Espresso has always had a mystical aura around it and for someone new to coffee this can be a daunting thing. Whether you’re a home barista or new behind the espresso bar, dialing in espresso doesn’t need to be so scary.

Together we will explore the parameters that affect espresso extraction and break down all the barriers to demystify dialing in espresso.

This how-to on dialing in espresso will go through the fundamental steps required to dial in any espresso using only our taste buds as our guide.

By the end of this comprehensive guide, you will learn a very powerful system of dialing in espresso that will help you get a much better understanding of coffee.

Welcome to the ultimate guide to dialing in espresso for newbies, are you ready?

The espresso recipe

Every espresso recipe should start off life on a piece of paper written up as a recipe; extracted, tasted, and constantly refined.

Regardless of brewing style, the goal of brewing coffee is the same; to dissolve just the right amount soluble flavour and aromatic compounds into our brewing water at just the right strength to make it delicious.

To control the rate of extraction and the final strength of our espresso, we must consider three basic parameters in our espresso recipe; dose, yield and time.

These three parameters on their own have a huge impact on our extraction. To get the most delicious espresso, we must fully understand and control them to get the best possible outcome from the beans we have in our grinder.

Every coffee will have its own recipe or set of numbers that will make it taste good. This is due in part to provenance (origin), climate, variety, processing method, roast solubility, water source and equipment.

For example, the perfect recipe for one Kenyan SL-28 coffee might not necessarily translate well to a different SL-28 variety coffee from the same region in Kenya.

Let’s break down the recipe into its components.

Dose

The dose or dosage refers to how much ground coffee is being used in our brewing system.

A larger dose will allow you to brew more espresso and a smaller dose will yield less espresso. Espresso recipes generally speaking can be scaled, more on this later when we talk about yield.

In the case of espresso, we must first decide on which portafilter we want to use; either the single or double spouted portafilter. Sitting inside the portafilter is a filter basket held in place with a spring.

How much ground coffee your basket holds depends largely on its diameter and depth. I’ve written a quick 3 step guide on how to size your filter basket in another post. So if you don’t already know your basket size, make sure you read the guide before continuing.

Once you have sized your filter basket, for the purposes of this guide, it is advisable to dose exactly that amount of coffee in. For example, if you have a 14-gram basket, you should dose 14 grams of ground coffee into it. If you have a 22-gram basket, dose 22 grams of ground coffee etc.

If it isn’t already obvious, we’re going to need a good digital scale. At The Espresso School we use the Brewista Smart Scale II to measure both doses and yields. This scale has a resolution and accuracy of 0.1 gram up to 2,000 grams.

In this example, we will be using a 20-gram straight-walled double filter basket, so we will be dosing in 20 grams of ground coffee.

After dosing, evenly distribute the ground coffee in the portafilter to prepare it for a flat and firm tamp. We are now ready for brewing.

Yield

The yield refers to the total output of espresso from the machine, or how much espresso is in your cup/s.

The yield has two properties we can measure; namely volume and mass. The preferred method for measuring yield is weighing the espresso mass (a.k.a yield) for ease of measurement and consistency.

The Brew Ratio is a concept that defines the relationship between the dose and the yield. For regular espresso, this ratio is usually at or close to 1:2. A 1:2 ratio means for every gram of coffee in your basket, double it for your liquid espresso yield out. Think of it as a scaling factor. If you have more dose, you can make more espresso.

For example, a 20-gram dose at 1:2 would yield a 40-gram double espresso. 18 grams in, 36 grams out. 25 grams in, 50 grams out. Simply multiply your dose by 2. You get the idea!

At a ratio of 1:1 you’re in ristretto territory; thick, heavy, strong and usually under-extracted. At 1:3 you’re in lungo land; thin, delicate and weak.

