ive been told i need to develop an espresso routine, that is:
same amount of beans, same tamp, same everything, and that my only variable should be my grind.
that all sounds good to me, but, lately ive been trying out changing my routine every day, meaning:
based on the amount of espresso i want to put in the portafilter, i will change my tamp and grind accordingly. if i want 19 grams of espresso instead of the recommended 14 grams, ill make my grind smaller and my tamp lighter to accommodate a good pour time and a wanted amount of liquid in the cup.
this means, some days i tamp hard, some days i tamp soft, some days i put 19 grams of espresso in the portafilter, sometimes i put 16, etc. etc.
my question is:
is this a good way to go about it? im getting a good result every day, im just wondering if this is frowned on for some reason i have not yet thought about.

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The idea is that when you keep all other variables constant it is much easier to adjust the one. Changing the grind setting is usually the easiest setting to change in order to achieve the perfect espresso.

I cant imagine how you can pull a good shot every single time if you are changing things up so much. I have noticed that alot of times a Barista may have to pull one or two practice shots when he/she first comes on shift in order to get a feel for how the espresso is pulling at the moment. Then occasionally throughout the day as the ambient air temperature and the humidity changes you may have to adjust again.

If you are keeping all variables constant , Tamp pressure, espresso amount, water temp etc, then it is much easier to adjust to perfection with a grind setting when you notice that your shots are pulling too short or too long.

In the end it doesn't matter so long as the espresso tastes like it should. As a customer I could care less how the barista extracted my espresso so long as it isn't bitter or sour. I would recommend sticking to the guidlines, these methods have been tested and tried thoroughly for decades. If you do, soon you will be pulling perfect espresso's every time and you'll be able to know exactly how many clicks to turn the dial the first time the extraction time is off every single time.

Good Luck.
so, i get what your saying,
but you kinda made it sound like you think im changing my tamp and amount of beans and all that all the time throughout the day,
i keep these things constant throughout the day as much as i can, it just changes on a daily basis.
i get what your saying about the espresso tasting good at the end.
i was hoping it was going to be as "simple" as that.
I think you have it right. Taste the coffee and determine what parameters produce the best balance in your espresso. Today, that might mean 16 grams at 199 degrees for about an ounce and a half (for example). Tomorrow might need 19 grams at 198.5 degrees for an ounce and three quarters. This assumes you have control over brew temperature.
In my opinion, dosing, leveling and tamping techniques, however, should remain constant. That is your routine. Same dosing method, same leveling technique, same tamping pressure...just different dose weight and grind size.
Let the coffee show it's colors. The coffee is ALWAYS a variable. Once you get the dose, temp and volume set, you should be able to rock that all day and just adjust the grind to compensate for environmental variables throughout the day. That's how I work anyway.
Good luck, it sounds like you're on the right track.
what do i do if i cant get a temp read? just deal with it?
ive tried to measure it with a thermometer before, but just ended up scalding my hand.
joel said:
what do i do if i cant get a temp read? just deal with it?
ive tried to measure it with a thermometer before, but just ended up scalding my hand.

Just don't worry about that variable. Assume it's always the same. If you don't have control over it, it is pointless to worry about it. Just try to keep your group flush at the same point in your routine and at the same amount of water. Follow me? For example, if your group flush is normally done directly before loading the PF, ALWAYS do it directly before you load the PF and try to flush the same amount of water each time you flush. That will have an impact on the water temperature during the brew cycle, but it will (hopefully) have about the same impact on each brew cycle.
The official way would be to buy a scathe device but those aren't cheap.

The cheap way is to take the bottom of a Styrofoam cup and jam it into the group; then pull some water into the cup; then poke a thermometer into the cup. That method works decently well.

It's a good idea to at least know what your temp is set at even if you can't change it throughout the day. You could also buy a PID controller.

joel said:
what do i do if i cant get a temp read? just deal with it?
ive tried to measure it with a thermometer before, but just ended up scalding my hand.
so ive done the styrophoam cup thing. that is how my hand got burnt off.
but in the process i noticed that the espresso machine im using didnt even reach 190 degrees.
i mean i might be wrong because the thermometer might not have had time to check how hot it was (because i dropped the Styrofoam cup. because i was in pain.) but either way, i will check on this tomorrow,
lets say the machine cant reach 190 degrees, is there some way to fix that without calling in a technician or something of the sort?
also i had no idea i knew so many people on this site.
Hi Joel,
I've read another post that you were becoming interested in competing in a barista competition. One of the key requirements involved in judging is consistency, with of course, the most important requirement being taste.
If I were you, i would focus on developing a routine, such as- each and every time you prepare an espresso, you wipe out your filter basket with a dry clean cloth. you dose coffee into your filter basket the same way every time in order to achieve the exact amount of coffee every time, develop a consistent routine of distributing the coffee into the portafilter evenly to fill up any gaping holes that you can or cannot see, tamp and polish, (the tamping act need not be anything flashy as it is the simple act pf pressing down the coffee) flush the group head on the espresso machine to remove residue from the last brew as well as heating the shower screen and other components, wipe off the edge of your portafilter and flanges to remove coffee grinds, insert portafilter and immediately brew a one ounce beverage (or two ounces if using a double sized portafilter) in 20-30 seconds depending on your coffee.

