What is a Double Shot?
Why is it that you get something different when you order a shot of espresso from one coffee shop to the next? Why isn’t this regulated? At one point, we attempted to lay things out clearly and settle the confusion over what classifies as a shot of espresso but with that… more confusion. What’s a double shot? How do recipes change for single shots or different drink types? What is expresso? ;) We are here to settle the matter once and for all.
What is espresso?
First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about espresso. Espresso is a method for brewing coffee — it is not a type of coffee bean. Just like we refer to other coffees as drip coffee, pour-over, cold brew, etc, espresso uses the same coffee beans as other methods do, but espresso is made on an espresso machine. By definition, it’s a 1.5-2oz coffee concentrate produced by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely-ground coffee beans.
As the coffee industry has evolved and as we’ve learned about how coffee extraction works, we have changed how we grow, roast, brew, and drink coffee. Along with it, the concept and definition of espresso has changed entirely. With more experimentation and seeking the best-tasting coffee possible, a shot of espresso has begun to look a lot of different ways. As we talk through how to pull espresso, it’s important to know how changing your recipe affects the strength, flavor, and coffee extraction.
What is extraction?
When you introduce water to coffee, extraction occurs. Extraction is the technical term for how much of the coffee’s flavor ends up in the cup. Water breaks apart the chemicals in a coffee bean and dissolves them into the water, resulting in a flavorful, drinkable beverage. This goes for all coffee brewing methods. To encourage a proper extraction, our solvent, water, needs a little help. If we were to put a whole coffee bean into some hot water, we wouldn’t extract more than the outside layer. Coffee beans are dense and complex. To extract all that coffee has to offer, there needs to be a larger surface area so that the water can access these flavors and pull them from the coffee. The finer you grind coffee, the easier it is to extract or the more you can extract.
Espresso was created in the 1800s as a way to quickly produce a cup of coffee that would normally take several minutes to brew. To be able to do this, coffee used for espresso has to be ground very fine to extract everything in such a short amount of time. Depending on grind size, how much coffee you use, what you pull, and how long you let it brew — or what's known as an espresso recipe, extraction will change. There isn’t one recipe that guarantees a perfect extraction, but with the right combination of these things, it’s possible to find balance and enjoy the flavors in coffee.
Espresso recipes and brew ratios
Espresso recipes have changed and been developed to produce the most flavorful coffee possible. It consists of three things:
- Dose: how much ground coffee you put into your portafilter
- Yield: how much espresso you pull
- Time: the total seconds it takes for your shot to pull from the moment you engage your pump until you reach your yield.
You’ll often see an espresso recipe written as a ratio (dose to yield), usually ranging from 1:1 to 1:3 pulled around 30 seconds. Your brew ratio sets the strength of your coffee. Earlier we mentioned that a shot of espresso by definition is one and a half to two ounces however, the goal isn’t to reach a specific volume as much as it is to set the desired strength and find the ideal extraction time for that particular coffee. To keep things as precise as possible, it’s best to practice pulling shots and brewing all types of coffee for that matter, by using a scale and measuring in grams, which is the industry standard. Regardless of your portafilter, basket size, or how much coffee you’re using, a 1:1 will be the strongest shot and 1:3 will be the weakest. Choosing which to pull should be based on your preferred strength. A 1:2 is the most common brew ratio, this is referred to as a normale.
Ristretto, Normale, Lungo
Each brew ratio has a name falls under a category of normale, ristretto or lungo.
- Ristretto in Italian means restricted. These shots are stopped earlier than standard shots to give you less output. Ristretto shots usually fall between a 1:1-1:1.5 ratio and will give you a stronger, richer, brighter, and juicer shot of espresso.
- A Normale is the standard or normal way a shot of espresso is pulled. The output will be between 1:1.5 and 1:2.5 and typically, these shots will have the most balance.
- Lungo is Italian for long. These shots use more water and time to brew. You'll typically see these between a 1:2.5-1:3 and they’ll be more clear, palatable, and less intense.
With the way coffee extraction works, if you keep your grind size the same for all these types of shots, you’ll have varying brew times and a big difference in extraction. If you get your coffee dialed in for a normale and then stop it short for a ristretto, your shot could be under-extracted and strong. If you let it brew as a lungo, it could be over-extracted and weak. The amount of time needed for each shot type depends on how it tastes and what you prefer—typically ranging anywhere between 20 and 45 seconds. Time shouldn’t be determined by a number but by flavor. We note down the time it takes for a shot to pull so it can be replicated. Don’t judge an espresso on brew time. Brew time can include pre-infusion, drop time, or not. Just make sure to do the same thing every time. It’s there to help you not restrict you.
Single, double, and triple Shots
Now, to make everything THAT much more confusing — you can pull a normale, lungo, or ristretto as a single, double, or triple.
It’s easiest to think of it this way: normale, lungo, and ristretto shots are brew ratios and single, double, triple shots are determined by the amount of coffee you use. This means you could end up with the same volume of espresso if you were to pull a single shot as a lungo and a triple as a ristretto, for example. The extraction and strength would be entirely different even though they are the same in volume.
We’ll start with the double. This is the industry standard. If you go into a specialty coffee shop and order an espresso, likely, you’ll be given a double espresso or doppio. These are usually pulled using 16-18g of coffee, usually in a double basket with a double spouted portafilter.
Single shots use a single basket, usually in a single spouted portafilter, and your dose would be between 7 and 10g of coffee. Triple shots are made using 20-22g of coffee in a triple basket, usually, these come in a bottomless portafilter. But if a double shot uses 18g how in the heck is a triple shot made using 20g... It’s best not to get hung up on the terms — they really don’t mean anything and they aren’t regulated, or consistent. If you order an espresso at a café, you could be given a double shot or half that amount. There isn’t really a standard and every café has the freedom to choose what their standard shot of espresso is. So if you order a triple shot you could be getting a shot and a half or three double espressos — though, let’s hope not. The main takeaway is if you want more coffee out, use more coffee in. The type of shot you pull is determined by your basket size and dose. When making coffee at home, you can do it however you want.
Here’s how you should think about shots of espresso:
1. Decide how much coffee or caffeine you want. If you make pour overs for one to two cups of coffee, you usually use about 20g of coffee.
2. Decide how strong you want your espresso to be by setting a brew ratio between 1:1-1:3
3. Work on your brew time and determine that based on taste and how the coffee is extracted.
For help dialing in your coffee, finding the perfect recipe, and tasting for extraction, leave your questions below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.