Still unable to make great espresso

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

#1: Post by ping279 »

I got my first machine about 7 years ago and have worked my way up from there. Currently I have a breville dual boiler and sette 270wi. I get freshly roasted beans from a local shop and their espresso in-store tastes pretty good. Over the years I have struggled to recreate that full, evenly balanced shot that many cafes are able to. Their espresso always has a distinct nutty and chocolatey flavor along with a somewhat indescribable flavor that I am completely missing at home. It's like my shots are missing a whole side of flavor that is present at coffee shops, sort of like comparing strawberry Perrier sparkling water to an actual strawberry. Sure the sparkling has a taste of strawberry but it's nothing like the real thing. When I go to a cafe it's like all of a sudden I'm tasting the full coffee bean.

When trying to diagnose my issues I feel that I confuse overly extracted bitter/bright flavors with under extracted acidic/sour/bright flavors. I have played with various grind settings and extraction times but have never been able to replicate what I taste at the shops. My usual settings are somewhere around the following : 7 sec pre-infusion, 19-20g dose in, 40g out, total extraction time (including pre-infusion) of 36-44 sec, brew temp 197F.

I have experimented with finer grinds that require 50 sec shot pulls but with no real improvement. I've also gone to the other end and tried out 25 sec extraction times. Both come out tasting different but equally as bad. I have also played around with temperature but with only minor improvements. I just haven't been able to find a sweet spot and feel like I am missing something. Another thing, not that it probably matters much, is that I normally don't drink the espresso straight. I prefer a 1 part espresso to 2 parts milk sort of drink. I do enjoy espresso by itself but to me there is something gained by the addition of a little milk. Because I drink this way most of the time, I'm able to mask my subpar shots and make drinkable lattes.

Any ideas on what could possibly be going on or what I'm missing? No matter what I do I seem to have too much brightness that overpowers the roasted flavors. Upping the temp and extraction seems to just make it taste burnt with only minor improvements regarding lemony notes. I have tried other companies and multiple beans, all with a similar result in regards to how different they taste at home compared with in their coffee shop. One more detail, for water I make rpalvis water at home so that should be one variable that can be eliminated as a problem.


#2: Post by cmin »

I may be in the minority but I even had a post about rpavlis water, imo was not a fan at all no offense to him (rip) or anyone else. I even did blinds with it and even regular spring water and no comparison even my girl and buddy noticed difference, made espresso, pour over/V60 etc taste blander and I kept getting some odd astringincies with it (multiple machines playing around). Plus for whatever reason it was noticeably worse on my BDB, not sure why. I get the no scale obsession but that's meaningless when the coffee taste somehow bland/worse/flat, even crema was thinner and body. Few others have said same on here.

I had a 270 for the heck of it years ago just to see the hype (well 4 as they kept dying or self destruction literally lol). Was never a fan of it, even side by side just a Vario the Vario was much better. Everything tasted mediocre on the 270 at best even on the Luca M58 and GS3 and old CC1 I keep around from like 11 years ago.

It's going to be hard to compare results at shop vs home with that setup (specifically the Sette). I have a BDB slayer'd which I also have other issues trying to sort currently (pretty sure needle valve failed and 0 parts anywhere). Shop will have their equipment dialed in perfectly right down to their water etc for their use. I don't know what their using but let's say an Malkhonig grinder or any high end commercial (Peak etc), nothing you can do, be like comparing a Camry (Sette) to Porsche GT3 (Peak). It's a small conical as well, if their using a large flat (which is a 90% chance) there'd a difference right there.

Since you've tried other beans from online, and varying dose and temps. It's either A) grinder, or B) Machine issue (maybe temps aren't accurate though that would be rare on the BDB). What's your pressure gauge read pulling a shot and doing backflush? Have you checked the boilers for leaks, it's common for the orings to fail and leak or just let steam out which can affect flow.

I'd say C) you may just not like espresso but obviously you do in shop. I would try different water recipe, even bottled spring. Eliminate that variable and go from there. If it's grinder, no other choice but to get a better grinder and see. I wasn't a fan of the Sette, honestly I feel my old Preciso back in the day was better.

Unless I missed it, what baskets are you using, stock, HQ, vst etc?

Have you tried dialing in tighter? With pre-infusion your amount out and timing is on the faster side for me. I'm always over 40 seconds for 18-20g dose and say 30-40g out depending if using pre-infusion and not profiling. Almost anything in that 35 sec range for example doing same taste off for me, that's multiple machines and going back 10+ years. I've always pulled on longer side and a bit tighter. I have a medium blend right now at 201, 19g, 35g out, no pre-infusion (just ramped) and about 45 seconds. Under 40 seconds for it not a fan and get off putting brightness.

Do you have a vid of your prep or pull? If you can do so, at least a shot pull. For all we know you may be getting channeling or other issues you may not realize. People have posted vids they thought were perfect, but extraction was obviously channeling, gushing, naked spots, uneven wobby steam.

ping279 (original poster)

#3: Post by ping279 (original poster) »

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the in depth reply. I haven't always used rpalvis water but didn't necessarily notice a huge change in flavor when I made the switch to it. I also wasn't looking for it and it may have actually affected the flavor and it's just that it was a slow transition and I couldn't tell. Either way, I could pick up a gallon of spring water and see if that makes a difference.

As for the sette, it was the seemingly best option within the price range at the time but who knows if it is actually feeding into my issues. Hard to say. I haven't really had any problems with it.

