How to Pull a Perfect Shot of Espresso

There’s nothing worse than going to a renowned coffee shop only to receive an espresso drink that’s bitter and undrinkable. Poorly made espresso-based drinks are more common than you might think. Even the best beans, espresso machine, and grinder can’t guarantee a good shot of espresso.

Slayer Espresso

A big challenge for cafe managers and owners is getting their large team of baristas to make good-tasting espresso. A lot of newbie baristas don’t know what to look for when dialing in espresso and lack the confidence to calibrate it.  This is why we offer complimentary ongoing training and consultation for our wholesales clients.

By putting certain practises in place, you can show your whole team how to pull a perfect shot of espresso. First, we’ll show you how to lead an espresso tasting session with a team of baristas. Then, we’ll show you how to ensure the espresso is always running well.

The building blocks of good espresso

It may sound obvious, but you need to start with great coffee and great equipment to make great espresso. Make sure you have all of these in place first before you troubleshoot your espresso.

Make sure to source roasted beans from a high-quality, specialty coffee roaster. They should have an emphasis on ethical sourcing, meticulous roasting, and freshness.

A high-quality espresso machine with enough pressure and stamina is crucial for great espresso. We recommend the Slayer espresso machine, which was produced by the fine folks here at Fratello!

A good espresso grinder allows you to micro-adjust the grind setting. It should have a timed doser to provide consistency. We recommend Mahlkonig espresso grinders. 

If you have all of that already, let’s get into it!

coffee grinder

Leading an espresso tasting with your team

It’s always a good idea to do an espresso tasting session with your team. This allows you to answer any questions and try different espresso shots side-by-side for comparison. When guiding your team through a tasting, here are some common things to look for.

While not all coffees have a sweet profile, you should aim for a sweet shot. Sweetness is detected on the tip of the tongue. Unlike an unpleasant sour flavour, you’re looking for a sweetness akin to fruit or sugar.

A good shot of espresso should never taste unpleasantly bitter or sour. You can assess this more broadly when you try the espresso by asking yourself, “Is this pleasant?” “Is this acceptable to serve?”

Bitter and sour notes can be part of the inherent flavour profile of the coffee, like rich cocoa and lemon. Don’t get confused by desirable flavour attributes. 

Get your team familiar with the flavour wheel. It’s not cheating to fill your head with all the possibilities of what coffee can taste like. It helps your team by giving them a vocabulary to describe coffee.

TIP: It’s easier for newbie baristas to taste coffee that’s cooled down and/or diluted with a bit of water.


Creating an espresso calibration system

After you’ve done your initial group tasting session with your team, it’s time to create a calibration system.

The best way to calibrate espresso is by tasting it and adjusting it as needed. However, most newbie baristas won’t have the skills or the confidence to do this. This method also takes more time, and when you’re trying to move a lineup, it isn’t practical. A calibration system is easy-to-follow, keeps your coffee tasting great at all times, and doesn’t disrupt your flow.

Not all coffee is the same, but as a general rule of thumb, there’s a certain espresso recipe to follow. When it comes to brewing parameters for espresso, you want to start with a dry weight of 18 grams, a wet weight of 36 grams (ie. actual brewed espresso), and a brew time of 28-30 seconds. If you brew your espresso and it doesn’t fit within these confines, you can tweak the dose and the grind setting of the coffee.

perfect espresso

How to pull a perfect shot of espresso, step-by-step:

  1. Pop the basket out of the portafilter, and zero it out on a digital scale. Grind your beans from your timed espresso grinder, and weigh it. If it weighs below 18 grams, increase your dose by a few milliseconds. If it weighs above 18 grams, decrease your dose. Don’t worry if you’re off by 0.5 grams.
  2. Once you have the right weight, evenly tamp your espresso with 30 lbs of pressure.
  3. Have a timer ready to countdown from 30 seconds. Grab a clean shot glass or mini metal pitcher, place it on the scale, and zero it out.
  4. Place the scale and the glass under the group head, and begin brewing your espresso. Immediately start your 30-second timer. 
  5. At the 30-second mark, stop the shot and read the wet weight on the scale. If the wet weight isn’t 36 grams, make some changes and start over. If the wet weight is below 36 grams, make your grind coarser. If it’s above 36 grams, make your grind finer.

Make sure to post the espresso parameters (ie. dry weight, wet weight, brew time) where staff can see it. Have your team calibrate the espresso several times a day: once first thing in the morning, at mid-morning, and in the afternoon. For accountability, you can set up a checklist on a marker board, and have staff initial their calibrations.

Other factors affecting espresso flavour

Getting the right dose and weight is important when making good espresso, but it’s not the only thing to be aware of. Other things greatly affect the flavour of espresso. Here are some common factors:

Make sure your team is tamping properly. An uneven tamp or a cracked puck can result in uneven extraction, and thus, a sour, undrinkable espresso. Check out this video to make sure your team isn’t committing any tamping faux-pas!


