How to Dial in Espresso

We use affiliate links and may receive a commission on purchases. Read more here.

The perfect espresso should have the correct balance of sweetness, acidity and a smooth finish.

This is achieved by dialling in.

Dialling in helps extract the correct amount of soluble flavour in the coffee. But, without the appropriate experience or knowledge, dialling in can be a frustrating task.

Knowing how to dial is a must for baristas and coffee lovers that want to consistently extract high-quality espresso.

Below, we explain the key parameters of dialling in, discuss the characteristics of under and over-extracted coffee and help you make a better espresso with just a few tips.

What does dialling in mean?

Dialling in refers to the process of tweaking the parameters of the espresso extraction process in order to achieve a shot that has the desired flavour and aroma profile.

It involves the incremental adjustment of brew variables to achieve the right balance between body, acidity, sweetness and bitterness.

Coffee variety, brew temperature, and roast levels are some of the elements that play a part in how your coffee will taste.

However, for dialling in, there are three key parameters to take into account.
These are:

  • dose,
  • yield,
  • and time.

As a golden rule, when you are dialling in, you should focus on a single parameter first instead of trying to fix all of them at once.

Below we dive deeper into each of these.

1. Dose

Dose represents how much ground coffee you add to your portafilter.

The dose weight is measured in grams and can vary depending on the flavour profile you want to achieve and if it is a single or a double espresso shot.

The total amount of grams in your dose can change throughout your dialling in process but we suggest adjusting other parameters first.

If needed, try increasing or decreasing the dose in small increments (0.5 grams) until you reach your desired level.

Smart coffee scales can help with this step as they are able to detect changes in weight from as little as 0.1 grams.

The dose is used to establish the final “wet” weight of your espresso, also known as the desired yield.

2. Yield

As mentioned above, yield refers to the “wet” weight after the extraction.

If you have a higher yield, this means that more water will have passed through the coffee (more extraction).

The higher the yield from the extraction, the less concentrated the espresso will be.

The first few drops that hit the coffee are part of the pre-infusion. The pre-infusion gently soaks the beans before applying the desired pressure.

Once the first drip of coffee hits your glass, the yield will start.

What is brew ratio?

A brew ratio helps us define our yield.

Baristas often use the word ratio to describe the yield in relation to the dose.

It is common to have a ratio of 1:2 when making espresso.

This means that for every gram of coffee you will have two grams of water. Your target yield will depend on the ratio of your choosing and if you like your shot to be a ristretto (short) or a lungo (long).

3. Time

Time is the last parameter that you should focus on when dialling in espresso as it is the most flexible and easy to adjust.

  • If the espresso is extracted in less time, it will have a more acidic flavour profile.
  • On the other hand, a longer shot time can mean a sweeter profile.

There are three key factors that influence the brew time:

i. Grind Size

Having the proper grind size is key to having an even extraction and you can achieve this by having the correct coffee grinder.

An espresso grind means that the coffee beans should have a fine grind, which resembles caster sugar. Most coffee grinders have a grind setting for espresso.

If you want to know if you have the proper size, keep an eye on how your shot is extracting.

  • If your shot is extracting too quickly (under extraction), this means you need a finer grind.
  • If you want a shorter brew time, use a coarser grind.

Coarser means that the water will pass through the coffee faster. Your grind adjustment should happen in small increments.

RELATED: Coffee grind size chart

ii. Pump Pressure/Flowrate

An espresso machine usually works with 9 bars of pressure. This is the amount of pressure with which the water is forced through the coffee.

If the pressure is too low, your espresso shots will run slowly due to the low flow rate.

If you want to measure the flow rate of your espresso machine you can do so by measuring how much water comes from the group head for 30 seconds. The proper amount should range between 200 to 280 ml.

However, we recommend not fixating on this factor and instead focusing on adjusting others first.

iii. Baskets

Baskets are a key element when dialling in as they restrict or encourage the flow of water.

  • A single coffee filter basket can take between 7 and 12 grams of coffee.
  • A double shot basket can hold up to 22 grams of coffee.

Make sure you are using the correct size basket for the amount of coffee you are brewing. This is important for achieving the right tamping pressure and efficient extraction.

Trouble shooting your espresso

Too strong/too weak

Strength and weakness in coffee taste are related to yield and time.

If your espresso is too weak, aim for a shorter yield and a target time of 25 to 27 seconds.

If it is too strong, opt for a few seconds more which will result in a bigger yield.

Too bitter

If your espresso tastes too bitter, this probably means that it over-extracted.

Over extraction happens when the water runs for too long through the ground coffee. it can lead to a dry aftertaste, lack of sweetness and can even taste burnt.

If this happens, grind slightly more coarsely or decrease your total yield.

Too sour

If your espresso tastes too sour or salty on your taste buds, this likely means that it is under-extracted.

This tends to happen when not enough coffee is extracted into the water.

Usually, an under-extracted coffee will lack sweetness and instead deliver a sour taste in your mouth. If this happens, you can grind finer or increase your total yield.