In my previous blog post ‘A Pretty Good Shot’, I gave new baristas an idea of how to get in the ballpark with their espresso. In this blog, I am giving pointers on knocking espresso out of the park! If you are new to espresso, you may want to read my previous article first. This blog is intended for those who have undergone barista training or who have done a fair amount of research on their own.
To get great espresso, you will want to understand how time, temperature, dose and brew ratio play into pulling great shots. I will be giving some practical advice on tweaking these parameters to dial your espresso into taste. While not all home machines will allow the barista to modify these three parameters, we will still explore them, as they are of great consequence to espresso taste.
How long water contacts espresso grounds has the greatest overall effect on espresso taste (more so than the dose or the water temperature). So, how do you dial this into taste? Well, my first recommendation would be to try your shots at 25 seconds. If the shot tastes at all sharp (almost like a sharp cheddar cheese), I recommend pulling the same shot but extending the time by 1-2 seconds. If you are pulling your shot and it tastes overly bitter and thin in body, I would recommend going 1-2 seconds less.
Temperature is not something you will be able to modify on many machines, but for those who are able to adjust this variable I will give a few recommendations.
The optimal brew temperature for espresso is 195°F - 205°F. Typically, the hotter the water the more perceived acidity in the espresso shot. If your shot tastes overly sour you may want to lower the water temperature at the grouphead. If your espresso is lacking acidity and tastes dull, you may want to try increasing the temperature at the brew head.
Dose & Brew Ratio
Every basket on every portafilter is different. Some baskets can hold only 15 grams of espresso while others can hold 22 grams. The amount of ground espresso used to pull a shot is called the dose.
The brew ratio is how much liquid espresso is dispensed in comparison to the ground espresso. For example, if I dosed a 20 gram shot and stopped the flow so that the final espresso shot weighed exactly double, this would be a brew ratio of 1:2, since the final shot weighs exactly twice that of the ground espresso.
Dose and brew ratio tend to affect body and clarity. In general, I have found that darker roasts do better with smaller doses, while lighter espressos tend to do better with an increased weight, but these are generalities and should be experimented with and subjected to the barista’s palate.
Espresso is a finicky beverage. It is subject to a series of external factors, but at the end of the day it is guided by the palate of the discerning barista. None of the things I have noted above are hard fast rules nor a strict set of guidelines. Personal taste takes precedence over the guidelines, so don’t get too hung up on weights and temperatures but instead use them to help you steer the taste of the espresso in a direction you want.
With that said, I hope that modulating these parts of your espresso and recording the results will help you pull shots that amaze you. I recommend only changing one variable at a time and in a big way, and then making micro adjustments as you get a sense of what these adjustments do to your espresso. I recently changed our espresso from 202°F to 198°F and was able to taste a dramatic drop in acidity, so much that I adjusted it in 1° increments back to 200°F, where I feel it now exhibits the most amount of balance.