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By: James Fairweather 27 July 2020
As a home barista, the last thing we want is to grind our way through a bag of valuable beans in our daily quest to brew that perfect, lip smackingly delicious cup of coffee. If you’re like me and buy little and often in order to maximise coffee freshness, you probably don’t have bags of coffee at your disposal… and we all know that every bean counts! Especially when you consider the time and effort that has gone into cultivating and transporting this super seed from origin all the way to your grinder. Effective ‘dialling in’ is so important in getting the most out of our coffee and making it go as far as possible.
“Dialling In” is a term coined by barista’s and refers to the daily ritual of calibrating your coffee equipment and adjusting brewing parameters to achieve that perfect espresso. So when you jump out of bed in the morning, pull that first shot and adjust to taste ready for the next one, you are dialling in in its simplest form. This is most likely something you have done without even knowing you were doing it!
Before we delve into the dial, it’s worth taking a second to talk about taste and what we are looking for in the “perfect espresso”. If our taste buds know exactly what they are looking for when brewing espresso, then they will also be tuned to detect unpleasant flavours that shouldn’t be present in our final beverage. If you had a chance to read our blog on THE IMPORTANCE OF GRIND SIZE you’ll know that extraction is key when it comes to a successful, tasty brew. To put it simply, extraction is the process of transferring aromatic compounds and flavour from your ground coffee into your water when brewing. Subject to each individual’s taste, the following table tends to be a good guide to aid you in discerning whether you have nailed extraction or may have over/under brewed your shot:
Once you have tasted your espresso, trust those buds and decide which one of the three categories above your brew sits in. You’ll then know which path you need to take (if at all) to end up with that well-balanced, effectively extracted coffee.
Next, it’s important that we have an understanding of the basic parameters that feature in every brewing recipe and how they are utilised to control the rate of extraction and ultimately influence the taste of our final espresso:
The dose refers to how much ground coffee is being used in the recipe.
Large Dose = Allows you to brew more espresso
Small Dose = Will yield less espresso
The yield refers to the total output of espresso that ends up in your cup. We measure the yield by weight and do so for ease of measurement and consistency.
Defines the relationship between the DOSE and the YIELD. It’s the ratio of ground coffee to liquid coffee. So, a 1:2 ratio means that for every gram of coffee in your basket, we’re expecting 2 grams of liquid espresso out.
Is the time it takes for your target yield to enter your cup. Time is a driver for extraction i.e. more contact time between coffee and water = more extraction (more flavour, but not always good flavour).
What we are aiming to do is create a successful brew recipe for our chosen coffee by experimenting with and setting the parameters that have been listed above. And the best way to achieve a starting recipe is to keep your dose and yield constant (measure these with a good set of waterproof digital scales to ensure consistency and limit error) As a rule we would always recommend the following as a starting point:
• BREW RATIO – 1:2 (remember this is ground coffee used:liquid espresso)
• DOSE – 17g
• YIELD – 34g
• BREW TIME – 25-30 secs
(*This is a typical starting recipe if you are brewing one of our delicious coffee offerings or most other lighter roasted specialty coffees)
A 16-18g double espresso dose is now the ‘café standard’ when it comes to UK specialty coffee and 17g will give you some wiggle room either side if you feel you need to tweak at any point. It is important to note that you should always be aware of the limitations of your espresso machine. Different machines have varying espresso basket sizes and you want to avoid over/under filling your basket. Not only will this make it harder for you to achieve that perfect extraction but it may also harm your machinery!
With a brew ratio of 1:2 of ground coffee to liquid espresso, this 17g dose should yield 34g of luscious spro. Other brew ratios can also be experimented with and your choice will ultimately come down to personal preference. However, we recommend a 1:2 ratio as a good starting point due to the fact it is most likely to yield a well-balanced, adequately extracted espresso. Choosing a ratio of 1:1 will have you brewing something super strong, much closer to a ristretto and will yield a thick, heavy and usually under extracted shot. At 1:3 you’re in lungo territory and will end up with a very thin, diluted shot.
Ok, so you now have an idea of your dose, yield and brew ratio… it’s your grinder’s time to shine! You will need to adjust your grind until you hit your desired brewing time target. Generally, for a 17g dose we would recommend a window of around 25-30 secs. Modifying your grind size effectively changes the speed of your shots.
TOO FAST? After dosing 17g and your 34g shot came out quicker than 25 secs, adjust your grind FINER, purge out 2-3 seconds worth of grinds and repeat.
TOO SLOW? If your 34g yield took longer than 30 secs to come out, adjust your grind COARSER, purge out 2-3 secs worth of grinds and go again!
Once you have had a play with your grinder and hit your target it’s time to get your palate involved. Have a sip of the resulting spro and refer to the table featured earlier. Which category has it fallen into? Is it a delicious, super sweet, and well-balanced worldie of a shot? Then high fives all round! Does it taste sour, thin, with a quick finish? These are tell-tale signs of UNDER EXTRACTION. Generally bitter and dry in the finish? You’re coffee is definitely OVER EXTRACTED. If it falls under one of the latter then no need to fear… we got this!
Locking down flavour balance is largely influenced by extraction time and the best way to tackle the mouth puckering, face scrunching issue of under and over extraction is by taking it back to your grinder and having a little tinker with your chosen grind setting. As mentioned earlier, modifying the grind changes the speed of your shots, which in turn alters the amount of contact time the brewing water has with your coffee:
FINER GRIND = MORE CONTACT BETWEEN COFFEE AND WATER = HIGHER LEVEL OF EXTRACTION
COARSER GRIND = LESS CONTACT BETWEEN COFFEE AND WATER = LOWER LEVEL OF EXTRACTION
So, if your coffee is sitting in one of those over or under-extracted categories, we are looking to change the grind setting accordingly in small increments. This should allow us to edge our way to that optimum level of extraction.
If your coffee’s tasting a little SOUR or SHARP, or perhaps has very little aftertaste at all, then grind FINER until the espresso is balanced. This balance will most likely arrive with a longer extraction time.
If it’s on the BITTER side or dries the mouth in it’s aftertaste, try grinding COARSER until the dryness or bitterness fades. This change will most likely see your coffee brewed with a shorter extraction time.
Try not to worry too much if you’re overall brewing time changes slightly with these adjustments. Remember, the recommended brewing time we have provided is a suggested window and we should be trusting in what our taste buds are telling us. Adjust… taste, adjust… taste… until you reach that sweet spot of well-balanced extraction perfection!
Please keep in mind that this is just a brief introduction into the art of dialling in. There are so many other variables that have an impact on the end flavour of your espresso. You’ll also notice that I haven’t mentioned machine specific programmable volumetric buttons and fancy automatic dosing controls. Or the fact that a coffees origin, variety, processing method, density all have an impact on extraction and need to be taken into account when choosing a brew recipe. You really can dive so much deeper into this subject… but that’s not the purpose of this blog. Our aim here is to teach you budding home baristas the basics and get you confidently churning out consistent palatable and tasty shots.