Troubleshooting Espresso
Your Espresso is too thin? Sour? Bitter? Tastes medicinal? Maybe it’s just watery or plain dull?
To understand how to troubleshoot our espresso shots, we need to understand what it is we are looking
for. Here is a short definition of what espresso is:
What is Espresso?
Espresso is a full-flavored, concentrated form of coffee that is served in 30 ml “shots.”
Espresso is made by forcing pressurized water through very finely ground coffee beans,
at 85-95 degrees temperature, extracting in that process the aromatic oils, the sugars
and the soluble out of the bean. Ideally, espresso should have a thick, reddish-brown
crema, a potent aroma and balanced in flavour between the sweetness, the bitterness
and the sourness, leaving a lingering after taste on the tongue minutes after drinking.
What does it take to Make Good Espresso?
4 Ms of Espresso




Miscela (Blend, the organic product)
Macina (Espresso machine)
Macinino; Macinadosatore ; Macinacaffe (Grinder)
Mano (You)
There is a debate among coffee professionals and home users alike as per what
percentage each component plays in the equation but it is clear that without even one
of these ingredients, you can’t create a good espresso.
This article assumes that your espresso equipment is capable for maximizing espresso
flavor and that your beans are roasted for espresso and are fresh (less than 3 weeks
from roasting date), so the area to focus on troubleshooting your espresso will be The
Mano – You.
We use skills learned at our coffee making training to operate a machine and a grinder
to achieve consistent quality espresso. To produce great coffee, science and art come
together.
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Espresso production might be considered a science: if a number of variables such as
grind, dosage and tamp are taken into account, you can produce a good espresso. We
like to see the art in coffee in 2 areas: in the flavor and in coffee presentation.
Sometimes our students will go through months just aiming at consistent speed /
crema. If you can’t master the consistently required to achieve 30 ml espresso in 25sec30sec each shot, you won’t be able to go on to work on flavor or on presentation, so
better get this one right:
But what happens if it doesn’t come out the way it should?
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Espresso pour is much slower or much faster than 25ml in 25-30 seconds
Espresso pour is thin with little body or bubbly, gassy and unstable
Espresso has non or pale, thin crema instead of Caramel color or red-brown
Espresso is watery instead of having a rounded mouthfeel and a good body
Espresso isn’t balanced, it presents too much acidity or bitterness, could also
taste rancid, medicinal or astringent
Over Extraction:
If we get slow pour, that is 30ml in more than 30 seconds, it takes a long time for the first
drop to come out, it has a dark color throughout, thin crema and burnt, astringent and
unbalanced taste: we are over extracting the coffee. We have created too much pressure
that resulted in prolong contact of the hot water with the grinds thus burning it.
What to do?
Adjust your grind courser.
Under extraction:
If we get very fast pour with 30ml in less than 20 seconds, the crema pales quickly, it gushes
out, thin and with fast dissipating crema, acidic or sour taste, thin and unbalanced
mouthfeel, than we need to increase resistance.
What to do?
Adjust your grind finer.
Uneven extraction:
If the mouse tail shows 2 different crema colors, if there is a dark rim around the crema in
the cup, if you find some loose grind on top of the crema, if flavor is unbalanced, we might be
experiencing uneven pressure rate during extraction.
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What to do?
Distribute the grind better.
Uneven particle size can be a result of a grinder’s design fault or clumping.
Clumping can be attributed to the grinder’s chute design or slow speed, as
well as to changes in the weather (humid day result in more clumps) and
the freshness of the coffee (the older the beans are, the more it will
‘sweat’). As the grinds clumps, water will flow faster through the air
pockets created in between the particles, while the water flowing through
the clumps will meet higher resistance and will flow slower, this will result
in uneven extraction.
If the beans and grinder are a fixed factor, you can try and avoid ‘channeling’ or uneven
extraction by paying attention to your distribution.
After dosing as recommended below, you can choose any distributing technique known to you, as long as
you keep it consistent. You can choose the North, South, West, East technique, or the twist technique,
aiming at breaking clumps and distributing the grind as evenly as possible in the basket.
There are some great tools in the market that assist in even distribution: 1. Scottie Callaghan Tools 2.
Ona’s Coffee Distribution tool
Here are some more valuable tips:
1. Always wipe your basket dry before loading coffee
2. Use consistent dosing technique. The most popular one is:
- Fill basket 3/4 high with ground
- Tap twice the portafilter on the bench to settle the grinds
- Refill basket with ground coffee until a mound forms on
-Level by brushing off the excess coffee grinds with a dosing tool or your
finger
3. Tamp in a consignment pressure maintaining level tamp. The right tamping
pressure is the one you can become repetitive with
To updose, or not to updose?
Updosing (loading more ground coffee than what is specified for the basket) seems to
be a very popular practice with Australian baristas. Whether or not you can updose will
be determined by how low your shower screen hangs down the group. lf it's possible to
updose with your group design, whether or not you wish to updose will depend on your
taste preference in relation to the blend, grind, the extraction rate, etc.
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