First attempt at a systematic approach to teaching myself how to make better espresso, looking for feedback

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.

#1: Post by vickeryj »

I got a new grinder recently and now I suspect the primary thing holding me back from making great shots is myself.

I'm using a Breville Bambino Plus and a Eureka Mignon Specialita. I know I could get a better machine and it would probably make this process simpler and allow me to go further, but for now I want to focus on the meat component. If I can learn to make great shots on this setup, a nice DB machine will be my reward. Or maybe a Decent, since that seems like it might suite my personality, as you may see below.

After nearly losing my mind trying to comprehend moving from the 2 viable steps (pick too course or too fine) on my old Capresso Infinity to the complete lack of steps on the Mignon, I've managed to get to the point where I can pull consistent shots within my target parameters, and most taste pretty good. The frustrating thing is that I've also pulled a few great shots, but I have no idea why those were great.

So, I decided to try to be more systematic. Here's the process I tried this morning, and I'm looking for feedback on it.

I tried to taste the difference between grind settings. Things didn't work out as I wanted, but I gained some interesting perspective.

The general idea was to pull 3 shots of different grind settings with input and output volume constant, taste them, and write down notes. I would also taste them side by side, but with low expectations since all but the most recent shot would be cool.

The reality is that I didn't hit my numbers:
Course: 18g in, 25s, 37.3g out
Middle: 18g in, 32s, 36.6g out
Fine: 18g in, 37s, 25.2g out

I'm happy enough with Course and Middle, but with Fine the machine cut off after 25g, so I had a ristretto compared to the other two shots. The cutting off is an ongoing issue that I have with trying to pull long running shots on the Bambino.

One thing I didn't take notes on is what the shots looked like while they were running. They all started ok, with Fine being much slower to start, but I think Course and Middle broke down at the end and got watery.

The unexpected result is that with Course and Middle I only came up with generic flavor notes. With Fine I wrote "baking spices on the nose." and when I dug out the label I clipped from the bag, one of 3 tasting notes was baking spices. Fine was also my favorite shot, but I already suspected that I prefer a ristretto.

I'm thinking for the next round I'll do the same thing, but with 16g in / 32g out because 18g was annoyingly messy.


Course setting

Medium setting

Fine setting

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#2: Post by Peppersass »

Congratulations on deciding to be more systematic. That will definitely help your quest for better tasting espresso.

A lot depends on the beans you're brewing, so tell us what kind of beans you have -- roaster, single origin or blend, light, medium or dark roast, how long past the roast date, etc.

What's the problem with pulling longer running shots on the Bambino? Does it cut off automatically at 37 seconds? That's not good if you're pulling light roasts. Often they require a finer grind, which will make the shot run longer. You may be able to compensate by lowering the dose, which will make the shot run faster.

BTW, it's normal for shots to run faster and faster after peak pressure is reached. This is because the puck is becoming more permeable. Some of us with machines that can do flow or pressure profiling reduce the flow or pressure during the back half of the shot to slow it down. This is primarily beneficial for light roasts.

One thing to bear in mind: With a hopper grinder (i.e., not a single-dose grinder), the grind will change a little with different amounts of beans in the hopper, due to the variation in weight of the bean column. For shot-to-shot consistence, which is critical for espresso, try to keep a constant amount of beans in the hopper. Or, you could try single-dosing. That works well with some grinders but not others.

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#3: Post by vickeryj (original poster) »

Thank you!

I'm using medium dark roasts for now as I figured that would be easier to work with than lighter roasts. I generally prefer lighter roasts. The bag I used this morning was Cafe Vita Theo Blend, and it was about 20 days off roast. I finished that and opened a bag of Caffe Fresco Ambrosia Blend and it's 10 days off roast.

The Bambino uses volumetric measuring, but slow pulls trip it up and it has some unknown cutoff, sometimes. I'm not sure what it is. I think if I hold the button down just until the pump clicks on I can maximize the longest possible shot time. I haven't found other people who've run into this issue so maybe something is weird with my machine or with me. I'm not opposed to upgrading, but the suggestion of using lower doses to work around this issues is appreciated in the meantime.

I haven't been single dosing for convenience, but if I find I can't get consistency with grind on demand I can switch to that. Keeping the bean level constant in the hopper sounds like it would be just as much as single dosing, unless there is a workflow I'm missing?

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#4: Post by another_jim »

When you grind finer, dose lower. When you grind coarser; dose higher. This keeps the puck at constant resistance, and the shots in the same time and weight ballpark. Try 15 grams for the fine grind and 16.5 for the medium, staying with 18 for the coarse. Then adjust your grind settings to get the same brew ratio in the same time.
Jim Schulman

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#5: Post by vickeryj (original poster) »

Trying to keep the same shot time and weight while varying grind and dose sounds like a good setup. Is the idea that it will be more informative than keeping input and output weights constant?

I'm starting to worry that maybe I need more practice with puck prep, so I'm thinking next I may try to brew two shots with the same parameters and taste for differences.

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#6: Post by another_jim »

Not to toot my own horn; but the basics of dose and grind are here
Jim Schulman

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#7: Post by vickeryj (original poster) » replying to another_jim »

This is great! It's the primary reference I've used to get to pulling consistently pretty good shots. What I'm trying to learn is how to both train my palate and get good enough at technique to chase great shots.

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#8: Post by vickeryj (original poster) »

Today I did the same but with 16g in, 24g out

Fine: 23.4g 37s - this shot was messy, maybe channeling. I got primarily bitter lemon peel, drinkable

Medium: 23g 27s - this was very good, syrupy, dark chocolate, brown sugar, light fruit

Course: 23.4g 25s - this was bad, sour, and I believe under extracted

I'm not happy with the time differences between shots. Maybe it's just that I moved the grinder too much or too little. Or maybe there is too much variability in my technique. I think I'll try pulling at Medium a few times next and see how they compare.

I'm curious how I could get channeling end a very slow shot with Fine. It didn't jet, but the stream started on the left half of the portafilter and stayed there. Maybe it didn't channel but I had an uneven tamp?

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#9: Post by another_jim »

Ugly flows with slow shots and fine grinds are not a problem -- the YouTube espresso porn videos are made with coarse grinds and overstuffed baskets; nobody would actually drink a shot like that.
Jim Schulman

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#10: Post by vickeryj (original poster) »

I pulled three shots with the same weight in and out. There was a 5 second variance in the time it took, one tasted bad, one was ok, and one was pretty good.

Watching the shots there looked like channeling in all of them, with the worst being the worst tasting.

The best tasting shot also had the best looking puck, intact with a very slight screen impression. The other two were soupy, broke apart when dumping them and one stuck to the screen.

I was thinking I would move to a higher dose and a coarser grind and try again, on the basis that a coarser grind might be more forgiving of my puck prep skills. But I see another_jim's response so maybe not.