Tips you wish someone had told you... (getting my new setup next week!)

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

#1: Post by dsc106 »

Thanks to all the articles and posts here, my ECM Synchronika will arrive next week! Full setup is: Ecm Synch w/Bottomless portafilter, Clive water filtration system for direct plumb, Niche Zero, Acaia Lunar, DE v3 tamper, Ona OCD v3, DE baskets, DE pitchers & thermo. The DE puck rake will be here when its available to ship in October (eta). I'm on a bi-weekly coffee subscription from Coava Coffee for fresh beans.

I've read many articles, watched many videos (Clive, Hoffman, Decent), mostly finished reading Scott Rao's books, read up around here. I've been brewing pour over at home for years, and have a palate for good espresso from hundreds of drinks at Portland's best cafes, but never pulled a shot of espresso at home.

What beginner wisdom do you have for me as I step into everything? A common theme I think is "keep it simple" - I plan to start with Clives recipe of 18g in the DE 18g basket, 1:1.5 brew ratio for 25-30 seconds. I plan to start with a bag of decaf so I don't buzz myself to death trying to figure the process out as I dial in. Also plan to set aside a few hours early on to just practice milk steaming and latte art a few dozen times.

My thinking to keep things consistent as a beginner is to first use WDT in the portafilter, then level with the OCD, then get a consistent, level tamp with the DE tamper. Am I overconfident to think this process will largely remove those variables early on? I'll preinfuse for a few seconds with the direct plumbed E61 to make the shot a bit more forgiving, and use the bottomless to diagnose.

Am I in for disappointment if I'm thinking that I'll be pulling killer shots by the end of my first 300g bag of decaf?

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#2: Post by Peppersass »

The beans are the most important factor for producing superior shots. Although it might be a good idea to use less expensive beans to get familiar with the equipment and how do dial in a given brew ratio and flow rate, don't expect to get a great cup from them -- especially decaf beans. I would get some decaf beans to learn the basics of dialing in, then go with really good beans for taste. I'd stick with medium roasts for now. Light and dark roasts require somewhat more advanced technique and adjustments.

The main thing to work on is adjusting the grind to get to your target brew ratio within your target time range, just as the flow is starting to lighten (blonding.) The shots should taste balanced -- neither too sour or too bitter. But don't expect them to be fabulous or even something you'd want to drink. It's important to work on your prep during this process in order to avoid gushing, channeling, etc. Ideally, the first drops should emerge evenly across the bottom of the basket and consolidate into a single stream with no channeling or spritzing.

Consistency is the holy grail of espresso. You must be able to dial in a shot and then repeat it consistently. This requires your grinder, technique and machine to consistently produce the same results. If you feel that you're doing everything right technique-wise, and the shots aren't running consistently (e.g., same dose and grind reaching the target brew ratio within a second or two from shot to shot), then there may be issues with your equipment.

With medium roast beans I would shoot for a 1:2 ratio initially. Pulling a Ristretto can be tricky, especially with a light roast. Probably best to work on that with dark roasted beans before trying with medium or light roasts.

I wouldn't fool around with long preinfusion unless you think your machine isn't ramping pressure gently enough. Long preinfusion will require grinding finer, and that's going to change the taste a lot. It's mainly used to deal with light roasts, which are harder to extract.

Once you get the technique down, you can move on to really good beans. They should be fresh, ideally 3-7 days past roast. Dark roasts don't need as much rest, light roasts need more rest. Some light roasts may not reach peak until 10-14 days past roast. Get the beans from one of the top-tier specialty roasters recommended here on HB. Or, if you really like the shots from a local cafe, see if you can buy beans from them (be careful if they're in bags on the shelf -- check the roast date.) Make sure you know the shot parameters they're using. At any rate, don't cheap out on the beans. You'll be disappointed if you do.

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#3: Post by Jeff »

dsc106 wrote:A common theme I think is "keep it simple"
I think that's great advice, whether new to espresso or a seasoned professional. Every step you add has the chance to increase variability.

