Even if you have a premium espresso machine and high-quality, freshly roasted coffee, there’s no guarantee that you will be able to produce a delicious espresso at home without the necessary ability to dial it in.
Brewing espresso at home is one of the most rewarding brewing methods, but also one of the most complex. Because of this, it can be frustrating trying to perfect your espressos. If you have experienced the issue, this guide will take you through precisely how to tweak your shot so that you can begin enjoying beautiful coffee shop-quality espresso.
- A good brew ratio starting point: 1:2 – use 18 grams of coffee for 36g of extracted espresso
- Aim for a target yield of 25 to 30 seconds. If it’s too fast, grind coarser; too low, grind finer
- If there is a bitter flavor, use a coarser grind. If there is a sour taste, grind more finely.
- Consider changing the brewing temperature incrementally if there is an issue once you have the correct brewing time. If the coffee is too acidic, raise the temperature. If it’s too bitter, lower it
- If the coffee is too weak, reduce the yield, if it’s too strong, increase it
- Don’t measure yield by volume. Instead, use a coffee scale
- Use a larger brew ratio for a light roast, a smaller ratio for darker roasts
- Check the roast level on the beans and use the recommended grind setting as a starting point
- Use double espresso for dialing in, particularly as a beginner, as you’ll have more leeway
- Whenever you change a parameter, take notes
What Is Dialing In Espresso?
Dialing in espresso involves fine-tuning the variables to achieve a shot that perfectly matches your taste preferences. For example, you can adjust the grind size, dose, tamp pressure, and extraction time, among other areas.
Dialing in is required if you are using a semi-automatic or manual espresso machine. This process is necessary because different beans and roasts require different adjustments to maximize their unique flavors and achieve the optimal balance of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness. Meanwhile, different machines and equipment will also require different adjustments.
One of the important things to note about dialing in is that it’s not something you perfect and maintain but rather something that evolves over time depending on the beans and equipment you’re using.
It can take many attempts at dialing in for the perfect shot. However, the discovery process can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of domestic brewing as you hone your skills and master your technique.
Espresso Parameters For An Espresso Recipe
Dose – How Much Ground Coffee To Use
The dose refers to the amount of espresso grounds for your shot and is the first step to dialing in.
Professional baristas usually use a coffee scale to weigh the grounds within 0.1g. Depending on your filter basket’s capacity, a good starting point is between 16g to 18g of coffee grounds. However, if you are a beginner, it is worth using a double shot to dial in as it’ll offer more scope for making adjustments than a single shot.
Factors including the type of beans you’re using, their age and the size of the filter basket can affect the size of the dose. Also, different coffee beans have different characteristics, and the ideal grind size will differ depending on what they are. Also, keep in mind that when fine-tuning your dose size, it’s a good idea to do so in increments of 0.1g or 0.2g.
Once you have espresso grind in your portafilter, distribute them evenly and tamp them so they become compressed.
Note that the dose size isn’t adjusted to change the espresso flavor but to achieve the necessary yield of the extracted drink.
Yield refers to the amount of liquid espresso produced during extraction. Factors that can affect yield include the amount of water passing through the coffee, which can impact the extraction level and concentration of the espresso.
A commonly used coffee-to-water ratio in the industry is 1:2, which means that for every gram of coffee in the basket, two grams of espresso you get in the cup. This ratio is often recommended as a starting point as it allows baristas to pick up on subtle flavors and make tweaks.
If the desired results are not achieved using that ratio, it may be necessary to adjust it. So, you can try a 1:1.5 ratio for a more concentrated espresso or a 1:2.5 ratio for a less concentrated beverage to bring out more delicate flavors.
Overall, there are two main elements to consider: the higher the yield, the more water will have passed through the coffee, leading to a higher extraction. Also, a higher yield means you’ll get a less concentrated drink.
Brew ratio – Dose: Yield
Combining the dose and yield will give you the brew ratio. Generally, you can expect a 1:2 brew ratio. Try 18g of coffee (dose) to yield approximately 36g of espresso.
Brewing Time (Shot time)
Brewing time is simply the time it takes for the espresso to extract. It’s also the most flexible parameter in the dialing-in process.
A typical range for professional baristas in coffee shops is somewhere between 25 to 30 seconds, and that’s a good rule of thumb.
However, when should you start timing?
Should you start timing when you push a button, or the first drop coming out of the spout? Since some machines have auto pre-infusion for 5 to 7 seconds, some even allow users to manually control the flow rate, the 25-30s range can be quite confusing. Marcus Buckman from Whole Latte Love suggested starting timing from the first drop in the youtube video . That’s also how we do when pulling a shot for a more consistent result.
How does brewing time affect the finished beverage?
Well, shorter brew times result in a more sour, watery espresso, while longer ones are more bitter as water struggles to get through the coffee bed, so it’s important to get it right.
Changing the brewing time is largely dependent on the grind size. The more coarse the grind, the faster the water passes through the coffee and vice versa. To slow down the brewing time, consider using a finer grind, while for a shorter brew time, use a coarser grind.
A good pro tip is to make incremental changes when adjusting the grind size to help you arrive at the sweet spot without the guesswork. Regularly purging your coffee grinder by grinding a small amount of coffee helps eliminate any old or stale coffee on the burrs, too.
