Tonight I made a customer (whom, thankfully, I knew) a frosted white mint mocha. The espresso shot was 17 seconds, close to the desired range (one second off, which doesn't make a whole lot of difference). I mixed in the steamed milk and whalla! a great drink.
I forget to tamp the espresso.
For those who don't know (and may not even care), tamping is the process whereby the barista compacts the coffee grounds into the filter basket. 30 psi is the recommended pressure, which actually takes forearms the ginormous size of Jason Panella's. Not tamping equals around 0 psi.
The thing is, usually if you undertamp, the coffee comes out bitter, watery, and full of taste-death. Sometimes, even with the perfect tamp, it still happens, depending on the grind level. However, strangely, Italians don't tamp their espresso shots at all. Only (from what I hear) do the Americans and French. (Both also, by the way, usually refer to the drink as expresso, instead of the Italian espresso).
I decided to experiment. I pulled two shots of untamped espresso for myself and for Bethany. She wasn't thrilled about the taste (too watery, too bitter, not smooth enough). I, on the other hand, while still finding the shot a bit watered-down, found the shot both smoother and less bitter. We will stick with the 30psi 18-25 second shots for customer drinks (unless they specify otherwise), but I'll be making mine Italian-style. They did invent espresso after all.