Dialing In Breville Barista Express Machines

Dialing In Breville Barista Express Machines

In this article, we’ll jump straight into some step-by-step instructions to get you pulling an at least drinkable shot on your Breville espresso machine. Then, after that very quick instructional, we’ll dive into the details of how to make that drinkable shot a GREAT shot.

Step #1 Standardize Your Dose

We’ll be using a double shot, single walled basket. The correct dose for these 54mm Breville portafilters is generally slightly lower at around 17gr. Notice that I’m referring to a weight in grams, and not a grind timer setting. You will need a scale for this process. Please don’t try and torture yourself by going without one, the built-in timed dosing on these machines is simply not accurate enough to avoid frustration when dialing in. (Here’s an inexpensive scale we recommend)

(Tip: Only put 17gr of grinds into your grinder each time, and grind until the hopper is empty to simplify your workflow, and keep beans from going stale)

Step #2 Start in the Middle

Start in the middle of the grind coarseness range. This is a grind setting of 8 on the Barista Express and Barista Touch, and 15 on the Barista Pro.

Barista Express Grinder Adjustment

Step #3 Tamp Consistently

Just like using the built-in grind timer is a recipe for frustration, so too is trying to manually tamp consistently as a beginner. Even the highest level baristas have started to opt for the unmatched consistency of a palm tamper/distributor. Save yourself some frustration, and pick one of these up. (Again, here is a good tamper we recommend)

Step #4 Pull a Test Shot

Once you know that you have 17gr of grinds, at a middle-ground grind setting, and tamped in a repeatable way, it’s time to pull a test shot. Grab your trusty scale again, place it under your shot glass, and time how long it takes to get 34gr of espresso from the moment the first drip leaves the spouts.

(Tip: Press the “Program” button before you run the shot. The machine will then run indefinitely until you press the double shot button a second time, which then saves that as the default extraction time)

Step #5 Analyze Your Result, and Adjust

The shot should take between 20-30sec to reach 34gr in the cup. Try to get this number as close to 25sec as possible by doing the following:

Overextracted espresso

If your shot took too long to get to 34gr, adjust your grind setting coarser (higher number)

Underextracted espresso

If your shot ran too fast to 34gr, adjust your grind setting finer (lower number)

Step #6 Repeat

Repeat this process, slowly adjusting the grind setting each time, until you are able to achieve 34gr of espresso, from 17gr of grinds, in between 20-30sec. If you are using the barista express, do not fixate on the “Espresso Range” marked on the pressure gauge. It is widely agreed upon that the best shots are actually pulled from 12 o’clock and onward on the dial.

(Tip: if you cannot achieve this flow rate because you are at the min or max grind setting, you will need to adjust the internal burr setting to give yourself more range)

Drinkable >> Greatness!

Now that you have achieved a reasonable flow rate, it’s time to learn the fundamental concepts of espresso extraction that will help you turn your drinkable shot, into a GREAT shot. Espresso extraction has 3 key pillars, that form the foundation of how a shot tastes. Dose, yield, and time.

Dose

The one thing to understand about dose, is that it only determines how MUCH espresso you can make at a certain brew ratio.

For example, if you want to be brewing at a typical 1:2 brew ratio, a dose of 16gr will yield 32gr of espresso. A 20gr dose? That’s right! 40gr of espresso.

Your dose size is really only limited by the filter basket. The larger the basket, the larger the shot you can probably manage to pull. You also don’t want to go too low with dose, as this will create too much distance between the group head and you coffee puck leading to pooling. All Breville’s other than the dual boiler and oracle machines use a slightly smaller 54mm size portafilter, meaning that if you want to play around with dose, I’d caution against going much higher than 18gr, and slightly lower doses can actually be beneficial. What’s important in terms of dialing in, is to pick an appropriate dose for your machine, and keep this number fixed throughout the rest of the process.

Yield & “Brew Ratio”

Now that we’ve locked in our dose. We will move on the second pillar of dialing in which is yield. Yield, in combination with the dose, creates what is often referred to as a brew ratio. How much coffee (the dose) to how much espresso (the yield). Changing this ratio, plays with the balance of “extraction” and “strength” of the shot.

As you pull a shot, you are continuously adding more water, therefore diluting or reducing the “strength”. But you are also simultaneously increasing how much coffee goodness you’ve pulled from the beans or “extraction”. Obviously, there are limits to this. If you let a shot run for a minute, by the end you would still be reducing the strength by pouring more water into the cup, but no-longer be getting any more extraction. The beans have nothing more to give. This chart helps to explain this. As you can see, as the extraction percentage gets higher (we move from left to right), the strength decreases at an ever accelerating rate.

So that means there is a sweet spot. That sweet spot will depend on personal taste, again there’s no ONE answer. A shorter ratio like 1:1 will be very strong, but may taste sour or underextracted to some. A long ratio like 1:3 or will be weaker, but some find it is sweeter and more balanced. You have to experiment. I recommend starting at a 1:2 as a standard midpoint, and adjusting from there to individual taste preferences. A good way to understand how the flavours change as a shot progresses is to do an exercise known as the “Salami Shot”. What you do is switch to a different glass every 5 seconds as your shot runs. Let the shot run extra long, maybe 40 seconds. This way you can taste what flavours are added to the shot at each stage of the extraction, and start to fine tune your palatte to whether you like the flavours of a longer or shorter shot.

Time / Grind Setting

Finally we come to grind size, which impacts the shot TIME. This is the final pillar of dialing in espresso. Brew ratio had a large impact on overall shot flavour. If brew ratio is a macro adjustment to flavour, time will be your final micro adjustment. The average espresso pull runs around 20-30 seconds. This is a BIG range. Again I recommend starting in the middle at 25 seconds to reach your desired yield, and then start adjusting the grind size up or down from there to taste.

When it comes to comes to grind size, it helps to visualize how the water is running through the puck. A very coarse grind is like a box of pebbles. Water will pass very quickly over the rocks, and come out the other side looking pretty much the same. In coffee terms, the contact time will be too low, and the resulting taste will be sour and unpleasant. At the other end of the spectrum, for a fine grind we can visualize a box of fine sand, the water will seep through very slowly, and if the sand is too fine, it will start to pool on top. A shot that is too fine will often taste burnt and bitter because the contact time was too high which scorched the coffee or simply over extracted it

Sand (slow flow, high extraction)

Pebbles (fast flow, low extraction)

As with anything, it’s all about balance. You can pull a 1:2 ratio shot in 5 seconds, but it’s not going to taste any good. If you take too long to reach your desired brew ratio, you will pass the ideal brew because you are getting little or no added extraction during the end part of your pull. You’re job is to find the money zone for each coffee you dial in.

Final Word

  • Pick an appropriate dose for your portafilter size and shape, and then leave it alone.
  • Tamp consistently however you prefer to do this
  • Play with brew ratios to find what tastes best to you
  • Fine tune the final shot using the grind setting / shot time

Need More? Watch the video!