For baskets, I'm using the stock BDB double. Grinding finer is something I've definitely tried, many times I'll actually get to the point of choking the machine. I'm normally around the 43 sec mark which includes the 7sec pre infusion. This morning for example, I think it was around 45 sec, 7 sec pre infusion, at maybe 198F, 20g in, 40 out. I shoot to keep the pressure as close to 9 as I can while pulling and backflush normally reads just over 9. I'll take a video of my prep and extraction tomorrow. I can experiment with going a little tighter and longer as well, that could help. I just was always worried that my palate is confusing the flavors and I'm actually tasting an over extracted shot rather than the bright notes of an under extracted one.

ping279 (original poster)

#4: Post by ping279 (original poster) »

Here is a video of my process. This is I think the tightest I could grind without choking the machine. This shot actually did turn out a little better but I think the beans may be going bad at this point. We had gone out of town for 1 1/2 weeks recently which makes the beans a little old now. Even though this particular shot may have been a little better, it's still far from cafe espresso.

To dose 20g I will grind 10 at a time, settling the grounds in between and after. The video only shows the first 10g being ground but I included the settling/distribution that I do once all 20 are in the basket. I do have a distribution tool made from paper clips and an old wine cork but I've found that even when I use it, there is little to no difference.


#5: Post by BFE_Duke »

I wouldn't worry too much about your coffee getting old. I've gotten sweet espresso from old stale supermarket beans. If your shot tastes sour AND bitter, then that is because it is both under- and overextracted. Because water is preferring certain micro channels in your puck and going around others, so the channels get blasted and the dense parts get trickles. The solution, of course, is to stop dialing in and improve your puck prep first. Don't extract more or extract less, but extract more evenly.

Try the "Jumping Jack" method of distribution and tamping: tap the portafilter down vertically (like at the 0:06 second mark in your video) and tamp with the other hand at the same time. Only light finger pressure is needed on the tamping hand. After 5-7 taps, the puck should be rock solid, almost like concrete. It should create a lot more resistance so dial your grind back a little bit or it'll choke your machine.

This method works like a vibratory compaction construction tool, hence the "Jumping Jack" name. Let me know if it works!


#6: Post by Quirquincho »

Can you tell us a bit more about the coffee you are using, like the roast level? How did you settle on the parameters you are using (dose, yield, time, temp)?


#7: Post by Rango2800 »

At first glance, I think there are a couple of possible issues here. First, your grind is too fine- the flow and time (and look) suggests you're pretty close to choking the machine. Second, and related to this is dose- with a fine grind you'll get a lot of packing under pressure which serves only to add to choking risk and/or channeling. I would try a 15-16g dose with the same grind first, and if that's no better, step a little coarser. This isn't a water problem.

Just my $0.02, but I appreciate how frustrating it is when things just don't seem to 'work'


#8: Post by hifier »

I think your extraction is likely very uneven. Would be easier to tell with a bottomless PF. I agree with the post suggesting a smaller dose. You could try 15g for a medium roast and as low as 13g for a light roast. Puck preparation is also important. I have a sette and I get better results by grinding to the bin and then dosing into the PF manually. Aim for the same yield. If a light roast, 197f is probably not hot enough.


#9: Post by cmin »

Don't use paper clips, so there's one variable to eliminate, that will cause issues as too thick. I made a wdt tool years and years ago that's I don't remember size, think five .3 or .4 accupunture needles which ironically everyone post about now lol. And most high-end tools are like that, buddy has londinium tool which is no different (just cost a hell of a lot more ha).

On the vid, get a bottomless PF as trying to diagnose extraction issues is almost pointless with a spouted PF. I would dial back on that grind for now, and see what happens (going 50 seconds is too long at that ratio, I only hit 50-60 if profiling in slayer mode). Can also try smaller dose, leave grind setting as is and see what happens. Than try dialing bit tighter and see etc. Example, didn't profile in slayer mode right now as my needle valve is wonky, but 19g and pulled 30g out, 43 seconds just ramped no pre-infusion, 201 degrees. You don't have to hit s 1:2 ratio, I pretty much never pull that all these years, I always pull a bit tighter.

I'm still thinking it's grinder regardless. You like the coffee from various shops using same beans you bought, the BDB is not the issue, just can't compare a small conical grinder like Sette which after having myself is a mehhhh grinder vs a commercial flat or conical, just night and day difference there. Be like taking a pro driver and sticking in a Camry after a GT3, doesn't matter what you do, still a Camry. It has to be grinder/prep related.

But get a bottomless and comeback. Don't go as low as 15g and under like others said, that's not possible in the stock double basket, or my HQ 14 or 21 or vst. That would be hard tamping and leave way too much headspace which will cause further issues. I have a light nat Ethiopian right now also dosed at 21g.


#10: Post by hifier »

Your grinder is fine. Is it as good as a commercial flat burr? No. But it is possible to brew great espresso with it.

I admit that I don't have experience with baskets that large, however I am extremely skeptical that you will be able to get a proper extraction at 1:2 and below. You are almost definitely under extracting. You would need an incredible grinder and ability to pressure profile. In my experience it is best to realize the limitations of your equipment and try to get a full, even extraction with the equipment you have. You can get great results, just don't expect to be able to follow the same recipes as your favorite cafe with 20-30k worth of kit. Reduce the dose.... Or sure drop another 1-2k on a grinder.