How to Pull the Perfect Shot of Espresso
Finally, an all-in-one guide to help you master that elusive perfect espresso shot at home. We lay it out in this easy, six-minute step-by-step walkthrough with tips, tricks, and even our signature espresso recipe. What's the difference between dose and yield? What size dose should you be using based on your basket? Grab a pen and notebook, and stop head-scratching whenever your espresso turns out differently. You'll thank us later.
An espresso recipe consists of dose, yield, and time. Using a scale and measuring these elements in a recipe will help you replicate a great shot and quickly troubleshoot when issues arise.
Our dose is how much ground coffee we are putting into our basket. Choose your dose based on the basket in your portafilter. Use a dose between 7-10g of ground coffee for single baskets, 16-18g for double baskets, and 20-22g for triple baskets. Always grind into a clean and dry basket.
To ensure your dose is accurate, tare the scale with the portafilter on top, grind it into the basket, and then place the portafilter back on the scale.
Once your dose is set, you’ll choose your yield— this is going to be the total weight, in grams, of your shot of espresso. We always recommend weighing coffee in grams, not measuring by volume. The volume of a shot changes based on the coffee used and when it is roasted. Fresh coffee will have lots of crema and weigh less than a shot using older beans.
You’ll often see dose and yield written as a ratio - this formula measures ground coffee input to liquid espresso output. Ratios for espresso typically range from 1:1 to 1:3, with a general rule of using smaller ratios for darker roasts and larger ratios for lighter roasts. Clive’s signature recipe is 1:1.5. The brew ratio we’ll follow today is 20g of ground coffee to 30g of liquid espresso.
Time ties everything together - the total number of seconds a shot takes. Aim for your shot to pull between 25 and 30 seconds. To make this happen, look to your grinder. We’ll manipulate the grind size to change how long water flows through the coffee bed. Think of coarse coffee like stones and fine coffee like sand. The water will make its way through the rocks much more quicker. Changing your grind will allow you to fine-tune the time of your shot. You’ll most likely need to change your grind daily too. As coffee ages, your shots will pull faster, encouraging you to grind finer.
Distribution and Tamping
To pull an even shot, you need a level coffee bed. Once you grind your dose into your portafilter, gently tap the sides of the portafilter a few times to distribute the coffee until it appears flat. Keep this to a minimum, as you don’t want to cause a crack in the coffee bed. Once it looks level, it’s time to tamp.
Hold your tamper between your index finger and thumb, almost like grabbing a doorknob. Stand perpendicular to the portafilter and place your tamper into the basket. Your arm should be at about a 90-degree angle. Lightly lean into the tamp, applying slow and gentle pressure. The amount of pressure is less critical than repeatability and consistency.
Pulling a Shot
We can pull a shot now that our coffee bed is leveled and tamped. No matter which machine you use, ensure it is warmed up and ready to go. Flush some water through the group head to guarantee it is hot and clean. Insert your portafilter into the group and tighten it into place until it feels snug and tight, but don’t overtighten. Place Your scale and cup on the drip tray, then start your shot and timer. Once you reach your yield, stop the shot and note the time. Remember, we need our 1:1.5 ratio to pull in 30 seconds.
You must coarsen your grind if your shot takes well over 30 seconds. You must adjust your grind finer if your shot time is under 25 seconds.
Try tasting every shot you pull - even the ones that aren’t perfect. You might discover another recipe that’s more pleasant for you. That’s the beauty of espresso at home. You’re the barista and the consumer.
Not so bad, right? Perfecting the art of espresso at home takes time, patience, and lots of practice. If you don’t get it right the first time - no harm done; just keep trying.
Check out Intro to Espresso, available through Coffee School, for a deeper dive into espresso theory and training.