Pulling The Perfect Espresso Shot

All right, kids. You’ve got your espresso machine. You’ve got your coffee. You’re all set to make coffee-shop quality coffee drinks – especially espresso – right in your own kitchen. You pack your portafilter, flip the switch and get…. something that doesn’t even resemble espresso. What went wrong?

While you can’t expect to pull the perfect shot of espresso your first time out – some world-class baristas practice for years and are never quite satisfied with the results – understanding the elements of the espresso process can help you improve your shots, and eventually, get you to the point where you can consistently pull excellent shots of espresso.

Pulling The Perfect Espresso Sho
Pulling The Perfect Espresso Shot

In a Nutshell

There are multiple elements to getting your espresso shot right, which is why many baristas – home and pro versions – develop a ritual that ensures they don’t miss any of the steps Each of these elements affects the others, and the closer to right you get each of them, the closer to perfect your espresso shot will be. Pulling the perfect espresso shot is an exercise in experimentation and constant adjustment to get everything working together and produce consistently excellent coffee.

Preheat the Group Head and Portafilter

Before you start, pull a blank shot – that is, run water through the portafilter into your cup without any coffee. Warming the group head, portafilter and holder will help keep the temperature right while you pull your shot.

Grind

  • The grind texture of your coffee is one of the most important aspects of pulling a good shot of espresso. Consider this: the flavor of your coffee is determined by the amount of coffee oils and chemicals extracted by the water as it flows through the ground coffee. The longer the water is in contact with the coffee, the more various flavors are developed. If the grind is too coarse, the water flows through too quickly and your coffee will be weak. If it is to fine, the water will take too long to flow through and will extract many of the bitter constituents of coffee, resulting in a cup that is sour and cooked.
  • The texture you want for espresso is close to granulated sugar, but every coffee has its own precise grind that works best. To make it even more complicated, the same coffee may need a finer or coarser grind if the weather is humid, or if the coffee is older.
  • Experiment to get the right flow rate for your coffee – about 20 to 30 seconds to pull a 2 oz. double shot of espresso.

 

Dose

  • Baristas refer to the amount of coffee grounds used for a shot as the “dose”, like a dose of medicine, and express the doses in grams of weight, which is a much more accurate measurement than volume. You can buy a small digitial pocket scalePulling The Perfect Espresso Shot for less than $20, and it will make an amazing difference in your espresso quality.
  • The starting point for a double shot of espresso is 14 to 18 grams, adjusted for your espresso machine and your personal tastes.

 

Tamp

  • Tamping the coffee grounds levels and packs them so that you get uniform extraction. When water is forced through the coffee in the portafilter, it will seek out the paths of least resistance – where coffee is packed more loosely – if there are any. If your tamper is too small for the portafilter, for example, the coffee will be loose around the edges and water will flow through there without touching the bulk of the coffee in the center, and you’ll have a weak, under-extracted shot.
  • Use a tamper that’s the right size for the portafilter.
  • Hold your elbow at 90 degrees, put the portafilter on an even, flat surface, and apply 30 lbs. of pressure until the coffee looks smooth and polished. Finer coffee will need less pressure and coarser coffee will need more.

 

Pour

  • Place the portafilter into the espresso machine’s brew group and put your cup – preheated, of course – under the spout.
  • Start the pull based on your machine and your experience. Some espresso machines are very finicky and require you to get the temperature precisely right to get the best espresso shot. Others are very forgiving and hold the temperature well. Semi-automatic machines often signal that the boiler has reached the correct temperature with a light or something similar. When the machine is heated and ready, check your watch (so you can time the shot, which is critical) and start the pour.
  • If you’ve done a good job of dosing, grinding and tamping, the espresso should start out dark, then turn into a thin, golden brown stream of foam that just holds together. It should take between 20 and 30 seconds to pull a 2-ounce shot. If you’re not getting that volume in that amount of time, check your grind, dose and tamp, make adjustments and try again.
  • If the espresso comes out unevenly from the two spouts, your tamp is uneven. If the flow is too fast, your grind needs to be finer or the tamp firmer, or a combination of both. If the flow is too slow, go coarser on the grind to slow the water down.

