Fine tuning your espresso on a shoe string budget.

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks for making espresso.
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#1: Post by noob2024 »


I'm new to this. Bought a Francis x3, replaced the ulka pump. Had pretty awful shots with different espresso beans. Now, I'm finally getting some decent tasting shots. So I want to share some of my experiences with the community.

First thing I did was fix the lack of water flow. Replaced the Ulka pump. During this process, I cleaned the pipes and tubes, and removed tons of descaled residue in the boiler. It was tons of crud, and nasty.

Checked the temperature on the boiler, and the heating element was working fine. I had the top off and tested it with a laster thermostat. For Steam and for regular brew, it was hitting the temperature of 195-200F and 225 respectively.

One of the only concerns I had was the overall flow rate. Not sure if my opv valve needs to be replaced, the grind size, or the grouphead is clogged.

My first grinds used was Bustelo pre-grind. I love cuban coffee, colada, and try to make it. It was tasty, but not an espresso shot. it was too fast, and lacked any extraction or crema. It was a strong coffee, with decent flavor, but not an espresso. Extraction time, 8-12 sec.

Second grind, was fresh roasted beans all grounded at the local shop. I asked for their espresso grind, but the grind itself for my machine was too fine. The overall extraction time probably took close to a minute for half a shot, instead of a double. lol

So now I was troubleshooting this, and realized perhaps I need to gauge if I am getting enough pressure during extraction.

So I purchased a portafilter pressure gauge, which is currently enroute with my opv valve replacement. It is being shipped from Ireland to here, US.

I tried different dosage, and helped some, but still not ideal. My portafilter is 57mm suggested dosage is 14g for double. Still an issue.

I even tried temperature surfing by upping the temp in steam mode. This helped with the brew temp, but no crema. I did learn through research, higher temperature will lower the brew cycle, since hotter water will penetrate faster through the oils and beans in general. I also learned too much pressure can cause a backpressure, and can stop the flow. hence the slow extraction could be either too much pressure, or not enough.

First minor success was manipulating the coffee grind size by mixing Bustelo store ground that was somewhat dry with the local roaster ground that was too fine and clunky. Not sure if it is static or the oil, but the local ground was fresh and packed tighter.

Ok, we might be onto something here. I was not getting decent creama from the fresh beans, or flow. However, the timing was around 12-15 for a shot. Also noted the mid and last part of the flow was watery. It made strong americano, or drip coffee, but no espresso.

Then, I spent few days on the FB marketplace for a grinder, and prosumer grade espresso. What a waste of time.

So as I went online, shopping for an espresso grinder. I have an old Virtuoso Grinder. The finest setting was too coarse for an espresso. One of the suggested grinder under $200 was a Bartza Encore, which looked similar to my Virtuoso. I realized same maker. lol Then I learned you can hack the grind settings to a finer grind on my Virtuoso.

So I followed it, took it apart, almost broke the thing. But managed to put it back together with the new settings. Initially, didn't work. So I thought i had broken it. Then, the first grind came out coarse. What a waste of time, I said to myself.

Then, I tinkered with it, set it to espresso setting again, and wow. Actual grind that looks like an espresso grind. Not the coarse grind for drip. So the beans I was using to test were couple of months old from Lidl. So I went to local shop and bought some fresh beans, roasted 2/09/2024. This morning, the first grind at 14g, and made my first shot.

**************EUREKA! WE HAVE LIFTOFF!!!!!*********

What I saw was an actual crema flow and an espresso. Due to my manual timing of seconds, 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, etc Tons of s's and i's. Not sure if the spelling is right, but I had roughly 120ml or 4 oz of decent looking crema shot. It actually looked like espresso, with tons of foam at top.

So I thought, ok, fresh beans, grinded on my hacked Bartza Virtuoso. Perhaps if i made it slightly finer, i can get it down to 60ml or 2oz at 20-30 secs. Well what do you know, we might be onto something here.

Then, I checked my grinder, another issue. It was on the lowest setting. lol

So what can I do for an espresso shot, while I wait for the pressure gauge to see if I am getting proper pressure? Perhaps bad opv valve.

