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The Perfect Cup: Espresso

Good espresso is hard to find in U.S. coffee bars. While a trip to Italy is one solution, another may lie closer to home

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More Tips for Making Espresso at Home
Start with cold tap water. Let the tap run for a while to get any stale water out of the pipes. Filtered water removes some unwanted chemicals such as chlorine, therefore bottled water isn't necessary unless your tap water is unusually soft. Hard water makes the best espresso but can break down machines.
A standard serving of espresso takes 20 to 30 seconds to make.
A crema that is dark brown with a white dot or black hole in the middle is a sign that the espresso has been over-extracted and will taste harsh and bitter.
A light crema indicates an underextracted espresso. Make sure you have enough coffee in the filter and that it is tamped down sufficiently.  
If the espresso is too strong for your taste, make an Americano by diluting the espresso with hot water rather than putting less coffee into the filter.
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