Changing your yield (and therefore brew ratio) will change your extraction and strength. As you start to pass more water through the same amount of ground coffee, you are able to increase the extraction (amount of flavour you can dissolve into the brew), but this is at the expense of strength. This extra water that was used to extract more flavour also dilutes the brew. The opposite is also true, if you pass less water through your dose, you’ll end up with a brew that is stronger but less extracted.

We recommend a starting at a brew ratio of 1:2 and working from there. In our example, the target dose of 20 grams in means our target yield should be 40 grams out.

To achieve this, we will need to extract the espresso on scales until the target yield has been reached. So whip out those trusty scales again because it is now time to brew.

What you will have noticed is that if you cut off the shot when the scale reads 40 grams, the drips of espresso at the end of your shot will contribute to your final yield causing you to overshoot the target.

You must offset this by cutting your extraction off earlier by exactly this amount of overshoot.

The drip offset is usually somewhere between 4-5 grams depending on your machine, coffee and grinder setup. Cutting off the extraction at 36 grams will allow the drips to bring the final yield up to our target of 40 grams.

Time

Time is the final piece of the puzzle in our recipe and can be thought of as two ways:

  • how long did it take for the target yield to enter my cup
  • how long did the coffee grinds stay in contact with the water for

Time is a driver for extraction. It’s very simple and analogous to brewing tea. More time = more extraction and more strength.

Leave your tea in the water for too long and it becomes very dark, too strong, bitter and astringent (puckering dry sensation on the palate). Conversely, not enough time will make an insipid, thin and weak brew.

Coffee is much the same.

In the case of espresso, if you brew too quickly, the coffee is not only underwhelming in flavour but it also becomes overwhelmingly acidic and jagged. This is a low-quality acidity is often associated with a perceived sourness.

Conversely, an espresso that takes too long to come out will result in a brew that is strong, bitter and dry.

It’s all in the grind

Assuming constant tamping pressure, the brewing time is largely influenced by your grind size.

Imagine you have two identical pipes of equal length and diameter. The first pipe is filled up with gravel whilst the second pipe is filled with coarse sand. You then try to filter water through both pipes.

One pipe will allow water to flow faster than the other. The gravel, having more space or gaps will allow the water to filter through faster than the sand. And that is, in essence, the effect of grind setting.

Coarser = faster shot time
Finer = slower show time

We recommend you shoot for a time of 25-27 seconds for now.

Too slow?

After dosing in 20 grams and your 40-gram yield came out faster than 25 seconds, adjust your grinder finer, purge out 2-3 seconds worth of grinds and repeat.

Too fast?

If your 40-gram yield took longer than 28 seconds to come out, adjust your grinder coarser, purge out 2-3 seconds worth of grinds and repeat.

Locking down strength

The next step to dialing in espresso after shooting for a basic extraction is to find a strength of espresso that you enjoy.

Strength is a personal preference and entirely your choice. Strength is largely dictated by the espresso yield, the second parameter of the espresso recipe.

Was the espresso you just made weak, strong or just right?

If the strength was just right, then the brew ratio of 1:2 is perfect, you can skip to the next stage, locking down flavour.

Too weak?

If the espresso was weak, pull another shot 2 grams shorter in yield (you may have to grind finer to keep it brewing between 25 and 27 seconds).

Too strong?

If the espresso was strong, pull another shot 2 grams longer in yield (you may have to grind coarser to keep the brewing time down).

Keep iterating in 2-gram increments up or down in yield until you have reached a desired strength. This will become your new target yield.

Locking down flavour balance

Now that we are at your desired strength, it’s time to lock down the flavour balance. This part of dialing in espresso is largely influenced by extraction time, the last parameter of the recipe.

The perfect espresso is neither overly acidic, nor bitter. What you’ll often hear from baristas is that they are looking for a harmonious balance of acidity, bitterness and sweetness from the coffee.

It is important to note that equal intensity doesn’t necessarily imply balance. It is how all three aspects of flavour (sweet, sour, bitter) interact and help support one another to achieve an overall flavour balance.

Too bitter?

