Five Steps to Better Coffee at home: Step Three – The Dose

Once you’ve got your supply of fresh beans and your grind sorted it’s time to make your coffee – the next step where coffee often fails is in the “dose” – in espresso preparation this is the amount of coffee ground and tamped into your portafiller basket. The portafiller is the fancy name for “the handle that goes into the machine.”

The amount of coffee used per cup is also important in all other methods of coffee preparation, but it is one of the most controllable variables in your coffee preparation routine. Some baristas seeking to control every variable to the nearest micro detail will even weigh the ground coffee before making their drinks. Others will develop a consistent routine to ensure they get the same result every time.

When it comes to espresso getting the dose wrong can have profound impacts on your extraction, too much and the coffee will stall or pour too slowly. The ideal for espresso is for about 30mL in 25-30 seconds, a shot that takes longer, called a ristretto, is thicker, oilier, and becoming increasingly popular in specialty cafes. Ristrettos can be achieved by increasing your dose.

The basic routine for espresso dosing is to grind your coffee into the portafiller basket until it is heaped over the top. A good tip at this point is to use the double shot basket even when you’re only going to use a single shot. It tastes better.

Bang it against a flat surface a few times (aim for the same number every time) to settle the coffee – you don’t want big gaps or different densities in the puck your coffee will form in the basket – having uniform density means the water has to travel through the coffee evenly.

Next, level off the coffee with a flat surface (use the same thing each time – most baristas use their fingers, but you can use the back of a bread knife or buy expensive dosing tools). Volume is more important than weight – different beans have different densities and it’s important to have the same volume of coffee in the basket each time rather than the same weight, but a ball park is 14gm for a double shot.

Then tamp (push down on) the coffee firmly – some people suggest tamping with 15kg of force (you can practice on bathroom scales, practice pushing down on them with your tamper/flat round surface until it reads 15kg or thereabouts). When the coffee is tamped properly you should be able to flip the portafiller upside down without getting coffee all over your bench, once you’ve got the coffee in the basket it’s time to extract your shot.

When it comes to dosing for your plunger coffee or filtered/percolated coffee there are ideal ratios of coffee to water – that are also best calculated using volume. For a plunger, also called a “French Press” or a presspot, the ratio is one heaped tablespoon per cup of coffee. Brewed coffee (percolaters, drip filters, etc) needs about two tablespoons for one and a half cups.

This series covers information I used for a coffee information night I put on at my church (twice) and originally appeared on St. Eutychus.com

Want less bitter coffee? Just add salt…

Modernist Cuisine is the foodies’ bible. Its writers take food seriously. And unlike a lot of restaurants out there – they also take coffee seriously. So these snippets from the coffee section posted at Eater.com are worth pondering and filing away for your next coffee party. At least one of these tips will improve your coffee at home.

The Cold Portafiller

“The classic example with espresso is if your portafilter is cold, it’s impossible to pull a good shot. It’s going to be sour no matter what… And the portafilters are clean and sitting down in the drip tray, they’re not locked into the machine. You might as well turn around and walk back out. It’s impossible for them to make a good cup of coffee at the point because the portafilter’s cold. They’re going to put the grinds into a cold or even lukewarm portafilter before locking it in and pulling the shot, and the temperature of that portafilter is going to cause the temperature of the water to plummet. And low temperature water going into your grounds is going to make a very acidic brew. So one of the things you want to see is the protafilter even when not in use locked into the machine because that keeps it hot.”

Weighing the Dose

“… we would do experiments where just being off by half a gram, how many espresso grinds you put in, would make an enormous difference in how good the coffee tastes, with everything else being as same as possible. And so it really reinforces the point that if you want constancy, especially when you’re learning a knack for it, you’ve got to weigh. We’re just not that accurate as human beings to judge things by eyeball. We certainly can’t feel in our hands 17 and a half grams versus 18 grams of coffee. That’s just too small of a difference for us to perceive. It makes an enormous difference in the final cup of espresso.”

Salting bitter coffee reduces the bitterness

“… actually sugar doesn’t actually mask bitterness at all, but salt does. The idea with adding a tiny bit of salt to mask the bitterness of the coffee, and the trick when doing this is to get it so you don’t really detect the saltiness. A salty cup of coffee is not tasty, but just enough so it diminishes the bitterness of the coffee. The easiest way to do it is to just add small amounts of saline solution, actually. That’s a very dilute solution of salt, you don’t have to worry about it dissolving at all, and it’s harder to over do it. You can do that in your cup of coffee, you can do it with tonic water.”

Campos on Coffee at home

If I was going to give some tips for making coffee at home (and I am, eventually) I’d probably just echo (but in different words) this great set of advice from Campos Coffee’s website. You’ll find it under their “About Us” link.

  1. Buy yourself a good grinder.
  2. Use fresh beans.
  3. Store them well.

Then they’ve got different tips on a few home coffee methods. I love that they don’t buy into the “you can’t make good espresso at home so don’t try” argument that I see trotted out occasionally. That’s just rubbish.

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