Pulling the perfect espresso shot requires patience, practice, and more practice. Here’s how to begin the journey.
Concentrated, sweet, and intense, espresso stands up to steamed milk like a boss. The high pressure brewing process creates a high intensity taste, with a thick, creamy texture that paints the tongue with flavor. It’s the base element of most cafe drinks—latte, cappuccino, cortado, etc.—and learning to pull the perfect shot opens up a world of coffee concoctions, not to mention the instant barista cred.
You’ll need this to weigh the coffee in the portafilter and ideally it should fit on your espresso machine’s drainage screen.
This is a towel or rag (preferably a microfiber towel) to clean and dry out your portafilter between shots.
While medium-to-dark roasts are generally used for espresso, it’s all down to your flavor preferences. Feel free to experiment!
Measure out 20 g of coffee beans. You’ll be pulling 40 g of liquid out. Espresso grind settings can vary wildely grinder to grinder. Opus Conical Burr Grinder has a suggested range on the inside lid, and we recommend starting somewhere in the middle of that range.
Place your portafilter on your scale and tare it, then distribute the grounds evenly inside the portafilter. You can use two fingers or a distribution tool, just be sure not to use any downward pressure. Weigh your coffee in the portafilter to ensure you still have 20 g. If the weight has dropped you should adjust your espresso yield, maintaining a 1:2 coffee-to-water ratio.
Tamp using your tamping arm as a column without exerting too much pressure. We like to lean into it partially: if you’re tamping with your right arm, raise your right foot. The force you use should remain consistent shot-to-shot.
Make sure the water in your espresso machine is at 200°F and lock your portafilter to your espresso machine. Place a vessel below it, and pull your shot at around 9 bars. Ideally you’ll have your scale under your vessel, keeping it clear of the edges of the grill and the back of the espresso machine so as not to skew the weight results. The process should take 25-30 seconds average, but anywhere between 22-40 seconds.
We recommend using this recipe as a starting point, and experimenting to suit the coffee you’re brewing with and find the flavors you enjoy. If you’re tasting your espresso and it is overly sour or weak and pulling on the quicker side of the shot range, make the grind finer. If you’re finding the shot is finishing chalky or overly bitter and it is pulling in the longer end of the shot time range, make the grind setting coarser. Remember, with espresso, micro-adjustments go a long way! You can adjust the grind size and most often the pressure of the water to see what new nuances you can tease out of the coffee.
Coffee is very subjective. Everyone has their own preferences, and none are incorrect! However, we suggest starting with flavor notes that sound appealing to you. Experiment with flavor notes you’re familiar with, and start to take note of the coffees you like: their origin and processing method (washed, honey, natural, maybe even anaerobic?).
Again, coffee is super subjective! Very often, roasters add “espresso” or “espresso blend” to the name of their coffee to denote a profile optimized for espresso– but that doesn’t exclude it from being delicious as a pour-over! By that same token, coffees not labeled with “espresso” can be used to make delicious espresso. It all comes down to flavor notes and roast profile, and different flavor notes / roast profiles will lend themselves better to different types of espresso shots (higher or lower ratios, different temperatures, different pressure). Go with what you like and get to experimenting!
If you’re an Opus user, there should be a range offered for espresso on the underside of your hopper lid. We would recommend starting with a setting that’s in the middle of your grinder’s espresso range. Adjust your setting to be coarser if your final cup is too bold, chalky, or bitter. Adjust your setting to be finer if your coffee is too sour, watery, or lacking in body aka “weak”. In the coffee world, this process is called “dialing in”.
Channeling is generally considered a bad thing. This is the process in which water takes the path of least resistance through grounds, usually through an area where grounds aren’t tightly packed in the portafilter because they weren’t distributed evenly before tamping. You can see this with a bottomless portafilter by looking up at the shot as it pulls. You want to see “tiger striping” or relatively even stripes in color as the coffee comes out, and one steady stream of coffee instead of multiple. It’s harder to see in a shot splitter, but you’ll be able to tell by the thin, weak, and overly bitter taste.
Settling refers to hitting the bottom of the portafilter (if it’s bottomless) or just the top tip of the bottom of the portafilter (if it’s spouted) against a countertop or hard surface you’re using to tamp in order to bring down or “settle” the grounds into place. This typically closes some air pockets present in the grounds after grinding and before distribution. Whether you settle or not, just make sure to keep it a consistent part of your routine. That way, it is not a variable.
If your coffee tastes sour, try making your grind setting a bit finer. If your coffee tastes bitter, try making your grind setting a little coarser. Overly sour or watery flavor in coffee often denotes what we call “under extraction”, or not pulling enough flavor from the coffee. Overly bitter, drying, or chalky flavor in coffee often denotes what we call “over extraction”, or pulling too much flavor from the coffee.
A bar is a unit of measurement for the amount of water pressure as it passes from an espresso machine through coffee grounds when pulling a shot. Each bar is 1 atmosphere, so 9 bars (standard pressure in an espresso machine) is 9 times the Earth’s atmospheric pressure.
Ready to try your hand? Discover our curated collection of coffees, ideal for pour-over.