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.

36 Comments
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    I use a single boiler machine at home to brew espresso. I like to drink black coffee ..i use Americano technique generally.moreover I enjoy the whole process..but yet not getting it right

    I hv tried using 18 gm..17gm..15gm..and 14gm..

    Anything less than 15 gm..my coffee puck becomes soupy..I find water hovering over my basket after removing from The machine. What am I doing wrong..or is it just bcoz it’s not a professional machine but a home made one?

    I have been trying to readjust the grind settings to find the sweet spot..but it keeps changing. I thought I found the sweet spot..but next shot again a bitter one..same technique though.

    Also i think my portafilter can accommodate 14 to 15 gm coffee..more than this the tamper won’t press it below the rim. So for 14 gm..25 sec..2 Oz of yield is what I keep achieving. Taste is sometimes bitter.. sometimes sour..rarely better.

    Anything different i shud try?

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      Hi Parag,
      Great questions. A single boiler machine can be tricky to master as it is inherently unstable in brewing temperature, more on this later!

      For now let’s try and solve your puck problem. I’d suggest you dose 15 grams of coffee into your basket. If you are particularly concerned about the excess water atop the puck post extraction, I’d extract slightly less than 2 fl oz. Aim for 1.5 fl oz and see if that helps. This will also help with the bitterness aspect as you might be passing too much water through your coffee leading to over-extraction. To be sure, it’s better to use scales for brewing. 15 gram dose, 30 gram double espresso.

      Generally speaking, if the coffee tastes good, don’t worry about wet pucks. It’s not the end of the world.

      Bitterness and sourness are always going to be aspects of coffee flavour, however, it important to understand that these flavours must be in balance. If you feel it is overwhelmingly bitter or sour, this is obviously not good.

      Sourness could be because the water from the boiler of the machine is under temperature (less than 92 degrees Celcius). Likewise, bitterness could be because the boiler is heating the brewing water above 96 degrees Celcius. This is an inherent shortcoming of cheaper single boiler machines with rudimentary temperature control that does not maintain the water at the correct temperatures.

      I recommend you google “temperature surfing” for single boiler machines. Basically, you want to have a repeatable brewing temperature. To do this wait for the boiler to reach the top of the heating cycle. Once the boiler light turns off, start counting X number of seconds before extracting. Try 20 seconds for a start. This will allow the water to cool slightly and you’ll have a fairly even temperature to extract from every time. Add more time if the coffee is still bitter. Count for a shorter time if it is too sour.

      Good luck!

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    Hi. Awesome blog thankyou! I just bought a breville express 870. When do u begin timing the shot to get the 25-27 sec range? ..is it when press dose button to begin shot or when preinfusion finishes a few seconds after button pressed or when first drips start? Thank you so much for help and your easy to follow guide :)

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        I always thought that extraction time was based off the first drop that hits the glass? is this wrong? Seems that there are conflicting opinions out there…

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          No, extraction time is inclusive of any pre-infusion. As soon as water touches the coffee the timer starts. First drop can be so variable based on grind size, dose, water permeability, water debit rate from the group head, pump pressure…you name it.

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            So what I’m understanding is that if my machine (barista pro by Breville) has a built in pre infusion and overall timer that starts when I hit the brew shot button that I should be shooting for somewhere in the 25sec range. Obviously time is not the only factor, but will get me in the ballpark so to speak? I had been timing my shots from first drop in the cup with with that happening somewhere in the 8-10 sec range with an overall time of around 35-37secs giving me what I thought was a 26sec or so “brew/extraction” time.

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    Hi,

    Like Mitch, I have also just purchased the barista express. Ive had mixed comments from people about using the single/double buttons. For a typical FW/Latte, what is recommended? Using the single cup filter, with a single cup extraction? What is the recommended dose ‘grammage’ for that?

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      Hi Dan, personally I’d use an entire double shot from the Barista Express for any milk-based drink (due to the smaller basket size). This means you’re stuck making one drink at a time from the double basket.

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    Hi,

    I’m new to this world. Everyday i tend to love my coffee just a little bit stronger!

    I have the Breville oracle touch machine. Double basket is fixed at 22g. Using a 1:2 brew ratio, yield would be 44g. I’m able to get a 44g yield in a 25 sec extraction.

    Q1: Do you think 44g yield in 25 sec is too short? From what I read here, 25-27 sec extraction is best. From what I read somewhere else, extraction could be as much as 35 sec.

    Q2: Considering a 44g yield in one single cup (double shot), what would be the best amount of milk to add for a perfect latte? And what would it be for a perfect cortado and flat white as well?

    Thank you!

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      Hi Alex,

      There is not magic yield or time for a coffee. Each coffee depending on its origin, the soil and climate it is grown in, the species and variety, processing method, roasting, water chemistry and a host of other variables will change what is the right yield and brewing time. In other words, each coffee will have a unique set of numbers (a recipe) that will make that coffee taste good. What works for one coffee will not work for another, even if it is from the same region, same species and variety and the same processing method.

      Q1) I don’t know. I can’t taste the coffee. Is the coffee unbalanced and too acidic? Grind finer and increase the brew time. Is the coffee too bitter and rough? Grind coarser and decrease the brew time. Time of extraction will change the flavour balance.

