Shot Time: When Does it Begin?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.

#1: Post by RickVanCleef »

Stupid question, but when does the timer begin on a shot? I have an Acaia Lunar that starts its timer as soon as the shot hits the cup, but with any semi auto espresso machine that could be 3 - 5 or more seconds after you activate the pump. If you're aiming for a 27-second shot, should you hit the start on the timer as soon as you activate the ball pump or when the first drops of liquid hit the cup?

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#2: Post by Jeff »

Scales don't know when you push the button, lift the lever or whatever. Their first hint are those drops. It's an ongoing debate, but "commercial" machines and directions from them are typically from pump on.

Pick a benchmark that works well for you and your gear. It's a starting point for being able to dial in quickly, not an unbreakable rule. Maybe it's easy enough to start the scale timer when you start the machine. Maybe you decide your benchmark is scale time and you adjust other's guidelines by 7 or 9 seconds, by looking at several of your shots' timings relative to the scale. Maybe using your phone's stopwatch. Before smart phones I just counted. Repeatable is the key.

(If you've got a lever or profiling machine, you probably already know "25 seconds" doesn't really apply to your machine and it's extraction profile and have picked a different benchmark.)

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#3: Post by Sideshow »

There is variation among what people do, but the most important thing to do is to pick something and be consistent. I use beans roasted to a light-medium, I do about 10 seconds (ish) of manual preinfusion with my e61, and I like to dose lower (14 g), grind finer, and pull longer. I start my time when I activate the pump, even though the first drops don't hit the cup until around 8-14 seconds. I aim for a shot coming out in the 35-40 second range measured from when the pump activates. Long story short, I count from when pump activates, but pick something that works for you, be consistent, and then let taste guide your adjustments.


#4: Post by KCcoffeegeek »

I have always started timing when I turn the pump on, figuring that extraction is occurring once water hits the coffee. I don't think it really matters as long as YOU are consistent with what you choose to do. For example, let's say my local shop tells me they've been brewing this coffee I just bought at 1:2 in 30 seconds. I have no idea what their pump pressure is set to, what sort of fancy flow controls they have, etc, so when I get home I'm going to dial it in myself to my own taste preferences, anyway. If I find I like 1:1.5 in 30 seconds, then I will know what I need to do to replicate my own recipe, which is all that really matters.

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#5: Post by BaristaBoy E61 »

I use my iPhone Stopwatch so that I record all the data.

If you examine the attached pic you will see that Lap 1 corresponds to the Line Level preinfusion. Lap 2 is the Pump Time with Pump 'ON'. Lap 3 is a 'Post' infusion back to line level pressure just to end the shot and slow Blonding. The time displayed on the face of the clock is the Total Time.

This snapshot of the Stopwatch of almost 3-½ months ago tells me that I probably should have ground a bit coarser and that I likely forgot to do so after pulling a shot for my wife where this would have resulted in a better 'run time' for her shot but not mine even though it probably still tasted great.

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RickVanCleef (original poster)

#6: Post by RickVanCleef (original poster) »

I get the benchmark idea and finding what works. I am more talking about when I get a specific coffee from a roaster like Verve which comes with a recommended espresso 18g in, 36g out, in 25 seconds. Does the clock start when the pump activates or when the first drops of coffee hit the cup?

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#7: Post by BaristaBoy E61 »

For me the shot timing begins when the shot begins - especially when direct plumbed with line-level preinfusion.
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#8: Post by Nate42 »

RickVanCleef wrote:I get the benchmark idea and finding what works. I am more talking about when I get a specific coffee from a roaster like Verve which comes with a recommended espresso 18g in, 36g out, in 25 seconds. Does the clock start when the pump activates or when the first drops of coffee hit the cup?
I would think most shot time recommendations are going by when the pump is activated, and are based on whatever standard equipment/methods the shop in question uses. The only way to know for sure though would be to ask particular roasters individually.

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#9: Post by »

This can be quite arbitrary, but if we ignore trendy new ways to pull espresso shots than you should really be counting from when you engage the pump. To answer what to do based on roaster recommendations - I'd say the roaster is assuming you don't do espresso gymnastics with the coffee and just hit a button to pull the shot. So, I'd count from when you engage the pump. If a roaster has a different way for you to time the shot, they would tend to disclose that. The assumption is that your coffee starts pouring almost immediately from pump engagement. If it doesn't then that can be an indication that the grind is too tight.

If you're doing a 5-6 second preinfusion then you can think about sticking to the 25-30 second mark from when the pump engages.

Using longer pre-infusions can make deciding when to end the shot a bit tricky/impossible if you want to focus on time only. With really long pre-infusions like 15-20 seconds you might want to ensure that the puck isn't fully saturated until the 20 second mark and then if you hit that mark, you should be fine to use weight to end the shot instead of time.
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#10: Post by Peppersass »

My GS/3 AV has a built-in shot timer. It starts when the pump starts and stops when the pump stops. Also, the machine is heavily modified and I control it from a combination of Arduino and Android apps. They measure shot time the same way -- from when the pump starts and stops.

I think the majority of professional and home baristas measure shot time this way, but you can certainly do it differently as long as you're consistent. Just be careful that if your machine lets you vary preinfusion flow rate you take that into account. For example, if you measure shot time from pump on to pump off, a 45 second shot with 15 seconds of preinfusion won't taste the same as a 45 second shot with 5 seconds of preinfusion time.

How you use time is more important than how you measure it (assuming you do so consistently.) I think someone recently stated that "weight is an input, time is an output". I agree -- I never cut shots based on time. The shot time will be a function of the dose, grind and target weight (brew ratio) that I select. I cut the shot based on the target weight. If the shot doesn't taste the way I want it to taste, I'll vary the grind, and/or sometimes the dose, until it does.

[If you're not familiar with the term "brew ratio", please ask about it. It's a key concept.]

Sometimes I take into account the color and viscosity of the flow at the point where the target weight is reached. The misleading term "blonding point" is often used in conjunction with this approach. For example, if I'm pulling a Normale (1:2 brew ratio), I want to see the color lighten and the flow get less viscous close to when the target weight is reached. If it's a dark, thick flow, the coffee will likely be under-extracted. If it's white and watery, the coffee may be over-extracted (hard to do with the light roasts I prefer.) But the right color and viscosity depends on the brew ratio. If I pull Ristretto (say, 1:1.5) I expect the flow to be darker and more viscous when the target weight is reached, and if I pull Lungo (say, 1:3) I expect the flow to be lighter and less viscous.

All that said, flow color and viscosity serve as clues to whether the extraction is right. Taste is the far better way to determine that.

So why do we measure time? I use it primarily to maintain consistency and as an indicator of a problem. If I pull a shot using my machine's stock preinfusion, which is about 4-5 seconds, and it takes 30 seconds to get to the target weight and flow color/consistency, then the next time I pull that coffee I want the weight, flow color/viscosity and taste to be the same within 28-32 seconds. If the target weight is reached more than a couple of seconds longer or shorter than it did when I dialed in the coffee, then I know something has changed, such as aging of the beans, wrong dose, accidental change in grind setting, a mistake in prep, etc.

I also use time to calibrate the preinfusion flow rate when I'm flow profiling. Typically, I set the preinfusion flow rate so that the basket fills and maximum pressure is reached in a certain amount of time -- usually 10-20 seconds. The optimum time (flow rate) depends on the coffee, roast level, how fine I've set the grind, the target brew ratio and the taste I'm looking for.
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