How to Grind Coffee for Espresso

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To pull the perfect shot of espresso, you need to pay attention to one thing above all else: grind size.

While things like the roast, freshness, and brew time also matter, it’s the size and consistency of your grind that plays the biggest role in the overall taste of your beverage.

RELATED: Coffee Grind Size Chart

Why grind size is so important

One of the major differences between traditional espresso and other types of coffee is that you use a much finer grind with espresso.

This is because there’s only a small amount of water in your brew, and it needs to extract the flavour and aroma quickly.

By grinding beans very finely for espresso we increase the surface area that comes into contact with water—and can therefore extract more flavour.

However, if you grind too coarse, your coffee will be under-extracted, leading to weak and sour flavours.

On the other hand, if you grind too fine, you might end up with over-extracted espresso, which can taste bitter or burnt.

The fineness of the grind also influences channelling, the term for water finding the path of least resistance in a coffee bed.

With channelling, instead of flowing evenly through the coffee puck, the water will find a specific narrow path.

Channelling is very common and is one of the key things we want to avoid when making espresso as it can lead to both over and under extraction.

What is the grind size for espresso?

A single shot of espresso should be extracted in 20 to 30 seconds, so it’s crucial to use the right grind size in order to achieve this, as well as the desired yield (amount of espresso extracted).

The grind size for espresso is called “fine” and its consistency is slightly finer than table salt.

While this is the recommended grind size for espresso, the optimal grind will vary based on things like the bean variety and roast, the espresso machine, and many other factors.

To get the perfect extraction, you’ll need to make very delicate incremental adjustments to your grind, that won’t necessarily be visible to the naked eye.

This is why baristas have the daily process of “dialling in” an espresso shot (discussed below).

How to dial in your espresso

Dialling in refers to the process of tweaking the parameters of the espresso extraction process in order to achieve the desired flavours. It involves incrementally adjusting brew variables to achieve just the right balance between body, acidity, sweetness, and bitterness.

Essentially, you are looking to extract the right amount of soluble flavour from the coffee using the right amount of water. – Perfect Daily Grind

Four basic parameters control extraction rate, and ultimately influence the taste of espresso: dose, yield, brew ratio, and brew time.

Here’s an Australian industry-standard (double shot) espresso recipe from Five Senses:

  • Dose: 22g (amount of ground coffee beans)
  • Ratio 1:2 (ground coffee:liquid espresso)
  • Yield: 44g (volume of espresso)
  • Time: 27-31sec

Once you’ve given this a go, you can make small adjustments (dialling in) to your grind size if needed. The aim is to tweak the grind size so that you hit the 27-31 second extraction time.

Grind your beans slightly finer for a slower pour or slightly coarser for a faster pour.

Over and under extraction

When brewing coffee, flavour and aroma compounds are extracted from the ground beans into the water.

There are several compounds in coffee that give it a variety of flavours. Some of these compounds extract quickly, while others extract more slowly.

Some of these compounds add bitterness, some a delicious sweetness, others add a fruity note, some contribute to the full-bodied flavour and mouth-feel.

But if too many of the wrong compounds are extracted from the beans, your brew will taste too bitter or not quite balanced.

So you need to control how long it stays in contact with water in order to achieve the desired result. We do this by controlling the grind size of our coffee beans.

Troubleshooting under and over extracted espresso

Under-extracted: Often tastes sour with a bite to it, lacks sweetness, not much aftertaste.

Over-extracted: Bitter and thin taste, dry mouth aftertaste, not much sweetness.

What kind of grinder do you use for espresso?

There are two non-negotiables when it comes to choosing a coffee grinder for espresso.

The first is that it is a burr grinder, as opposed to a blade grinder. Burr coffee grinders grind beans to uniform sizes, which leads to more even extraction and a better cup of coffee.

The second is that it can grind fine enough for espresso. While most conical burr grinders will be suitable, some high quality grinders, such as the Baratza Encore, excel in coarse grinds for things like pour-over, but cannot grind consistently enough at the espresso fine end of the spectrum.