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How to Get Started as a Home Barista Espresso Bar Setup, Tools, Tips

Want to become a home barista? These are the tools, tips, and the espresso bar setup to get you started.

I was always a tea-over-coffee person. But after getting off my antidepressants this year, which some call poor man’s cocaine, I needed something stronger to get me out of bed. That’s when I started my coffee journey with the help of some home barista friends.

So far, I enjoy making espresso as part of my morning routine. Previously, I had no routine despite my therapist gently suggesting it for years. Here, we’re talking about why you would want a home espresso setup, the best home espresso machines for beginners, the best coffee grinders, and all the essential tools and tips on how to get set up (including mistakes I made along the way).

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Last Updated: December 29, 2023

Benefits of Having a Home Espresso Bar Setup

  • Developing Skills – I’m a student for life, so learning the art of crafting the perfect cup is right up my alley. It’s my top reason for putting together a home espresso setup.
  • Saves Money – even though the price is steeper up front, it can save you money in the long run.
  • Convenience  – no more lines or driving to your nearest coffee shop. Occasionally, we’ll still go socially and try a new spot in town, but now Caffe a Casa has you covered for your daily cup.
  • Have it Your Way – you have more control over the coffee beans, roast levels, grind size, extraction time, and temps, and you can customize it to your taste preferences.
  • Morning Routine – can be a cozy and positive way to start your day.

Pro Tip: Before you get set up, you want good-quality coffee beans and clean water. One of my favorite travel souvenirs is to pick up a bag of coffee beans from a local coffee shop (I recently loved this one from Capetown). You can test your water using this water quality test pen.

See More: 101 New Hobbies to Start This Year – Listed by Types of Hobbies

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Best Entry Level Espresso Machine for Beginners

  • Gaggia Classic Pro (Beginner-Intermediate) is a sturdy, semi-automatic machine for espresso enthusiasts wanting more hands-on control. I got the GCP because I enjoyed borrowing and toying with my friend’s machine while his kitchen was renovated.
  • Breville Barista Express (Beginner) is the most popular home espresso machine and what several of my home barista friends use. It’s easy to clean and maintain and has reliable pressure. The steam wand is easy to maneuver. Depending on how deep you get into your espresso hobby, you may eventually want to upgrade the built-in grinder, which is the weakest part of this machine.
  • Breville Bambino Plus (Beginner) – the most approachable, compact, and user-friendly machine. The automatic features make it easy to pull an espresso shot. Unlike the BBE, you need to buy a separate grinder.
  • Flair Espresso Maker (Beginner) – great choice for someone on a budget who doesn’t mind manual lever extractions. It can be more time-consuming, but you may love controlling the pressure with your own hands.
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Best Home Espresso Grinder for the Home Barista

  • Niche Zero Grinder (Intermediate) – This was a splurge for me, but our friends who use it told me it’s worth the investment. It’s one of the first things they upgraded. One major con is that it only ships from the UK, and shipping is expensive, too (add another $50).
  • Manual Hand Grinders (Beginner) – 1Zpresso J and the Timemore Manual Hand Grinder are popular hand grinders.
  • Baratza Encore Coffee Grinder (Beginner) – user-friendly and reliable entry-level grinder.
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Must-Have Tools and Espresso Accessories for the Home Barista

  • Tamper – for uniform and effective coffee puck compression. I am using my friend’s LuxHaus Tamper, the best budget tamper. He upgraded to a La Marzocco one, so I get his hand-me-downs.
  • Digital Espresso Scale – for precise coffee dosing and timing your espresso shots. This is the one I use. Thinner ones will fit better under your espresso machine. I love the minimalist design and espresso mode, where the timer starts automatically when it senses the first drip of coffee.
  • Bottomless Portafilter – If you’re learning, it helps to have visual feedback when extracting coffee. When you’re shopping for one, make sure you have both the correct size and tab style. I learned the hard way when I ordered this pretty 58mm Portafilter with the wrong tabs.
  • Coffee Canisters help reduce food waste by preserving your beans’ freshness. It is a must-have for our household since I’m the only one who drinks coffee. I use the Airscape Coffee Canisters. Most airtight storage locks in the air with food. I love their easy-to-use inner plunger lid that pushes out excess air. I’ve also checked out my BIL’s Fellow Canister, which has a sleek design, but the lid mechanism for pushing out air is annoying.
  • Milk Pitcher – I mainly use this one to make cortados and cappuccinos. This one feels higher quality than other milk pitchers I’ve tried, and it isn’t much pricier. I also have this 20 oz pitcher with a metal piece that helps vortex the milk. In hindsight, I would go with a regular pitcher since cleaning it is harder.
  • Milk Steamer/Frother – for lattes and cappuccinos if your machine does not already have one.

