Lockdown has led to a lot more home brewing. Here are some tips for home baristas (or cafe baristas) for dialling in your espresso machine.

The first thing to note (and this is important) - if you are new to making coffee and you haven't had much experience with an espresso machine it can be very exciting to steam milk and attempt to pour latte art. I know it may look like the best part but experienced baristas will tell you that dialling in and learning how to manipulate flavour is the most integral part of making coffee. Don't get me wrong milk is important too but if your espresso is tasting nasty your finished coffee won't be very enjoyable. 


What is dialing in? Really simply, dialing in is adjusting your brew recipe to suit the coffee you are brewing and the equipment you are doing it on.

A brew recipe consists of:

Dose: the dry dose of coffee going into the basket
Yield: the amount of espresso that ends up in your cup
the time your espresso runs for

* note: recipes are usually given for a double espresso/shot yield. 

Other elements of the recipe can include brewing temperature but that will depend on your machine. The machine I am using at home is the Dalla Corte: Studio, which I have set the temperature to 93 degrees - this is generally the most commonly recommended temperature.

Usually this recipe is given to you by the roaster or the cafe and it needs to be said that it is only a guide and baristas should be tasting and learning how to adjust these numbers to get the best out of their espresso. I'll speak more about this later.

The key to nailing your recipe is a good set of scales. I recommend Acaia scales or rhino brewing scales (which are friendlier on the wallet). You will need this to weigh in your dry dose and to weigh out your espresso yield!

As mentioned above I am using the DC: Studio espresso machine (which is a dream). I have a DC Max grinder but there are many other alternative grinders you can use. One of my favourite smaller grinders at the moment is the Anfim Best on Demand Stepless which is an exceptional small grinder that comes in at a very attractive price.

You will also need a tamper - usually one that fits your basket size. For this, I recommend the Pullman tamper.

Next you will need some coffee! Delano of course -  I am running the Maverick blend at the moment.
Here's my recipe
Dose in: 22g
Yield: 44g/mls
Time: 30-32


ok, let's start by seeing where your grinder is at before you make any adjustments. 


Firstly tare off your Portafilter (coffee handle) on the scales. We then dose out 22g of dry coffee into the basket, you will need to weigh this. Don't have enough? Dose it up. Too much? Use a teaspoon to take some out.

If you have an automatic grinder (like I do) when you dose your coffee in it will run for a set amount of time. When you first dose in and it doesn't dose out your desired amount of coffee (in this case 22 grams), don't adjust the running time of the grinder yet! This will be the last step in the process because every time we adjust the grinder in terms of our extraction time (how coarse or fine the grinding is) it has an effect on the dose time. 





Engage your Portafilter in the group head and set your scales up with two espresso cups (or other vessels) underneath the Portafilter.

Tare off your scales as we are now going to weigh the yield. On most espresso machines this can be set or programmed. Our aim here is to set a yield of 44g/MLS for our double espresso. Begin the shot and keep an eye on your yield. What you are looking for here with your shot is a nice slow start that is usually quite dark and thin and slowly over the first ten seconds quickens up and begins to look quite caramel before it 'blondes'.



Now we check our running time. Our target for our double espresso recipe is 30 - 32 seconds. If it runs a little slow or a bit too fast don't throw it away. Let's taste it! We are looking for a well-extracted coffee that is sweet with a well-balanced body and acidity. You may find that even if your running time is a little off (for example 26 seconds) it still may have these qualities that you are looking for. If you aren't happy with how it's tasting it may be under or over-extracted. Now let's get our running time right. 

Running too slow (over 32 seconds)? We need to make our grind more coarse.
Running too fast? we need to make our grind finer.


Side note about our grind settings.
What does a coarse and fine grind actually mean? A coarse grind setting is adjusting how far the blades are apart so that they grind the coffee in larger particle sizes. This in turn means water (from the group head) runs through our coffee bed faster. A fine grind setting is adjusting the blades closer together so they grind the coffee into smaller particle sizes. This in turn means the water from the group head runs through slower.

So my first shot ran for 26 seconds which I need to adjust a little finer (to slow down my extraction) - I only need to make a minor adjustment so make sure you aren't making any major adjustments here. Whenever you make a grinder adjustment just keep in mind that you will need to 'purge' the grinder for the new adjustment to come through. Just grind a little coffee out and you should see the result of the changes you have made.

Now that we have hit our desired running time and our yield we can finally set our grinding time (dose in) so that it is automatically dispensing 22 grams of dry coffee. This will be different on every grinder. Again, use your scale and set accordingly. If you are using a manual grinder or you don't wish to program this setting, that is fine too - the scale is your friend make sure you are weighing out your dose every time. 

If we are ticking all those boxes you have successfully nailed your recipe! Are you still with me?

So let's taste our espresso again. Repeat the process above and prepare another double shot. I like to split between two cups when I taste and sip one as an espresso and one with milk. What are we looking at - under-extracted? over extracted? or perfectly extracted? Hopefully, it is the latter.


If it's not perfect it could be:
Under-extracted: coffee generally tastes sour, thin, with a quick finish and is sometimes grassy or salty.
Over extracted: coffee is generally characterised as bitter and dry in the finish. The after taste will linger in your mouth (not in a good way). 



If it's tasting sour or thin try reducing our dose by 0.5 grams of dry coffee and making the grind finer. This should allow for a little more water through the coffee bed meaning it should take the edge off those under-extracted notes. If it hasn't improved try a little less again. 

If it is tasting bitter or dry try adding a little to the dose and making the grind coarser. Hopefully this will allow for more sweetness and removes that bitter aftertaste.



This is just the start of your extraction journey! There's a lot more to cover but I think this is a good starting point. Just remember taste is subjective. Start trusting your instincts and documenting what you like out of the coffee that you are brewing. I keep a journal where I experiment with different parameters - noting down what works and what doesn't. 

Good luck - Happy brewing!