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idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
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Discussions > Espresso > Q and A > idiots guide to...  
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mig
Senior Member


Joined: 8 Jun 2012
Posts: 14
Location: Santa Clara, CA
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Rocket Espresso Giotto...
Grinder: Mazza Mini
Posted Thu Jun 14, 2012, 11:32pm
Subject: idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
 

N00b alert!  I just upgraded from a super-automatic - which consistently brews mediocre shots with the press of a button - to a Rocket Giotto Evoluzione + Mazzer Mini - which is either better or worse than the super-automatic, depending on my technique.  Sadly I have no technique, and find that all the research I have done, videos I have watched, etc. have left me ill-prepared for just how difficult this is.  Two days and a pound of beans later, I feel I am no closer to achieving any level of consistency than when I first un-boxed my shiny new gear.  I am still very excited but starting to get a little frustrated as I am clearly over my head.

So my high level question is, how do I get started?

I am using the factory setting for the grinder (Mazzer is reputed to do an excellent job of calibrating), and I level off the powder before tamping, trying my best to keep it level as I press down with medium pressure.  (I have even practice pressing down on a bathroom scale to get a feel for 30 pounds of pressure.)  I open the lever for a few seconds before drawing the first shot, as I understand is recommended with a HX.  The first problem is that sometimes the extraction is too slow, and sometimes too fast.  I tried adjusting the grind with disastrous results and quickly returned to the factory setting.  I tried using more and less pressure when I tamp.  A bit more research tells me I should be weighing the shots, so I've borrowed my wife's kitchen scale and will put it to use tomorrow morning.

Should I have invested in a calibrated tamper as "training wheels"?  Aside from practice and patience how does one develop a semi-consistent feel?  I do not expect perfect results anytime soon but I'd like to start drinking more espresso and dumping less.  Any beginner tips to refine my technique would be greatly appreciated!
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Forest2012
Senior Member


Joined: 14 Jun 2012
Posts: 13
Location: Chapel Hill, NC (USA)
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Rancilio Silvia; Nespresso...
Grinder: Rancilio Rocky
Drip: Bonavita; Hario Woodneck...
Posted Fri Jun 15, 2012, 2:22am
Subject: Re: idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
 

Hi, mig! This reply is not to offer answers, just to offer encouragement! I have had a Rancilio Silvia (and Rancilio Rocky grinder) for years now, and still sometimes feel really frustrated with the technique! I know what you mean about feeling frustrated and clearly over my head! I, also, bought a Nespresso Citiz D110 about a month ago, just because I wanted to experience the convenience of it all. However, I'm still convinced that the Silvia is by far a better alternative--as you mentioned, the super-automatic brews "consistently mediocre shots with the press of a button." Recently, I decided to again "study" the Silvia technique, and I am making progress with getting much better shots. So, hang in there--you are not unique in feeling frustrated with a new, high-quality machine.
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NobbyR
Senior Member
NobbyR
Joined: 10 Jul 2011
Posts: 2,021
Location: Germany
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Poccino Opus One, Ariete
Grinder: Eureka Mignon Istantaneo
Vac Pot: N/A
Drip: Melitta Linea Unica de Luxe
Roaster: N/A
Posted Fri Jun 15, 2012, 2:28am
Subject: Re: idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
 

Welcome to CoffeeGeek!

Don't feel bad about your problems. That's a very good set-up you got yourself, capable of producing excellent espresso. However, getting there is hard and requires a lot of practice. There's no easy, fool proof way of doing it.

Maybe you've already heard of the four "M"s of espresso brewing that determine the quality of the caffè:

M(iscela): the blend, i.e. the kind of coffee beans you use (single origin, a mix of different arabicas, a blend of arabica and robust), their freshness, their method and degree of roasting infuences the taste of the espresso. You should use beans that have been roasted no more than 15 days before using them.