Pro Tip: Order the correct sizes and tab styles for your machine.

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Nice-to-Have Home Barista Tools and Equipment List

The order is based on how much they affect my process.

  • Puck Screen – it helps distribute water and pressure evenly and keeps the group head clean.
  • WDT Tool (Weiss Distribution Technique) – breaks up clumps to make coffee grounds more uniform. You can also use a toothpick/paperclip, but I LOVE this aluminum one by Introvert.
  • VST Precision Basket – it’s a popular choice among home and professional baristas for quality, uniformity, and precise hole patterns better than +/- 30 μm. I have the 18 and 20 g ridgeless, the official filter at WBC competitions.
  • Espresso Shot Glass Pitcher – I can finally use my drip tray since everything fits under! Also, this is so hefty that I’ll probably use it for life.
  • Dosing Funnel – This helps me avoid getting coffee grounds everywhere. I use this one with a magnetic base that clicks onto your portafilter.
  • Dosing Cup – My Niche came with the one I use. It gets staticky, which I hear goes away after several uses or with RDT (learn more in tips).
  • Bellow – My Niche has a lot of static; sometimes, I lose up to 0.4 g. This cute Introvert bellow helps me get to near-zero retention.
  • Jack Leveler/Distributor – sits in your portafilter and spins to create an even surface. Some say it’s aesthetic and doesn’t change much for taste.
  • Low Profile Drip Tray – my current portafilter, cup, scale, and standard drip tray don’t fit under. Get a bottomless portafilter or a low-profile drip tray on Etsy to fix that.
  • Knock Box – I also don’t mind walking to my compost, but my friend hated watching me do this and ordered this one.

Pro Tip: Pay attention to sizing. With precision baskets, a 58 mm leaves tiny room around the perimeter.

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Best Espresso Machine Cleaning Powder and Tools for the home barista

How to Make Espresso at Home – A Step-by-Step Guide

Once you have quality coffee beans and all the essential espresso equipment, here are the steps to make espresso using an espresso machine.

  1. Preheat the espresso machine – Usually about 10-15 minutes. The water temperature must be stable, consistent, and ready to brew.
  2. Grind coffee beans – Dialing in the grind size for each coffee may take a few tries. Espressos have a finer grind size.
  3. Prepare portafilter – Dose the appropriate amount of coffee (usually 18-20 grams for a double shot) into a clean, dry portafilter.
  4. Weiss distribution technique (WDT) is an optional step to break up clumps in your coffee grounds. It can enhance extraction uniformity. You can buy this tool or use a toothpick or paperclip. Some people also use a jack leveler after WDT to further distribute.
  5. Tamp the coffee – it needs to be consistent, with level pressure.
  6. Insert Portafilter – lock and secure it into the espresso machine’s group head.
  7. Start Extraction – hot water is forced through tamped coffee grounds at approximately 9 bars of pressure. Extraction time is typically between 25-30 seconds. Read about temperature surfing here.
  8. Monitor the Shot – A well-pulled shot has a steady, dark, rich espresso flow with a golden crema on top.
  9. Stop the Extraction at the desired amount of espresso. A typical starting point is a 1:2 coffee-to-water ratio, so for 18 grams of coffee, you aim to extract 36 grams of espresso shot.
  10. Serve Immediately – espresso is best enjoyed immediately in a demitasse cup. Or add water or milk first, depending on the type of coffee drink you’re making.

Achieving the perfect espresso shot takes a combination of precise steps, practice, and experimentation. I write down the dose, grind size, and extraction time while dialing in my settings.

See More: Best Gifts for Photographers

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Essential Tips for Your Home Espresso Setup

  • Practice, practice, practice – there are many variables, and one of the firsts to master is consistent tamping.
  • Experiment with grind size and dose – even though there’s a rule of thumb for extraction times and coffee-to-water ratio, you may find something you like by breaking the rules.
  • RDT (Ross Droplet Technique) – Some add water to their grounds to eliminate static in the grinder and dosing cup. Niche does not recommend RDT unless it’s a small amount of water. Instead, some use a wooden skewer on this Reddit thread.
  • Temperature Surfing on the Gaggia Classic Pro – “Once you heat your espresso machine, it will oscillate between 184-209 degrees F (84.8-98.5 C). Flush the group head until the light turns off. Once the light turns back on, wait 10 seconds, switch on the steam wand for 5 seconds, then switch it off. – Lance Hedrick 
  • Poor Man’s Pre-infusion – this can “heal” some puck prep imperfections. Don’t turn on the steam, but open the steamer knob about ⅛ to shoot out hot water (have something ready to catch it). 8-10 secs pre-infusion, then close the steam knob and brew like normal. – Tip from Reddit 
  • The Aerocano is a fun “nitro brew”  to experiment with your espresso machine.
  • Keep your equipment clean to not affect the taste of future espresso shots.
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Best Gifts for Coffee Lovers

