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Coffee questions for Mr. Coffee Geek...

I'm very happy with the base settings of my new Breville dual-boiler plus Baratza Vario combination but now I'm ready to play. 

Currently using the default setting for 200°F on the espresso machine, and grinding at 3/K for 10 secs on the Vario. I just bought 8oz of Sumatran single-estate beans french roasted today. Fabulous crema. 

My question: how should I go about trying different temperatures and grinds. Where would you start? Why? 
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i wish i could help i love coffee but i count on the pros to make mine 
As the heat in Texas can be stifling, I've been making 'cold-brewed' coffee and diluting it down. I take half a pound of coffee, grind it course (a bit more coarse than french press), and pour about 40oz of room temperature water over it, and let it sit for 24 to 36 hours. Strain through muslin cloth (squeezing as much liquid out as possible) and keep in the fridge.
This is best diluted with about equal amounts of water/'milk'/ice, and tends to have a nice earthier taste, but it takes some forethought.
I own a Toddy and a Yama, but, sadly, have come to the conclusion that cold brewing doesn't bring out enough of the complexity in the brew. I've been using an Aeropress for a couple of years, but now that I have a good espresso machine I pretty much stick to that. And this Breville is fast. Zero to caffeinated in under five minutes. if you haven't already been there. :)

I have a relatively simple single-boiler Saeco Easy super-automatic. No control over temperature, just the fineness of the grind and the dosing. I think it coes down to personal taste and the kind of coffee you're using.
Leo let me ask a simple question to a complex answer what do want as the end result?
Once I'd calibrated my other machine for water hardness and then tried out several grinds I found the "sweet" spot when the grind wasn't : too fine and gets  clogged and wet sloppy - VS - too course - not enough flavour brews - trial and error then Dare not touch the settings again !   This was using a bag of "sacrificial beans" ;-( 
I would GUESS..(no pro here), if you wish it was a little less bitter, drop the temp, and brew longer? I don't know.
+Leo Laporte My brain runs on coffee too, but I stick to my old, trusted, cheep but effective French Press....
tried the pourover method yet? Amazing coffee. If there's ANYONE to ask it would be +Will Smith as he is an accomplished coffee ubernerd and I trust his advice.
Raising the temperature will result in a different extraction profile. Not hot enough, too many important flavor compounds left behind. Too hot and you get too much bitterness. The temperature at the brew head is what matters. You'll just have to experiment with adjusting the boiler temp. Let your palate guide you. 

Adjust the grind to get the right brew time. It should take about 18-28 seconds to pull the shot, whether it's a single or double. 
My favourite roast, bar none, is La Minita Terazzu (sp?). A fairly rare blend from South America that is only available during certain times of the year. My cousin sends me a couple of pounds (if possible) whenever the coffee house near where she lives in Toronto gets it in stock. It only lasts there a day or two and sometimes they ration sales to a single pound per customer and if they get enough preorders they don't have enough left to sell at the counter. The only thing they ensure every year is that they have enough for 3 pots a day for one week. No more.
I will add this note to the community beans are roasted for their weight in pounds and not by volume. So its in a rosters best interest to “NOT” roast beans to perfection because the more you roast the beans the more water you remove (IE French Roast) you get my point. If you do get my point most beans are never even roasted to their true perfection and the flavor or flavors based on this idea are not really true to the plant and or the beans true potential. So to be honest if you want to play with flavor and consistency of coffee start with the bean not the machine. Otherwise pick a bag and go to town.
J rose
I would start by taking note of how much coffee you use per shot pulled (weight) and play with the grind till you find the taste that suits you. At my job (IR a barista) we look to yield 1.5 oz of espresso in 24/27 sec. Think of it like this +Leo Laporte , the espresso machine is the platform and you're building the app. <3
Nothin' better than coffee. If I had a gun to my head and had to give up coffee or beer it would be beer, hands down. I like it hot and black. Enough said.
Hi +Leo Laporte 

Okay, first of all, those beans are DARK. Like really dark. I'm not going to make any kind of preachy thing about getting too dark a roast - eventually you'll figure out it's better to get coffee roasted to it's optimum taste, instead of having the roast decide what the coffee will taste like. 

But since you are using a really dark roast here, one hard and fast rule about brewing espresso: the darker the roast, the lower the brewing temperature. Based on this photograph with the surface oils, I'd probably brew this at 196F and go up or down there: if the shots taste too sour, raise the temperature a bit. If still to bitter, go down 1F and try again.

