How Do I Make Great Espresso?

We’re glad you asked. You can improve the quality of your espresso by practicing your technique with the following guidelines in mind. The most important elements in espresso preparation are the grind, dose, leveling, distribution and tamping. Perfecting how you do these will allow you to make great coffee every time.

Starting Points

Note: Espresso standards are fairly undefined. A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of variations. Below is Clive’s recommendation to ensure that you are as successful as possible, as quickly as possible. We find it is best to follow these instructions first before experimenting.

  • Clive recommends a 1:1.5 brew ratio for espresso. That means for 20 grams of ground beans in, you will get 30 grams of coffee out. If you do not have a scale to weigh your input and output, it translates into 1-1.5 oz of liquid including the crema depending on your dose.
  • The best shots of espresso are pulled in a range within 25-30 seconds from when then pump starts, with espresso dropping from the portafilter after 5-7 seconds.
  • Grind your coffee fresh and be as efficient as possible. Don’t let ground coffee sit in the portafilter, and don’t let the portafilter sit in the group head loaded with espresso grounds before brewing. Coffee stales very quickly once it’s ground.
  • Pre-heat your shot glasses, demitasse or mug with hot water before you begin grinding the coffee and preparing the shot.

The grind

The basic premise of dialing in your grinder is to ensure that your 1:1.5 brew ratio occurs within 25-30 seconds after your pump starts.  Start with a fine grind – coarser than flour, finer than table salt. Follow the instructions below and we will circle back to dialing in your grinder.


Clive recommends a dose of 16-18 grams of coffee when using a double basket (These baskets are the ones found typically in double spouted portafilters – although the word double refers to the amount of coffee being a “double shot” of espresso). Dose 20 grams of coffee if using a bottomless portafilter and triple basket.  A mound of ground coffee in the center that sticks up above the rim about a half-inch with the base of the mound about will be roughly 18-20 grams, a good starting point.

Level And Distribute

The reason we level the coffee bed is to ensure that the water does not flow out faster in any area. This is called channeling and can lead to an underextracted shot of espresso. We recommend gently tapping the side of the portafilter with your hand to more evenly distribute the grounds. You can also settle the grounds by tapping the portafilter on a tamping mat. Having a grippy surface is also helpful for stable tamping.

Level with a tap


Grip the tamper handle as though you were grasping a doorknob. Keep the tamp surface in line with your wrist and elbow and tamp straight down using your forearm as a piston to apply roughly 20-30lbs of pressure. The amount of force is not nearly as important as a consistent amount of pressure, evenly applied. Again, we are trying to make the bed as even as possible so water doesn’t find weak spots.

Even tamp


Clear any ground coffee from the rim of the portafilter. If your machine doesn’t have an integrated shot timer, now is the time to set your phone to timer function. Flush water through the group head for 2-3 seconds prior to inserting the portafilter. Engage the portafilter in the group head and immediately start brewing. Once you hear the pump, start the timer. Stop your shot when you have extracted 1.5 oz of liquid (including the crema).

Dialing in your shots and grinder

Don’t panic. There is a 0% chance this is perfect the first time.

Problem Remedy
1.5 oz of liquid came out before 25 seconds (Too fast) Make the grind finer
1.5 oz took more than 30 seconds (Too slow) Make the grind coarser
Espresso pulls in target times but tastes harsh Make the grind coarser and increase the dose
Puck of coffee in portafilter is wet and soupy. Increase your tamp pressure and make the grind finer

Dialing in gets substantially easier with a scale. Weighing the input and the output will get you to a great shot way faster than judging liquid volume, because the crema will change with different roast types and depending on the freshness of your beans. If you don’t have one, there are terrific inexpensive options. Anything is better than nothing.

Steaming Milk

  • Add cold milk into your pitcher. For best results, keep milk level below the base of the pour spout groove. You can see this from the inside of the pitcher.
  • Aim the steam wand over the drip tray and release the condensation sitting in the steam wand by turning it on and letting it run for a few seconds until just steam, and no water is coming out. Turn steam off.
  • Return steam wand to normal position, facing pour and place the steam wand tip into the milk so that only half of the steam tip is visible. Be careful to not have it too far submerged, or sitting too far above the milk.
  • Check your location before you start. You want your tip to be between the center and the edge of the pitcher on either the left or the right side.
  • Begin steaming! You will want to immediately hear a slight suctioning sound. If you do not hear anything, bring your steam tip further up towards the surface until you do. If the steam wand is making big bubble sounds, bring the steam tip just slightly lower in the pitcher. The more hissing/suctioning you hear, the more air is being incorporated and the more foam you will have.
  • You will want to incorporate the air into the pitcher until the pitcher begins to warm up, or get to be about the temperature of your hand. Once your pitcher feels warm, stay in the same location and bring the steam tip slightly below the surface. This is a very subtle movement, so be careful not to bring the steam wand too low otherwise you will not get the vortex, or swirling needed to achieve the silky and uniform texture.
  • While the milk is swirling and mixing, pay attention to the temperature. You will want to keep the vortex going until the pitcher goes from warm to hot. The pitcher should be hot to the touch, but not uncomfortable. Shut the steam off.
  • Remove steam wand from the milk and wipe your steam wand with a wet towel before purging the steam wand again. Be careful not to burn yourself, aiming the steam wand over the drip tray when purging is a safe way to do this.
  • You will almost always have to give your milk pitcher a few taps on the counter to rid the pitcher of bubbles, and give it a few firm swirls to help even out the texture.

Return to Brewing Guides