Espresso Brew Ratios
Commercial coffee machines are built tough; water pumps run at very high pressures and portafilter baskets accept large doses of dry coffee. So, when we recommend a brew ratio and grind for a shop it’s not always transferable to a home machine. Independent coffee shops can decide exactly how they want to brew coffee depending on their tastes – which is great as it’s what makes them individual and means that you may fall in love with what they are making- it can give them an edge over some middle of the road chains and be the point of difference when competing on busy highstreets! Being different can be an amazing thing when it comes to coffee, so long as you are consistent and your motives come from a place of wanting the best-tasting coffee!
For coffee shops, when setting up a grinder and espresso machine we tend to start with a ratio of 17g dry coffee into an espresso weighing 35g. However, this does depend on the type of machine and coffee being used. To put it into perspective, our trade customers use anywhere between 14.5g and 21g per double shot of coffee, whereas some home coffee machines will only accept around 10-15g maximum.
One “Golden Rule” of brewing that is worth remembering is that whatever the dry weight of coffee going in, the weight of the espresso coming out should be double this for a fully extracted shot. This is how we always start for a rich punchy shot that works well with any milk-based drink and is true for a home or commercial espresso machine. It is such a basic idea, this 1:2 ratio, but so much of the time when out on the road and when helping retail customers improve home brewing this is one of the first things that we can look at that makes a huge difference to how tasty your coffee is. Running more water through the coffee puck for a larger espresso shot does not make for a stronger coffee just a more watery one! Saying that, we can run a little more water through the coffee when making an espresso which will reduce how strong it is and make for a longer more balanced drink!
We can play with the brew ratio to affect the flavour & mouthfeel of the espresso, a shot stopped prematurely (Ristretto) has a thick viscous mouthfeel and can taste almost salty as it is so concentrated whereas a ‘Lungo’ (espresso allowed to have more water run through the puck) will have a lighter body but may be more palatable with improved fruit character.
The roast level of the coffee and the individual character of that coffee have a huge part to play in what brew ratio tastes the best, there isn’t a steadfast rule every coffee is different! For example, when brewing on our La Marzocco at JGHQ running at 93.5degree, recently I’ve been enjoying a roast of Vargem Grande Estate from Brazil which was a more developed espresso roast. I followed my above basic ratio of 17g into 35g in 24 seconds, but on tasting it I found that it was too light and tasted nutty but without the huge body and rich cocoa character I love about this lot. I revisited the grinder to up my dose to 18g which transformed the drink into the chocolate bomb I wanted it to be! That extra gram of coffee has a knock-on effect of making it harder for the espresso machine to pump the water through the coffee puck, so we get a longer shot time which can help sweeten the shot also the extra coffee going in means we get more dissolved solids in our espresso which is why we get a thicker, richer mouthfeel!
Once we have observed our brew ratio, time and temperature are the next factors that must be looked at… As a base level again, we look at a standard commercial espresso machine temp of 93-94 degrees and a shot time of 24-30 seconds.
For lighter-roasted or more acidic coffee, we find generally a higher brew temperature can be advantageous as we always like to balance acidity against sweetness. Big juicy, fruit-forward coffees are delicious but lip-puckering acidity isn’t what we are generally looking for! So if you find your coffee is tasting too bright, try upping your brew temperature or increasing your brew time – by either upping your dry coffee weight or making your grind finer.
For traditional espresso roasted or coffee with lower acidity levels, a lower brew temperature can be used as we don’t want to encourage bitterness, which is something hotter water can do especially if it’s a darker roast. If you find you can’t taste any of the fruity/ acidity tasting notes we mention on the bag, maybe try dropping your brew temp or reducing the amount of dry coffee going in, as less dissolved solids in your shot can help un-mask these easily over ridden more subtle notes and characteristics!