It’s likely you over-extracted your coffee. Grind coarser until the bitterness fades away. This is your new target extraction time.

Too sour?

If your espresso is sour and sharp, it’s likely the espresso is under-extracted. Grind finer until the espresso is balanced. This is your new target extraction time.

Not bitter, not sour?

If your coffee is already balanced, we lucked into the correct brewing time for your coffee, happy days.

Summary

Starting with:
More dose = more espresso
Less dose = less espresso

Once you’ve locked in your dose:
More yield = more extracted but weaker
Less yield = less extracted but stronger

Once you’ve locked in your dose and yield:
Finer grind = more contact time = more extracted and stronger
Coarser grind = less contact time = less extracted and weaker

Congratulations

You just learnt a powerful system for dialing in espresso. You now have a fully defined recipe that is pleasing in not only strength but also in flavour balance!

As always, if you have any questions about dialing in espresso, let me know in the comments section below. Happy brewing.

46 Comments
  1. blank

    Hey,

    Being pretty new and start playing around with my first own espresso recipe I have a question about the brew ratio.
    Let’s say I wanna try the three main different ratio’s to taste the difference (1:1 – 1:2 and 1:3).
    Do I change the brew ratio by adjusting the amount of water only? Or should I change other things too?
    I have the ability to use a Rocket Boxer (2group) and there’s an anfim Caimano II stepless grinder.
    The baskets are not straight ones, but to my experiences work well, how does this affect the outcome or make any
    difference or I shouldn’t worry about this?

    Thanks a million, love all the content on here. Great find! keep it up.

    Thomas

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      Hi Thomas,

      Change only the amount of water passing through a constant ground dose of coffee. You may want to also adjust the grind setting to keep the extraction time constant, say 28 seconds.

      1 to 1: 18 grams in, 18 grams out, 28 seconds
      1 to 2: 18 grams in, 36 grams out, 28 seconds
      1 to 3: 18 grams in, 54 grams out, 28 seconds

      Re: baskets, no big deal. Keep using them. You may want to consider at some point upgrading to precision filters later down the track.

      Best,
      David

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    Hi!

    I am trying to brew espresso for the first time with the sage barista pro. I find my shots oscillate quite wildly in quality and extraction time, even without changing any settings. I’m tamping as consistently as I can.

    I pulled a shot this morning in about 15 seconds so reduced the grind size by 1 setting and purged about 6 seconds of coffee. The next shot dripped for about 10 seconds before giving a really nice flow, resulting in an extraction time of about 45 seconds. What is causing the flow not to be consistent throughout the entire shot?

    Thanks in advance!

  3. blank

    I have a new machine (Delonghi EC685M), and I’m trying to dial things in. I’m new to this type of machine, so please bear with me and the dumb questions.

    The “single” basket fits about 7g of grinds. That means I should get about 14g of espresso, yes? I can adjust the water flow, but the machine right now puts out about 30g of water for a single, which means its twice as much as it should be, correct?

    Also, should the time for this 14g of espresso also be 25 seconds? Or is that just for the larger “doubles”? Thanks!

    1. blank

      Hi Lisa,

      Yes, 7 grams in at a brew ratio of 1:2 should yield a 14 gram single espresso.

      When you say 30 g of water, do you mean brew water? If you are measuring 30 grams of hot brew water from the group head, this is about right as coffee soaks up just a bit over twice its mass in water.

      Time as a variable can differ for different coffees – it’s hard to say.

      David

      1. blank

        Sorry, I should have specified I get 30g of brewed espresso. I just ran the machine, no grinds, and the single button puts out 50g of water. I’ll double check once my real tamper arrives (using that stupid plastic thing right now), but it looks like I may have to change the water flow. TY.

        As for the time question, with less coffee & water, shouldn’t there be less time for the “single” shot (vs “double”) as well? Otherwise wouldn’t it be over extracted?

