I'm new and I can only pull sour espresso

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

#1: Post by rx-7ames »

I've been reading in this forum for a couple months trying to prepare to start making espresso. I decided to purchase a brand new Rancilio Silvia Pro X and Rocky grinder. I've had the machine for about a week and I'm getting very discouraged. I'm only getting very sour pulls. They are not drinkable.

I have tried everything I can think of. I've used 3 different kinds of fresh roasted coffee. I am using filtered water. I purge before every shot. I am using a bottomless filter and I've gotten to where I am getting nice and even flow without any channeling. I am brewing at 205 degrees.

I started using a triple basket with 20 grams of grounds. I tried yields from 30 up to 50 grams of espresso. I went with a finer grind until my shots were taking up to 60 seconds to pull. Still sour. Then I dropped down to a double basket and did the same thing with 18 grams of coffee, grinding until my pulls went from 30 seconds all the way up to 60. Still sour. Then I did the same thing with 16 grams of coffee. Still sour.

I'm all out of ideas. I'm getting frustrated and my wife hates that I spent so much money on bad coffee. Our pourover does a better job and is faster. What am I missing?


#2: Post by Satchmo780 »

What level of roast are you using?

Are you only changing one variable at a time?

Do you have sour/bitter confusion? A 60 second pull is more likely to be bitter.

Is your machine working properly? Sour pulls might indicate the temperature on the machine isn't accurate.
LMWDP #737

rx-7ames (original poster)

#3: Post by rx-7ames (original poster) »

Of the 3 roasts they seem to be medium which is why I've tried to brew at a higher temp and grind finer.

I have only changed one variable at a time. I've gone through quite a bit of coffee and have used a fair amount of sugar to counter the sour.

I am positive it is sour. It's mouth puckering sour. It's a fair question, but I would welcome bitter at this point. That's why I have let the pulls go so long. I've been trying to do the things that people say will make the coffee bitter. This is why I'm so confused.

Is my machine working properly? That's a good question too. The PID reads 205 and seems to work, but who knows. I have tried yemps ranging from 195 to 205. How can I double check it? Just take the temperature of freshly flushed water? I can try that if that's the answer.

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#4: Post by Jeff »

The first thing is that the number you see on the PID is not the brew temperature. Even when the offset properly adjusted, it is still only an approximation. At what temperature on the display do you get flash boiling if you start the group flow with no basket in place? If that is far off of your local boiling point (which varies primarily by altitude), adjusting the PID offset would at least bring the number on the display closer to reality.

I don't know how much experience you have with espresso, but I'm guessing this is your first foray.

Which coffees have you tried? What are the roast dates on them?

Edit: Would you identify the specific coffees? Every coffee seems to be either "medium" or "dark" in their marketing. Most of what is sold in the broader market that is labeled "medium" is something that I'd consider between dark and burnt.

Are you sure you're tasting sour and not bitter?

Why a triple basket and a 20 g dose?


If your vendor has a generous return policy, I'd strongly suggest returning the Rocky and purchasing something more suitable for espresso. It was an entry-level grinder 30 years ago and has both significant grind and usability issues compared to more recent offerings.

rx-7ames (original poster)

#5: Post by rx-7ames (original poster) »

I have not adjusted the PID to get flash boiling. I'll try that and see what happens. I just assumed that the temp on the PID was the brew temperature.

This is indeed my first foray into espresso.

I used 2 different coffees from a roaster in Bisbee AZ. I always get his coffee when I visit AZ. He gives out free espresso from his roasting shop to promote his coffee. It's the best espresso I have ever had and is largely what inspired me to start making espresso. I also used the coffee that Clive gave me when I purchased the machine. Both coffees were roasted in late June.
I'm not at home right now and I don't remember the specifics of the coffee.

I used 20 grams of coffee in a tripple basket because that's the directions that came with Clive Coffees intro to espresso videos that came with my purchase. I'm open to other recipes. I'm wiling to try anything.

What grinder would you recommend for a similar price? I was hoping $400 would provide a grinder that could do what I needed it to do.


#6: Post by Satchmo780 »

Definitely try the flash boiling suggestion to see if your PID is reasonably accurate.

We'll be in a better position to advise when we have a few more specifics about the coffee specifically.

As for the grinder - improvements can be had new, but also don't hesitate to go used. That being said, people have gotten perfectly serviceable espresso from a Rancilio Rocky. It may benefit from calibration. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3A6O9cMtmI

What I find odd is that with your bottomless you aren't seeing signs of channeling, and you get really slow shots (1:2 ratio in 60s if I read you correctly) which should have some bitterness. So sour points to your temperature either being way too low, or your beans being very light roast.
LMWDP #737


#7: Post by GDM528 »

Just me, but I had (and maybe still have) trouble making a distinction between sour and bitter - which can be instrumental in knowing which way to steer the shot parameters. There's a lot of sage wisdom available on HB, but my mistake was in trying to blindly follow it. Metaphorically speaking, I needed to learn how to drive by scraping against the guardrails, learn from mistakes.

Some things that I, as a newbie that hates sour coffee, did to get my bearings.

1) Fractionate the shot: use three small cups (I used shot glasses) and spread the head, middle, and tail between the glasses. Taste the difference.
2) Widely vary the shot temperature, enough to make it super-obvious what effect that has.
4) Go dark: I tend to go with beans that have a light sheen to a few oily spots, which tend to be less acidic/sour (not guaranteed!).
5) Pull shots from the same bag of beans, spread out over a couple weeks, to test the effects of CO2 outgassing. CO2 is nasty IMHO.
6) Pull to color: I watch the color of the extraction and stop when I see it start to fade/blonde - whatever time that takes.

rx-7ames (original poster)

#8: Post by rx-7ames (original poster) »

Not all of my shots have been slow. Its just that I have tried going up to 60 seconds to bring out more bitter. I had a lot of channeling at first so I also experimented with different ways of preparing the puck and I'm not seeing that anymore.

The advice here has given me some things to try out. I will test the flash boil and see if my temp is off. I can also try getting a darker roast coffee. I have 2 more bags of coffee to try out.

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#9: Post by Jeff »

Working with a smaller dose may make things a bit easier for you. There's the possibility that a comparatively thick puck extracts unevenly, both top-to-bottom as well as through softer sport or areas in the puck. A "channel" has to be pretty big to show up obviously on the bottom of the basket. Uneven extraction can result in the confusing bitter-sour-astringent all at once.

On grinder options, some of the options (not an exhaustive list) I think are worth considering include:

* 1Zpresso JX-Pro "or better" hand grinder, if only a cup or two at a time (hand grinders now can be very good, up into the $300-400 range, or more)
* Baratza Sette 270 (occasionally available as a refurb from Baratza)
* Baratza Vario (as a refurb to get at a more comfortable price)
* Eureka Mignon series (some purchase from overseas at a discount, with all the caveats around gray-market goods and warranty)