Dialling in – Grinder Basics

Getting your espresso right can be a daunting task, especially when you feel like your grinder has a mind of its own. If you’ve ever tried to pull a shot and it just won’t behave, maybe it’s time to brush up your dialling in skills. We’re going to talk you through what’s going on inside your basket, and give you the tools you need to know how to tame your grinder.

Firstly, you’re going to need:

  • a timer
  • a set of scales – ideally a set that is accurate to 1/10 of a gram
  • a notepad

This will ensure that you’ve got the maximum control over what’s going on with your espresso dose.

The basic recipe that we suggest as a starting point is 18g of coffee in the basket, producing 36ml of espresso in 27 seconds (±3 sec). This will give you a 1:2 ratio, which is pretty much a failsafe way of making any espresso taste good. Larger ratios (e.g. 18g to 42ml – 1:2.3) will ‘open up’ the espresso, letting you taste more delicate notes, but run the risk of being thin-bodied. Smaller ratios (e.g. 18g to 32ml – 1:1.75) will be more intense, but might give less clarity of flavour.

Thinking about resistance is the easiest way to visualise what’s going on inside your portafilter. If you’re pulling shots that have 18g of coffee in the basket but are really slow to come out (over 30 seconds), you’ll need to make it easier for the water to come through – i.e. coarsen your grind. Conversely, if your shots are pulling too fast (less than 24 seconds), tighten up the grind to slow the water down. Always check first that you’re dosing the right amount of coffee – it’s easier to grind the right amount than change your grinder’s settings.

Handy Guide to using your grinder

A handy guide to dialling in your ‘spro (we can’t take credit for designing this)!

Next comes the balancing act – you’re aiming to hit those three numbers (18g, 36ml, 27sec) all at the same time. Your grind setting needs to be such that your shot will run for as long as it’s meant to, but changing that could change how much coffee you have in your basket. Making the grind finer makes the grinder work harder, so it’ll grind less coffee in the time you’ve told it to grind for. You’ll need to adjust grinding time after you’ve changed how fine/coarse your grind is (coarser = shorter, finer = longer). Balancing this will keep your ratios where they need to be.

Cruically, only ever make very small changes to one thing at a time – the last thing you want is to make a change and have no idea how you got there! Even though it might be tempting to change your grind size and grinding time all at once, take it one step at a time and keep a note of what you’ve changed.

The most important thing of all is to taste everything. Dialling in is a process that can teach you a lot in a very short space of time, if you make it a part of your routine. You’ll soon get a feel for what an under/overextracted shot tastes like, and you’ll probably be less likely to drink those shots yourself, or serve them to paying customers. If it’s not part of your workflow, dialling in might seem like spinning plates, but keep on top of it and you’ll never look back.

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