M(acinacaffè): the grinder. The capability of the grinder to consistently grind fine enough to ensure an extraction time of around 25 seconds without warming the coffee grounds in the process is probably the most important factor of all. Your Mazzer Mini is such a grinder.

M(acchina): the espresso machine. The better the machine is in terms of temperature stability, for example, the better the espresso it brews will be. Your Rocket Espresso Evo is an excellent prosumer HX machine. No need to worry there.

M(ano): the hand, i.e. the experienced (home) barista puts all those things together by choosing the beans, adjusting the grinder, dosing, distributing and tamping the ground coffee in the filter basket, handling the machine, and observing extraction time in order to ensure the best espresso possible. This is what you have to work on. In order to get consistent shot quality you have to work consistently using the same dose, even distribution and same tamping pressure all the time. A digital scale is very useful for dosing. Tamping is the least important factor in the process.

Once you've dialed in your grinder correctly you'll probably get decent shots most of the time. And from time to time you'll be rewarded with an excellent espresso. The more experience you'll get, the more often that will appear. But even after years of practicing shots will occur that are god-awful.

 
***
"This drink of the Satan is so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it to the infidels." (Pope Clement VIII on coffee, when he was urged to ban the beverage)
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mr_pedro
Senior Member


Joined: 13 Feb 2012
Posts: 31
Location: Baltimore
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri Jun 15, 2012, 2:37am
Subject: Re: idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
 

Hi,

Setting the grinder at the "factory" setting is not the way to go. You should be adjusting the grind to get the right flow depending on type of coffee, grind and dose.

So here are a few pointers.

Use fresh beans that have been roasted no longer than 2 or 3 weeks back.
Use a scale to keep the dose consistent. You need a 0.1g scale for this as 1g is already a big variation.
Tamping is maybe the least important, just apply some pressure to make the grinds flat.
Adjust grinder for right flow, keeping the rest constant. You can start e.g. with a dose of 15g and aiming for 15g~30g of brewed coffee in 25s~30s
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Forest2012
Senior Member


Joined: 14 Jun 2012
Posts: 13
Location: Chapel Hill, NC (USA)
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Rancilio Silvia; Nespresso...
Grinder: Rancilio Rocky
Drip: Bonavita; Hario Woodneck...
Posted Fri Jun 15, 2012, 2:45am
Subject: Re: idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
 

NobbyR and mr_pedro, thanks for the replies to this topic. Your advice will help all of us who are feeling frustrated with technique. I especially like the comment: "But even after years of practicing shots will occur that are god-awful."
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mr_pedro
Senior Member


Joined: 13 Feb 2012
Posts: 31
Location: Baltimore
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri Jun 15, 2012, 4:59am
Subject: Re: idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
 

It does take many years to figure it out by yourself. What complicates matters is not knowing what good espresso is if you have no good reference.

So you can take years of your learning curve by getting together with somebody that can get you on your way.
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klund
Senior Member
klund
Joined: 31 Mar 2012
Posts: 71
Location: Southern MN, USA
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: Breville Dual Boiler
Grinder: Baratza Vario-W
Posted Fri Jun 15, 2012, 6:03am
Subject: Re: idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
 

mig Said:

I feel I am no closer to achieving any level of consistency than when I first un-boxed my shiny new gear.

Posted June 14, 2012 link

Nothing quite beats that feeling of spending $1500 to upgrade your coffee making, and then having your significant other watch as you continually dump bad shot after bad shot down the drain.

I will still classify myself as a n00b, but at least I am now a n00b making mostly decent coffee, and occaisionally excellent coffee. For me, the item which helped the most was a digital scale that measured to 0.1 grams. Once I was able to know that I was always dosing 18.0 grams of coffee, I could adjust my grind settings to get the flow right to make good espresso.

Good luck!

