50 things to improve your espresso (revisited)

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
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HB
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#1: Post by HB »

Nick Cho penned a list entitled 50 Things to improve your espresso production on a bet that started on the Barista Guild board. I have repeated them below with his permission:
  1. use whole bean espresso beans
  2. use fresh beans (between 3-14 days from roasting, give-or-take a day or two)
  3. use a "good" espresso blend
  4. grind fresh for each shot
  5. use a burr grinder
  6. use sharp grinder burrs
  7. ensure that your grinder is transferring very little heat (if any) to the espresso grounds
  8. adjust your grind properly
  9. make sure you don't "popcorn" the beans by maintaining sufficient whole bean in the bean hopper
  10. make sure the surfaces of the portafilter that will come in contact with the espresso are clean (inside the spouts, the part exposed when you remove the basket, etc.)
  11. make sure the portafilter's temperature at or close to the brew temperature
  12. use a portafilter basket with a proper screen configuration
  13. use a like-new portafilter basket (no dents or holes)
  14. be sure your basket is dry
  15. dose into the basket evenly
  16. dose the proper amount of grounds
  17. level the untamped espresso to an even distribution
  18. don't apply vertical pressure when leveling
  19. make sure you have the proper amount of espresso after leveling
  20. tamp (instead of not tamping)
  21. tamp with proper general technique
  22. make sure your tamper is the right diameter for the portafilter basket
  23. make sure your tamper base is the right shape
  24. make sure your tamper base is made of a viable material (that will help create a smooth tamp... i.e., polished, not rough)
  25. make sure your tamper base surface is clean
  26. make sure your tamper is dry
  27. make sure your tamper is in like-new condition (without big dents in the tamper base
    surface)
  28. tamp with the proper pressure
  29. tamp evenly (parallel to the basket ring)
  30. tamp with even pressure distribution
  31. if you tap the side of the portafilter basket, don't tap with too much force
  32. make sure the dispersion screen is clean
  33. make sure the shower block (behind the screen) is clean
  34. make sure the dispersion screw (if applicable) is in like-new, near-perfect condition
    (no clogged holes... water dispersion is even)
  35. prevent espresso grounds from getting on the spouts (which would also end up in the beverage)
  36. adjust the pump pressure to the proper pressure
  37. make sure the pump pressure is consistent
  38. make sure the "ring" of the basket is free of grounds (lest it deteriorate the portafilter gasket)
  39. make sure the portafilter gasket is intact/clean
  40. make sure the tamped "puck" isn't jarred loose by rough handling of the portafilter
  41. insert the portafilter with enough torque to create a good seal with the portafilter
    gasket
  42. regularly backflush your machine with espresso cleaner
  43. use clean brewing water
  44. perform "espresso making" with speed, preventing cool-down of the portafilter.
  45. preheat/cooldown the showerhead by pulsing a quantity of brew water before brewing
  46. brew quickly after inserting the portafilter
  47. brew the proper volume of espresso
  48. use clean shot glasses and/or beverage cups
  49. use preheated shot glasses and/or beverage cups
  50. serve/consume the espresso immediately after brewing
Some of these are the "should go without saying" variety (e.g., 1-3), some are applicable to a commercial environment (e.g., 7), and others are common enough oversights to be considered for the "top 10." I'm particularly interested in this latter category, potentially for a future how-to article.

So from Nick's list, below are my nominees for top 10 things you should look for once you've eliminated the "obvious" ones:

14. be sure your basket is dry
15. dose into the basket evenly
16. dose the proper amount of grounds
18. don't apply vertical pressure when leveling
19. make sure you have the proper amount of espresso after leveling
29. tamp evenly (parallel to the basket ring)
31. if you tap the side of the portafilter basket, don't tap with too much force
36. adjust the pump pressure to the proper pressure
37. make sure the pump pressure is consistent
40. make sure the tamped "puck" isn't jarred loose by rough handling of the portafilter.

