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The JavaJim Jam by Jim Piccinich
My Espresso is Cold!
Author: Jim Piccinich
Posted: October 23, 2002
Article rating: 8.3
feedback: (9) comments | read | write
Nicely laden crema

At least once a week, a customer always graciously calls with a troubleshooting question with regards to an espresso extraction being lukewarm or cold. Our customer’s first usual thought is that the machine is defective, but 99.99999% of the time, it is usually a flaw in the preparation of the espresso extraction.

Temperature Guideline

As a general rule of thumb (a guideline at our company), the temperature of the water at the point of contact and extraction with the ground coffee should fall into a range of 190 degrees Fahrenheit to 204 degrees Fahrenheit (at sea level).  We do not mean the temperature of the coffee at the cup. Please note:

  1. This is a guideline accepted by many in the industry, and some industry experts have the right to disagree or establish their own guideline, which includes their own acceptable range of temperature,
  2. Every espresso coffee blend is composed of beans, from different regions of the world, different countries, different coffee producing farms, and even different lots of production from the same farm. Each blend, made up of different beans, may have a different optimal temperature for proper extraction and maximal flavor optimization, and
  3. Different espresso machine manufacturers may have different guidelines, which entail production of an espresso machine that may not produce hot water within our guideline. Therefore, being outside this guideline would not constitute a defect in the machine, but would constitute a production feature set by the manufacturer to not coincide with the guideline set forth within OUR company.

An "Easy Way" to Measure Temperature....

(WARNING: at your own risk)

Click for larger image

First, you will need a thermometer that can instantly read a temperature between 140 and 220 degrees Fahrenheit. The second step is to ascetain the boiling point for your thermometer by placing it into boiling water. After your machine has warmed up as per details below, pierce your thermometer through the top portion of a 10-12 ounce styrofoam cup angled towards the bottom of the cup. Place the cup into the group head of your espresso machine so as to minimize the amount of air entering the cup inside. Engage the coffee brew switch or touchpad and watch the temperature on the thermometer. Disengage the coffee brew switch in between 15 and 20 seconds. Be careful not to burn yourself by overfilling the styrofoam cup. Perform this for several cycles to acquire an average for your machine. Be careful not to burn yourself by overfilling the styrofoam cup.

Make It HOT! HOT! HOT!

Traditional Espresso Machines with Filter Handle

Spidem Delizia Espresso Machines

When you’re warming up your traditional espresso machine… start thinking of that song “HOT! HOT! HOT!” by Buster Poindexter, and if no one is around or looking, we won’t mind that little dance.

First off, when the ready light goes on or off (it depends upon the machine), the machine is really not ready. Make sure to have water in the reservoir and the espresso machine is primed as per your manufacturer’s instructions. Plug in the machine and power ‘on’. While the espresso machine is warming up, place the filter basket without coffee into the filter handle, load it into the group head, and fully lock it into place. Once the machine is ‘ready’ (ready light on or off per manufacturer’s instructions), place a cup (better to use the one that is used for the espresso extraction) underneath the spouts of the filter handle, and then press the coffee switch.  Remove enough water so that the machine needs to reheat itself (again, the ready light will come back on or off based on the manufacturer’s instructions). Repeat this process a second time. The purpose of this exercise is to insure that the group head, filter basket, portafilter, and cup/glass are HOT!

Second, if you are serving multiple espresso only beverages, it is important to pre-heat all the cups and/or glasses with hot water from the espresso machine. The reason is that espresso usually loses up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit by time it contacts the surface of a HOT cup or glass and up to 75 degrees Fahrenheit when espresso is extracted into a cold or room temperature cup/glass. In addition, to maximize crema production, it is best to utilize the smallest cup or glass possible for the extraction.

Third, if you are serving multiple espresso beverages with steamed or frothed milk, it is important that all the cups are heated. There are two ways to accomplish this:

  1. Hot water from the espresso machine can be placed into the cup (at least half filled with water) and removed immediately before pouring in the espresso and steamed/frothed milk, or

  2. The milk can be steamed and/or frothed directly in the cup.

Fourth, the above needs to be followed if a period of time (about 5 minutes) elapses from the last espresso extraction to the current one being made.

Super Automatic Espresso Machines

Click for larger image

By design, super automatic espresso machines that do not have a bypass doser or do not have an active heating element on the brew group cannot be preheated with water. On these machines, the first espresso extraction will directly heat the entire pathway for the espresso.

On super automatics that do have bypass dosers, the pathway can be preheated by

  1. Selecting the bypass doser button, and
  2. Selecting the coffee button or setting the water volume dial that would pass about 4-6 ounces of water through the espresso pathway

The second and third section of the traditional espresso machine section applies for super automatics.

A Word on Cup Warmers

Although a nice feature on home model machines, they are useless unless your espresso machine has an auto water refill circuit to allow you to keep the espresso machine on all day. The reason is that cups can take up to two hours to heat up when placed over an espresso machine or active cup warmer plate. Cups are better heated with the hot water from the espresso machine - either through the group head or available hot water/steam wand - the reason is that the temperature of this water will be closest to the temperature of the water during the espresso extraction.

HELP! My Espresso Machine's Hot Water is Less Than 190 Degrees!

No worries here! A small trick is to run water through the group head to make sure the boiler or thermoblock is full of water. then find the appropriate timing that will bring the temperature up to the point desired. Please note that we are not responsible for any damages or personal injury that could result from this helpful hint. In addition, this will not work on espresso machines that monitor the temperature of the water and do not allow you to extract espresso in steam mode (i.e. super automatic espresso machines).


Espresso extraction...

The Final Stretch…

The temperature of the espresso is not only important for our customer’s personal reason. It is also important for the espresso itself. Lack of proper heating can impact the production of crema, and more so have an impact on the taste. The perfect bean can be found, the right grind can be determined, the proper dose can easily be measured, the tamp can be relatively accurate, and the timing of the espresso extraction can be on the nose, but if the pathway of components has not been preheated, the espresso extraction would be lost in the final stretch - the temperature of the espresso extraction. Remember, keep it HOT! HOT! HOT!

I hope you have found this article informative. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions - due to the volume of calls we are receiving for the upcoming holidays, I sincerely ask that all inquiries be e-mailed.

A Buon’ Espresso!

Article rating: 8.3
Author: Jim Piccinich
Posted: October 23, 2002
feedback: (9) comments | read | write
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