How's my espresso?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks for making espresso.
coffeenoob123

#1: Post by coffeenoob123 »

Hi guys. Relative coffee newbie here, be easy on me! I hope this is the right forum for this sort of question.

I've had a Rancilio Silvia for a while and I've made what I think are decent espresso shots but I'd like to get some feedback. I read that getting a bottomless portafilter helps you see what's going on in the shot and make adjustments accordingly but I can't quite read it. I took a video and I was hoping to get some feedback -- how does this shot of espresso look to those that know what to look for?

Anything obviously wrong? How can I improve my results?

Espresso machine: Rancilio Silvia
Grinder: Baratza Vario
Water: Brita-filtered NYC tap water
Beans: La Colombe Monte Carlo decaf (am I already lame for doing decaf? It's getting late!)


Thank you!

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Randy G.

#2: Post by Randy G. »

Well.. invite us all over for a taste and we will let you know..
Seriously, it is a food product- it is the taste that matters.

Grind finer. It began it a big hurry. Only one sprite.. not bad prep at all for a newbie from what I saw.
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emradguy
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#3: Post by emradguy »

I agree with Randy, on both points...only can really tell by tasting it, and you need to grind a tad finer.

I imagine the shot was on the sour side. Grinding finer will increase resistance, slowing down the flow and prolonging the extraction, and increase the level of extraction of the grinds. If you go too far, it'll taste bitter.

coffeenoob123 (original poster)

#4: Post by coffeenoob123 (original poster) »

Thank you both! I'll give a finer grind a shot.

DamianWarS
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#5: Post by DamianWarS »

coffeenoob123 wrote:I read that getting a bottomless portafilter helps you see what's going on in the shot and make adjustments accordingly but I can't quite read it.
you're looking for an even flow from all areas of the basket. the shot is a little too fast so you might not catch it but if you slow down the video to 0.5x speed (or manual drag the slider) you can see a outter ring develops first favouring the left back and as it developes more it continues to favour the back left and there is a void in the front right. there are first two streams that develop again favouring the back left with a continued void in the front left then it finally coalesces together and the voids disappear.

donut shots (the ring developing on the outside) can develop if you're using the basket wet. you want it heated up but make sure it is dry. you also want to make sure the basket is clean. hold it up to the light or window and make sure you can see through all the holes, or ensure there is no odd holes or damage. unless it has some convex shape the basket should be flat and you can place it on a flat surface to see if it wobbles. if you see some possible basket issues you can't correct with cleaning try rotate the basket to see if the problem travels with the rotation. so in your case if you rotate the basket half a turn instead of the coffee favouring the left back if it's a basket problem it should travel with the basket and favour the right front. this is similar to the showerscreen. make sure it is also clean and free of any damange (remove it and do a good clean). turn on the machine without a portafilter and check to make sure the water is coming out even, if it's not and you've cleaned it well rotate the screen to see if the problem travels with the screen. if it's a basket problem, replace the basket, if it's screen problem... replace the screen.

More typically this can be generally a distribution problem and a very effective way to distribute the coffee bed is through WDT. If you don't know what WDT is Lance Hedrick just posted a good explaination video on what's going on with WDT plus a cheap WDT tool suggestion so I would suggest checking it out. other things going on could be that you're tamping unevenly. if you tamp with more pressure on one side this will result in coffee being more dense on one side than the other and water will favour the less desne side. you want to make sure you tamp with consistent pressure and even. Also if you're tamping with a too small tamper it can leave the outer sides untamped with can create these donut shots. I've picked up a leveling tamper myself which levels itself from the rim of the portafilter and the tamp is perfectly level each time.
I would recommend this to anyone regardless of experience. also check to make sure your tamper is not damanged. unless you have a convex shaped tamper you're tamper should sit on a flat surface without any wobble, if it has a wobble get a new tamper (and if its a convex tamper... get a flat one). Like the basket, the tamper needs to be clean and free of any defects and also dry. the tamper should have a snug fit in the basket, if it doesn't then consider getting a more fitted tamper.

After you tamp don't be too agressive with the portafilter. bumps and knocks can displace the coffee or break the seal. you don't need to baby it but just be aware of how you're handling it, especially when placing it in the group. one thing often overloops is how level your machine is. if the machine is not level then water will favour one side. for the really particular you can check how level the bottom of the portfilter with basket in the machine is for left and right and front. but it should at least check how level the machine sitting on your counter is, they can have adjustment feet on them so you can level them up easily, otherwise use shims under the feet to level it.