 

The end result should be a rich, dark brew topped with a thick layer of fine, gold crema – the foamy end of the shot. When you taste the shots you’re pulling, you’ll thank yourself for taking the time to learn how to pull a proper shot of espresso.


Comments

  1. Starbucks has automated machines because of the immense flow of customers, they converted to automatic to quicken the process. I personally wish we still hand pulled shots but you cannot criticize Starbucks as a whole for trying to improve. If all you said was true every drink would be perfect. But that is not the case because there are many factors into our drinks the most important is the barista. Our machines pull shot in 27 seconds. You compare Starbucks to McDonald’s because they are so wide spread and “automated” but last time I check neither me nor my co-workers are robots. We work hard not only to make the best drinks possible but also to interact with our customers and make their day a little bit better. I know 85% of my customers by name, drink, and their careers. I take my brother to the McDonald’s in town once a week or so for the past 3 years, and no one their knows my name. I appreciate everyone hopping on the hate big businesses bandwagon but the barista makes the Starbucks as well as the quality of the drink.

  2. It’s interesting how espresso differs across the world. Starbucks did not do well here at all and closed many of it’s stores. I personally found Starbucks coffee to be weak, watery and totally uninteresting. I spent many years repairing, servicing and setting coffee machines and training outlets in the making of and how to improve their coffee. The norm here is 9 gms of coffee per shot, 9 Bars espressing pressure and 1.3 Bars boiler pressure although recently there has been a tendency to drop this a little giving a lower espressing temperature. You can talk about how to make the perfect cup of coffee till the cows come home but my perfect cup of coffee probably isn’t your perfect cup of coffee so it’s all relative really. What is really the main criteria is that you, your friends, or your customers love your coffee and come back for more

  3. Hi Gary. if you use a double portafilter, there shouldn’t be a need to make any adjustments. As long as you have 14gr of coffee in your portafilter and press the double shot button on your machine, that will be all. ( I assume your machine is automatic). hope i was helpful.

  4. Question …
    Is the cook time for a double shot twice the time for a single shot?

    I have the Delonghi EC702 and the single shot is perfect around 24 seconds.

    What do I have to change when pulling a double shot 60 ml?

    The holes in the portafilter look like the same size and number.

  5. Hello there. I’ve gone through the whole debate and agree with most. I am a barrister and been trained by three different Coffee Co. They all run in more or less the same lines.
    1- A machine can never operate without an experienced driver, (the Barrister)
    2- Good coffee beans (fresh dark roast),
    3- A PERFECT grinding machine
    4- And a PERFECTLY SET Espresso machine.
    With the above you will have 7gr of ground coffee beans, tamped (its best to place the portafilter at the edge of a counter and tamp down until your elbow makes a right angle), run on an espresso machine for 25 – 30 seconds and measuring +- 25 -30ml. If the above have been carefully followed, you will have a perfectly extracted espresso shot with a strong aroma, thick crema and taste.

  6. We just purchased a Silvano by quick mill. Very happy with it. I’ve got the micro foam down but still disappointed with the espresso. Have a burr grinder. The problem: my latte tastes more like a milk drink than a coffee drink. It is taking longer than 27 seconds. Sometimes up to 40 seconds for a double shot basket. I’ve adjusted the grinder to a coarser grind and still not satisfied. Any suggestions? Good fresh beans are being used.