  • Coffee – My favorite travel souvenirs for friends and family are consumables. This includes coffee; luckily, many places sell beans online if you run out of luggage space. Recently, I’ve been making coffee from Caribbrew. Did you know Haiti used to be a major coffee producer until the 1960s? Beverly, a Haitian American and founder of Caribbrew, partners with farmers in Haiti to create sustainable jobs with fair wages.
  • Coffee Subscription – I’ve only tried Atlas Coffee Club (they also have a tea subscription). Atlas sends you coffee from around the globe. There are a few others I will check out and let you know how they go. With any subscription, you’ll get some coffee you love and some you don’t.
  • Cometeer – these flash-frozen coffee capsules from the best roasters in the country come in recyclable aluminum pods. They are great when you feel lazy but still crave delicious coffee. All you have to do is thaw and mix with water or milk. Get $20 off your first subscription. My coffee-lover friends mention how it tastes sometimes better than their coffee.
  • Demitasse Cups and Latte Cups
  • Tamp Station – includes a knock box and slots to organize your tools. Not everyone likes having it all together.
  • Gooseneck Electric Kettle – The Fellow Stagg is a splurge, the Bodum kettle is affordable, and there are plenty of mid-range kettles with temperature control.
  • Barista Classes – You can learn anything from making better espresso to pouring latte art.
  • Expresso Accessories can go from affordable to extra bougie, so you can decide what upgrade they get.

See More: 15 Best Subscription Boxes for Travelers

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Frequently Asked Questions

How often should an espresso machine be cleaned? What happens if you don’t clean your espresso machine?

If you don’t clean your espresso machine, the mineral and coffee residue build-up can affect your machine’s water flow and pressure, affecting your coffee flavor.

How do I know if my espresso machine needs descaling?

Some signs include excessive brew times, unusual noises, you can see mineral deposits, or your machine may have a warning light.

How hard do you tamp espresso? What happens if you don’t tamp espresso hard enough? What happens if you tamp espresso too hard?

Calibrated tampers help you get more consistent tamping as a beginner. If you’re using a regular, old-school tamper with no spring mechanism, start with 15 pounds of pressure and then apply 20-40 pounds once the puck is formed. You can stand on a scale to watch your weight. If you don’t tamp hard enough, you may leave holes and create channeling. Some say tamping too hard also creates channeling, while others say there’s no such thing as tamping too hard if you have quality coffee beans.

What is the correct method of tamping?

Your tamping side hip must be toward the counter. Keep that wrist straight and your elbow at a 90-degree bend. Grab the tamper like a doorknob with your thumb and index finger at the base before you push it down.

Do you flush before you pull an espresso?

Flush your group head before and after you pull a shot of espresso to clean it from unwanted coffee grounds and oils.

What is the best way to store coffee beans?

Freshly roasted coffee beans will keep their flavor for 2-3 weeks. Store them in airtight containers in a dark and cool location. We checked out a few storage options and really love the Airscape coffee canisters that come in stainless steel, ceramic, and glass. Opaque containers are best, but you can keep them in a dark cabinet.

Should Coffee Beans be Kept in the freezer? Is it worth freezing coffee beans? Does freezing coffee beans affect taste?

Freezing your beans preserves your coffee for up to six months if stored properly. Watch out for freezer burn. It’s best to freeze your coffee beans when fresh and at their peak flavor window. If the bag is not airtight, it will form condensation inside and may spoil your coffee. Store them in an airtight container, in smaller batches (for 3-6 days), in the coldest part of your freezer, and away from strong odors. The one downside is that frozen coffee has a shorter shelf life. Coffee beans generally stay fresh for 2-3 weeks, whereas previously frozen coffee can only stay fresh for 5-6 days. Let your beans thaw entirely to room temperature before you open the container.

What are your goals in 2024? Do you have any goals we can work on together?

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Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

Follow on Instagram (E + J), YouTube, TikTok, and Pinterest.

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