Dialling in without timings

Just a quick post – not really designed to be a how to, more a little anecdotal incident that I wanted to share. It is interesting how Extract Mojo starts to change the way you think about espresso.

This morning I was chatting to Jess as we were pulling shots (for in house consumption I should add).  The coffee wasn’t tasting great and we started talking about dialling in  and what we would change.  I like having a timer around for dialling in, aware that I am woefully inconsistent when it comes to mental timekeeping and it is a key variable in dialling in – brew time has been something I’ve been trained to focus on.  Couldn’t find the timer, so instead we grabbed the scales.

I know that I like our espresso blend when it is pulled at a brew ratio of around 65%.  This means that the weight of the ground coffee used is 65% of the weight of the brewed espresso liquid.  Our 20g dose would therefre yield a little under 31g of espresso.

What we did was keep the brewed mass as a fixed variable, ignore time and go by taste.  This proved surprisingly quick – the first shot was overextracted, so we nudged the grind a little coarser.  Second shot was better, but again the rough finish indicated overextraction.  One more nudge coarser and then sudden deliciousness.  One of the best espressos I’ve had in a long time – juicy, sweet, balanced, tonnes of clarity. 1 Out of curiousity I tracked down a timer and timed the next shot – 29 seconds…

It has been a while since I’ve done this exercise – it was interesting to choose a desired strength (which is essentially what a brew ratio does – assuming you are going to consistently extract the coffee properly).  Ignoring time and just using taste was oddly liberating.  I think that it also feels weird to think of that end mass as being fixed as the industry tends to defer (incorrectly in many ways) to the look of the pour.  “Blonding” has long been problematic for me.  Aside from the massive potential for subjectivity (which isn’t hugely useful when it comes to communicating), blonding is the result of the flow containing less solubles than before – but offers no clue as to the quality and flavour of those solubles.

I posted this because this little exercise felt worthwhile, and I’d recommend other people try it.  I think around 65% as a brew ratio is a great place to start – enough liquid that you stand a chance of properly extracting the coffee, but still tonnes of texture and mouthfeel.  I’m not saying all espresso should be about 12% strength (what 65% as a brew ratio works out to in a proper extraction) – strength should always remain an individual preference I think.

On a side note – a quick tip:  some days on bar the coffee tastes great.  When it is tasting exactly how you like it then grab a weight measurement of dose and brew liquid.  When your coffee doesn’t taste so great – and that will happen – check your numbers and, 9 times out of 10, working back towards the tasty numbers will quickly improve your shots.

  1. I should add that while we didn’t use the Mojo, I have no doubt that the extraction was around 19% – mostly due to the correlation between shots I’ve enjoyed in the past, and their readings  ↩︎

31 Comments

  1. my expericance has been 100% extraction ration. a 1 to 1 ratio seems to always be my personal favorite.

    on a side note does anyone happen to know the average gravity of espresso?

  2. I was thinking about your point on blonding at the market on Sunday whilst dialing in Jail Break. I had always assumed that adjusting point at which I stopped the shot was predominantly effect the shots body, in contrast to this I found the body was not altered so much as the flavour and I discovered a much more balanced cup just passed where I may normally pull up.

    I’ll definatly be trying this dial in style soon.

  3. In Italy we use 7 grams and get around 25 grams, that means a 25% brew ratio. What blend were you working with, James?

  4. Hi Carlo,

    I think it is important to distinguish grams from milliliters. Generally a 25ml espresso from 7g will weigh around 14g (in my experience anyway) – depending on how fresh the coffee is and how much of the 25ml is CO2.

  5. Thanks for sharing James, this is mighty useful information.

    I expected this post to be in reference to those of us without timers on our grinders. Our GB-5 has timers built right in but I’ve been ignoring them and watching blonding, I’ll be giving this technique a go this afternoon.

  6. Do you mean a single espresso?
    As in, one side of the spouts?

  7. Terrific post, James, thank you. A few comments:

    1. It’s been said before, but pulling shots to a consistent mass is something that automatic espresso machines (long abandoned in the “3rd wave”) are very good at. Just be sure to feed them a consistent dose.
    2. Agree 100% about the uselessness of blonding as a means of communicating with others!
    3. Like you, my preferred espresso brew ratio usually settles in around 60-66% (although it’s closer to 50% for the bleeding edge light roasts).
    4. Andrew Lopez: espresso is about 1.02 times heavier than water.