To keep this post short, I'll omit providing my reasoning and move straight to the point: What other common (but not obvious) improvements could one make?
Dan Kehn

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srobinson

#2: Post by srobinson »

51. Have Dan come over to give you a private espresso lesson. :D
Steve Robinson

LMWDP #001

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malachi

#3: Post by malachi »

1. grind fresh for each shot
2. adjust your grind properly (and regularly)
3. dose the proper amount of grounds
4. level the untamped espresso to an even distribution (or, more accurately, distribute the espresso evenly within the basket)
5. tamp with proper general technique
6. if you tap the side of the portafilter basket, don't tap with too much force
7. make sure the shower block (behind the screen) is clean (again, more accurately, make sure that the show block and dispersion screen are clean)
8. regularly backflush your machine with espresso cleaner
9. preheat/cooldown the showerhead by pulsing a quantity of brew water before brewing
10. brew quickly after inserting the portafilter
11. brew the proper volume of espresso in the proper time
12. serve/consume the espresso immediately after brewing


Other things missing...
A. Make sure inside of portafilter is clean
B. Make sure underside of basket is clean

Abe Carmeli
Team HB

#4: Post by Abe Carmeli »

HB wrote:18. don't apply vertical pressure when leveling


What does Leveling mean here? Light tamp or coffee distribution in the basket with one's finger?
Abe Carmeli

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HB
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#5: Post by HB »

Schomer's 2004 update advocates compression strokes with the finger to level (step #4). There's no general concensus on the point, although I know several baristas follow David's recommendations religiously. Chris Deferio showed me his preferred "two taps on the fork" method and I've been following that for awhile, but I'm experimenting all the time.
Dan Kehn

Abe Carmeli
Team HB

#6: Post by Abe Carmeli »

HB wrote:Schomer's advocates compression strokes with the finger to level (step #4). .
In that case I must disagree with Nick. You do need to apply vertical pressure with your finger. Don't go nuts but apply some pressure. As to Schomer, I talked to him about it.

Question: "David, when you distribute the coffee in the basket using your NSEW pattern, do you also push it down?

Answer: "Hell I do, I push the sh** out of it". Honest to God, verbatim :).
Abe Carmeli

Abe Carmeli
Team HB

#7: Post by Abe Carmeli »

HB wrote: Chris Deferio showed me his preferred "two taps on the fork" method and I've been following that for awhile, but I'm experimenting all the time.
After that Tap dance, does he do anything else? What are the steps he follows?
Abe Carmeli

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HB
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#8: Post by HB »

What I described in Dose, distribute, tamp. Repeat. is pretty much what Chris Deferio advocated.

While not widely known, Chris Tacy's take on the subject got into the Naked article on what started as a rant. I asked him to review the early drafts and his comments slapped me around pretty hard. The rebuke was so good and succinct, I convinced him to contribute it as a "pro's take" on the subject. The "What's important and whats not" section is the result.

Am I due for another round of slaps on the head? :?
Dan Kehn

Abe Carmeli
Team HB

#9: Post by Abe Carmeli »

HB wrote:Am I due for another round of slaps on the head? :?
You remind me of that guy who slaps his wife once a day as soon as he walks into his house. When she protests "but I didn't do anything", he replies, "I know, but you will."

I probably deserve much more beating than you.

Now my addition to the list:

Polishing - If you chose to polish, make it short one twist and do not apply any pressure on the puck
Abe Carmeli

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NewEnglandCliff

#10: Post by NewEnglandCliff »

Brewing the shot directly into the drinking cup provides a better espresso experience. When you pour from, say, two shot glasses 4 negative things happen. First, you cool down the espresso. Secondly, you leave some of the good stuff behind, minute as it is. Third is that you have more dishes to wash. And finally, you breakdown some of the beauty of the original crema formation.

I have a fairly large demitasse collection and, while I prefer the design and classicness of many of my Italian made porcelain cups, the ones I use most often are clear glass. You get the best visual enjoyment or stimulation from the brewing process when you get to watch the drink form in your glass. There's a real satisfaction in watching the slow Guinness Effect of the developing crema in a properly poured pint..uh..I mean shot. And when it's settled it's like artwork to behold for a few moments before the real stimulation begins.

I have one cup with straight sides having a diameter nearly equal to the diameter of the cut-out in my naked portafilter. When I brew with that I'll often place the cup right up to the portafilter to contain the occasional channel side squirt. The clear cup contains the spray while still letting you know that you're getting channeling, something an opaque cup can't do. The bottomless portafilter retains its diagnostic value, while the clear cup retains the mess.
Dolce Vita,

NEC