How to pull the perfect espresso shot

How to pull the perfect espresso shot

The beginner’s guide

“Espresso is a miracle of chemistry in a cup.”- Andrea Illy

All you home baristas out there, this little guide is for you! We sat down with our Coffee Director to get an insiders guide to the perfect espresso shot and his staple espresso making tools. So get ready because these next few tips are going to have you pulling shots like a pro… but be pre-warned, you might get so good your coffee consumption may increase from desire.

The basic method is grind, dose, tamp and extract. Each step is important in its own right and perfecting each part is going to be key to pulling the perfect shot.

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Okay so to begin, you know that part where the freshly ground coffee goes? Well we call that area the filter basket, which sits in the portafilter; we use Pullman baskets because they are precision made for a more even extraction.  You want to make sure that your cup and portafilter is pre heated. This will ensure your shots temperature is maintained throughout the process.

Next you want to freshly grind your coffee… we really want to emphasise on the freshly ground part. This will give your shot the ideal flavours from the coffee. The grind is also very important and will have an impact on the colour and speed of the extraction. You want to adjust your grind to get close to 30 seconds of extraction time. If it’s too fine it will result in a slow, over extracted shot that will give you that bitter and burnt taste, and if it’s too coarse it will give you a fast, under extracted shot that will be weak and slightly sour, so that 30 seconds is a guide of what you want to aim for but everyone’s personal preference in how their coffee tastes is different so this time may vary as you experiment.

Here’s a little fun fact for you, if the humidity where you live changes regularly then you will need to adjust your grind a lot more frequently. Also as the bean ages, you’ll need a finer grind or firmer tamp.

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Now we move onto dosing. This is the amount of coffee you put into your basket. The ideal dose for a shot is dependent on the size of your filter basket. If you’ve got an 18g filter basket you’re going to need 18g of coffee, if you’ve got a 22g filter basket you’re going to need 22g of coffee, you get where we’re going with this… Also, it’s ideal to be able to weigh out your ground coffee dose to the exact gram. We love using the Acaia Brewing Scales; these scales will ensure precision each and every time, as they simultaneously show timer and weight so you can get that perfect shot ratio.

Next up is tamping. Tamping levels the dose and compresses any air pockets out of the coffee basket. We use Pullman Big Step Tamps and Bases, they are precision made to work with the Pullman filter baskets and have a larger tamping surface area. Before you tamp down the coffee it’s a good idea to get a distribution stick to level out the dose. If you tamp the coffee unevenly then you will end up an uneven extraction – not ideal. When you tamp you want to ensure you evenly distribute your weight into the basket nice and firmly.

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The final and most anticipated step is the extraction. This is where it gets tricky to explain because it is all very subjective on how you like your coffee to taste. So what we’re going to try to achieve here is to help you to get to a good starting point from where you can then experiment with different ratios to find your perfect match.

Now obviously ratios are going to be different with different machines but the process will be the same and you will use the ratio 1:2 coffee to water with an extraction time of around 30 seconds (but as mentioned before your taste preference might differ from this time bracket) So here we go… Place the portafilter into your machine’s brew group and put your preheated cup under it. If you don’t have scales that also have a timer then use your phone timer to make sure your shot is running on time. If the dose, grind and tamp are all good the first part of the brew will be dark, then turn to a golden brown mixture that we all know as the crema. The volume of water for each shot should be double whatever the amount of coffee you’re using and should run for around 30 seconds. For example, if you’re using 18g of coffee the espresso yield should be 36g. So if it’s running a little slow or too fast you’re going to want to check your grind and change it to improve the flow. What you’re looking for is a rich dark brew that’s topped with a fine golden, dark honeycomb looking crema that will taste sweet and smooth and oh-so heavenly.

Another little fun fact for you, as of 2015, astronauts on the International Space Station can brew fresh espresso on board.

So to recap:

1. Preheat your cup and portafilter

2. Freshly grind your coffee

3. Dose out the correct amount of coffee for the basket you are using

4. Level out the dose and tamp the coffee, evenly distributing your weight into the basket, nice and firmly

5. Extraction time! Using the ration 1:2 coffee to water you’re looking for an extraction time of around 30seconds. What you will get is a rich dark brew that’s topped with a fine golden, dark honeycomb looking crema.

Seems like a lot to get your head around but after a few goes and tweaks we’re sure you’ll be pulling like a pro. And never fear, if you want to get a little bit more practice in with someone to guide you, we have a range of training courses available for all skill levels.