How to Pull the Perfect Shot of Espresso
You can improve the quality of your espresso by practicing your technique with the following guidelines in mind. The most important elements in espresso preparation are the grind, dose, leveling, distribution, and tamping. Perfecting how you do these will allow you to make great coffee every time.
Note: Espresso standards are fairly undefined. A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of variations. Below is Iron Bean's recommendation to ensure that you are as successful as possible, as quickly as possible. We find it is best to follow these instructions first before experimenting.
We recommend a 1:1.5 brew ratio for espresso.
- For a triple basket: for 20 grams of ground beans in, you want to get about 30 grams of liquid espresso out. If you do not have a scale to weigh your input and output, it translates into 1.5 oz of liquid, including the crema.
- For a double basket: for 18 grams of ground beans in, you want to get about 27 grams of liquid espresso out. If you do not have a scale to weigh your input and output, it translates into 1 oz of liquid, including the crema.
- The best shots of espresso are pulled in a range within 25-30 seconds from when then pump starts, with espresso dropping from the portafilter after 5-7 seconds.
- Grind your coffee fresh and be as efficient as possible. Don’t let ground coffee sit in the portafilter, and don’t let the portafilter sit in the group head loaded with espresso grounds before brewing. Coffee stales very quickly once it’s ground.
- Pre-heat your shot glasses, demitasse or mug with hot water before you begin grinding the coffee and preparing the shot.
The basic premise of dialing in your grinder is to ensure that your 1:1.5 brew ratio occurs within 25-30 seconds after your pump starts. Start with a fine grind – coarser than flour, finer than table salt. Follow the instructions below and we will circle back to dialing in your grinder.
We recommend a dose of 18 grams of coffee when using a double basket Dose 20 grams of coffee if using a bottomless portafilter and triple basket. A mound of ground coffee in the center that sticks up above the rim about a half-inch will be roughly 18-20 grams, a good starting point.
Level And Distribute
The reason we level the coffee bed is to ensure that the water does not flow out faster in any area. This is called channeling and can lead to an under-extracted shot of espresso. We recommend gently tapping the side of the portafilter with your hand to more evenly distribute the grounds. You can also settle the grounds by tapping the portafilter on a tamping mat. Having a grippy surface is also helpful for stable tamping.
Grip the tamper handle as though you were grasping a doorknob. Keep the tamp surface in line with your wrist and elbow and tamp straight down, leaning your weight into it comfortably. The amount of pressure is not nearly as important as your consistency and ability to keep the tamp perfectly level so water doesn’t find weak spots.
Clear any ground coffee from the rim of the portafilter. If your machine doesn’t have an integrated shot timer, now is the time to set your phone to timer function. Flush water through the group head for 2-3 seconds prior to inserting the portafilter. Engage the portafilter in the group head and immediately start brewing. Once you hear the pump, start the timer. Stop your shot when you have extracted 30g of liquid espresso (or about 1.5oz, including the crema).
Dialing in your shots and grinder
Don’t panic. There is a 0% chance this is perfect the first time.
30g of liquid came out before 25 seconds (Too fast)
Make the grind finer
30g took more than 30 seconds (Too slow)
Make the grind coarser
Espresso pulls in target times but tastes harsh
Make the grind coarser and increase the dose
Dialing in gets substantially easier with a scale. Weighing the input and the output will get you to a great shot way faster than judging liquid volume because the crema will change with different roast types and depends on the freshness of your beans. If you don’t have one, we like this one, Anything is better than nothing.
Nailing the perfect recipe for any given coffee can take time and a lot of practice. We always recommend asking your local barista what recipe they use to pull shots with a coffee. Even more so we recommend experimenting.
Try pulling a shot at 40 seconds, maybe one at 20. There are only guidelines in coffee, no hard and fast rules, so you'll often find that your favorite shot exists outside the bounds of the industry standard.
What matters most is taste…more than anything, trust your palate.
Don’t be afraid to try something new, you just might find your next addiction.