Barista Express - Can't pull a good shot

Need help with equipment usage or want to share your latest discovery?
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#1: Post by AzGirl12 »

Help please! I just got a Breville Barista Express a week ago today, and being a first time espresso machine owner has been amazing - until now lol.
Setting up the machine was simple, I followed the instructions from the manual and it only took 3 tries to dial in my beans. I'm using a medium roast with 18g for a double shot, and my machine ended up at a grind size of 5. After getting the machine programmed, the shots pulled average at 36-38g for 31 seconds. I pulled about 4-5 perfect shots.
Here's where things went wrong. I left from Wednesday evening until Sunday evening, and came back excited to use my machine and make a latte. I flushed it out with water before pulling a shot, and the first shot tasted DISGUSTING. It was dark, super bitter and astringent, and there was visibly less espresso and crema brewed. Second shot was the same. I thought I over extracted, so I tamped a little lighter and changed the grind size to a 6. It's a little better, but it's still bitter and doesn't taste the same as last week's shots. Not sure how much of a difference this makes, but the pressure gauge has always been on the higher side with every shot I've pulled (both good and bad ones), is this a problem?
Was being away from home for a bit the problem?
Has anyone else had this issue with redialing? I thought that the beans being a bit older might be the issue, but I read somewhere that the older the beans, the finer the grounds should be - but yet I had to go coarser. Not sure if beans are an issue either?
Since I don't have a bottomless portafilter I can't tell if it's channeling. I do use a WDT tool to break up the grounds, a puck, and a normacore tamper, but it seems it doesn't help. The shots all vary in time, some being as little as 20 seconds, some go to 45.
For example, this morning I thought I'd try pulling two double shots with brand new beans I bought from the store yesterday. I put 18g in. The first shot wasn't bad, it pulled at around 45g out at around 25 seconds. I figured the grind was too coarse, so I changed the size from a 4 to a 3.
That's the only thing I changed, so it should've pulled slower. Prepared the shot the exact same way, and it pulled 60g of espresso at like 20 seconds. I'm so lost, I genuinely don't know what to do lol.
I'm also worried it's something with the machine I can't control. Temperature, the grinder, etc. I'm really close to returning it, I've pulled like 20 shots at this point and nothing seems to be helping. Please please please help!

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#2: Post by Jeff »

What beans? How are you storing them?

Some "espresso" beans from well-known brands are believed by some to "go bad" in a day or two from opening. A week or two is more typical for many espresso blends, but age still could be the root cause.

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#3: Post by beans+crumble »

I agree with Jeff that perhaps it's may partly be due to your beans. As beans sit in the grinder's hopper they are exposed to air and will stale and that may be the reason for the change you're seeing. Many that are new to home espresso brewing believe that you "dial in" your beans once and you're set and can just pound out shot after shot day after day without making any further changes to the grinder. As beans age (even over a matter of a few days) the grind setting may need to be changed (usually a little more towards the finer setting). Try not to keep your hopper 100% full so that you're not exposing so many beans to the air. I like to keep my hopper full to just above that little finger safety guard/anti popcorning thing so there is enough beans in the hopper to help feed beans downwards (for grind consistency sake). Also, the beans may be older than what you realized when you bought them. Look for beans from local cafes or online from roasters... beans in the store may be way older than you might expect. Also as a newer person to espresso making keep an eye on your prep techniques to be sure it's not introducing some variable to the process. Don't give up... it takes a lot of trial and error at first... but if you hang in there you will get it.

Ps the barista express can adjust temperature and grinder dose settings... look in your user manual and/or search it up online.

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#4: Post by cautioncones »

I too have a Breville Express and am going to piggy-back on what the other two have said. My first bag was awful of trying to dial in. Found a local roaster and was able to dial in quickly. Although I'm still having some wet puck issues, the shots are coming out acceptable in terms of flavor, I'm just trying to better learn my system. What I discovered were my beans were bad on both my first and third bags (Store Bought). I do my best to stick with a local roaster or find a source where the beans are 1-2 weeks old at most.

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#5: Post by luvmy40 »

The weak link with the Barista Express is the grinder, basically the Smart Grinder Pro. Which is on barely sufficient for espresso with darker roasts and not very consistent, in my experience. I had one for a while and used it with my BDB with some success. Not great, but OK with the darker roasts, like I mentioned. Stepping up to a Niche Zero and DF64, neither of which would be considered high end grinders, made a huge difference in the cup.

Any chance you can borrow a different/better grinder and give it a try?