I thought, why not add more beans. up it from 14 to 18, 20, or possibly 22 grams.

So I put in 14G, shots too fast. ~10 Secs.

I placed 20g, and then I noticed I am getting a stronger crema and good flow in 30secs. roughly 65ml, or just above 2oz.
***This is what Armstrong must of felt like, when he landed on the moon!***** lol

This hit the mark.
How did I up the dosage on this portafilter?
I did it by first filling it to the top, running a thin wire for even distribution, then lightly tapping the pf on the counter. This settles the beans, and allows more grind to be added. Once this is done. I managed to up it to 20g. After, tamping, and brewing. I get this amazing crema and tasty shot.

Now I am buzzing and fully wired from caffine. Now for further update on this journey, I am waiting for the gauge, and a possible opv valve replacement. But for this machine i spent $60 for with $20 pump, I am satisfied. It tastes better then most espressos from the coffee shop. The machine was purchased locally from FB market place, and it was $100. But after informing the seller of the flow issue, which i think he knew about. He agreed to discount $40. So for the last two weeks, I have been researching and learning about espresso. I almost pulled a trigger on Asaco, Rancillo, Aggagi, and Rocket. But I am glad I purchased this Francis, learned to fix it, and how to use it. Yeah it isn't the fanciest grinder and espresso machine setup, but for $80 I'm good with it. Not sure if most bean heads would be able to distinguish the brew from this setup against the thousand dollar setup. Time spent learning and tinkering, that was priceless. Now I wait for $30 worth of opv valve and gauge to tinker with the pressure. Perhaps bring it down to 6bars, if that's possible. But not sure they make an opv valve or kit for Francis. Oh Well. :lol: :mrgreen: :D I hope this helps the future espresso newbie on their journey, and I hope you got couple of laughs out of this post. If you want any specific links or suggestions hmu.

-Thanks for reading


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#2: Post by bznelson91 »

@Pomer, that's a great story! I love the "out of the box" thinking, making the most out of a limited budget to get a result you like. I especially loved the creativity of mixing the two grind sizes to find a combo that gave you want you wanted. Lowering the pressure to 6 bar will probably help you going forward; in my very limited experience, there's nothing wrong with 6 bar espresso. At the end of the day, it's what you taste that matters, and if it tastes good, it IS good.

Good luck as you continue your journey!


noob2024 (original poster)
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#3: Post by noob2024 (original poster) »

Thanks Brad for those kind words, and I hope you find some fun ideas to try with your journey. I will post some videos and pictures of the espresso shot. Unforunately, I did not capture any prior to the fix, but for a 20 year old espresso for someone who just started less then two weeks, I'm pretty proud.

noob2024 (original poster)
Posts: 22
Joined: 2 months ago

#4: Post by noob2024 (original poster) »

@bznelson91 here is the link and some photos of the espresso.

how to tune brtaza grinder
my espresso shot on francis x3

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#5: Post by zammie »

Hi Pomer! Welcome to HB! That shot looks pretty good! I think you will be right at home here, given your willingness to tinker and experiment.

When you are ready to move on from the Virtuoso, you can take a look at hand grinders like Kingrinder or 1ZPresso for espresso. They offer amazing bang for buck (about $70-80 for Kingrinder K2) and you can return the Virtouso for pourover grinding.

LMWDP #455

noob2024 (original poster)
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#6: Post by noob2024 (original poster) »

Thanks Dizzy. appreciate it.

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#7: Post by KieranB1996 »

Wow, interesting read. You really have used some unorthodox methods, but I think it's great

noob2024 (original poster)
Posts: 22
Joined: 2 months ago

#8: Post by noob2024 (original poster) »

Thanks Kieran. Learning to fix and use the 20 years old espresso has taught me quite a bit about espresso. I get amazing extraction @ 30secs, and doesn't cost me tons of money. I kid you not, this budget machine can rival any fancy espresso shops. It makes really tasty shoots, and it cost me $60 plus $20 for new pump. I just received a pressure gauge and a opv valve. Will test the current pressure and after opv valve replacement pressure.