The art of great coffee has long been debated, particularly when it comes to pulling the perfect espresso. You see, milk is excellent at hiding some qualities. If you over or under extract your grinds, milk is the perfect cover up. But espresso is less forgiving. That's why you should always aim to let your espresso extract for 25 – 30 seconds.
The perfect extraction time for an espresso is 25 – 30 seconds. This is true for pressurised and non-pressurised baskets. Whether you're using a Sage coffee machine at home or you're keeping an eye on the barista using a La Marzocco espresso machine at your favourite café... the extraction time should always be the same. 25 – 30 seconds.
If you're making espresso at home and you haven’t managed to achieve this perfect pull yet, there are a few things we recommend trying out.
How Much Coffee are You Putting in Your Portafilter Basket?
Firstly, are you weighing your beans? For a single espresso portafilter basket, you need 11 grams of fresh coffee. For a double espresso portafilter basket, you need 18 grams of fresh coffee. We weigh our beans out before we put them in our coffee grinder to minimise waste and ensure we're getting the best coffee to water ratio.
As you can probably guess, if you're not using enough coffee then the pressure will force the water through the grounds much quicker than it's supposed to. On the other hand, too much coffee will cause a slower extraction time as the water tries to find its way through.
Some coffee grinders have espresso machine settings, designed to stop when you've got the perfect amount of ground coffee in your portafilter. If you are having trouble with extraction times, weigh what you get in your basket. It may be that your grinder needs to be dialled in or that the setting on your machine is faulty and does not weigh correctly.
The Perfect Coffee Beans to use for Espresso
Did you know, the freshness of your coffee beans will affect your espresso's extraction time? Not to mention the taste. But it might not be in the way that you expect it to...
Supermarket coffee could have been in the bag for 2 years before it landed in your kitchen. We know it's convenient. And we know the pretty packaging is practically begging you to put it in your basket. But next time you reach for a bag of coffee on the supermarket shelf, have a think about how long it's been there.
You see, mass market coffee (like the stuff you find at the high street) passes through as many as 15 middle men before it even gets to the supermarket shelves. There's the coffee farmers, exporters, salesman, agents, brokers... you name it, they're involved in the chain.
Don't even get me started on how they manage to pay all these people fairly. The answer is that they don't. That's how Barista & Co (and loads of other independent roasters) can pay their farmers up to 4x more than these companies do). Can you tell I'm not a fan?
Anyway, we went slightly off topic there. The problem with older coffee beans is that they lack a lot of the flavours that you know and love from great coffee. To counteract this, most of these brands will dark roast their coffee. When you dark roast, you lose a lot of the natural flavours and get an Italian style bitter taste – feel free to learn about light roast vs. dark roast, you might be surprised to find out which one has more coffee.
Is Your Espresso Over Extracting? Or is Your Coffee Supermarket Stale?
Now as these supermarket coffee brands are dark roasting their beans to hide the nasty flavours, you'll get a bitter taste. Almost burnt. Which you might confuse with over extraction. We do... all the time. Before you go tinkering with your espresso machine or your coffee grinder, get your hands on a sample of freshly roasted coffee and give it a go. I might be wrong, but I'm willing to bet you'll notice the difference.
Is Your Coffee Too Fresh?
Yes, this is a thing. Your coffee beans might be too fresh. This is because coffee is full of carbon dioxide – it's perfectly safe so don't worry.
In fact, we use the carbon dioxide decaffeination process to create our organic decaf coffee. This is a non-solvent method that certifies our beans as organic. The Swiss Water Method is known as one of the best, but did you know that the only certified organic Swiss Water Decaf Facility is based in Switzerland? Either your beans have travelled a long way, or they're not organic... we're not naming names here.
Anyway, a lot of independent coffee roasters like Barista & Co roast fresh to order. Our Super Fresh Guarantee means that you'll get your money back if your coffee wasn't roasted and posted within 7 days. Some people roast and post on the same day... here's why that might be causing your espresso machine some problems.
The carbon dioxide in your beans needs to get out. That's it. If you roast and bag your coffee immediately, you're basically trapping all that gas inside your beans. This could lead to any number of problems when it comes to grinding your coffee in your grinder or your extraction time.
Always check the roast date on your coffee bag. If your beans were roasted less than a week ago, leave them to rest for a few more days and try again. Or, save yourself the trouble and choose a coffee subscription that takes care of the resting for you.
Is Your Grind Size Off?
The next thing to do is check your grind size and your grind consistency. Espresso machines and pressurised brewers. This means they brew coffee by forcing hot water through fresh grinds and require a fine grind size. If you find your espresso is extracting too quickly, try grinding your coffee even finer.
This is the most common cause of fast extraction times. The thing is, water is lazy and it is going to find the quickest and easiest route through the coffee. If your grind is off, or inconsistencies in your grind size means you have a few coarser bits in there, the water will move through the coffee much quicker than it's supposed to.
On the other hand, if your espresso shot is taking longer than 30 seconds to extract it might be because your grind is too fine. If your coffee is ground too fine, the water won't be able to get through which will cause your machine to choke and splutter. This is more common with pressurised baskets. We'd recommend grinding your coffee ever so slightly coarser and testing shot by shot until you get the perfect pull.
Tamping Your Espresso
Now onto a source of debate for many professional and at-home baristas: tamping. Do you tamp your espresso shots? The likelihood is yes... but how hard do you tamp?
Tamping is when you push the ground coffee down into the portafilter basket to create the perfect puck. Some coffee grinders have a tamp attachment, but you can pick up tools that allow you to do it at home.
Tampers are typically made out of metal, and the circular shape means that they fit in the portafilter basket perfectly. You grind your coffee directly into your portafilter head, then use the tamper to apply pressure and tamp the grounds down into the perfect puck.
So why is this art debated? Well, some professional baristas have been putting it to the test. They've tried extracting espresso without tamping. They've tried extracting espresso tamping as hard as they possibly can. The conclusion? Tamping is necessary, but you don't need to apply as much pressure as you think.
In fact, the ideal amount of weight to push down on your coffee is between 20 – 30 pounds. That's not a lot of force in the grand scheme of things...
If your espresso is taking too long to extract, try tamping lighter and see if that does the trick.