        1. blank

          30 grams of brewed espresso from a 7 gram dose is far too much. You should have half that amount. I am not familiar with your machine, but you should look at the manual to see if you can reprogram the volumetrics (amount of water dispensed).

      2. blank

        Thanks David, same question on the brew time for single shot – is the range we are aiming for is the same as for double shots (around 25 seconds) or should we aim for half as long brew time – somewhere around 12-15 seconds ?

  4. blank

    Hi,

    I’ve heard conflicting advice on when to start your shot timer.

    Should you time your shot from when you turn the coffee machine pump on, or from the first drop of espresso? There is a huge difference between these, roughly 10 seconds between the pump turning on and the first drops of espresso!

    Working on an Expobar Leva and have brewista smart scales. Funnily enough, the scales have different modes which allow for both timing methods.

    Thanks!

    1. blank

      Nevermind, just Read your previous replies to the same question. Maybe a bit more diligence required from my end. Cheers!

  5. blank

    Hey!

    Great article.

    I’m having some trouble dialing in a blend at home. I use a Sage Smart Grinder Pro, and am getting (target) 38g in 25s at setting 17, and 35s at 16. 16 is nice and mousetailey, tastes a little more bitter. 17 is quite fast, thick tails; looks like it’s channeling a lot more, but somehow tastes closer to what i’d like!
    Ideally for this blend, I want 18g in, 38g out in 30s.

    Should I decrease the dose to 17g in 36g out? I was wondering if this way I could use the 16 setting and it might brew a bit faster.. Or do I just have to choose the best of the two…?

    My machine is the Duo Temp Pro. I’ll accept it if I am stuck here, I just would love to know if my equipment is not to blame!!

    Thanks

    Gabe

    1. blank

      Hi Gabe,

      Flavour is always king. Unfortunately, you’re stuck between a rock and hard place because your grinder has graduated steps that is either too coarse or too fine. I’d be surprised if you are actually channelling and not just seeing what is fast fluid flow (completely different things).

      To fix your problem, you’re going to have to make a compromise on one end or the other. I’d suggest dosing up 0.5 to 1.0 grams and keeping your setting at 17, to yield out 37 to 38 grams out. The alternative solution would be to dose down by 0.5 to 1.0 grams at a setting of 16 and yielding out slightly less espresso.

      Hope this helps.

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    Hi,

    Just when wondering do you start extraction time after the pump is turn on or after first drip?

    Cheers,
    Eddie

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    Hi there,

    The majority of the espressos I make I am left with some extracted espresso in the portafilter between the filter basket and the portafilter spouts. I have to lever the basket up a bit to break the seal and the liquid pours out. I’m using a Sunbeam Cafe Series Machine with a dual cup pressurized basket. Any idea why this happens? Not enough bar pressure? Also trying to get my head around the dosing/yield/time formula. I always use the 2 cup button and usually try for 17-18g dose for a 36-40g yield. For the pre-programmed 2 cup button, time is about 30 secs. In that time, yield is usually around the 60-70g mark. Is this right, as it is for ‘2 cups’ (30-35g each) I haven’t tried the 1 cup button ( I guess I should) to see what it yields with the same dosage. Appreciate your help.

    1. blank

      Hi Adrian,
      I’d say the pressurised basket is the culprit. You should be using regular filter baskets if you’re grinding your own coffee. Re-program your volumetrics – refer to the manual.
      -David

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    hello! have a rocket aparamento and faustino. using your excellent guide, thought we’d absolutely cracked it with excellent espressos on tap. however, we have new (darker roast) beans and the extraction is now double the speed it was. is that normal? ie should we expect to change the method substantially for each roast of bean? thanks!

    1. blank

      Hi Suzi,
      Darker roasts are more soluble (easier to extract), so use less water to brew (and perhaps shorter brewing times). Try a ratio of 1:1.5 up to 1:1.8.
      Lighter roasts are less soluble, so use more water to brew (and perhaps longer brewing times). Try ratios of 1:2.3 to 1:2.5.
      -David

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