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How to Pull Espresso Shots

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Grind the Coffee
An image of espresso beans being ground in a coffee grinder.

Grind settings must be changed throughout the day to account for a multitude of ever-changing factors, such as bean variations, temperature and humidity.

Lindsey Goodwin
Every espresso machine is different and there's quite a bit of controversy over the "best" way to pull a shot. However, there are some basics that can help you sharpen your espresso-pulling skills and pull great shots. From why fresh-ground beans are a must to what "mouse tails" are and why you should watch them, these step-by-step instructions cover all the basics of pulling espresso.

Shots begin with whole beans. It is imperative that you begin with whole beans because the volatile oils (which give coffee its incredible range and depth of flavor) begin to dissipate off of the coffee as soon as it is ground. In fact, the effect of lost oils is so pronounced on espresso's flavor that it's important to pull as shot as soon as possible after you have ground the beans and it is almost always recommended that you grind for each and every individual shot you pull.

Conical burr grinders are the best way to grind espresso because they produce the fullest flavor. (Here's more information on blade grinder vs. burr grinders.) Grinders generally come with recommended grind settings (for coarser or finer grounds), but these must be changed throughout the day to account for a multitude of ever-changing factors, such as bean variations, temperature and humidity. Also, generally speaking, grinds should be slightly finer for manual or automatic espresso makers than they should be for stovetop espresso makers/moka pots or pumpless electric espresso makers. Ultimately, most baristas agree that the best grind size is the one that results in a shot that pulls in 23 to 29 seconds and (Very important!) tastes great.

To grind coffee beans for espresso, fill the hopper and activate the grinder for about 15 to 20 seconds. Many grinders require that a lever ("doser") be pulled forward repeatedly as the coffee is ground. This action dispenses the ground coffee into the portafilter.

If, later, you find your shots are extracting too quickly, the first thing to try to adjust is the grind size. Make it smaller. Similarly, if a shot is taking too long to extract, try making the grind size slightly larger.

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