Things You Need For Dialing In Espresso
In the past, baristas would measure shots based on volume. So, they would use a cup, shot glass or measuring jug where you could determine how much espresso is produced based on a marking.
However, this is not as accurate as measuring with the scale, as volume can vary based on several factors, including grind size and tamping pressure. By measuring yield with a coffee scale, you can provide precise measurements and consistent results.
A good espresso grinder is essential for producing high-quality espresso.
Entry-level machines with grinders often have limited settings, making it harder to dial in accurately.
On the other hand, higher-end espresso grinders offer more grind settings and are often stepless, allowing for fine-tuning, so you can tweak your settings until you are happy with the result. Using a burr grinder rather than a blade grinder is also important, as you will have more precision.
Some espresso machines have a built-in shot timer, while others may have a timer built into the scale.
A stopwatch on a cell phone is sufficient for those who don’t have these tools.
Shot timing is important regardless because it measures how long the espresso is being extracted, which can be used to adjust the grind size, tamping pressure, and other factors to achieve the perfect flavor profile.
Taking notes while dialing in is essential for arriving at the perfect shot.
Keeping track of elements including grind size, temperature and dose, will help you make a more consistent shot.
It’s also important to take note of the taste of each shot and make any necessary adjustments to the recipe. Armed with this information, you can fine-tune the espresso-making process and replicate the desired flavor profile more easily.
How Do You Dial In An Espresso Shot
Step 1: Weigh coffee beans
Measuring the dose is the first step in dialing in an espresso shot. A consistent dose is important for creating a balanced and flavorful shot.
Step 2: Set an initial grind setting depending on the roast level
Set the estimated grind setting based on the roast level. Darker roast beans are more soluble, so you’ll need a coarser grind setting.
On the other hand, lighter roasts require a finer grind setting. This is an important step because a grind that is too fine or too coarse can result in an over or under-extracted shot.
Step 3: Pull a test shot, track time, and taste
Once the grind is set, pull a test shot and measure the flow rate and brew time with the shot timer.
Begin timing the moment the first coffee emerges.
If the flow rate is too quick, adjust the grind finer; If it’s too slow, adjust coarser until the shot is in the desired range. Remember, you’re aiming for between 25 and 30 seconds.
Step 4: Perfect the shot
Once the flow rate and brew time are within your desired time frame, continue to adjust elements including the grind size and dose until the shot is perfect. Take notes and make changes as needed to achieve the ideal flavor profile.
Advanced Tips For The Perfect Espresso Taste
Change One Parameter Each Time
Dialing in the perfect espresso shot involves various steps, as we have explained. Therefore, the only clear way to ensure you have a firm grasp of knowing how to arrive at your desired result is to change one parameter at a time.
So, for example, if the flow rate is too fast, factors including tamping pressure and grind size could be reasons. If you change both those elements and try again, you won’t know whether one or both of the issues was responsible. Take a methodical approach – dial in one area before moving on to the next until you arrive at your desired result. Take notes to ensure you have a log of each tweak.
Changing the temperature should only be a minor adjustment and shouldn’t be considered until you have the correct brewing time. Once you have that, if there is still an issue, it is worth incrementally changing the temperature.
So, if your espresso has too much acidity, consider increasing the temperature for a higher extraction. Conversely, if your espresso is too bitter, slightly lower the temperature to introduce more acidity.
Typically, espresso is brewed between 90C and 96C (194F and 205F) so start in that range and adjust up or down from there.
Over time, the freshness of the same batch of coffee beans will change depending on factors including direct sunlight and oxidization.
That means that adjusting your grind setting is something you will need to consider the older the batch becomes.
Generally speaking, extremely fresh means using a coarser grind. However, as little as one week later, that might result in too fast and brew time. In that case, use a slightly finer grind size to achieve the same brew time.
The roast levels of the beans have a significant effect on the extraction.
Because light roasts are less porous than darker ones, their compounds extract more slowly.– perfectdailygrind.com 
Darker roasts are more soluble and easier to extract, making them easier to dial in, while the opposite is true for lighter roasts, which are considerably denser.
The best idea is to note the roast level whenever you use a new batch. That way, you’ll have a starting point for the grind setting you need.
Generally, dark roasts grind a bit coarser and use less water for a lower brew ratio. Conversely, lighter roasts grind finer using a larger brew ratio (ie: more water).
- Ratio: Dark roast: 1:2
- Medium roast: 1:2 -1:2.5
- Light roasts: 1:2.5 – 1:3
Dialing in can be daunting, but that’s largely because people often don’t know where to start, and instead take a haphazard approach to attempt to perfect their espresso.
If you have a methodical approach to the process and keep in mind that the primary factors are the dose and yield, you can simplify it so it is manageable.
To master the process, you will need some specialist equipment, including a coffee scale and a high-quality grinder. Not only that, but you will need to keep abreast of changing elements, including the age of the coffee beans, and adjust accordingly.
In time there is no reason you will not be able to master dialing in so that you can pull shots and any professional barista.
 How To: Espresso Shots – When to Start Timing – https://youtu.be/Cd1Y0Aq3Khg
 Adjusting A Brewing Recipe To Your Coffee Roast Level – https://perfectdailygrind.com/2019/10/how-to-adjust-your-brewing-recipe-for-coffee-roast-level/