For most baristas, dosing espresso is just a part of their daily routine and is essential for making sure that customers receive the most consistent, best-tasting coffee possible. If you want to make your own great espresso at home that tastes just like the ones you’ll get from your local coffee shop, mastering the process of dosing espresso and dialing in espresso can be very rewarding, but also not as easy as you might think. It can sometimes get confusing or frustrating if you don’t have any knowledge or experience.
What is Dialing in Espresso?
When dosing espresso, the term ‘dialing in’ is often used to describe the process of making espresso that tastes as great as possible. With this process, you are looking to extract the right amount of soluble flavors from the coffee using just the right amount of water. To do this, it’s important to change the parameters of the espresso. These are the dose, yield, and brew line, all of which work together to have a huge impact on the flavor. Dialing in involves only adjusting one parameter at a time, otherwise, it can become very easy to lose track of which factor has positively or negatively impacted the taste of the espresso overall.
Along with the dose, it’s also important to consider the extraction level when dialing in. If not enough coffee is extracted into the water, known as under-extraction, the espresso will taste sour and be more watery. On the other hand, if too much coffee is extracted, known as over-extraction, the espresso might taste very bitter and burnt.
To get it right when dialing in espresso, you are going to need:
- Two sets of digital scales; one to dose espresso and the other to measure the yield. You may be able to find an espresso machine that has a built-in scale for weighing your yield.
- A flat tamper that is the right size for your portafilter basket, to create a flat and even coffee puck to enhance the extraction process.
- A bottomless portafilter that is designed without a spout to allow you to see the bottom of the basket, making it easier for you to notice if the water is channeling through the coffee.
The espresso dose is the amount of dry coffee grounds that are placed into the portafilter. This is generally measured in grams and is typically the first step involved in dialing in and getting all the other factors right based on the dose that you use. However, you should not rely on the dose alone to make direct changes to the brew time or the espresso flavor; instead, use the dose to establish the yield, which refers to the weight of your extracted espresso. Both the dose and the yield should be increased in proportion with one another to maintain a reasonable coffee to water ratio.
Baristas will often use between eighteen and twenty-one grams of ground coffee to make a single espresso. There are several factors that might have an impact on your dose that you should be aware of. These include:
Portafilter basket: These will vary when it comes to both the diameter and the depth. It’s important to make sure that you are using a suitable amount of coffee for your basket. For example, if you have a portafilter basket with a size of eighteen grams, this will allow you to place between 16-20g of coffee into the portafilter for the best results. Any more or less, and you will impact the pre-infusion when water meets the coffee grounds since there will either be not enough space or too much space to get good results.
Coffee roast date: As soon as coffee beans are roasted, they will begin to increase in levels of both CO2 and moisture. To reduce the impact of both these factors, baristas will usually increase their dose size with the amount of time that passes since the beans were roasted.
Coffee roast level: The roast level will also affect the espresso dose since darker roasts tend to be more soluble in comparison with lighter roasts, meaning that the extraction will usually take longer for the same dose depending on the roast level. Lower doses tend to work better with lightly roasted coffee beans in order to make up for their lower level of solubility.
Choosing the right weight for your dose might be a tricky process since you could find that it needs to be changed throughout the process of dialing in, which can impact your yield and the brew time, leading to starting over. If you think that a higher dose of espresso might be needed, it’s a good idea to increase it in smaller increments until you reach the level you need, rather than increasing by a larger amount at a time. On the other hand, if you need a lower dose due to the flavor being too intense, you should decrease a little bit at a time.
Once you’ve decided on a dose, avoid changing it throughout the rest of the process unless absolutely necessary. A fixed dose will make sure that the other parameters for dialing in such as your yield and brew time are easier to stay in control of.
When understanding espresso dosing, it’s important to understand the yield. This is the wet weight of the espresso that is extracted. The higher the yield, the more water will have been passed through the coffee grounds, which means a higher level of extraction. Espresso with a higher yield will be less concentrated for this reason.
There are ratios that can be used to define the yield in relation to the dose. Coffee professionals recommend using a ratio of 1:2 as a starting point, meaning that for every gram of coffee added to the basket, you should add two grams of water. This ratio will usually make it easier for you to quickly spot any subtle or nuanced flavors.
However, for those who are struggling to get the best results with this ratio, you can alter the proportions. For example, adding less water leads to a less concentrated espresso, while adding more can enhance delicate flavors.
The brew time should also be considered when dosing espresso and refers to the time that it takes for the espresso to extract. This is the last variable that should be focused on throughout the process of dialing in espresso and tends to be more flexible compared to the other factors. Most of the time, a brew time of between 25 and 32 seconds is used to achieve the desired result when brewing espresso. Less time tends to lead to more acidic espresso without much body, while a longer time adds both sweetness and bitterness. When dosing, it’s important to understand how the grind size will impact your espresso brew time. A finer grind tends to need a longer extraction and brew time, while the opposite is true for coarser coffee grounds.
Factors to Consider When Dosing Espresso
When dosing espresso, you will need to consider a range of factors along with the yield and brew time. These include:
Amount of Espresso
A larger dose will make more espresso while a lower dose makes less – simple! Consider the dose in the same way that you would when measuring ingredients for baking a cake. If you use more of the same ingredients, you will simply get more of the same cake. Don’t adjust the weight of your dose to try and change the balance of flavors, or to make the espresso stronger or weaker, as you are only going to be disappointed. This is because if you increase the dose, you will need to increase the yield and brew time to match.
Drink Strength and Size
If you want to make espresso for making milk-based drinks in large cups, this will have an impact on the dose that you need. While a small dose might be fine for espresso on its own, you might find that it is no longer quite as flavorsome and delicious after you have added a lot of milk to the coffee. In this case, a larger dose and a larger espresso yield is going to be necessary for increasing the coffee flavor intensity in the drink. On the other hand, if you want to make a black coffee or a smaller coffee with milk, a smaller dose might be effective since there is less competition against the milk in terms of flavor dominance.
Changing the Dose
Bear in mind that when it comes to changing the dose of espresso, this isn’t a single change as it will have an impact on several other factors including the flow rate, extraction yield, extraction temperature, puck saturation rate, extraction strength, extraction evenness and more. Because of this, sticking to the same dose wherever you can will make it easier for you to adjust your variables and figure out where you can make changes for a better coffee.
When making espresso, understanding how dosing and dialing in works is essential.