Breville 980XL Crazy Inconsistent Shots

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.

Postby JazzCoffee » Jun 30, 2018, 5:06 pm


In reference to this thread from about a year back, I'm finding the same issues with my 980XL today. I didn't see a resolution posted, so wanted to circle back around. Some history.

My 980XL was purchased 5/20/2018, so still a new machine. So far, we've only had time to use it on the weekends. With some locally roasted coffee we had pretty much dialed in the shot volume and grid to get a nice 2 ox shot in 30 seconds. Taste was good and it didn't seem over- or under-extracted. We changed bean last weekend, and because it is a darker roast, I felt the machine should be dialed in a bit to get the same shot output. This didn't take much, mostly just adjusting the grind, blow through four or five shots, and the output was spot on. Turned machine off, had a busy week at work, and BOOM it's Saturday.

For starters, the machine had been on for 40-50 minutes. I ran a double shot with no coffee to heat up the group head/portafilter in hopes of getting temps stable. Today's first shot was a tick over 1 oz and tasted bleh. I adjusted the grind up one (larger) setting and got a second shot at 1.5 oz. Taste was a bit better. In frustration, pulled a third shot (with no settings changed) and got exactly 2 oz. Taste was juuuust right. Wait, what?

It seems odd that I would have to discard three shots every morning to get a good shot. It also seems odd that I would need to flush the group head/portafilter multiple times to stabilize the temp. Also odd, with little or no settings change in the grinder, the volume changed significantly. This is exactly what occurred with the first batch of locally roasted coffee.


So I think my question would be: what's up? :? Another question: regardless of machine brand, what is your startup routine? Is there something I am missing? I've read about this occurring with more brands than just Breville, so perhaps there is a tweak to my <???> that would bring consistency to my morning latte.

Many thanks!


Postby Bret » Jun 30, 2018, 5:17 pm

Sounds like the coffee is aging, and you are seeing 5 days worth of that all at once, instead of the smaller daily shift you would notice if using during the week.

Are your beans staying in the hopper? That will speed up aging. If you can dose the hopper only when using, keeping the beans otherwise sealed, that should help.

Also, using a scale to measure output weight during the pulls will be much more consistent than time and/or volume.


Postby JazzCoffee » Jun 30, 2018, 5:49 pm

Interesting. Yes, the beans do stay in the hopper. Do you have a suggestion for bean storage that is air tight and/or sealable with the regular change in bean volume?

When you mention using a scale to measure output, do you mean bean output or shot output?

Thank you! Is there anything else I might be missing?


Postby JazzCoffee » Jul 06, 2018, 3:59 pm

After today, I'm going to have to say no, that wasn't it. Third shot yesterday was pretty good. First shot today was short and crap. Adjusted the grinder up 2 notches (more coarse) and still had the next two shots remain less than right, actually worse than yesterday. I had added about a cup of beans (Illy Monoarabica Brazil) to the hopper this morning, adding to maybe a half a cup which was already in there.

Does the amount of beans change the grinder output? I'm really hating this machine today.


Postby Bret » Jul 06, 2018, 5:07 pm

JazzCoffee wrote:Interesting. Yes, the beans do stay in the hopper. Do you have a suggestion for bean storage that is air tight and/or sealable with the regular change in bean volume?

When you mention using a scale to measure output, do you mean bean output or shot output?

Thank you! Is there anything else I might be missing?

Beans in the hopper will age/stale faster: coffee shops get away with it because they go thru so much in a short time. Single dosing is what many of us move to after going thru what you are going thru :-) Methods vary, but to try it out, you could start with a fresh bag, weigh out an exact amount (18-20G) of beans each time, resealing the bag tightly, squeezing out the air. Then you'd put this single dose in the hopper.

Weighing the output in grams is the other way most of us maintain consistency. Using time as the measure is less consistent, since the age of the beans, consistency of grind, tamp, level, and so on, vary and what happens in that time window will vary as a result. Volume is also tricky: crema amount varies, so judging a consistent volume is problematic.

Weighing beans, grind, and output shot let you standardize a recipe. For example: 18G beans/grind into the portafilter, stop the shot at 36g (might have to stop it slightly ahead of 36, since there will still be a bit of flow heading to the cup) gets you a 1:2 recipe. With this sort of control, you can also then begin to adjust the recipe once you are getting consistent results.