Now the question you must ask yourself is this: whith your current technique- are you brewing pretty much the EXACT same amount (one ounce +/- 1-2 ml) and time (within a 2-3 second variance) every time? Or are you brewing 20 seconds here and 30 seconds there? Do you taste your shots? Is there a harmoniuos balance of sweetness, acidity and bitterness? and How does the espresso look on the surface? Does it have a deep golden crema with hazelnut flecking? or are there sometimes spots of blonde or rings on the surface of the espresso?

if and when you do see the tell tale signs of improper extraction, reflect back on your technique and train yourself to judge and troubleshoot your extractions.

If you are changing up your routine each and every time you brew espresso, i can only imagine that at times you would feel like you are chasing your tail- as in just going in circles of frustration because "something" is off and you can't quit figure it out. (i know, I've been there!)

If your routine is precise each and every time, then the only thing left to blame is a) the grind or freshness of the coffee which you can easily control or b) the pump pressure- does your brew guage read a consistent 9-10 bars of pressure every time you engage the brew button or finally c) then and only then can you blame the machine or the water.

i would like to suggest that you jump onto the SCAA or WBC championship website and download the technical scoresheets and do a little cut and paste and post it next to your espresso machine. DO you follow these steps each and every time you prepare an espresso. (even in a rush!!) then i would also recomend investing in a gram scale- you can pick up a cheap and easy jewelers scale on e-bay and practice your dosing technique for consistency and accuracy.

Consider a chef preparing the same popular dish day in and day out. If he changes up his routine or recipe every day- not only does this cause confusion, but the dish will be inconsistent and the customer will never know what to expect. Consistency is key.

I apologize for the long winded post but i certainly hope this helps and good luck in your future endeavors as a Barista Champion!

Sandy Hon
USBC Certified Head Judge
Hi Joel,

The routin is there to allow you to get to perfection. These steps have been perfected for over a hundred years. Check out the Italian espresso institute. really. http://www.espressoitaliano.org

You can still play with different blends and with the parameters within the optimum ranges (see below) --one at a time. E.g. each blend has its own brew temp that will bring it to perfection (ask your roaster).

What characteristics – in technical detail –
are required to obtain Espresso Italiano?
The product certification aims at considering the most
important aspect: the satisfaction of the customers’
expectations of pleasure. However, the technical
specification includes test rules that can be used to answer
this question. The following are some important
conditions to obtain Espresso Italiano – though these
alone would not be adequate to fulfil the quality
• Necessary portion of ground coffee 7 g ± 0,5
• Exit temperature of water from the unit 88°C ± 2°C
• Temperature of the drink in the cup 67°C ± 3°C
• Entry water pressure 9 bar ± 1
• Percolation time 25 seconds ± 2,5 seconds
• Viscosity at 45°C > 1,5 mPa s
• Total fat > 2 mg/ml
• Caffeine < 100 mg/cup
• Millilitres in the cup (including foam) 25 ml ± 2,5

(BTW, in the U.S. the shot is a bit longer than in Italy.)
If it works, it works. Don't mess with it.

Personally speaking, when training baristas, I want all of them to have a baseline. Meaning that we drill and drill until their dosing, distribution and tamping are consistent. Once they've developed consistency, then they can narrow down extraction problems based on grind setting.

This is, of course, a very perfunctory statement and not necessarily indicative of all the intricacies involved.
Agreed with many of the above posters. Sandy and Jay know their stuff! It is great to learn what each technique variation will do to your shot, and experimentation is the way to do this. But things will be better and more consistent if you have most of your routine solid and just tweak.

To speak to your temp question, its hard to get a good reading without a quick-reading thermocouple like the kind in a Scace or that techs carry. You can identify whether you are way overtemp by listening for a flash-boil when you flush. This sounds like a whooshing sound and would start a couple of seconds into the flush. If you hear this, continue to flush until it stops. In general, don't flush too long, as you can cool things off really quickly.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck.

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