Creating the Perfect Shots of Espresso Topped with Whipped Cream

Although an espresso con panna only has two ingredients — espresso and whipped cream — it isn’t as simple as it might appear because the shots must be perfect. Here’s how to create the perfect con panna.

To make a single, double, or triple con panna use one, two, or three shots of espresso. Mark each with a dollop or more of whipped cream to complete this coffeehouse classic.

Preparation for the Perfect Shots

The fresher the espresso beans are, the more flavor they’ll have and the better they’ll yield to great espresso shots. Always grind the beans just before pulling a shot if possible: this will lead to the best crema.

Heat the portafilter handle before pulling the first shot by pulling a blank shot (a shot without the espresso).

Pulling Espresso Shots

Grind the espresso beans and dose espresso into the portafilter, slightly overfilling it.

Loosen the grounds by hitting the portafilter from the side a few times. After the grounds settle into the portafilter, add more grounds if necessary to fill the basket. Once the basket is filled, hit the portafilter on each side a couple more times to settle the grounds again.

On a level surface rest the bottom of the portafilter and tamp lightly down on the grounds. Tap the sides of the basket once more to loosen any stuck grounds, and tamp again, this time harder with a quarter of a turn clockwise to seal the espresso grinds.

Now the espresso should be tightly compacted and level. Remove any stray espresso from the rim of the portafilter by rubbing a finger around the rim to ensure a watertight seal forms against the machine.

Now it’s time to pull a shot of espresso (or two shots, depending on the machine). Lock the portafilter into the machine, ensuring a tight seal to prevent water from leaking out of the highly pressured machine.

Press the button on the machine designated for pulling the shot(s), and either wait or time the shot if the machine does not have a built-in timer. The perfect shot is between 18 and 23 seconds. The mark of a great shot is a golden-colored froth that separates on top of the shot — the crema. For the best-tasting con panna, use shots between 19-21, but shot preferences vary anywhere from 16-26 seconds.

Modifying Shot Length

Pulling a shot any longer or shorter will result in flavorless shots (too short) or highly bitter shots (too long). The shorter side of the acceptable shot range will result in a sweeter, less intense shot.

If a shot pulls too quickly, use finer grinds and/or tamp harder. If a shot pulls too long, use coarser grinds and/or tamp lighter. Remember that many things affect the machine’s pressure including temperature, humidity, and usage, so pulling shots can vary from day to day or hour to hour.

After getting the hang of pulling shots, repeat these steps until the desired number of shots have been pulled — one for a single, two for a double, or three for a triple con panna. Be sure to work quickly to keep the shots tasting their best.

Finishing Touches

Immediately after pulling the desired number of shots (one, two, or three), pour them into a small mug or cup and top with the desired amount of whipped cream. If desired, sprinkle cinnamon, vanilla, or cocoa powder over the whipped cream or drizzle a flavored syrup of your choice. Serve the con panna immediately.

Always be careful not to burn yourself when dealing with espresso. Remember that pulling shots take practice, but with a little time and effort, you too can enjoy great-tasting con pannas at home.