilter basket large enough for a single shot
- A single walled portafilter large enough for a double shot
- A dual walled portafilter large enough for a single shot
- A dual walled portafilter large enough for a double shot
Single and dual walled portafilters differ in the number of holes they have in their bottom that your liquid coffee can come out of.
Single walled portafilter baskets have dozens, if not hundreds of tiny holes, while dual walled portafilters only have one tiny hole. In the image you can see the Dual walled portafilter on the right. The red circle shows the single hole (the other holes are filled in).
Pre ground coffee tends to be coarser than freshly ground coffee. This means that your brewing water will flow through the coffee bed too quickly when you brew because there are relatively large gaps between each grind. This lack of contact time between ground coffee and brewing water creates a very weak espresso.
The dual walled portafilter’s single hole creates a bottleneck so that your brewing water cannot pass through your coffee bed as quickly. This helps you create a stronger espresso with pre ground coffee.
Fresh, finely ground coffee should create enough resistance in itself to allow for your brewing water to extract it without the assistance of a dual walled portafilter. Using a dual walled portafilter with this type of coffee will therefore result in over extraction and make your espresso very bitter.
You should therefore use a single walled portafilter with freshly ground coffee. This includes coffee ground by the Sage machines with a built-in grinder (like the Barista Express and Barista Pro).
2. Warm Up Your Portafilter Basket Prior to Brewing
Espresso should be brewed at no lower than 92 Celsius. If it is brewed at a lower temperature than this, then your brewing water will not be able to dissolve the soluble, flavourful compounds in your ground coffee efficiently enough to create a tasty final drink.
While your Sage machine heats up water to this temperature, if your portafilter basket (the metal tray where your ground coffee sits during brewing) is cold then your water temperature will drop below 92 Celsius during brewing.
You therefore want to warm up your portafilter basket prior to brewing.
The easiest way to do this is to pull a shot without any ground coffee in your portafilter. This is called pulling a “blank shot” and is common practice among baristas to bring their coffee machine to temperature.
3. Use the Quantity of Coffee Specified on Your Portafilter Basket
As mentioned earlier, the portafilter basket is the metal bowl that holds your ground coffee during brewing.
If it holds significantly more or significantly less than this specified amount, then your coffee will not extract evenly, and this will create an overly bitter drink.
Sage portafilter baskets are designed to hold the following amounts of coffee:
- Single baskets are designed to hold 9 grams of coffee
- Double baskets are designed to hold 18 grams of coffee
Ideally you will weigh out your ground coffee so you hit these amounts for the basket you use.
Unfortunately, Sage machines with built in grinders do not weigh out your coffee, but rather dose out your coffee by time to grind. The best way to dose by weight with these machines is to find out what weight each grind time corresponds to and work from there.
4. Fine Tune Your Coffee Using Grind Size Rather Than Coffee Quantity
While it's tempting to try and remedy an underwhelming espresso by simply brewing with more coffee, this is akin to trying to hammer a tiny nail with a sledgehammer. Even small changes in coffee quantity can completely transform your espresso’s taste.
Its therefore better to fine tune your espresso by playing around with grind size, rather than with the quantity of coffee used.
As a general rule:
- If your espresso is too sharp or too watery then you want to grind your coffee finer
- If your espresso is too bitter or harsh tasting then you want to grind your coffee coarser.
One of the best things about Sage Barista machines is that their grinders have a huge number of grind settings. Therefore you can make really fine adjustments to how your espresso tastes through changing grind size.
Just remember not to tune your grinder to its absolute finest setting as this can make the grinder prone to clogging up (machines do come with small brushes to help you unclog your grinder when this happens).
5. Don’t Steam Your Milk Too Hot
Sage machines have excellent milk steamers that allow you to make velvety frothed milk for cappuccinos and lattes.
The biggest mistake that you can make when steaming milk is steaming it to too high a temperature.
While I understand that you want a final drink that is hot, at around 70 Celsius milk proteins start to denature.
This fundamentally changes the smell and taste of milk (you might be familiar with the “cooked egg” smell that happens when you simmer milk at too high a temperature) and is therefore not what you want when making a milk based espresso drink.
A good way to check whether you are steaming your milk too hot is by touching the outside of your milk jug when steaming. If you are finding the jug even marginally uncomfortable to touch, then you are at risk of scorching your milk.
Sage machines are excellent espresso machines that allow you to make fantastic coffee.
By its very nature, making espresso is a bit more fiddly than making filter coffee, however if you follow the steps outlined above, and use the high quality coffee beans, then you should be making fantastic espresso in no time.