Troubleshooting for espresso.
Good coffee? No problem. This blog is designed to make sure your espresso is coming out perfectly and to help you trouble shooting when it’s not. We’ve got your back during that busy café rush.
Getting the espresso just right can involve a bit of work and a little bit of time. If you’re also new to making coffee, then things can get confusing very easily. Luckily, the coffee problems that do arise are usually quite similar. So, we’ve put together this blog to help you trouble shooting when your espresso isn’t behaving.
Being a barista means being obsessed with consistency
A lot of what we do when making coffee is repetitive, which means it’s even more important to ensure we’re making coffee correctly at each step of the way.
When it comes to troubleshooting for espresso, we want to rule out as many inconsistencies as possible. We want to have a look at each step of the coffee-making process to ensure we’re not overlooking any problems. The best way to do this is to look at 2 important areas: your Barista Technique and your Espresso Recipe.
First – Barista Technique
When trouble shooting for espresso, start by looking at the barista technique.
Have a look at how you and the team are making the coffee and if you’re following all the steps for a good barista technique. You want to ask yourself – am I dosing correctly? How am I tamping? Am I backflushing after the busy coffee rush? Once these questions have been checked, we also need to make sure the whole café team is following the same process.
Perfecting the barista technique will isolate all movements of the barista/s and bring attention to any errors. Having this process refined and consistent across the whole team will maintain quality between coffees, as well as make it easier and quicker to identify coffee issues when they arise. The best baristas know how to make a coffee following the process and do it consistently with every espresso.
Our recommended process:
- Remove portafilter
- Flush group head
- Knock out puck from the pervious extraction (*the puck should always be removed once you have finished brewing ASAP)
- Wipe portafilter basket until clean and dry
- Tare portafilter on the scales
- Grind, dose, distribute, weigh, adjust. Make sure the surface is smooth and flat and the weight is consistent with the range stated in your recipe.
- Wipe any coffee remaining on the rim and lugs
- Insert the handle and start the brewing cycle immediately
- Place your cups or glasses underneath the spouts
Have these steps memorised and ingrained into your coffee-making process and that way, we have one less thing to worry about when identifying a problem?
Second – Dialing in for your espresso recipe
Dialling in and setting up the coffee machine and grinder is next on the agenda. Get this right and the rest will be smooth sailing.
The key here is to make sure you’ve nailed the espresso.
There are 2 main things we need to look at here
- The coffee machine settings (the espresso yield).
- The grinder setting (the espresso shot time).
Check out this blog for everything you need to know when it comes to the espresso recipe.
Following an espresso recipe is basically making sure that the setting on our machine and grinder are in the right place to make a delicious espresso.
There are lots of different espresso recipes but as an example, it could look like this:
Dose: Yield: Time:
20g +/- 0.02g 40g +/- 3g 27-33sec +/- 2 sec
You’ll need to break each step down to make sure that you’re hitting the right numbers according to your recipe.
The dose will stay consistent. Use the scales to make sure you get the correct amount of ground coffee in the portafilter handle.
Next, we need to ensure that the coffee machines’ volumetrics are dispensing the yield correctly. We can’t accurately get the timing right without first making sure that we have the right amount of water passing through the dose. Check the yield from each group head as part of the morning set-up process.
Watch the video below to see how to check and reprogram the yield on your coffee machine. Make sure this is completed for all the group heads.
Now that we have the coffee machine dispensing the right amount of water, we can assess the timing. Time correlates with the grinder setting.
If the timing is not between 27-33 sec, then we need to adjust the grinder – this video will show you how to adjust.
It is important to point out that each of the recipe factors do affect each other, so double-checking and fine-tuning are encouraged.
Dialling in is a repetitious process but, with a bit of practice, it will become easier to move through the above steps. Here is the full process in action.
What if the espresso time is different for each of the group heads?
A little fluctuation in the timing is normal but, if you are seeing a big difference (5+ sec) you’ll need to work through the 2 steps mentioned above. First, check that your barista technique is locked in correctly. Secondly, check the yields from each group head are in range according to your recipe. We don’t want more than 3 grams difference between each group head. Reprogram the yields for each group head and see if the timing is more consistent.
The espresso is pouring in under 25 seconds. What do I do?
Check that your barista technique is all correct. Sometimes if we don’t distribute properly, there could be a channel that would cause the water to pass through faster. If the espresso is still pouring too fast, adjust the grinder in the finer direction to slow down the water flow (also check the yield is in range).
The espresso tastes bitter. How do I fix it?
Make sure the yield and timing are in range. If the yield is too high or the timing is over 35 sec, then this could be causing the espresso to be over-extracted and therefore, bitter. If the settings are correct and the espresso is still bitter, then clean the machine. Clean the machine by doing a water backflush and clean the portafilter handles and baskets (this should be done hourly regardless).
Why is the espresso watery and weak?
Check the date the coffee beans were roasted. If the coffee beans are getting a bit old, then this could be causing the espresso to lose its flavour. Check that your barista technique is all correct and that no channelling is happening. Make sure the yields and shot times are in range. If the yield is too low or the timing is too fast, then this could be causing the espresso to be under-extracted.
There is no espresso or very little espresso coming out. Is my machine broken?
If there is water coming through the group head without the portafilter locked in, then it’s likely that your coffee machine is not broken. Do check the pump pressure is at about 8 bar with the machine turned on. If the espresso is coming out very slowly or not at all then adjust your grinder in the courser direction until the shots pour between 25-35 sec. Make sure the timing is consistent, then check the yield from the group heads to make sure it’s in range.
I hope the above information helps you on your coffee journey, remember practice makes perfect. If it doesn’t work the first time, just have another go! Where possible, also give yourself plenty of time to work through the steps uninterrupted. It won’t take long for you to build up speed but do make sure that consistency is key.
Check out our other blogs and subscribe to our YouTube channel to learn more! If you are an industry professional or working in a cafe, then you can book our industry training or a refresher class via – [email protected].
If you are a home barista, who wants to improve your technique, or you have someone in your life who could upgrade their coffee making ability, then you can book in for barista training with us too! We run Saturday Back to Basics classes from 9am until 1pm, which are fun to do for all ages and stages. Book in now or find out more here.