  7. Unfortunately, you don’t seem to know as much about Starbucks as you claim. Firstly, they use superautomatic machines in their stores, and so there is no skill whatsoever in the shots that are pulled – you press a button and the espresso comes out – the machine grinds the shot, tamps the shot and pours the shot. That’s why the comparison with McDonalds. Secondly, you have obviously been taken in by the marketing hype around ‘Fair Trade’ Coffee – this is a badge used to make customers who don’t do their homework think they are doing something good – whereas the main benefactors from ‘Fair Trade’ are the richer farmers and the coffee is often mediocre because of the cooperative model it encourages. I don’t have space to go into all the ills of ‘Fair Trade’ here, but we really don’t ‘know’ the farmers are being treated humanely, and I have plenty of well researched evidence to show that this is not necessarily the case. In the end, the espresso shot relies on good coffee, good grind, accurate tamp and a decent length of time for extraction. The long time standard in Europe and more specifically Italy, where espresso was invented is around 27 seconds – that’s not what you are going to get at Starbucks. Just calling a spade a spade, I think the comparison with Mcdonalds is fair, and I think Starbucks are better generally, but not by enough to allow them to charge the premium prices.

  8. A lot of things have been left out of this article, as mentioned in numerous comments here. Everybody seem to have their own opinion and ways to make the perfect espresso shot. In the end it is all a matter of taste. Now spitting on Starbucks is just stupid. If you actually knew the company, you might review your opinion. They serve some of the best coffees you can find on the market, and the farmers they get their beans from are treated humanely, something that cannot necessarily be said for any other coffee importers. There is no such thing as a “Starbucks espresso machine” and there never was. Starbucks used to sell espresso machines, but they never were branded “Starbucks”. The most notorious one was the “Barista” model, which I own among two other machines. While the machine itself is important, it is not what makes the best shot. A great tool won’t make a fine building. The builder will. The same applies to shots. How you prepare your grind, the type of beans you select according to your taste, the type of water, and the experience in pulling your shots are what make a great shot. Comparing Starbucks to McDonalds is as ludicrous as thinking that Football is better than Hockey. Those are two different things that cannot be put at the same level. Before hating on something, know what you are talking about guys.

  9. Whoever wrote this article knows very little about making a good espresso shot. Nothing mentioned about the good quality grinder? That’s a basic. Mentioning a Starbucks brand espresso machine? This is ridiculous.

  10. To Kim and others … as a starting point pick up a pinch of sugar and feel how gritty it is. Grind your coffee beans to that grittiness. Then fill your portafilter either single (7 grams) or double (14 grams) depending on the size of basket you are using. When making the shot, time it and try and get the shot at around 25 to 27 seconds before you see it starting to run clear in color. Oh yeh, tamp the coffee with a 30 pound pressure. Pressing on a bathroom scale will give you an idea how much pressure will get you to 30 pounds. It’s quite a bit.

    The coarser the grind the faster the water will run through and hence faster you’ll get that 1 or 2 oz shot. Adjust grind in your grinder. A BURR grinder is a necessity. Blade grinders cannot be used for espresso. In fact, the grinder is more important to making espresso than the espresso machine, providing the latter is capable of sending the water through the coffee at the right temperature and correct pressure which most machines are designed to do. Kim, that was info for others, as your machine must have a burr grinder. A good burr grinder by itself will cost as much or more than what your Breville sells for. :-)

  11. Hi again…
    Opps…see it is todays date…of course you still own yours…lol. Do you have any tips to pass along?
    Thanks

  12. Hi,
    I just purchased a Breville Barista Express. Just wondering if you still own yours. I’m having a problem with the right grind number.

  13. I just bought a Breville Barista Express and am trying to perfect pulling shots. It’s taken me quite a few shots to get a good one but am finally getting decent ones with a nice crema on the top. I’ve heard some negative things about this machine and am wondering if I should take it back and try another one. Did I pay too much for a poor machine?

  14. hi! i had read your debate regarding on how to make a perfect shot of espresso maybe you consider also those elements of quality espresso.which freshly grind beans at the right grind.to follow the standard of shelf life.Fine grind for espresso,coarse grind for dripped coffee.Water with no after taste,used soft water.Excellent condition of espresso machine.Barista skills.Milk.

    Mam can you send me an article of any coffee tips and standard operating procedure for steaming of milk and proper machine calibration.thank u.BGU

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