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Lever machines are finicky so supplies are important — especially the grinder & beans. The Rancilio Rocky you see here is an inexpensive option capable of producing an even espresso grind.
Before starting every session, check the level of water in the tank using the water gauge. In this photo shows the gauge reading for a full tank.
If the tank is low, unscrew the tank cap and fill it with water. A small funnel is handy here. Mind the water gauge so as not to overfill the tank. (It needs room to make steam!)
Replace the tank cap — snug but not overly tight.
Now turn on the machine and start making steam!
In about 10 minutes the pressure will reach 1 bar. Check your pressure gauge or wait until the boiling/tinker sound from inside the tank stops.
Fill the hopper with your favorite bean and set the grinder low enough for a fine espresso grind. On the Rocky, I start with 14-15 for most beans and adjust as necessary to perfect the pull.
Unfortunately, the pressure is usually a false pressure. Bleed the pressure using the steam wand valve then allow it to rebuild to 1 bar. Repeat this cycle until the steam pressure is steady.
A cold portafilter makes a lousy first espresso. Heat it up for the first pull using hot water. Running it under a hot water tap works just fine. Or, do an empty pull (no coffee) on the machine.
Fill the warm portafilter basket with fresh ground coffee. Grind just enough so you have a little mound of coffee on top.
Using your finger, gently level off the grinds so the basket is completely full of fresh grinds. I like to use a two-pass or circular sweep to make sure there are no gaps.
Using a coffee tamper, press the grinds down firmly and evenly. How hard you press depends on how finely you ground be coffee. Experiment. A firm twist at the end helps level out any stray grinds.
Lock & load. Load the portafilter with the handle just shy of 9 o'clock and rotate to lock at the 7 o'clock position.
Ready your espresso cup! Just like the portafilter, a warm cup will serve you best. I preheat mine by resting them on the machine during prep — like this.
After all that hard work, it's finally time to pull the espresso! Place the cup so it will catch both streams from the portifilter.
Start the pull by lifting the lever all the way up. If the grind & tamp are good you'll have a 3-10 second delay before the first drips. Wait for that before pressing down firm & steady.
A good pull usually takes 22-25 seconds. Make the coffee work for it. Success is in the beautiful creama shown here at the edge of the cup. Bean, grind, tamp & pull all work in concert for perfection.
Making espresso makes a mess. Don't skip the cleanup. Empty your puck to the compost or a handy tamp box like this. No need to wash the basket before the next cup. Remember, a hot filter works best.
The Italians say there are 5 Ms to making espresso. Bean, grind, tamp & hand are the first 4. The 5th is Maintenance. Take good care of your machine and it will take good care of your coffee!