An espresso recipe captures and communicates the 3 main variables of espresso brewing, which are:
- Dose – the weight of dry ground coffee in the portafilter.
- Yield – the weight of espresso made.
- Time – the contact time between coffee and water.
Dose is the anchor of every espresso recipe. It is the weight of dry ground coffee that you are using to make an espresso, and depending on your espresso style, it can be anywhere from 5-30 grams, though in general modern espresso hovers between 18-21g.
Deciding on your dose is always the first step to creating an espresso recipe. And there’s only one thing you really need to think about:
How much espresso do you want to make?
A larger dose can make more espresso, and a lower dose can make less. It’s as simple as that.
Think of dose in the same way as you would when scaling a cake recipe: using more ingredients = more of the same cake. Dose is the same as the ingredients in that recipe. With scaling, you end up with the same cake. There’s just more or less of it.
Don’t change dose to adjust flavour balance.
Don’t change dose to adjust the shot time.
Don’t change dose to make the espresso stronger or weaker.
Only ever change dose because you want to make more or less espresso.
Of course, if you increase the dose, you also need to increase the size (or yield) of the espresso to match. I’ll be covering this in detail real soon. For now, please keep your dose fixed!
Cup Size and Drink Strength
Let’s say you’re making a lot of milk-based drinks in large cups. A small dose might be making a tasty espresso, but once you fill the cup with 300ml of milk it isn’t so rich and flavorsome anymore. A larger dose (and hence, larger espresso yield) will allow you to increase the intensity of coffee flavour in that drink.
If you’re only making black coffees – or smaller milky coffees – you might choose a smaller dose, as you’re not competing against a lot of milk for flavour dominance.
Some specialty coffee venues, on the other hand, have milky drinks that are too strong. This would be a perfect time to use a lower dose. You can make the same style and quality of espresso, there’s just a more optimal amount of it in the cup.
One More Thing
So there’s another reason to change dose, and that’s portafilter basket size. But it’s not a decision you make to adjust the qualities of an espresso. It’s purely to optimise the extraction for the baskets on hand. Most baskets have been rated to a certain weight of coffee by their manufacturer, and staying within one or two grams of that rating generally gives the best results.
Your dose should never sit so high in the basket that it touches the shower screen when dry. If you insert and remove a dosed portafilter, and can see that it touched the shower screen, you need to reduce your dose. In this case, a higher dose won’t let you make more espresso, it will just become a less efficient and more uneven extraction. At the other end of this scale, if your pucks are quite wet and sloppy after an extraction, this doesn’t mean that the shot was bad – it just means that there’s a lot of room between the grinds and the shower screen. This might happen if your dose is towards the lower end of your basket’s rated amount, or if the coffee is very dense. For more info on puck dynamics, check out this recent post.
If you do need to move your dose outside the basket’s prefered range, it’s not the end of the world. But your espresso quality may likely suffer.
Make Your Life Easier
Changing dose will affect flow rate, puck saturation rate, extraction temperature, extraction yield, strength and extraction evenness. Probably other stuff too.
If you constantly change the dose it will be extremely difficult to understand what’s actually happening. Keeping it the same will make adjusting variables and figuring a coffee out much much easier! By the time I’ve finished explaining espresso recipes I promise you’ll agree with me.
For now, just keep in mind: only dose more or less coffee to make more or less coffee.