 
-- klund

Well then, you should see me without coffee.
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greattemper
Senior Member
greattemper
Joined: 25 Mar 2012
Posts: 19
Location: Tel-Aviv
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Andreja Premium by quickmill
Grinder: Lelit
Roaster: Popcorn
Posted Fri Jun 15, 2012, 6:06am
Subject: Re: idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
 

mr_pedro Said:

It does take many years to figure it out by yourself. What complicates matters is not knowing what good espresso is if you have no good reference.

So you can take years of your learning curve by getting together with somebody that can get you on your way.

Posted June 15, 2012 link

I totally agree with Mr. Pedro. I also more then understand your frustration as i was in your position few months ago. I actually started thinking of putting my gear on sale. anyway, let me suggest what worked for me (if you do not have a reference friend):
  1. get a Naked (Bottomless) PF.
  2. after you try your best with it, video your process - all of it - including the grinding and the extraction looking up at the bottomless PF.
  3. get and listen to the feedback you get from the forum experts.

and may the force be with you... it will not to worry :)
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frcn
Senior Member
frcn
Joined: 23 Dec 2001
Posts: 3,349
Location: Northern California
Expertise: Professional

Espresso: Vibiemme Domobar Double
Grinder: Mazzer Kony, Baratza...
Vac Pot: Hario, 2 Cory pots, 1 Cory...
Drip: Behmor Brazen, Bunn A10 mod...
Roaster: computer controlled Hottop,...
Posted Fri Jun 15, 2012, 8:09am
Subject: Re: idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
 

As much as I like the Espro tamper I have, FORGET the calibrated tamper. It's nice, but you can just tamp as long as your tamper feels good in your hand and fits the basket. You can tamp just about as hard as you like. It will give you more consistency than trying some arbitrary force. After around 30 to 35 pounds coffee compresses very little (of course, that depends on the grinder to some extent). Up to 50 or 55 pounds will swork just fine. If you find you NEED to tamp at some specific light or very heavy force, then there are other problems.

On my website www.EspressoMyEspresso.com, check out this article: 12 - EASY GUIDE TO BETTER ESPRESSO AT HOME. It is written in fairly-plain language and should be a big help to you.

Remember that you are now new to espresso. The super-auto gave you no real experience, so be patient.

I agree that a bottomless portafilter is a good thing to have as a diagnostic tool. If you have an extra body, fined a drill press and cut one for yourself.

Get the E-61 grouphead thermometer from Eric. It is excellent to get consistent temperatures which is FAR(!) more important than the tamping force.

What coffee are you using? How old is it?

 
Visit My Website
www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
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mig
Senior Member


Joined: 8 Jun 2012
Posts: 14
Location: Santa Clara, CA
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Rocket Espresso Giotto...
Grinder: Mazza Mini
Posted Fri Jun 15, 2012, 10:07am
Subject: Re: idiots guide to pulling consistent shots?
 

I love this website!  Thanks all for the replies!

My reference for espresso quality, and my source for  beans, is http://www.barefootcoffee.com who are local.  They have a variety of beans, some of which are seasonal, so I probably should stick with one of the regular flavors until I have the experience to adjust.  These guys emphasize freshness and throw away inventory which is unsold two weeks after roasting.  My first espresso in their store was a life changer for me - after my first sip the barista asked if I was OK because I was literally stunned and standing there in a daze.  I had no idea coffee could taste like that!  I haven't so much as sniffed a bag of Starbucks ever since.

I am disappointed to learn that my wife's shiny digital kitchen scale only has 1g accuracy.  I sense another purchase in my near future. :(  I am glad to hear that tamping pressure isn't as important as I had been led to believe, since that seems pretty difficult to control with any kind of accuracy.

frcn - thanks for the link, lots of great information on that website.  Now, where will she let me hang an E-61 poster?  LOL!

Speaking of the E-61, can anyone tell me if and when I will ever use the middle position?  I have heard anecdotal reports that it can be used for pre-infusion on a plumbed machine, but I am currently using the reservoir.

And how do I reach Eric?  Is he on this site?

Thanks again all, its great to know you've got my back.  I do have a bottomless PF and will upload a video soon.
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