Update: See the update to this post.
I’m still learning how to do good espresso, and my current technique seems to generate better, more repeatable results than before.
Let your beans outgas before grinding them
Inspired, as usual, by a James Hoffmann video, I’ve started doing this much more regularly after noticing that super-fresh-roasted beans keep on resulting in horrible channeling. So now when I get a new bag of beans I put it into my countertop storage and let it sit there while I finish off the previous bag.
Relatedly, rather than keeping my current beans in an airtight container, I’m actually using the hopper on my grinder instead of single-dosing stuff.
Target 15g of ground espresso
I’ve settled on a 15-gram dose. Since I’m now using the hopper instead of single-dosing, I’m continuously adjusting my grind timer; I first tare my scale with the dosing cup, then put the dosing cup under the grinder, run it for my set time, then weigh the ground beans and then adjust the timer based on targeting 15 grams (for example, if my grind time is set to 4.5 seconds and I get 13 grams ground, I adjust the timer to \(4.5s \times 15g/13g = 5.19s\)), and then also grind a bit more until I get to 15 grams. If my initial grind was too much I just go ahead and use a larger dose.
Sideways-tap level, then WDT, then sideways-tap again
I’m no longer using the spinny-spinny leveler, unless I’m having a really difficult time getting the puck level before tamping. I am using a WDT for declumping. I’m still using the crappy WDT but I will someday get around to printing one of the acupuncture-needle ones that everyone’s in love with now.
Calibrated tamper, but go extra
Instead of trying to get a precise pressure-based tamp, I’m using the calibrated tamper by Decent to indicate the minimum force to pack it down by. Apparently it’s easy to undertamp a puck but pretty much impossible to overtamp, and the depth-based tamping I was doing before was way too inconsistent, especially when using lighter roasts (which tend to grind denser).
(If you don’t want to pay the premium for the Decent tamper, this one on Amazon looks pretty okay.)
Extract based on time, not ratio
This is a thing that’s made a huge difference to the quality of my output. Instead of targeting a 1:2 in:out ratio and adjusting the grind to get it closer to 25 seconds, I brew for 25 seconds and then adjust the grind to get it closer to a 1:2 ratio. Extraction time is the primary driver of flavor profile, and a 25-second extraction seems to get pretty close to the peak. So if my grind is too fine I might get a 1:1 ristretto, or if it’s too coarse I might get a 1:3 lungo, but either way I’ll end up with some pretty good-tasting espresso (although a lungo will tend to be a bit more bitter than I like).
Other things I’ve found to be helpful:
Keep the hopper replenished
The weight on the beans being ground is important to regulating the amount of pressure on the beans in the burrs; keeping the hopper full helps to keep the grind amount consistent.
As a bonus, this also gives the incoming beans more resting time.
Continuous blending is fun
I’ve been working on increasing my caffeine tolerance, and so that means mixing decaf and caffeinated coffee. I’m also less interested in having a perfect brew of single-origin and instead enjoying having a flavor which changes a bit over time.
Also, if I end up with a coffee I end up not liking so much, I’m able to mix in stuff I do like to at least improve things overall.
Actually clean the damn machine
I’ve been using Puro Caff every other week, both to backflush the grouphead and to soak my baskets and portafilter. And once a month I’m flushing and descaling the boiler with citric acid. For both Puro Caff and citric acid I’m finding that one scoop from the backflush kit’s measuring spoon is just about perfect. (It doesn’t have to be precise, just sufficient.)
The Puro Caff backflush is pretty simple, if nerve-wracking the first couple of times:
- Remove the drip tray and put a large cup under the OPV drain
- Put the blind basket into the portafilter, and one scoop of Puro Caff into the blind basket
- Insert the blind basket into the group head
- Run the espresso machine for 10 seconds at a time, 5 times in a row
- Remove the portafilter and rinse out the blind basket
- Replace the portafilter and run the espresso machine again for 10 seconds at a time, 5 times in a row
- Remove the portafilter and cup and, if possible, the OPV drain, and give everything a really good rinse
- Put your regular basket back in, grind 15g (or so) of coffee, and do a sacrificial espresso shot with it (DO NOT DRINK THIS); I like to run this shot for like a minute or two to make sure the grouphead is completely flushed
The citric acid descale is even easier:
- Fill up the water tank
- Add a scoop of citric acid, and stir until dissolved (or mostly dissolved)
- Run the espresso machine for about a minute with a large bowl/cup/etc. under the grouphead
- Let it sit for like half an hour (this is a good time to soak your portafilter and baskets in Puro Caff to give them a deep clean, incidentally)
- Run the espresso machine with just the portafilter and an empty basket until the tank is nearly empty
- Rinse and refill the tank with fresh/clean water
- Run the espresso machine until the tank is nearly empty
From a safety perspective it seems best to do the Puro Caff backflush and then the citric acid descale; Puro Caff is highly alkaline (it’s basically powdered Drano) and would be bad to drink, whereas citric acid is, well, acidic, and isn’t dangerous to drink, and will neutralize any residual Puro Caff that’s still on the machine.
Oh, and if you’re using a portafilter with a wooden handle, definitely remove the handle before soaking it in anything, especially Puro Caff, and don’t get the handle wet. Heck, while the portafilter is soaking it would be a good time to reapply mineral oil to the handle to keep its finish nice and fresh.
Anyway. My espresso keeps improving and hopefully at some point I’ll have a routine dialed in that I don’t have to think about at all.