15 Espresso Accessories to Step Up Your Game
So, you want to make amazing espresso at home. Buying an espresso machine is a great start. Well done. But what about all those extras you see at the specialty coffee shops? How do they work? What are they used for? Do you really need to make room for them in your budget?
This article has all the answers. Keep reading to learn about the essential espresso accessories and how they’ll make your morning brew much tastier.
Part 1: The Essential Espresso Accessories
Choosing a good espresso machine with the right features (or if you feel like your machine is lacking, espresso machine mods are the answer) is vital to make a good espresso. But you also need one thing on your espresso bar that is so important it should hardly be considered an accessory: an espresso grinder.
An espresso-specific grinder
Good all-around grinders exist. Yet, if you want to get serious about espresso, you should consider a dedicated espresso grinder.
What does that mean?
For one, you want stepless adjustment. Having infinite grind settings is crucial for perfectly dialing in a shot of espresso.
You also need something that can grind finely and uniformly. The whole point of the espresso is that it extracts quickly, which is why it was invented (1). To facilitate that, you need very finely ground coffee that packs perfectly into a puck.
To meet these criteria, espresso grinders are generally more expensive. If you have the money to spend, we recommend the Eureka Atom 75. If you’d like to save a bit of cash, opt for a manual grinder like the 1Zpresso JX Pro. Just be prepared to put in a little elbow grease for your morning brew.
Of course, don’t forget to pair your grinder with a good bag of espresso beans. Contrary to popular belief, you need not buy beans labeled “espresso.” You can use any coffee you love for espresso. In general, espresso beans tend to yield more reliable results and a more traditional flavor profile (2). We like the Lifeboost Espresso, a tasty dark roast with classic chocolate flavors.
Part 2: Preparing the Puck
Once you’ve got your beans and grinder, it’s time to prepare the espresso puck. This is when you pack the ground coffee uniformly into the portafilter in preparation for extraction. Alas, it’s not as simple as it sounds. But luckily, there are some handy tools to help you out.
Please note that not all portafilters are created equal. They can differ in diameter. Some are bottomless. Picking between pressurized vs non-pressurized portafilter is also a thing.
A Coffee Scale
When making any style of coffee at home, a good scale is one of the easiest ways to upgrade your home set-up. It lets you weigh the amount of coffee you use and the amount of espresso it yields, vital figures when dialing in the perfect shot. And it allows you to stay consistent from one shot to the next.
The most important feature of a scale is its precision. You want one that’s precise to at least 0.1 grams.
For serious coffee nerds, the Acaia Pearl is a popular choice, though it is undeniably expensive. Fortunately, there are many more affordable options on Amazon if you’re on a budget, like the BOMATA Coffee Scale.
The nice thing about investing in a scale is it’s one of the few multipurpose espresso accessories. Your tamper probably won’t find use beyond your coffee bar, but a scale is excellent for cooking and baking.
Tamper and Tamping Station
Why do we tamp ground coffee for espresso? The idea is to compress it into a uniform, dense puck. So when the high pressure of water hits it, the water doesn’t just shoot straight through. A general guideline is to aim for about 30 pounds of pressure when tamping (3).
Most tampers are simple designs with a round metal base sized for your filter basket and a knob on top so you can hold it comfortably. They come in various colors and designs, making it an easy way to add some flair to your espresso bar.
Some tampers are a bit more complicated and more expensive. Calibrated tampers let you apply a precise amount of pressure each time. This removes a source of error in your espresso preparation and is great for consistency. Our top tamper pick is the Espro Calibrated Tamper.
There are also automatic tampers, which do the work for you. These are very expensive! Yet, they’re worthwhile in high-volume environments, where baristas are prone to wrist injuries (4).
Along with the tamper, it’s nice to have a tamping mat or station. These make tamping easier, avoid mess, and protect your countertop. If your portafilter has an angled handle such that it lies flat on a surface, you’ll only need a basic silicone mat. If your portafilter isn’t flat, it’s worth spending a bit more on a tamping station to hold the portafilter.
Levelers and Distributors
If you’re newer to home espresso, you may not have heard about levelers or distributors. But they can be just as crucial as the tamper. Some can serve to replace the tamper altogether.
Levels and distributors are designed to prepare a flat surface of ground coffee that is ready to tamp. However, some also have adjustable depths, so they function as tampers as well. For example, we love the popular Asso Coffee Jack leveler.
Weiss Distribution Tool
The Weiss Distribution Technique (WDT) is one of very few easy and cheap ways to improve your espresso.
What is it?
It’s just stirring your ground coffee in the portafilter before you level and tamp. This breaks up any clumps and leaves you with a more uniform grounds distribution. Says technique developer John Weiss:
Stirring creates a uniform distribution of grounds throughout the filter basket, which is impossible to achieve by pushing the grounds around the surface of the puck.
It is especially useful if you don’t have a top-of-the-line grinder, though even commercial baristas have reported the value of the technique.
You can buy WDT tools online on crafting sites like Etsy, but it’s easy to make your own. The most common method is to poke a few fine needles into a wine cork, but even something as simple as a single needle or safety pin does the trick.
A funnel isn’t necessarily mandatory. But depending on your grinder, it can be instrumental. If you can’t grind directly into your portafilter, a funnel makes it much easier to transfer your ground coffee to the filter basket without spilling. This keeps your counter clean. More importantly, it ensures you’re getting precisely the dose you weighed out.
