One of the things we get asked about a lot is about how to make an espresso shot, or how to 'dial in'. Dialling in espresso is one of those things that's easy when you know how. For the uninitiated though, it can quickly feel overwhelming.
Making espresso is a lot of effort when you're new to it. To try so hard and end up with crappy coffee is demoralising. We've all been there. This article is designed to help you get to a much better place with your espresso. I'll take you through it, step by step.
With this new knowledge and practice, you'll be pulling awesome shots in no time at all. Your mornings will be transformed, and you'll be impressing your friends before you know it.
Before we get started, you'll need a few things:
We are interested in answering two questions.
We'll answer both of these questions, let's take the easy one first.
Espresso is no different from any other method of brewing coffee in this respect. Strength is mostly about how much coffee you are using in relation to how much water.
For espresso, a good starting point is to use two grams of water to every one gram of coffee. This is where scales come in.
A lot of espresso machines allow you to dispense as much water as you need (by pressing the button once to start the water flow, and again to stop). All you need to do is figure out how much coffee to use.
If you are lucky enough to be using a 'rated' basket, you'll already know the optimum amount of coffee to use, because it has been designed to hold a specific amount of ground coffee. Otherwise, you can try this:
Place a 20p piece on top of your tamped coffee and then place it into the group of your machine. Take it back out - there should be a slight indentation made by the coin in the top of the coffee. If there is none, you need more coffee, if it's a big indentation, you need less. Once you have the right amount, weigh the coffee you used and this will now be your standard dose for now.
Now that we know how much coffee we need to use, we're going to set up a shot and dispense water through the coffee, twice as much as we have coffee, remember. If we have 17g of coffee, 34g of water. You're going to need to use scales under your cup to weigh the water.
To get you in the right ball park, see if you can get the whole process to take around 30 seconds (give or take say 5 seconds) from when you press the button, to when you hit the desired weight of water.
You can speed up, or slow down the shot by adjusting your grinder. If it's too fast (i.e. less than 25 seconds), grind finder. This will make it harder for the water to pass through and slow everything down. Grind coarser if the shot is taking too long and make it easier for the water to pass through the coffee bed.
Once you're hitting these kinds of numbers (twice as much water passing through your coffee in 25-35 seconds), you're in the right area. This will be resulting in espresso that is around the right strength.
Remember, strength is about how concentrated or diluted something is. It doesn't have much to do with flavour at all.
It's true that buying better coffee, a better grinder and ensuring that your water is suitable for making coffee will all result in big improvements to the coffee you are able to make but we're going to work with what you have for now.
If you followed the instructions above, you're already producing something that is the right strength, or thereabouts. Now we're going to focus on flavour and for that, we're going to need to make adjustments to the grinder.
You'll remember that grinding finer increases the amount of time that the coffee stays in contact with the water. This means that with finer grind settings, we extract more flavour from the coffee. More coffee/water contact time = more flavour.
Similarly, coarser grind settings mean less coffee/water contact team = less flavour.
But how do we know whether we want less or more flavour?
When we extract stuff from coffee, we first get the acids, then fruity notes and sugars, and finally bitterness. A great shot of espresso is a balance of all these elements.
When we can only taste acidity, or when that acidity is dominating and unpleasant, it's because we have failed to extract the balancing sweetness and bitterness that would have come if we'd continued extracting. We refer to this as an 'under-extracted' shot.
Sometimes the bitterness dominates. In this case, we have extracted the acidity, and the sugars, but also too much bitterness. This is what we mean by 'over-extracted'.
Remember, if we want to extract more, we grind finer. Less? - then grind coarser. By taking note of how long this whole process lasts, we have created our first espresso recipe.
Let's say we pulled our first shot, it took 27 seconds. The coffee tasted acidic, and we concluded that it was under-extracted. We made the grind finer and pulled another shot. This time, the shot took 34 seconds. The increased contact time caused by the finer particle sizes meant resulted in us extracted more flavour from the coffee. Now the acidity is still there but it is balanced by sweetness and a tiny hint of bitterness. We like this shot.
Our resulting recipe will be something like: 16g Coffee, 32g Water, in 34 seconds.
Given that we are keeping the coffee:water ratio constant, the time is useful in that it helps us define our grind size. It is reasonable to expect that if we make this coffee again in the future, replicating this recipe will result in similar tasting coffee.
That's it for the basics.In the next post, we'll look at troubleshooting our espresso.