Clair recently brought her fancy coffee machine home from work. It’s a Sage Barista Touch. Since then, I’ve been learning what’s involved in making a coffee by grinding fresh from whole beans, barista-style!
It’s more complicated than I would have thought, and has involved lots of learning and trial and error.
Here are my go-to resources and my rules-of-thumb. I’m not saying they’re perfect, but they’re working for me! Any additional tips from people more in the know are, of course, very welcome.
Dialling in: my rule of thumb
Overall I want:
- a good taste, as a result of
- a grind of 18-19g, and
- a pull where liquid flows from 7 seconds or more, and
- a conventional yield such as a 2oz double-espresso.
Once you’ve achieved the above from a process of trial and error, dial in the settings (grind, dose) and log any additional notes so that you can easily repeat the same process achieving the same results.
How it works in practice
If I buy a new bag of coffee beans for a coffee I’m trying for the first time, here’s how I’d set about dialling in.
Note: before you start, you want your coffee’s roast date to be no more than 3 weeks ago and you’ll need coffee scales and one or two espresso shot glasses with measuring lines.
Fill up the tank with fresh water. Use the hot water feature to pour out some hot water into your mug to warm everything up.
Start with a grind size of 12 and a grind time of 20 seconds (they’re sensible middling starting points).
Place your portafilter with funnel attached on your scales (turned off) then turn on the scales so that they’re zeroed appropriately.
Remove the portafilter and grind out coffee based on the previously set grind time. Use the scales to check how much you’ve ground. Remove some, or grind and add more, til you have 18g. Jot down how much time it takes to grind 18g.
Settle, level (roughly) and tamp the coffee in the basket.
Remove the funnel then screw the portafilter in so that it’s ready to brew.
Place your espresso measuring mug under the portafilter, ready to receive brewed coffee.
Start brewing and note the point when liquid starts flowing. If it starts flowing before seven seconds, set the grind size finer. Get this aspect locked down first.
Once we’ve achieved a good begin-flow point and a steady flow, I want to identify the number of seconds it takes to achieve my target yield – meaning the time at which the crema hits the 2oz double espresso line.
Once you’ve hit your yield, and so long as the time was between 25-35 seconds, taste it. If you like it you could dial in that brew time and stop there. If it’s at say 28+ seconds (indicating that the water’s taking a long time to make its way though the coffee) I might also try increasing the grind size by one (larger grind = less dense = water gets through faster) and seeing if I can achieve the target yield within a few less seconds.
Another little tweak I sometimes make to achieve the balance of begin-flow-time, steady flow and yield is to slightly increase or reduce the amount of coffee. For example adding a few milligrams (a dose of 18.5g versus 18g) might start the flow just a little later, when that’s what you need.
If you tried different settings, compare the taste in separate shot glasses. Go with the one you like! Dial in (save/overwrite) your grind size, grind time and brew time. I’ve noticed that the grind size can move a bit of its own accord between uses, so noting the settings for this coffee down somewhere is a good idea too.
Now that you have a good shot of espresso, you could make (for example) a flat white… or add water and a drop of milk for an americano… or just have the espresso itself if you’re feeling Italian.