I used to eyeball things when it came to dosing my coffee. Grind enough to fill the portafilter, and scrape off any remaining coffee much like measuring a cup of flour. And while there is a time-tested technique of grinding a mound of coffee, leveling and tamping, introducing a scale into this process can change everything.
A few reasons why scales are important
- Accuracy (precision). When it comes to perfecting good coffee, finding the right ratio of ground coffee to water is essential. While guessing can sometimes result in a good cup of coffee, this will not always be the case.
- Consistency (repeatability). Once coffee and water are measured, a scale enables you to repeat this with the SAME result every time!
- Eliminates waste. When using a grind time function on your grinder, it is often easy to grind too much coffee then you will use, causing wasted coffee.
- Experimentation. Using a scale allows you to play around with different espresso brew ratios, so you can find that perfect shot. Some coffees will taste better with a 1:2 ratio (for example, 20 grams of ground coffee to 40 grams of liquid espresso) which can mellow the body and highlight subtle notes, while other coffees may have a more satisfying body at a 1:1 ratio. If you want more control over the flavor of your coffee, or you simply like to geek out and find different flavors in each roast, a scale is necessary to accomplish this and will allow you to go above and beyond.
Scales for different methods of making coffee
A scale can be useful for all different methods of coffee. For automatic drip coffee makers, french press/immersion, pour overs, iced coffee, AeroPress, etc, a scale will be more accurate than using a tablespoon to measure and can greatly increase the flavor of your preferred method. Once again, it is all about finding the right ratio between coffee/water and being able to repeat that result every time. For espresso, it will allow you to take things to the next level and will eliminate a lot of frustration and wasted shots.
How to use a scale when making espresso
Step 1: Place your empty (and dry) portafilter on the scale and tare it.
Step 2a: For single dosing, weigh approximately 18 grams for a double shot basket, or 20 grams for a triple shot basket. Pour the whole beans into the empty hopper and grind. If this sounds like too much work, you might want to try setting your grind timer to dispense a consistent quantity of grounds.
Step 2b: For grind time dosing, tare your portafilter and grind until you have a mound of coffee that comes just above the lip of the basket. With a consistent amount of beans in the hopper, this output should stay consistent. Keep track of the weight of coffee in your portafilter, then tare the cup you’re going to pull your shot into and place the cup and scale on the drip tray. The brew time and the brew ratio can both have a big impact on the flavor. We recommend trying a 1:2 brew ratio (18 grams of ground coffee to 36 grams of liquid espresso) and then adjusting the grind finer so you can compare it with a 1:1.5 and 1:1 brew ratio. The shot time should take 25-30 seconds.
Our favorite scales:
Acaia Lunar $220
Pros: At about 4 inches square, this little espresso scale fits perfectly only any drip tray. It weighs to the tenth of a gram, is rechargeable, has a built in timer, and offers multiple auto-tare and auto-start modes that make it easy to weigh and time your shots. Acaia also offers an app that pairs with the scale to offer data collection and recipe saving functionality. It's also water resistant and has an all-aluminum casing making it the most durable option on the market. This is our favorite espresso scale here at Clive.
Cons: At $220 its substantially more expensive than other coffee scales.
Pros: This scale can weigh to the tenth of a gram and has a built-in timer, making it great for espresso or pour over. The Bonavita BV2100 is also rechargeable and water resistant and incorporates various auto-tare modes. All in all, this is generally the best bang for your buck.
Cons: It's plastic construction mean it isn't the most durable option.
Acaia Pearl $140
Pros: Like it's little brother, the Pearl is rechargeable, weighs down to the tenth of a gram, and has a built-in timer and automatic functionality alongside Acaia's handy app. The Pearl is designed with pour over in mind with its large surface and heat pad, but it works wonderfully for weighing the dose in bottomless or spouted portafilters.
Cons: At $140 the Pearl is still relatively expensive, and it's a bit too large to fit under many group heads.
Jennings CJ-4000 $29
Pros: The CJ4000 is our budget pick. These things are durable and built to last, and Jennings backs that up with a 20-year warranty just in case you questioned their resolve.
Cons: This scale only weighs down to the gram and does not have a built-in timer, making it less than ideal for coffee. It's also quite bulky, which means it certainly won't fit under your group head.
Want our go-to espresso recipe that we use here at Clive? Check out our blog post: Replicating Cafe Recipes at Home.