Dialing In The Breville Barista Express
Complete overview & A Helpful Guide!
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably having a bit of trouble dialing in the perfect shot of espresso and might feel a little bit frustrated having already poured countless shots down the drain.
So what we’re going to do in this article is jump straight into a step-by-step instructional, getting you pulling some at least drinkable shots. After that very quick instructional, we’ll then do a deep dive into how to turn that drinkable shot into a great shot of espresso.
These instructions will apply to any espresso machine. Still, I’ll also be giving a couple of additional tips directed specifically at Breville (or Sage, as it’s also called) owners (espresso purists, please don’t kill me for this initial oversimplification in the step-by-step we’ll get into the nitty-gritty) later on in the article.
The first thing we need to do is standardize your dose of coffee grinds.
We’ll be using a double shot basket, and the correct dose for this is generally around 18 grams. Now notice I’m referring to weight in grams and not a grind dial setting.
You will need a scale for this process. Please don’t torture yourself and try and do it without. They cost around USD10 Amazon, and you can have one on your doorstep in the next 24 hours. You can also buy a great scale in our webshop HERE.
Now that you have your scale, how do you get 18 grams directly into your Portafilter?
Well, you can grind it directly into your Portafilter and weigh that, trying to grind a little more and a little bit less, but this can tend to get a little bit messy, and you end up wasting some beans.
I would recommend emptying your hopper, grinding out whatever is stuck in the burrs, and then only putting 18 grams into your grinder at a time. This also helps improve freshness, so let’s do that process now.
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Now that we’ve got our 18-gram dose, before dumping these in the hopper, let’s quickly talk about grind setting.
I have no way of knowing what beans you’re using, how oily they are, how light the roast is, or how dark the roast is, so for this process; we’re going to start right smack dab in the middle.
On a Breville machine, that’s a grind setting of eight. If you have a different type of grinder, please find some middle ground that is a good starting point.
Once you have that adjusted, you can dump in your beans.
Next, I also recommend grinding into that same container, as this allows you to kind of “fluff up” the beans and pour them in nice and evenly to your Portafilter, but again, whatever your personal preference.
Using an external glass also helps a bit.
I have my machine on the double-shot setting, by the maximum grind. We’re just going to run it through and verify that there are no beans left in the hopper. You’ll hear it change pitch.
Stop now, we have our grinds in there, and I can kind of “fluff” these up a bit (like I was talking about before), which is very important.
Now we’ll take our Portafilter,(it’s also important to note that this machine has been heating up for about 15-20 minutes which is important for the consistency and extraction of the shot) next we’ll do this little flip manoeuvre you see a lot of people doing to get from the glass into our Portafilter. You will notice this is nice and fluffy.
You don’t get that same distribution if you go directly from the grinder.
Next, you should already know this, but if not here’s somebody telling you, even distribution and a consistent tamp are significant for consistency.
In my opinion, there are three ways to go about doing this.
You can use lots and lots of practice with a manual one, practising to get that consistent pressure.
You can use a calibrated which stops at a certain pressure every time, or you can use a palm tamper, which stops when it hits the top of your Portafilter. It’ll help avoid a lot of headaches.
Next, we’re going to put our scale underneath your Portafilter, zero out your scale, and get some timer.
I recommend the one on your phone. What we’re then going to do, is hit the program button to put the machine in manual mode, and we’re going to start the coffee extraction using the double shot button.
We will start our timer when the first drips go into the cup, and we’re going to stop both the extraction and our timer when we see 36 grams on the scale.
Let’s see what that looks like.
We’re going to have to stop a little bit ahead of 36 grams to make sure that little overrun doesn’t get us to too high.
Once you reach 36 grams in the cup, you’re gonna take a look at your time if it took longer than 30 seconds to reach your 36 grams.
Adjust the grind setting coarser if your shot looked as it’s not flowing freely.
You’re looking for a light honey type of texture.
If it took less than 20 seconds, you’re gonna make your grind finer. This scenario probably looked a little watery, splashing everywhere. Nothing creamy about it.
Repeat this process as necessary until you get in that 20 to 30 seconds range, ideally, even right in the middle at 25 seconds.
A note about the pressure gauge, on the barista Express.
Many people shoot for the middle of this espresso range that Breville has marked on the pressure gauge, but I found the best shots get pulled at 12 o’clock, so straight up and down, or even further up the pressure gauge.
As I said, try to get that time right in the middle at 25 seconds if possible.
Once you’re able to achieve a 36-gram shot out of an 18-gram dose in between 20 to 30 seconds, you should now have some okay tasting espresso.