  8. Hi James,
    This is the best post you’ve done in ages, and provides some good substance to your post about Tradition. You have also provided just enough detail to get my mind going and now I feel like there’s alot of discovery ahead!
    I’ve always been blindly lead by tradition or perhaps by competition judgers that blonding is not a good thing and these days use this as one of the main ways to decide when to finish a shot.
    After reading this post I’m really looking forward to getting to the office and setting a set of scales loose on the espresso machine!

  9. I do this same thing and everyone laughs… tells me it blonded a while ago and talks about a lack of body all while the espresso tastes great. Everyone seems to be very set in their ways and it makes it tough to change. I will admit that the body of my espresso now is considerably less but maybe thats how it should have been the whole time.

  10. Nice one james, i’m feeling inspired. Cheers.

  11. I try to make this exercise part of my taste experiments when making new blends, I have found a lot of variation in my preference between blends, pre-infusion or not, and age of coffee etc, which creates a somewhat unwelcome extra layer of complexity to finding an easily repeatable flavour in a wholesale application, with cafes having different machines- volumetric, semi, pre-infusion etc
    Do you pre-infuse when trying this? you mentioned 20g of coffee- that’s a lot! do you find same parameters with 16-18g of coffee?
    Thanks to you and your team for such honest and unrelenting leadership in building a more educated and networked industry!

  12. Thanks, James. Great post… the 65% baseline is a good one I hadn’t heard before. Going to try that out.

    I always tell my students, one is serving a tasty beverage, not a shot glass full of numbers!

  13. Very interesting post, I recently stopped weighing my doses but have trialed many different coffees (SO’s and blends) and have gone off volume in the pf, grind, and watching the rate and time of extraction and more than anything the flavour! There’s been LOTS of different results and variebles have had to be changed lots but i shall now try brew weights also as another way to analyse them.

  14. Great timing for me to read this! I was just playing with dialing in “how to” tonight and really wanting some good approaches so thanks for a good tip and angle! Should make my shift tomorrow a bit of A challenge.

  15. James, I think it actually depends on how fresh you roast your coffee. Moreover on its content of fats, CO2, fiber and so on.

  16. Carlo brings up a good point. If I have a calibrated shot glass and fill up to a set point (1.5oz, 2oz, etc.) with the same dose of coffee every time, will it weigh as much 3 days off roast as opposed to 10 or 12 days off roast? My hunch is no, but I’m curious to see what others think.

  17. @Carlo – yeah, freshness is really the key variable (as mentioned above). I don’t think the quantities of fats and other materials vary significantly enough from coffee to coffee to be a genuine variable to be concerned about.

    @Kyle – The same volume will gradually weigh more and more as coffee ages, as you need more liquid to make up the volume as the amount of gas to create crema is decreasing.

    I should really just do a video….

  18. @Kyle

    is that not the trouble with following volumetric approaches to espresso as well?

  19. James,

    Thanks for this post. We received some new 100th-of-a-gram scales shortly after you posted and have really enjoyed/learned a lot from the volumetric approach.

    The oddest result has been finding a potential espresso component that pulls best at 1min+!

    Best,
    Ben

  20. I’m curious if anyone knows of any how-to articles or videos on the subject. I am completely unfamiliar with any of these methods and would love to know more so I can try it out myself.

  21. Just for kicks, I decided to weigh our dose:extraction weights here at the Wendelbar.

    19.5-20g consistently tasted best at 21-22g of brewed weight (double) in around 24-26 seconds. This was done with an 8-day old roast (nitro flushed and vac packed).

    As an entirely unscientific aside: the shot flows “quickly”, by which I mean there’s little glooping action starting off — it goes straight into a straight, continuous pour.

    Pulling it any longer (25g or God forbid, 30+) was … unsuccessful.

  22. Interesting to see you guys are pulling them that short and with that high of a ratio. It would definitely fall into my definition of an espresso (brew ratio >70%). Which is amusing considering Mr Varney’s comments on the ristretto on Twitter….

  23. Sorry about that! What browser/OS are you using?

  24. hi chris and james, im just wondering, since we’re talking about brew ratios being >70% and short, could it be the grind? as in would 1/2 click coarser lower the brew ratio to 60+% and keep that in timing? but would you be sacrificing flavour/texture with a coarser grind? i know it depends on the bean and other variables too.. my espresso has been all over the place in the last week so i’m trying to reset and get some parameters in

  25. Great discussion, just out of interest what how light or dark is the coffee you are using? 

  26. Interesting post James, with this 65% brew ratio, you use a 20g dose giving you 31g drink.  This is your double. 

    In our cafe we have a 6 oz capp and unfortunately a 12oz capp.  With this ratio, is it right to split the shot, giving 15.5g shot into the 6oz capp. 

    Then using a double 31g  into the 12oz.  Does this sound right?

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