How to set your portafilter correctly.

Friday afternoon with the developers of a truly wonderful portafilter machine. Because we wanted to give it away to our fans in a sweepstake, it was clear to us that we also wanted to know the perfect recipe for preparing our coffees with this shiny chrome machine. Which prompted me to write this article – after all, not everyone is as crazy as us and the machine freaks. So, what should you keep in mind if you want to prepare a very tasty espresso?

Picture of Babette Lichtenford

Babette Lichtenford

photo: michael bernhardi

Trial and error.

The optimum interplay of brewing temperature, grinding degree, extraction time, amount of water, and coffee grounds (not to mention individual taste preferences) can only be found by trying. Because, for example, different brewing temperatures alone produce different flavors. So let’s start with that.

A general rule is, that high temperatures (max. 205°F) extract more than low temperatures (min. 198 °F), but this does not necessarily mean the taste is better. As far as the minimum temperature is concerned, opinions differ: At the Barista World Championships, for example, a minimum temperature of 195°F is specified. Our machine developer turns up his nose at that and would never go below 198 °F.

In principle, however, you can say that dark roasts taste better at lower temperatures (because they are already more “soluble”), although you have to be careful not to emphasize the acidity too much.
Tip: Before brewing, “flush” for a few seconds (run through without a portafilter). On the one hand, coffee powder residues are rinsed away, and on the other hand, this stabilizes the temperature.

How fine is fine?

The grinding degree, the second important setting option, also has a decisive influence on the taste. If your espresso is ground too coarsely, the water flows through it too quickly and the aromas cannot be released or are released too little. If the coffee powder is too fine, the pressure in the portafilter will be too high and unwanted oils will be released from the coffee.
So: It’s also a matter of trial and error. In any case, you should grind the beans for the portafilter rather finely. It is best to start with a grain size of 0.3-0.4 mm.

Next question: How much ground coffee do you need? Too little makes the espresso watery and tasteless. Too much will release oils from the ground coffee, which is not what you want. Most portafilters have an edge or marking in the sieve, so you should start with this to find the right amount for each coffee.

Tip: Use a small scale, otherwise it will be inaccurate.

And then? Then you need to compact the coffee powder properly so that the water flows through evenly – otherwise the espresso will be bitter and you can forget about the crema. At the moment, there is big hype about so-called levelers, which distribute the powder as evenly as possible in the sieve. You can do this, but we think it’s more important to tamp correctly: With enough pressure and vertically from above (not tilted). To find out why this is the case check out the blog post “Press it! Or why tamping is so important.” 

Last but not least: The amount of water and the extraction time. Here the same applies … you know … try it. Rule of thumb for a simple espresso: 25 seconds extraction time. If you let it run for much less time, it will be unpleasantly sweet.

Voila the recipe.

So, once you’ve tweaked all these settings, tried them out, and are happy with the result, you’ll have your very own personal recipe. For your machine and your current favorite coffee.

Here is an example:

0.67oz barista espresso, fine grinding degree, in a double sieve (up to the line). 
 Brew at 198 °F, 20 seconds extraction time, produces 1.35fl oz of espresso (almost a double shot of espresso).

However, this really only applies to this particular machine – the idea Espressolo plus. Because every machine is different. They brew differently, have different temperature curves, etc.

You should also check out the article “Portafilter – (not) a male preserve?” , which provides some general information about “La Macchina”.

Let us know in the comments what your recipe for your machine looks like – we’re very curious to read your answers.