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.

cappuccino

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!





Coffee Cupping at Home: How to Identify Tasting Notes

Coffee Cupping (or tasting) at home is easy to do and a lot of fun.   When on the lookout for specialty coffee, it’s common to see tasting notes like “floral” or “citrus” written on the bag. But when you go to try the coffee yourself, and all you taste is coffee, it can be discouraging. It can make you feel like you’re just not naturally inclined to picking up flavour notes.   What we want to show you, is how you can identify tasting notes in your favorite coffee. 

Coffee cupping

The truth is, tasting coffee is a skill that you acquire over time, and it requires you to develop a flavour palette. As a beginner, the best way to do this is a coffee cupping session at home.

But don’t worry–this isn’t a test. You don’t need to pull out an official coffee cupping score sheet and mathematically evaluate each coffee. Coffee cupping at home is meant to be fun, and it’s a great place to start when it comes to identifying tasting notes. 

Before we show you how to do a cupping session, we’ll answer some common questions. We’ll go over the flavour categories that you’re assessing, the list of tools you’ll need, and the type of coffee to use. 

Coffee cupping

What is coffee cupping?

Coffee cupping is when you brew several different coffees at once and taste them all separately, recording your findings. The brewing is done quite simply by pouring hot water directly over the grounds in a cup. The coffee is sipped with a cupping spoon to assess flavour. 

Coffee cupping is an industry practise normally conducted by coffee importers to gauge coffee quality. Each coffee receives a score out of 100. By definition, specialty coffee is coffee that receives at least 80 points out of 100. 

Cupping is also done by roasters as a form of quality control, or by coffee shops when they’re choosing coffees to put on their menu.

Our previous blog about coffee cupping is based around the SCAA cupping form, but this guide will teach you how to do it at home. While you’ll be focusing on identifying flavours, you won’t need the SCAA sheet (phew!). 

Coffee cupping table

What’s the point of coffee cupping at home?

Cupping at home lets you try a whole variety of coffees at once. Trying them out side-by-side gives you a reference point, helping you spot the differences between them. This will help you develop your flavour palette.

Though there are many other factors determining flavour, every coffee origin has its own characteristic flavour notes. Trying out single origin coffees from different regions is a great place to start when identifying flavour notes. 

Coffee cupping is also fun for budding coffee enthusiasts. It’s especially fun to do with a small group of friends. Because you need a few different varieties of coffee to do a home cupping session, you can send your friends home with the leftover coffee that didn’t get brewed. 

Coffee aroma

What am I looking for when cupping coffee?

When doing your coffee cupping session, you’ll want to record your findings on a sheet of paper. Let’s say you want to try 4 coffees. Make 4 columns on your sheet of paper. Write the name or origin of the coffee, and a line for the following categories. 

Coffee aroma

What if I don’t have words to describe the coffee?

When you’re stumped for words, you can always consult this interactive flavour wheel. It’s not cheating to read up on all the ways a coffee can taste. Rather, it gives you a vocabulary to describe what a coffee reminds you of. It’ll help you in the future when you encounter challenging coffees. 

Coffee cupping tools

What do I need for coffee cupping at home?

Here’s the list of supplies and ingredients you’ll need for a successful home coffee cupping session.

Coffee cupping

What coffee should I use?

For coffee cupping at home, we recommend trying at least 4 types of coffee with different flavour notes. Great options include Ethiopia Guji Uraga, Bolivia Buena Vista, Kenya Kiambu AA, and Costa Rica El Poeta.

What ratio is best for coffee cupping?

For coffee cupping, you’ll want a weaker ratio than a pour over. The pour over ratio is 1:16, but you’ll want a 1:17 ratio (1 part coffee, 17 parts water). So, if you’re using 12 grams of coffee, you’ll need 200 mL of water. Weaker ratios help you identify tasting notes better. 

Coffee tasting

Ready to start cupping coffee? Let’s go!

How to cup coffee at home

  1. Measure out 12 grams each of the different types of coffee. Be careful to purge the grinder between varieties to avoid mixing coffees. Place the grounds into 4 separate bowls. 
  2. Smell the dry grounds, and record your findings.
  3. Pour hot water (30-60 seconds off the boil) directly up to the top of the bowls, making sure to saturate all the grounds. Set a timer for 4 minutes, and let the bowls sit.
  4. After 4 minutes, the grounds will have floated to the top. Smell the wet aroma, and record your findings. 
  5. Break the crust by using a spoon to stir the grounds and let them sink to the bottom. This stops the brewing process. Use two spoons to catch the remaining grounds floating on top, and rinse your spoons. After you’ve broken the crust, the coffee will still be very hot. Wait an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Once it’s cooled to the point of being drinkable, grab your sheet of paper and pencil, and it’s time to start evaluating the coffee. Take a spoonful of the coffee, and audibly slurp it to spray it across your mouth. This helps you assess all aspects of the flavour. 
  7. Write your findings under each heading: flavour, cleanliness, aftertaste, acidity, body, and sweetness. Do this for each type of coffee until you’re done. Coffee tasting

    Not your average cup of joe

    Congratulations on your first coffee cupping! We hope you found the experience fun. You may have liked some of the coffees more than others, and you may have even disliked some of them. This is all normal–everyone has their own personal taste. Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what flavours you like best.

    Cupping coffee at home is simply an exercise of curiosity. Developing your flavour palette takes time, and you have to drink many coffees before you start to notice patterns. Once you’re familiar with tasting notes, you’ll enjoy coffee so much more going forward. Rather than treating coffee like a caffeine fix, you’ll start to treat it with a sense of wonder. 

    We hope your coffee cupping journey brings you joy and intellectual stimulation. May your cup runneth over!

    Want to learn more about the ins and outs of specialty coffee? Check out our article on how to read a coffee label like a pro!