The temperature and humidity in your cafe can instantly change how your espresso pours. If the weather suddenly changes from rainy and cold to sunny and warm, recalibrate your espresso.

A dirty espresso machine can make your coffee taste off if you’re doing everything else right. Make sure your team is cleaning the espresso machine and portafilters every night with Cafiza. Additionally, make sure your team is wiping the portafilter baskets with a dry rag between espressos. Have them purge the group heads between pours, too.

Fratello Coffee

Give it your best shot

Espresso can be intimidating for new baristas who lack skills and confidence. You can’t expect them to know everything right off the bat. The more effort you put into standards and procedures, the more likely it is that your team will get on board.

It doesn’t take long to gain a reputation as a no-fail, sure-shot espresso bar. Before long, your customers will notice, and they’ll be lining up for more. So do a little planning, schedule that espresso tasting with your team, and knock it out of the park!

We know that espresso can be a complicated beast. With decades of experience in the specialty coffee world, we have all the tools to make your cafe a success. Book a consultation call with us by emailing us at . We’re here to help!

Holiday gift ideas for the coffee lover!

Happy Holidays from Fratello Coffee Roasters! We love enjoying great coffee all year round here at Fratello, and hope you do to.  At Christmas time why not pay special attention to the coffee lover on your list (that is usually most people on the list) and treat them to some great gift ideas from Fratello.

Here is our list for you. Lots of great coffee, some popular and really neat by-the-cup brew methods and tools for the home or professional Barista are all great options! Any questions call or email us and we would love to help.


Why do we use Slayer Espresso Machines?

This should answer your question......

Slayer makes it easy to pull perfect shots of espresso.  See more pictures

National Canadian Barista Competition

On October 14th, Fratello's Joel May will be competiting again in the National Canadian Barista Competition.   Last year Joel finished 3rd overall in Canada, so this year we are all cheering for him to become #1.

This is a very challenging competition that takes a lot of work and constant practice.  Joel will be competing with barista's from around Canada who have each earned the chance to compete for the chance to go to London England next year with hopes of becoming the World's top barista.

Over the past few months barista's have been competing across Canada in Regional Competitions and only the top 3 from each region are guaranteed a spot in the Nationals.   Shaw TV did a feature on the Prarie Regional's held at Fratello Coffee early September.  Please watch this video which helps explain what the competition is about.

2009 Prairie Regional Barista Competition

The top baristas in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Yukon will gather in Calgary on Saturday, September 12, 2009 to compete in the the 2009 Prairies Regional Barista Championships.


The second annual event, held this year at Fratello Coffee Roasters in Calgary, will feature 11 competitors from the prairies region. Each competitor has 15 minutes to prepare and serve 12 coffee beverages—four espresso, four cappuccino, and four signature drinks. Four sensory judges, two technical judges and one head judge evaluate each performance, including the taste of beverages served, cleanliness, creativity, technical skill and overall presentation of the competitors.

The top three scoring competitors earn the right to compete at the Canadian National Barista Championship, October 14 & 15 in Vancouver, as well as travel bursaries and a prize package. The public is invited to attend the event free of charge and enjoy beverages prepared by competitors at the complimentary espresso bar. The event will be broadcast live on Ustream. A link and further details can be found on the event website at

Also - this Friday September 11 is a Barista Jam - Open to all Professional Barista's and coffee enthusiasts. We'll be hanging out, pulling shots and warming up for the competition. There will also be a Latte Art Throwdown, $5 buy-in winner take all. P.S. beer will be served 😉

See you guys this Friday & Saturday !

Here is a Schedule of Events for all compeditors

Fratello Coffee tests the new Slayer Espresso Machine!

Slayer Espresso Machine @ Fratello - teaser from Chris Prefontaine on Vimeo.

Barista Training

The Canadian Barista & Coffee Academy will be offering two days of barista training at Fratello this May 26th and 27th - following the Barista Competition.

This special training academy for barista (espresso machine operators) and those interested in learning more about coffee and espresso presents its 2008 Educational Program. The hands-on training workshops are lead by Canadian and international expert trainers and professional baristas. They are for those new to the industry or those who want to perfect their coffee skills and include: Basic Training, Advanced Training and Expert Barisa workshops.

Please refer to the schedule below for details and click here to register.

Location: Fratello Coffee

4021 9th St. SE Calgary, Alberta


Monday, May 26, 2008

9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Barista Level I: Beginner Barista Workshop

2 p.m. - 6 p.m. Barista level II: Advanced Barista Workshop

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Level III: Expert Barista & Latte Art Workshop

9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Opening a Successful Coffee Business Seminar

2 p.m. - 5 p.m. Coffee Cupping Workshop

3rd Wave Cafes : 14 different Seattle cafes in 1 day

What does it take to be a "3rd Wave" cafe?  Read this post and find out what some of the best in Seattle are doing. 


