Friday, February 11, 2011

Less is More: Coffee Dosing and the Espresso Machine

Wow!  Dosage can drastically change how espresso tastes.  While not groundbreaking for some, tasting the results, i.e. the shot in the espresso, made me a believer in buying a scale in the future.  As of right now, I do not know how much coffee I am using for my double shots.  Is there 18 grams or 30 grams in my portafilter?  Many coffee bloggers, baristas, and coffee redditors propound the virtues of a scale in achieving consistency in espresso shots.  I believe it now.  When I used less coffee, I tasted a full body, pear notes, acidic tingling (good thing), and a bittersweet chocolate finish (I started this post, when I had the Archer Farms coffee, not the Illy).  All of this on my 150 dollar espresso machine, the Lello Ariete.   

Before, I "overstuffed" the portafilter and it would have a nasty habit about once every month to be choked and spit out espresso where the portafilter and the O-ring meets.  Even when it didn't "choke," the coffee seemed more bitter.  I realize the choking can be contributed to fineness of the grind, but when I lowered the dosage at the same grind, the Lello Ariete pulled a shot with no difficulty, and it tasted surprisingly better.  One additional benefit of lowering the coffee dosage, is that it is easier to tamp levelly.  Perhaps, this only happens for me, but this could be a factor for the better espresso extraction due to the flatter and more level surface of the coffee in the portafilter.  

What do you think?  Have you consistently used the same amount of coffee in your espresso or other coffee beverages?  Do you measure by weight or volume? (grams vs. tablespoons)  Is it worth the hassle?


  1. Espresso is very complex, I'm sure you are starting to notice this now as you see all the variables come forward.

    Unfortunately, dose is more difficult to diagnose that temperature or time (which is why it often gets left out in home instances of espresso).

    It is interesting however, how much it can do, but one must realize that dose is connected to the particular coffee you are pulling itself. For instance, one coffee may pull better at 17grams, while another favours a high dose of 20grams.

    BUT, you must also realize that you should not be using dose height to control the shot time. Instead, you should be shooting to control the time and temperature of the shot, while you experiment with the dose separately for this to work correctly.

    Finally, a VERY generalized idea is that coffee on the high side of ~21 or even 22grams usually results in a more 'muted' flavour profile with a bigger body, while a lower dose of ~16 or 17grams will give you more interesting flavours but less body. Again, that is VERY GENERAL.

    Anyway, that is a lot to think about.
    I know for a fact that over at Coffee Folk I am going to be not only weighing out my coffee dose in the future, but also the weight of my final shot volume in the cup! This will give me the ability to see brew ratios, which is even a step further.

    Keep it rockin Jack, and great post.
    - Matt @ Coffee Folk

  2. Wunderbar! A lot of things to chew on there. One of the things I have read is that not only keeping grams into consideration when you dose into the portafilter, but also how beans (i.e. the type and roast level) affect the shot.

    I admit I like your generalized rule you mentioned in your second to last "paragraph", but naturally its rather a guide rather than hard fact. In forthcoming posts, I'll have to run some espresso "experiments" to feel things out. Keep up your blog as well! Love the videos, and the fancy PID (I think that is what it is called) monitor for the temp. Makes it easy on you :-).

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