How to dial in espresso

A Step-By-Step Guide to Dial in Espresso

A Step-by-Step Guide to Dial in Espresso

What does dialing in espresso mean? How do I create the best shot of espresso? How do I dial in espresso? We will answer all these questions with the step-by-step guide to dial in espresso below.

To dial in espresso you will need:

  • Whole bean coffee
  • An espresso machine with portafilter
  • Espresso grinder
  • Distribution tool
  • Tamp
  • Scale with timer
    • Timer can be separate if scale does not have built in timer
  • Espresso glass or cup
  • Notebook (Optional, but recommended)

Step 1: Clean the Espresso Machine and Grinder

Before dialing in espresso, it is essential to clean the espresso machine and grinder to remove any stale coffee grounds, oils, or debris that may affect the quality of the espresso. Remove the screen in the grouphead and clean thoroughly. Wipe down the portafilter, group head, and espresso machine surfaces, as well as purging the grinder of any old beans or grinds.

Having a high quality espresso grinder is key to creating great espresso. Many home grinders lose consistency when getting to the fine espresso grind size. A burr grinder designed to grind for espresso is necessary for the best tasting shot of espresso.


Step 2: Set the Grind Size

The grind size is critical in dialing in espresso since it determines how quickly the water passes through the coffee and the level of extraction. For the initial setting, use a fine grind, finer than table salt, and coarser than powdered sugar.


Step 3: Weigh the coffee

This step is also referred to as “dosing” the coffee. A standard shot of espresso uses 17-21 grams of coffee per shot. Using a scale, place the portafilter on the scale and tare to zero weight. Grind the coffee into the portafilter and place on the scale. Dispose of extra coffee grounds, or grind more coffee to get to desired weight.


Step 4: Distribute and tamp the coffee

After dosing the coffee, use a distribution tool to evenly distribute the coffee grounds in the portafilter. This prevents channeling and uneven pressure during the tamping process. Once the grounds have been distributed, tamp to compress the coffee grounds uniformly.  Keep your straightened wrist in line with your elbow and tamp parallel to the grounds to ensure even tamping and pressure. This creates an even flow of the pressurized water through the coffee grounds.

Use 20-30 pounds of pressure while tamping. You can press a tamp on a bathroom scale to get a good idea of this level of pressure.

A barista at Folly making espresso

Use a distribution tool to evenly distribute espresso grounds

Step 5: Pull the espresso shot

“Pulling” an espresso shot refers to extracting the espresso from the coffee grounds using an espresso machine. Place your espresso glass or cup on a scale, preferably a scale with a timer, and tare to zero weight. Press the button on the espresso machine and start the timer simultaneously. Stop the espresso machine and timer once the liquid espresso weight reaches between 40-45 grams.

The goal time of this process is between 25-35 seconds. If the timing of the espresso shot is under 25 seconds, adjust to a finer grind size to increase extraction. This could also be a sign of too little pressure in the tamping step, channeling, or a combination of the two. Channeling occurs when the pressurized water is not distributed evenly among the coffee grounds, creating “channels” in which the water flows through small areas of the coffee grounds instead of uniformly across the grounds.

If the timing of the espresso shot is over 35 seconds, adjust for a coarser grind size to increase flow rate. This could also be a sign of too much pressure in the tamping step, not allowing water to flow through.

Closely monitor the shot as it is pouring. If you are using a split portafilter spout, you are looking for two evenly flowing streams of espresso, without sputtering. If you are using a bottomless portafilter, you are looking for one evenly flowing stream in the center of the portafilter.

espresso being poured

A properly poured shot of espresso will have a healthy layer of crema, the tan foam that naturally occurs on top of the espresso.

espresso with a healthy layer of crema

Step 6: Taste, Evaluate, and Adjust

Using a small spoon, stir the espresso to incorporate the crema with the espresso and taste. It is recommended to take notes on the aroma, flavor profile, consistency, and finish to create best practices over time.

The type of coffee used is the most important factor in the overall flavor of the espresso. Look for espresso blends or roasts, like our SOB Espresso, if you want a balanced shot that works well for espresso and milk drinks like lattes or cappuccinos. For fruit-forward espresso, use natural or honey processed coffees, like our House Bean. This style of coffee also works well with milk. If you prefer bright and citrusy espresso, look for washed coffees grown at high altitudes from African origins, like our Winer. These coffees can be brilliant shots, but tend not to work well with milk due to the citrusy flavors.

If the shot is tasting bitter or has an overly heavy consistency, it may be over-extracted. This is likely due to a grind size that is too fine. If the shot is tasting sour or has a thin consistency, the grind size is likely too coarse. The best tasting espresso is balanced, showcasing the best flavors present in the coffee used.

Adjusting the grind size, amount of coffee, and weight of the liquid espresso will all affect the flavors described above. When making adjustments, only adjust one factor at a time to determine which variable is causing the final flavor profile. It is important to have consistent tamping pressure across all shots poured.


Step 7: Repeat the Process

Repeat the process of grinding, dosing, tamping, extracting, tasting, and adjusting until you achieve the desired flavor and consistency. Remember to adjust one variable at a time to make it easier to pinpoint the problem and find a solution.


Step 8: Record the Settings

Once you’ve achieved the desired taste, record the settings for the grind size, dose, and extraction time. This step ensures that you can reproduce the same results consistently. Keep in mind that espresso should be dialed in every day. The same batch of coffee will taste differently as it gets further away from the roast date, or even being served too close to the roast date.

In summary, dialing in espresso is a process that requires patience, attention to detail, and skill. By following the steps outlined above and making small adjustments, you can create a perfect espresso shot every time.

To read more about the difference between coffee beans and espresso beans, check out our blog here!

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