The Perfect Espresso Recipe
Welcome — so you're here to discover the perfect espresso recipe, aren't you? Not saying that we tricked you or anything but this isn't exactly an a+b=c type of equation. There isn't a one-size-fits-all, magic secret recipe, or guide to a perfect espresso (actually, there is a guide that you should check out prior to reading this) but, there is a recipe for the best espresso that you've ever had and we're here to show you how to do it.
Understanding an espresso recipe
First, if you haven’t already, check out our blog, Your Guide to Perfect Home Espresso, as this covers the fundamentals and basics of pulling shots and creating a recipe. This is level two stuff and we have to assume you have a basic understanding of the key components of a recipe: dose, yield, and time. Of course, Clive’s signature recipe is a 1:1.5 ratio — 20 grams of coffee in, 30 grams out to be pulled between 25 and 30 seconds. Some of you may have followed this recipe, done everything right, and ended up with the worst shot you ever had. Why is that? And where do you go from there? Changing elements to your recipe can help you achieve the perfect extraction for your coffee and palate.
Before we begin, we want to make sure you have a good understanding of how coffee brewing works and why coffee tastes the way it does. When you introduce water to coffee, extraction begins. Extraction is a technical term for how much of the coffee’s flavor ends up in the cup. Without it, you’d just have water. Water is used as the solvent to break apart the chemicals in a coffee bean, dissolving them into the water, giving you a flavorful beverage — coffee! The goal with brewing is to extract specific flavors out of the coffee, like fats, acids, and sugars, making coffee delicious. If you let a coffee brew too long or not enough, if you grind too coarse or too fine, you can fall short of a great extraction or over-extract and be left with a bitter espresso. You’ll use your brew ratio along with time to determine the perfect extraction.
To learn more about extraction, check out our blog on how it works.
Your brew ratio is the first part of an espresso recipe. This is the dose (the amount of coffee, in grams, you put into your espresso machine) to the yield (the total amount of liquid espresso in grams that you pull). In future videos/blogs, we’ll explain how you can change your dose to alter extraction, but for now, we will hold the dose constant and choose it based on the basket size you’re using, as instructed in our espresso guide. Choosing your brew ratio sets the strength of your espresso. Typically, a brew ratio for espresso falls between 1:1 and 1:3. We recommend choosing a yield based on the type of drink you’re making, how much coffee flavor you want to taste, and what type of coffee you’re using.
Use larger ratios like 1:1-1:1.5 if you like your espresso to taste strong, creamy, and full-bodied, if you’re making large milk-based drinks and want the coffee flavor to cut through, or if you’re using medium to dark roast coffee.
Use smaller ratios like a 1:2-1:3 if you prefer your espresso slightly more mellow, if you’re drinking straight shots, or using lighter roasted coffees.
There is no wrong yield. Choose your coffee’s strength based on mouthfeel, preference, and how it tastes in the type of drink you’re making. These are good starting points, but it’s okay to drink a straight shot of espresso using a light roast coffee pulled as a 1:1, for example.
Time is the last piece to an espresso recipe that ties everything together — it’s the number of seconds from the moment you engage your pump until you reach your final yield it's the most important and least important part... more on that in a moment.
If you've spent any time reading our blogs or watching our videos, you'll see over and over again how we recommend aiming for a total shot time of about 30 seconds. But, we'll tell you a secret — the time that it takes for your shot to pull doesn’t really matter (mic drop). The perfect amount of time is however long it takes to extract all the great flavors in coffee without overdoing it. We’ve recommended that new baristas aim between 25 and 30-ish seconds because that usually won’t be bad, but the truth is, it might not be great. As we’ve learned, the longer a shot runs, the more flavors we extract. It will take a minimum amount of contact time to extract the right amount of flavor and bring out the natural tasting notes, more on that in a bit. The time that it takes for your shot to pull depends on how much coffee you use for your dose, what your brew ratio is, how fine or coarse your grind is, if it's a Tuesday (kidding, but also not really), but most importantly, what tastes good to you. Our team at Clive, collectively, has worked in over 100 cafes. We are a team of baristas that have probably made your favorite and worst espresso ever. We’ve seen recipes fall anywhere between 20 and 45 seconds, but if you pull a shot that takes 50 seconds and tell us it’s good, we’ll be excited for you. Play around with your grind size, making it finer to slow down your shot and extract more, or coarser to speed up your shot and extract less. Find what works for you. So how do you know when it’s been long enough or when you’ve gone too long? Well first, you gotta drink that espresso straight... and it takes a little while to like it.
Tasting for that perfect extraction
To differentiate between over extracted and under extracted coffee, pay attention to your initial response to the taste of the shot. Under-extracted shots are sour, aggressive, and will hit you quickly. You may pucker your lips, but then it disappears — with no excessive lingering. Espresso is acidic, which is great for unlocking juicy flavor and natural tartness, but shouldn’t be sour. Pay attention to the upfront “zing” and quick finish. That’ll be your cue that it’s under-extracted.
Over-extraction happens when you take too much of the soluble flavors out of the coffee, leaving you with an awfully bitter, drying, and astringent cup. Coffee is bitter by nature but an over-extracted coffee will be hollow and empty, it will linger for too long — not in a good way. The key to knowing if it’s over-extracted will be in the finish. Pay attention to the lingering and drying sensation.
The ideal extraction
A well-extracted coffee takes hard work. Coffee has natural bitterness and tartness but if it’s properly extracted, it should be transparent, complex, and you should be able to pinpoint a specific fruit or flavor. Hopefully, you experience an element of sweetness. You can tell a proper extraction in its balance and its finish. It should linger pleasantly, as if coating your tongue with chocolate or caramel.
Keep in mind, getting to a point where you can pull specific flavor notes from a coffee takes practice. It takes time to develop your palate to the point where you can taste through the intensity of espresso and actually recognize flavors. For now, keep your dose constant, choose your yield based on your preference of strength, and play around with your grind size and how long you let your shot pull until the the extraction is balanced and to your liking. You’ll get there over time, which as you now know — is important and also, not important. Leave questions or comments below and we'd be happy to help.