For decades, people have been pulling perfectly good shots with little more than a grinder and a manual tamper that was somewhere around its specified size. They certainly weren't arguing about differences of 25 microns in gap!

At least in my opinion, unless you've found a problem with your prep and can tell if what you're adding improves it, does nothing, or makes it worse, leave the extra stuff out.

In particular, I'd suggest leveling your grinds with a homemade puck rake, or even carefully with the tines of a fork (and skipping the OCD). Not compressing the grinds as you do is important for consistency. The OCD or any of the "self-leveling" tampers don't work magic, you need to start with a basically level bed.


#4: Post by GreavesManchu »

"...Am I in for disappointment if I'm thinking that I'll be pulling killer shots by the end of my first 300g bag of decaf?...

YES. If you've never pulled a shot, I would recommend you start with the expectation of learning about your system and developing a work flow. Enjoy the ritual and rejoice in the occasional victor. I used a Silvia/Rocky for 19 years and stilled struggled for about 3 weeks after I upgraded to a Profitec Pro 600 /Ceado E37S.

My best advice after my upgrade: Change only One thing at a time. Take your time and enjoy your new hobby. Oh, and keep a log.


#5: Post by cafe102 »

Get yourself a 5 pound bag of quality fresh beans and keep pulling shots until you're out of beans. Cheap, bulk, stale beans are not your friend. Think of it as an investment in your espresso education. If you plan on doing milk based drinks, get a couple of gallons of milk and froth away. Get the basic techniques down first; then explore different types of coffee, pre infusion, grooming...

dsc106 (original poster)

#6: Post by dsc106 (original poster) »

Thanks for all the input so far! I am soaking this in and look forward to more advice.

In the meantime, just wanted to bring some clarity re: beans - my biweekly subscription, as far as I know, Coava produces some of the best micro roasted coffee in the country and it is delivered to me fresh 2 days after roasting. The decaf I was suggesting is also from them, and decaffeinated via Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company. So yes, I will be using excellent beans for everything! (unless you're telling me I'm missing something here). Their roasts, FWIW, are considered by them "medium-light".

Is there any reason their decaf roast won't work well for me? This would be my dial in batch to keep trying shots: ... figueroa-1. I will also have regular caffeinated beans on hand of course, likely their Ethiopia!

dsc106 (original poster)

#7: Post by dsc106 (original poster) »

GreavesManchu wrote:I used a Silvia/Rocky for 19 years and stilled struggled for about 3 weeks after I upgraded to a Profitec Pro 600 /Ceado E37S.
Wow! What did you struggle with? The process seems so straight forward from my hands off reading/watching time.


#8: Post by cafe102 »

Great to hear you're not adverse to investing in quality beans. It is surprising how much money is invested in the gear, but the coffee is considered an after thought in the process or the area to save money. When I started out; I ordered coffee from different roasters, different varietals, excited to try everything I've been reading about...dreaming at night about the pretty shots I'll be pulling. Ended up super frustrated: ugly shots, some fast, some choking the machine. I wish I was told: Get a big bag of espresso bend from Nossa or Compass and work on your technique. Learn how to pull consistent shots with one type of bean and then start the process of exploring other coffee.

dsc106 (original poster)

#9: Post by dsc106 (original poster) »

Peppersass wrote:It's important to work on your prep during this process in order to avoid gushing, channeling, etc.
I'm curious, with the WDT puck rake from decent (and/or the OCD - maybe I'll add that into process later) and the auto-leveling, pressure calibrated tamper from Decent (as well as their metal leveling dock to), how much room is there for things to really go wrong? After watching videos, with these tools, it seems hard to actually do something wrong as it seemingly removes the tamping and leveling inconsistencies? I mean, I won't even be able to adjust my pressure or leveling - it should be near perfect almost by default?


#10: Post by GreavesManchu »

dsc106 wrote:Wow! What did you struggle with? The process seems so straight forward from my hands off reading/watching time.
Honestly, I think the big problem was getting the burrs broke in. After about 4 lbs. of coffee ground, my shots very suddenly got much more consistent, and much better tasting.