Using a funnel is especially important if you plan to use the WDT discussed above. Otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to stir the grounds in the portafilter without spilling.
Part 3: Making a Drink
Okay, your coffee puck is prepared, and you’ve slotted your portafilter into the espresso machine. It’s time to make a drink. Let’s look at what accessories will make your life easier at this stage.
It may surprise you to learn that the shape, material, color, and pattern of your mug influences how you experience your coffee. Well, it’s true! So the perfect espresso cup is A MUST (5). The first thing is to use the right size for your favorite drink. Here’s a handy chart:
The material also matters. Ceramic or porcelain has a nice combination of mouthfeel and heat retention. Double-wall options, either glass or stainless steel, have excellent heat retention, but some people don’t like the feel of the thicker rim when drinking. It’s up to you. Just avoid plastic cups at all costs.
If you’re an aspiring latte artist, the shape of your mug is important too. A rounded bottom makes pouring art easier. Our favorite espresso mug, found here, is the Fellow Monty. Monty has been scientifically engineered to facilitate latte art.
Most espresso machines have a steam wand for steaming and frothing milk. But if your machine lacks a wand, you’ll need a separate frother to make a creamy latte or cappuccino. The same applies if you’re making pseudo-espresso using a Moka pot or Aeropress.
There are two categories of milk frother: wands and fully automatic vessels.
A frothing wand is like a small battery-powered whisk that incorporates air into your milk. It doesn’t heat the milk, so prepare to do this separately if you want a hot drink. With a fully automatic frother, you add milk, and it does the rest. Most of these give you the option to set a temperature, including our favorite frother, the Breville Milk Cafe. Automatic frothers are more practical to use but also more expensive.
A frothing pitcher is a stainless-steel pitcher that holds the milk as you froth it with a steam wand. Most pitchers are very similar. The only important consideration is the size. Remember that frothing milk increases its volume considerably, so if you plan to make large lattes or cappuccinos, size your pitcher accordingly.
Related: How to make a macchiato.
You can also find variations in color and the shape of the spout, but that largely comes down to personal choice. We love the JoeFrex Steaming Pitcher, which comes in two sizes and a variety of colors.
Experienced baristas can gauge the correct milk temperature by feel. The outside of the pitcher should feel hot but not too hot to hold. But while you’re still learning, a thermometer can be a helpful accessory. Ideally, the milk should be between 130 and 145 ℉. It will scald if it gets too hot, which ruins both its flavor and texture (6).
Part 4: Cleaning Up
Keeping an espresso machine clean might seem like a lot of work, especially with a higher-end machine. Still, the return on your investment is fantastic. Your machine will last longer, and you’ll spend less money on repairs along the way. So let’s look at what tools you need for the job.
A knock box is a simple but valuable addition to your espresso bar, and it can be very cheap. It’s essentially an empty bin with a bar across the top. After each espresso shot, use the bar to knock the used grounds out of the portafilter into the bin.
It saves you dripping your way over to the nearest garbage can. More importantly, it makes it easy to clean your portafilter immediately, sparing it from the build-up of coffee oil gunk. There are plenty of choices when it comes to buying a knock box. You can pick up a cheap plastic knock box for under $20. However, we suggest something a bit sturdier, like the Breville BCB100.
Other Cleaning Supplies
To keep the surfaces of the espresso machine clean, as well as your counter, a good set of microfibre cloths is a must. Be sure to wipe the milk off your steam wand immediately after frothing to avoid a build-up of very unappetizing milk scum.
To keep the interior clean, you should occasionally backflush using a coffee-specific cleaning solution. Our pick is the Urnex Coffee Equipment Cleaning Powder.
If you have a grinder, this too requires regular cleaning. A soft brush, like a paintbrush, is useful for sweeping grounds. Also, you can use a stiffer brush for cleaning the burrs. You should use a dedicated cleaning solution for your grinder on occasion as well, like the Urnex Biocaf Grinder Cleaner.
Adding the right mix of accessories to your home espresso bar is crucial. It will improve your efficiency, make your workflow more pleasant, and yield better tasting espresso. Best of all, it will keep your espresso machine running longer.
Now with this article, you’re ready for a home espresso bar that will be the envy of all your friends.
- Stamp, J. (2012, June 19). The Long History of the Espresso Machine. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-long-history-of-the-espresso-machine-126012814/
- Woodley, G. (2017, November 30). Roasting For Espresso. Retrieved from https://www.ikawacoffee.com/at-home/blog/roasting-for-espresso/
- Chicoteau, D. (2017, October 3). Tamping Technique Demystified. Retrieved from https://www.sevenmiles.com.au/editorial/tamping-technique-demystified/
- Johnson, M. (2019, May 16). Tamp That! The History & Importance of Tamping and Distribution. Retrieved from https://www.coffeemagazine.co.za/blog/9/5637/tamp-that
- Ferdman, R. A. (2014, December 9). The color of your coffee mug can change the way your coffee tastes. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/12/09/how-the-color-of-your-coffee-mug-can-change-the-way-your-coffee-tastes/
- Korhonen, J. (2017, October 3). 5 Easy Tips That Will Make Your Latte Art Flourish. Retrieved from https://www.baristainstitute.com/blog/jori-korhonen/october-2017/5-easy-tips-will-make-your-latte-art-flourish