If you weren’t able to achieve this because the pressure was just too high no matter what the grind setting, try lowering the dose to 16 grams, if your shots run a little too fast no matter the grind setting, try increasing your dose to 22 grams.
Different coffees can make a big difference, there’s no right answer or recipe for every single coffee.
My only suggestion is to go as fresh as possible. Your local roaster is your best bet unless you want to roast at home?
And remember to always buy in small bags, so they don’t sit around and go stale. I am personally an offender of this
Now that we have ourselves a decent tasting espresso, we can go into some more detail on how to pull great espresso.
Let’s take some time and see how each of these variables impacts the taste of your final espresso shot.
Circling back to our first parameter, let’s talk a bit more about dose the one thing you need to understand about dose, is that it only really determines how much espresso you can make with a certain brew ratio.
For example, if you want to be brewing at a typical 1-2 brew ratio, and a dose of 16 grams will get you 32 grams of espresso out. A 20-gram dose will get you 40 grams of espresso out.
The dose is really only limited by the Portafilter itself.
The larger the Portafilter, the larger the shot you can probably manage to pull.
You also don’t want to go too low with the dose, as this will create too much space between the group head and the coffee puck resulting in some pooling.
All Breville machines, other than the dual boiler and Oracle machines, use a slightly smaller 54-millimetre port filter, meaning that if you want to play around with dose, I’d recommend not going to too much higher than 18 grams.
Well, in fact, slightly lower doses can actually be beneficial in terms of getting your grind into a more reasonable range.
What’s important in terms of dialing in is choosing an appropriate dose for your machine and keeping this number fixed throughout the rest of the process.
Now that we’ve locked in our dose, we move on to the second pillar of dialing in, which is yield. In combination with dose, Yield creates what is often referred to as the “brew ratio.”
How much coffee to how much espresso?
The yield changes this ratio, and this plays with a balance of extraction and strength of the shot.
What does this mean?
As you pull a shot, you’re continuously adding more water and therefore diluting or reducing the strength, but you are also simultaneously increasing how much coffee goodness you’ve pulled from the beans or the extraction.
Obviously, there are limits to this, as if you let a shot run for a whole minute by the end, you would still be reducing the strength of the shot by pouring more and more water into the cup but no longer getting any more extraction.
The beans have nothing more to give. The strength decreases at an ever-increasing rate, so that means that there’s some sweet spot, and that sweet spot will depend entirely on your personal taste. Again there’s no one answer.
A shorter ratio like a one to one will be solid but may taste sour or under-extracted to some.
Like a one-two-three, a longer ratio will be weaker, but some find that it is sweeter and more balanced. You have to experiment.
I recommend starting at a one to two ratios as a standard midpoint and adjusting from there, to your individual tastes.
A good way to understand how the flavors change is to do this exercise.
What you do is, you switch to a different glass every five seconds as your shot runs.
Let the shot run a little extra long, maybe 40 seconds, and this way, you can taste your way through the glasses and understand which flavors are introduced at each stage of the extraction.
In this way, you can start to fine-tune your palate to whether you like the flavors of a longer or a shorter shot.
Finally, we come to the grind size, which impacts the shot time.
This is the final pillar of dialing in espresso. Brew ratio had a very large impact on the overall shot flavor, so if brew ratio is our macro, adjustment time will be your final micro adjustment.
The average espresso pull runs from 20 to 32 seconds, and that is a big range.
Again I recommend starting in the middle at 25 seconds to reach your desired yield and then start adjusting grind size up and down from there to your personal tastes.
When it comes to grind size, it helps to visualize how the water is running through the puck.
A very coarse grind is like a box of pebbles
Water will pass through very quickly over the rocks and come out the other side looking pretty much the same.
In coffee terms, the contact time would be too low, and the resulting taste will be sour and unpleasant.
At the other end of the spectrum for a fine grind, we can visualize a box of fine sand the water will seep through very slowly and if this and is too fine, it will actually start to pool on top.
A shot that is too fine will often taste burnt and bitter, because the contact time was too high, which either scorched the coffee or simply over-extracted it.
As with anything, it’s all about balance
You can pull a 1 to 2 ratio shot in 5 seconds, but it’s not going to taste any good.
If you take too long to reach your desired brew ratio, you will pass the ideal brew, because you were getting little-to-no added extraction during the end part of your pull.
Your job is to find the “money zone” for each of your coffees.
So to summarize all of this
Pick an appropriate dose for your portafilter size and shape, and then leave it alone.
Tamp consistently. However, you prefer to do this.
Play with brew ratio to find what tastes best to you, and then fine-tune that final shot using the grind setting and shot time.