generally speaking this is a channeling issue where all the above increases channeling. channeling can also be caused by a poor grinder with too many fines or old coffee. as coffee ages it gets more flexible and will grind differently. typically it means as it ages you need to grind finer to compensate this more flexible coffee but there comes a point of diminishing returns. When I get odd channeling it usually is because the coffee is getting too old. so you want to ensure you have coffee that is good quality and that is fresh enough. typically for espresso within the window of 1-3 weeks is good but it varies widely. dark roasts don't need to rest as long but will also stale quiker and light roasts need to rest longer and will stale slower. if you record your shots in a notebook, things like shot time, grind size, dose, yeild, etc.. you can track how the coffee is trending and make adjustments. For example if you're aiming for a 30 second shot and getting a 2:1 in 20 seconds... then you probably should grind finer.

lastly one bandaid solution is to put a paper cut out filter at the bottom of the basket and also one at the top of the puck after you tamp. the botton one prevents fines from jamming the holes and the top helps so the puck doesn't erode too quickly. you can also get a puckscreen at the top which would do an better job and will disperse the water over the puck better. Generally this typically means faster shots so you need to grind finer and with the Vario you might not be able to go that fine so it might not be the right option for you.

coffeenoob123 (original poster)

#6: Post by coffeenoob123 (original poster) »

Thank you so much for your detailed reply. I will try those things and give it another shot (ha). I am definitely using the basket wet and not clean each time, so I will try that first, as well as giving my machine and portafilter a cleaning.

I have another question. How do you guys manage your cleaning rags? I find that I have too many coffee-stained washcloths sitting around. Do you use paper towels? Or just do everything at the sink with a sponge?

Do you think the Vario is an acceptable grinder for making good espresso from the Silvia, or should I consider upgrading?

ping279

#7: Post by ping279 »

coffeenoob123 wrote: I have another question. How do you guys manage your cleaning rags? I find that I have too many coffee-stained washcloths sitting around. Do you use paper towels? Or just do everything at the sink with a sponge?
I personally use darker colored face towel sized rags that are old and I don't mind being dirty. However, most of the time staining isn't really an issue for me. I have a kitchen sink right next to my espresso set up and I will rinse out the basket after each shot. If you have easy access to a sink it makes the cleaning process much easier, in my opinion. I'll then use one of the rags to dry the basket/portafilter before the next grind. I keep a separate towel to be used to wipe off the group head between pulls and steam wand after frothing.

coffeenoob123 wrote: Do you think the Vario is an acceptable grinder for making good espresso from the Silvia, or should I consider upgrading?
For your usage, the Vario seems to me like a fine grinder. I haven't used one but I considered buying it at one point as an upgrade to my old breville built in grinder. I ended up with the Sette 270wi mainly only because it has a built-in scale to weigh as you grind. The Sette has worked great for me but I've heard the Vario is an equally comparable grinder. There's of course upgrading as an option but IMO, really not necessary for you right now.

Also, I just noticed your "real name" and gave me a good chuckle.

DamianWarS
Supporter ♡

#8: Post by DamianWarS »

coffeenoob123 wrote:Thank you so much for your detailed reply. I will try those things and give it another shot (ha). I am definitely using the basket wet and not clean each time, so I will try that first, as well as giving my machine and portafilter a cleaning.

I have another question. How do you guys manage your cleaning rags? I find that I have too many coffee-stained washcloths sitting around. Do you use paper towels? Or just do everything at the sink with a sponge?

Do you think the Vario is an acceptable grinder for making good espresso from the Silvia, or should I consider upgrading?
If you're using a wet basket that will be a major contributor to side channeling and just by drying the basket will improve the shot.

I use paper towels to dry the baskets. I'll preheat it then wipe it down with a paper towel. I find it absorbs better and since you toss it when you're finished nothing gets too messy. In a professional environment they will use different
color of towels to do different things to avoid contamination and keep mess contained.

I have a Vario and I have used it for espresso but found sometimes I wasn't able to grind fine enough. The world of grinders is an endless conversation and of course you can always get better but the Vario is still a capable grinder. What burrs do you have? The ceramic or the BG burrs? Mine has the ceramic but I just got the BG and I'm wonder how well that will work for espresso. I haven't installed them yet and I'm mainly want to use the Vario for filter not espresso. It's an older Vario and I just got the parts to update it with Forte parts or what the new Vario+ is so I'm waiting until I have some time to do everything at once.

coffeenoob123 (original poster)

#9: Post by coffeenoob123 (original poster) »

I have the ceramic burrs. It seems to grind fine enough -- I'm at setting 2R after calibrating the burrs (I had to move them closer than how they were set when they shipped to me). A few micro settings finer and I don't get any flow. It doesn't leave much room for experimentation (there are maybe about 3-4 micro settings that will output shots within 20-35 seconds).

ping279, good idea, I think darker small towels or maybe paper towels will work to hide the mess (it's mostly to avoid my girlfriend complaining about my coffee station, which she already thinks is too "steampunk" for our apartment)

Robert_Shehan

#10: Post by Robert_Shehan »

I am also going with Randy. We can't say the feedback through a virtual coffee treat. But anyway, as a coffee lover it is a nice feeling to watch your espresso making video.