Second rule of espresso and temperature - the more you dose, the higher the brew temperature should be. So if you're brewing a single shot using the single basket (lets say 10g of coffee), I'd drop your 196F starting temperature to maybe 195F to start. If you're brewing a full double and updosing the filter basket, I'd go up on temperature - maybe 198F if I was using 20 or 21g of coffee.

If you're doing a normal double - that is, 18g of coffee used to pull about 50ml (35g by liquid weight) I'd start at 196F on your Breville.

Now, Leo, I'd really advise you to get to Sight Glass or 4 Barrell or Ritual Coffee in your region and get their standard espresso coffees - some of them do single origin (one coffee, not a blend) that they've custom roasted for pulling espresso shots with, others will have a nicely crafted blend designed for espresso. If you go with these three companies, chances are the coffee roast will be a lot lighter, without any surface sheen or oil. For those, I'd start at 200F using roughly 18g of coffee in a double basket, aiming for a nice 40ml double shot pull (about 30g liquid weight in the cup). I've pulled some espresso shots using Sightglass' single origin espresso just last week, and it was heavenly.

Hope that helps!
I have a prior question. Is the best machine to go with that is under $2000? It seems that Amazon buyers have rave reviews. Are there other Espresso machines in this price range that should be considered as well.?

The color of these beans reminds me why I don't buy Starbucks espresso shots unless covered with lots of steamed milk
Aww, Thanks +Jason Ferris ! But Leo also has some good tech friends who are really into good coffee - Ryan Block is a certified espresso fiend in his own right. I'm just happy Leo's taking this quality journey!
+Mark Prince it really is exciting. Two of my worlds, coffee and tech, collided with you and Leo in one thread. I'm surprised the universe didn't implode.
Earl Grey. I buy the loose leaves because many of the highly volitiles are lost if not ground and used immediatly. Cream not Half and Half and brown sugar.
Got my wife reigned in on this one. She's been working in coffee for years, including roasting, and is a huge geek. Here's what she has to say:

Coffee is all about taste. The people saying to experiment until you find what you like are spot on. I have been to coffee conventions with people from all over the country, and I found a huge variety of roasts and blends. Keep going until you find what you like, and then still keep going.

Over Extracting
Brewing coffee under pressure really extracts a lot from the bean. When a bean is over extracted, you get bitterness. Lighter bodied coffees, which usually don't have much flavor to give up for brewing, when forced to give up more than they've got, being brewed under pressure, are going to get over extracted and bitter. Fuller bodied beans have more goodness to give up. We experimented with this one night at work. It was fun, interesting, and quite surprising. For a smoother shot, use a fuller, richer bean.

The amount of coffee you use, the pressure with which you tamp, and the brewing temperature also affect the extraction, thus the guidelines people are posting. I would add to be sure to heat your brew basket before brewing so the heat in your water goes to brewing your coffee and not to heating your brew basket.

In addition to the timing advice given, I would add a suggestion that you do mess with your grind, as needed. Humidity in the air affects the humidity in your beans, which affect how they grind. If your shot turns out perfect one sunny day and not so much on the next day when it is pouring down rain, try, ever so slightly, adjusting your grind. I would imagine as you get used to your new machine, you will become good at eyeballing the best grind.

Good luck, and have fun!
I want to add that the brew basket (portafilter) only needs to be heated if it is not being stored on a hot machine and is, therefore, already heated. Many home users don't keep their machines on all the time or don't keep their portafilters on their machines.
#1. Use a Burr Grinder ( not a blade grinder ) and NEVER use the "dust" that it might generate ( stuff that sticks to the side on some grinders ). You want a consistent grind size, which is not something you can get with a blade grinder.

#2. Different beans and brewing methods typically have their own recommended "extraction time" and temperatures.  Since the amount of water is usually a constant, and the amount of coffee is as well, you can only really adjust the grind size based on whether the brew method took to long, or was to short.  If it was to short, the grind size was to big, and the water went through to quickly.  If the time was to long, then the grind was to fine, and water could not get through in time.  

Using these techniques will REALLY help you figure out the right grind size to use for each method you end up going with.