 On December 6th, a group from Fratello Coffee and Slayer Espresso met in Seattle for 1 day.  In this 10 hour day we visited, reviewed and tasted a lot of amazing products.  When originally planning this trip to we had 2 goals.  The main purpose of this trip was to visit the Slayer Espresso's studio to witness their break through in brewing technology and to experience their ability to develop new characteristics in its espresso brewing techniques.  It is too new for me to talk about this, so I won’t......

Our second purpose was to educate ourselves with a few of the great Seattle “3rd Wave café’s” and to bring this knowledge back to Calgary to help our café’s in elevating their skills in offering excellence to their customers.  With the knowledge of new competition coming to our back yard we felt that this was the best way to help prepare our clients for what the new standard of running a café will be, and what it will take to compete on these new levels.  We know that many people don’t have the time to fly to Seattle/Vancouver them selves, so we decided to bring Seattle to them.  My next plan is to do the same thing for Vancouver.  

14 cafes were chosen, all different and all excellent in what they are doing.  This tour consisted of Chris and Jason Prefontaine, Eric Perkunder, Trent Breitkreutzt and my self.  I decided to document this trip, but please keep in mind that I am not a journalist, I am a professional coffee cupper and roaster, who simply loves coffee.  The views below are my opinion only!! 

Below are some notes and observations I made while visiting these great cafes.  I hope that this will be helpful in setting a new direction for those cafes that are looking to improve with what they are currently doing everyday.  


Buying Trip to Brazil

Russ & I had the pleasure of taking some of our staff down to Brazil last month on an educational buying trip. We met farmers committed to more then just quality coffee, but also who were committed to making a difference in the environment and to the lives of people who worked for them on their farms.

We look forward to bringing to Calgary some of these special coffees and the stories of the families who put so much heart into producing them. I want to give a special thanks to Schieder and the good people of Tristao Trading for hosting our Fratello family while in Brazil. It was a fantastic trip!

First Slayer in Calgary!!

It has been a little bit of a wait, and a very exciting one in deed, but the wait is over. The first of many Slayer installations in Calgary has finally happend at Caffe Beano.Their 3 gp Slayer was installed a few days ago and both Jay and Dan have been working to ensure that this machine is working perfectly.....and it is.We went by Caffe Beano yesterday (a Wednesday) to make a few additional tweaks, and they mentioned that they have been busier than normal since the installation took place. They are doing the volumes typically seen on a weekend, in fact, people that normally have 1 espressoo are having 2 or 3 because they taste so good. WOW, what a difference an amazing piece of machinery makes. Below image show Dan making some final calibrations.

Something big is brewing at Fratello Coffee Co.

David Parker, Calgary Herald Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2007 It doesn't seem that long ago to me that a cup of coffee was something poured as an expected followup to any restaurant meal. Then came the coffee shops and over the last few years people in this city have followed the trend in lining up for a cappuccino, mocha, espresso, frappucino or any number of gourmet blends.Now, according to Chris Prefontaine, director of business development and one of the three brother owners of Fratello Coffee Co., we are entering a third wave.

Following behind the remarkable movement in Seattle and Vancouver towards serving unique, specialty coffees from high-quality, auctioned green beans that are served by a knowledgeable and well-trained passionate staff, coffee drinking is reaching new heights here.

Russ Prefontaine, left, Chris Prefontaine and Jason Prefontaine of Fratello Coffee Co. The company buys top-qualify coffee from 31 countries. Leah Hennel, Calgary HeraldHe should know -- the family has been in the business here since parents Cam and Barb Prefontaine began supplying offices with coffee from their home garage in Varsity Acres in 1974.


Can you say SLAYER!!!

The first time around was a tease, then it was gone. Much to our collective dismay... Now it's back and lets just say there may be bloodshed should someone try to take this one... You think I'm joking... See the name? Yeah that's right. You're wondering what I'm talking about.The "Slayer" is our newest creation, recreation, incarnation of the Espresso machine. In it's current existence, it's a La Marzocco that has been heavily modified. Things like PID, another boiler (yeah, I said that)... and those are the immediately obvious ones. So, with John and myself loitering ermm, I mean training ourselves. The beast came to life, and on the VERY FIRST SHOT, promptly knocked Jason's socks off with an unbelievable shot. After that (and a few elbows) John and I were next... Might I say that never in my life have I had an Espresso that had that perfect, lovely, rich, deep brown/red crema, with a hint of flecking, the texture and mouth-feel of silk, and the flavor, well the flavor was everything that Blackjack had promised to be, and more. Pleasantly acidic, sweet, bold, full, rich... So, satisfied on that, we proceeded to pull shot after shot after shot, all the while extolling the virtues of this new machine like giddy 10 year olds on Christmas morning, literally freaking out... It was almost embarrassing.