      I’ve had incredible espressos brewed as quickly as 18 seconds and as long as 38 seconds. It just depends.

      Q2) Again, there is no one single answer here. It comes down to personal preference. Add as much or as little milk that you deem to taste good.

      Sorry we couldn’t provide any concrete answers.

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    Hi, wonderful and well explained tutorial.
    I have a Compak K3 (should’ve gone higher spec!) and a Rocket Giotto V heat exchanger unit. Again should’ve gone for double boiler!

    Am absolutely loving this journey. When you state extraction time do you mean from pump on or including pre-infusion time? There seems to be a lot of debate around this.

    I use 5 sec infusion then aim for 25 sec extraction FWIW.

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      G’day Roy,
      The Compak K3 and Giotto V are no slouches and given a good understanding of technique and extraction you can make super tasty espresso and milk-based drinks!

      Glad this tutorial helped. When we talk about extraction time, we are talking about the total time the coffee grinds spend in contact with the coffee. So this means from the moment you start the water until the moment the pump cuts off, which is inclusive line pressure of pre-infusion.

      David

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    This is a great Tutorial. Thanks a Lot for this. I still have some questions I’d hope I get an answer.
    First my set up: I do own a sage/Breville/Gastroback or how ever it’s called in you country (in Switzerland it’s a Solis) dual boiler machine. PID and all that great stuff.
    The grinder is also a smart grinder pro.
    I use a fresh roasted coffee from a local roaster.
    After talking with the roaster he would recommend a dose between 15-18g and a ratio of 2.5. I went for 16g and got 40g out in 30sec all this at a temp 95°C (which is quiet high I guess).
    Now the important part: the coffee still tastes unpleasant sour. The pressure is at around 9 bar. And preinfusion takes 7 sec at 60% pressure.
    What do I need to change? Because theoretically everything sounds great right? What I tried is, grinding finer but still the coffee is unbalanced, sour but the finer get there is some salty notes coming to the sourness. The puck is very wet and the pressure went up to 11 bar so the coffee is only dripping from the machine.
    Do I need to change, dose, ratio, everything?
    Thank you already for the help and greetings from Switzerland

    Retus :)

    Ohh… I forgot: it’s a double shot basket.

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      Theoretically, everything sounds fine, with one small note; you’re down-dosing on the double basket. I’d start with 18 grams in that particular basket and aim for 45 grams out in 30 seconds. I’d also turn up the brew boiler to 96 C. It sounds like the coffee is under-extracting because it’s excessively sour and salty, in which case, the solution would be to try in the following order:
      – grind finer (increase brew time)
      – increase yield
      – increase water temperature

      What coffee is it? The coffee might well be under-developed for espresso and be better as a filter coffee brew.

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    That’s interessting… I will try that. Thanks already.

    The variety a Caturra Catuai from Costa Rica, Palmares with a Honey preparation.

    The roaster declares it for aromatic espressos and also filter or French Press…

    Greetings from Switzerland slurping sour coffee😋

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      Hi Retus,

      Yep that makes a whole lot of sense now. The roast sounds like it is not developed enough for espresso if they’re claiming it can be used for filter coffee also. This is generally known as an omni-roast.

      Compounding your problems is the fact that CR honeys have more acidity generally, so you’re going to have problems balancing this coffee as espresso. You’ll need to increase the level of extraction by increasing brew temperature and grinding finer, and/or increasing the length of espresso (pass more water through grounds).

      Alternatively, use it for filter coffee!

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    Hi,

    Im still trying to find the balance for milk based drinks. I have 18g vst basket. I’m making a latte in an 8oz keep cup. I have read on other site that cafes use ristretto shots 1:1 ratio when having milk based drinks like lattes etc. What would you reccomend? I can never get the balance right.

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    Hello! This is very useful. I just started my coffee journey. I am using an affordable Morphy Richards Red Accents 172002 coffee machine (single boiler, 49mm portafilter). I have started with 15g dosage and 30-35ml yield, within 25-30seconds. Sometimes I get overly frothy espresso, was wondering is there something wrong with any of the parameters or is there something wrong with the machine? How much milk should I be using for latte?

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    Hi,

    I have a semi-automatic machine that does pre-infusion. I am pretty sure, that the basket is a 14 gram basket. The basket is pressurized, even though I have my own burr grinder. When dialing in:

    1. Should I aim for a slightly longer or a slightly shorter brewing time depending on the dose? How does the basket effect this? And what about the roast (dark vs. light)?

    2. When should I start the timer? The pre-infusion takes up the first 5 seconds. If I include the-preinfusion as brewing time, I thus only have about 20-22 seconds to get af 1:2 yield as a starting point. How should I handle this?

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      Hi Johan,

      1. Brewing time is inclusive of any pre-infusion. As soon as the water hits the coffee, the clock starts ticking. Using pressurised baskets with a burr grinder may lead to over pressurisation. I’d recommend grinding coarser and aiming for a faster shot time. If possible, replace your basket with traditional ones.

      Light roasts are less soluble, so more time needed – grind finer. Dark roasts are more soluble and give up its flavour more readily – grind coarser.

      2. See above re: time. Time isn’t such a massive factor compared to the impact of yield. There is no magical shot time for every coffee. It’ll change depending on the coffee, its age, the roast, your equipment and skills.

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