+Leo Laporte Since I know you are a geek, like me, you can actually do the math for figuring most of this out ( but still play around with making a taste you enjoy ).  Here is the actual data on how coffee extraction works, why the temperatures are what they are, the math behind each brewing method, and much more good stuff.

Welcome to the "Dark Side" ;)
mmmm goooood! +Leo Laporte Are you coming in to the light of Google+. Come on Twitter is just blather. No pictures, video, and you have to shorten your links before you can enter them. 
Try to get the temperature stable at 186 - 194F, 200F seems too hot for me. Grind depends on personal taste and quality of beans. Watch the time, a good espresso is ready in no longer than 25 secs. If it takes too long, the grind may be too fine. If less than 25 secs, try the opposite. The finer the grain, the more you "squeeze out" of the beans. Also keep an eye on the pressure, 9 bar +/-1 is very good.
Apologies - but I have to say the following and strongly disagree with the advice given by the previous commenter. Anything below 194F for espresso is not hot enough to do a proper extraction (this isn't me saying this - this is scientific work done on espresso extraction by a wide variety of experts, including the Illy company), and certainly 186F is way too low. Even if you're using a Peets char-roast, I wouldn't go below 194F as a starting point. 

Also time is one of the least important factors in pulling a shot of espresso - I've had absolutely fantastic shots pulled for 40 seconds, and equally fantastic, in other way, shots pulled in 20 seconds. When I first qualified as a USBC judge (US Barista Championship) about 10 years ago, the 25 second rule was preached but starting to fall on deaf ears. By the time I was done judging at the WBC level (World Barista Championships), the entire timing rule was thrown out with the wash, and replaced by a new timing rule - technical judges were to record the shot times for the competitor's first round of shots, and score them highly if each subsequent shot matched the shot times of the first shot.

Leo also has one of the most advanced espresso machines in the world available to consumers - one of it's advanced features is a programmable, pressure-controllable preinfusion mode. Leo can do two things with this - he can set the amount of time preinfusion takes place and he can set the percentage of pump pressure that is used during the preinfusion - so he can, in theory, have an 8 second preinfusion using only 2BAR of pump pressure if he likes. The very fact that he has controllable time and pressure preinfusion tosses the entire notion of a "25 second" shot out the window.

The most important factors in crafting a fantastic espresso are, in order: a quality grinder capable of producing a very consistent grind pattern with an acceptable amount of "fines"; a quality coffee freshly roasted, roasted correctly, and used between 4 and 10 days after the roast; an machine capable of consistent pressure and stable temperatures, and the hand of the barista - properly dosing and packing the portafilter, ensuring the dose is correct, watching the  shot, analysing the shot via visual and taste, and making adjustments where necessary to improve the shot. Shot times are not important.
I have to add one thing. Shot times are not important - to a point. If your shot is done in 10 seconds, you've done what we call a "gusher" and not ground your coffee to the right fineness, or loaded in too little coffee. And if your shot takes a minute to pour 25ml, you're either ground too fine, and or dosed too much coffee. But anything between 20 and 45 seconds (or longer) CAN be fine if the taste is acceptable. Longer than 45 seconds and you've probably stalled the machine (the bed of coffee is so dense that the machine's water pressure can't push through it). Anything below 20 seconds (like 15 seconds or less)  and you have a horrible under extraction.

Coffee is a volatile, extremely complex substance. It has over 1200 individually identified chemical components, and over 800 of those directly contribute to taste. The next closest food item? red wine, with over 400 components contributing to taste. Add to this that different varietals of coffee produce different bean sizes with different cell structures and at the end of the day, some coffees end up being more dense per 300micron particle than other coffees. This results in shorter or longer extractions due to how water interacts with the dense (or less dense) particle's oils, lipids, fats, and soluables.
+Mark Prince I have to agree, I'm from germany and used a faulty celsius/farenheit converter. Your temperatures are right.
There's something funny about +Mark Prince being up in the middle of the night writing about coffee.
Use good water, as well. I prefer water that has been purified with reverse osmosis but not completely pure to where it doesn't have any taste at all. About 4-5 ppm works for me. Using hard water or water that has been softened will also cause build up in your machine.
Generally speaking, temperature of water for Breville (and any most other high quality machines) should be left alone. But this depends on the time of year, amount of humidity and how 'dry' the bean / grind is. The setting of 200 is a very good setting for 95% of the time. I seriously doubt you will notice a taste difference - because of where you live. 