I'm assuming that you have the portafilter in place as the machine heats up. If it feels hot to the touch, I don't think you should have to do all the flushes to get it to temp. The Breville group head heating is pretty good. If you are putting a cold portafilter in place, flushes might not get you there as quickly. I leave my PF in place all the time. Not doing this might be a factor in a bad first shot. (It was for me).

Retention in the grinder (coffee left in the path from the last grinding) can play a big part in that first shot. If it has been 24 hours, that will definitely mess with the shot. Single dosing takes care of a lot of this, but there can still be retention in the grinder. Your goal is to minimize it by single dosing. Apart from that, upgrading to a low retention grinder, even a grinder designed for single dosing) is the long term solution.

You can search for single dosing threads here, find LOTS of options for single dosing approaches, storage, etc.

When I was using my Breville Smart Grinder Pro with my BDB, switching to single dosing was a huge improvement, overall. And keeping the portafilter in the group head all the time (or at least from power on) really did improve the first shots of the day.


Postby JazzCoffee » Jul 09, 2018, 1:36 am

Bret - thanks so much for your patience. I appreciate it. I'll dig through some single-dosing threads and see what they are about. My problem with that is that my hopper is tucked under my cabinets with just an inch of clearance. I may have to fashion some sort of delivery mechanism...DIY anyone? No worries just yet.

I do think some retention is part of the problem, but I think I'm starting to wonder how consistent the Illy beans are. Two cans with identical date stamps seem to be quite different. Love the flavor, not so sure about using them long term. I'm wondering if they are just rather dry beans: even with the pre-infusion at 8 seconds, the shot doesn't really hit the cup until about 11 or even 12 seconds. Makes me wonder.

Today's shots (at an even more coarse setting) were very close to spot-on, and the taste reflected it. I guess that's the problem: once you get a great shot, you just want it again and again. Ah, the flavor! I guess I'm learning.

I chatted with a bright soul at SCG and discussed a scale to try to nail this down, so that might be in my future as well.

Thanks again. I'll keep reading and report back if I nail this down!


Postby Deebo » Jul 12, 2018, 12:08 pm

+1 to everything that is said. Your issue is very likely inconsistent grind output. I had a Breville Barista Express for about 2 years (870xl?) and while it was a great intro machine, I honestly must say it's not a brand that I would personally recommend at the price point of the Oracle, but that's a discussion for another day. To overcome the shortcomings of the grinder I would switch to single dosing and weighing your output. I also agree that for best consistency, override the volumetrics and pull by weight. Everyone/bean has a preferred ratio, I generally like 1:1.5, so 20g in/30g out.
Think it, but don't overthink it...


Postby JazzCoffee » Aug 19, 2018, 3:59 pm

Well, it's been over a month. Things are starting to make sense now. And I'll have to side with Bret on this: I don't think it's an inconsistency in the grinder, I think it's all about the beans, bean aging, and grinder retention. Now that I know what to expect, I am getting really good shots and better drinks. All this before I'm even awake...! The grinder output will change depending on the age and dryness of the beans, and I think that's what was messing with me last month. Unfortunately for me, the machine is tucked under a cabinet with just an inch of space to play with, so unless I roll that monster around I'll not be able to do much with single dosing. Not a worry any longer. I'm getting the hang of it.

Thanks, all!


Postby susanc » Sep 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

Hihi.. I just sent email to Breville re inconsistent shots from my Oracle... the initial reply was - it's the beans...

I used CAMPOS beans roasted Aug 17 2018 on my Oracle. Started with 24 grind size, then 20, then 16 before I got it right. The following day, I started with 16, then 20, then 24 before I got it right... Why is this? Can't be the beans... cuz I used the same beans on my Barista Express and got it right the first time.

I haven't tweaked my Oracle yet... The only thing I change is the grind size depending on the coffee beans.

Appreciate any tips from users as to how to get a more consistent shot. I measure 18g of beans each time.



Postby mrjag » Sep 25, 2018, 12:24 am

Susan, the exact timing of when beans go "stale" will vary, but the general rule of thumb is to use them during the 7-14 day window. Some beans will happily stretch into the 3rd week, but at over a month post-roast (8/17 to 9/23) there is bound to be an extraction problem.

You havent provided any details around what went wrong and why you needed to adjust the grind up/down so it's difficult to suggest techniques that might help. WDT or blind shaking can resolve uneven distributions in the portafilter.