Dialing in Espresso with Dustin Ryan Yu, Director of Coffee at This Coffee Co.
Espresso is a balancing act. The sweetness, acidity, body, and bitterness are all important components. We’re not here to judge how you enjoy your coffee, but we do encourage tasting these four components, as well as balance. Is it too acidic? Too bitter? Not sweet enough? Or was it perfect?
Practice makes perfect. Over time, once you pull a shot or two, your experience with your machine will allow you to quickly shift the variables you need, and make your good shot excellent.
We recognize that most home machines are not super customizable, so we’ll be exploring some of the more basic variables here. These include coffee input and output, and time. If you want to make consistently good espresso, you should have a scale (measuring 0.1g) and a timer. Remember that all machines, grinders, and coffees are different! A perfectly dialed-in coffee can even change from one day to another. Yes, espresso can be this finicky!
We’ll take you from start to finish. Here is how I would guide someone to pull a shot at home:
1. Turn on your machine, and have water in the reservoir, or directly fed in. Let the machine heat up (some boast a 5-minute pre-heat, but most may take 15-30 minutes). If you have a thermometer, the water coming out of your machine should read between 195F to 205F. Make sure the portafilter is hot and has been pre-heating with the machine.
2. Grind your coffee and weigh it (after grinding) at your recipe’s specification. For most portafilters, we recommend 18.0g to begin with, with a 35-40g espresso output.
3. With the grounds in your portafilter, use your finger to evenly distribute the grounds within the basket. Your goal here is to distribute it as evenly as possible. If you have a distribution tool to help, use it; or you can even use a toothpick or paperclip to distribute. Remember to do this relatively quickly because you want to have a hot portafilter when you pull the shot!
4. Tamp it as evenly as possible (parallel to the bottom of the basket). Some people recommend 30 lbs of tamping weight, but as long as you are keeping it consistent shot to shot, you should be good.
5. Twist in the portafilter, but not too tight because it does wear out the gasket faster.
6. Start your timer and press your “brew” button.
7. Follow your recipe from here moving forward. If your machine is manual, stop the brew at your recipe’s designated time (e.g. 26 seconds). If your machine is automatic, it may stop when it has dispensed approximately 30-60g of espresso. Most automatic machines can be switched to brew manually if needed.
8. Once you’ve made your espresso, weigh it and compare it to the recipe. Did you get the input, output, and time right? Taste it to figure out what works for you. You may prefer a 1:3 ratio over a 1:2 ratio. Change one variable at a time only. For example, if your yield is 18g to 20g espresso in 28 seconds, you have likely ground too fine. If your yield was 18g to 50g in 15 seconds, the grind was likely too coarse. Try to primarily change the grind size once you have a ratio, and keep time constant. When you have some experience with changing the grind size and are getting consistently good results, we would recommend playing with time and dose next.
Coffee should be both fun and personal, and as long as it tastes good, you’re doing great! Good luck brewing!