By far, the more important issue is the quality of the water. Iron free, and as little chlorine as possible.

I love my Breville and its showing its age (wear and tear) but it has been the most consistent machine I have ever used (it's 4 years old now and used 5 times a day) and when it wears out, I know which machine I'll buy...

I'm not sure where your machine was made (mine was Australia) but I worry about the newer versions quality in the name of profit, instead of long term duty cycle and life span.
Have you tried a Chemex for regular coffee? It's almost all I use nowadays. Simple to use and cheap, but not very fast. Produces outstanding coffee.
Gary M.
Experiment with a little salt, it blocks bitterness on the tongue.
Leo, I know nothing of this coffee complexity but I wonder if maybe you could bypass the machine and just inject directly into the veins? hee ...An intravenous solution could really get your zero to caff time down, eh? and now after thinking about it I am putting the kettle on too! I just use a French press and am none the wiser about what I am missing! cheers!
my god, look at the oils! try PURE Kona. 66 dollars per pound but worth it if you make tons of money like you do Leo. and the coffee from Guatemala is FANTASTIC as well. french roast? ugh.
 Yes you can, try different blends and Temperatures. If your going to Sativa plant coffee beans you should use high temperatures, if your using coffee blends with vanilla, pumpkin etc, you should not use high temperatures because it will burn your coffee flavor. it would not taste vanilla or pumpkin it will be terrible. I like my sativa, puertorrican coffee blend its not blended with fillings like soybeans or other beans.. but 100%coffee and they use natural pesticides to keep the brocca plague out of the trees.... its amazing. You can also put the shredded coffee, in a pot with boil water then use a sock a coffee sock to drained it. Taste it with 2% milk and no creamer, with raw sugar and there.. good coffee!
I'm glad you're enjoying the Breville.  It's a wonderful machine.  I usually start with the settings recommended by the roaster.  From there, you can adjust based on taste and flow.  I usually adjust grind if my shots are coming out over or underextracted based on time and color.  

You probably have a scale for measuring grounds, but if not, you'll want one.  I use this $20 one, which is just big enough to hold the Breville portafilter:

Finally, if you use the shot clock or otherwise time your shots on the Breville, be aware of the pre-infusion time.  Mark mentioned this, but I wanted to stress it as well.  Compared to other espresso makers, the Breville doesn't really start extraction until 8-9 seconds into the process because of the default 7 second pre-extraction period.  Due to this, I mentally subtract about 6-7 seconds from the shot clock when judging extraction rate.  While color and flow are more important than time when extracting, a difference of 6-7 seconds is enough to compensate for.
If you can haul yourself over to Healdsburg, you might also want to check out some of the Flying Goat coffees they roast there. I have friends who speak very highly of their Espresso No. 9 blend.

And follow the advice of +Mark Prince - I've never gone wrong doing so. The man knows his coffee. 
Leo, you need to go over to and check out their tutorials. First off is "the golden rule". 20 -25 seconds for a double shot. Leave the temp alone, if it takes longer than 25 seconds for a double shot, then the grind is too fine. Less than 20 seconds and the grind is not fine enough. 
Ok Leo when do we get the coffee podcast special with all the crew.

I don't grind my own coffee here in Germany, though some people do.  I buy coffee pads for my DeLonghi coffee-expresso machine.  The coffee pads are all the rage here.  You can get the pads in any blend you desire.  Makes it quick and easy to blast out an afternoon latte.  Enjoy.
I'd really like to try Kopi Luwak. Just sayin'...
Regarding Kopi Luwak, better you than I. Friends with palates who've tasted it say that the fecal note lingers. I'll pass, thanks, as I get to eat enough of that in day-to-day life. 
I have to agree with Mark Prince.  You generally want to tune for 20-25 seconds for extracting 2-2.5 oz. of espresso, but that is merely a guideline.  Preheat everything (group, portafilter, cup) and aim for 200 degrees or slightly higher...feel free to play with it.  Buy a larger quantity of coffee to experiment (lower quality is fine while you're learning/tuning) and have fun! 
Most importantly: what tastes best to YOU is the goal.  Forget all the other 'hard and fast' rules.
Make sure your water is the right hardness - use a tat of salt if you find the coffee too bitter.  Temperature is very important, just under boiling point.  I enjoy my beans from the local roaster ( where I have learned to brew the best coffee.  The smell of a fresh brew cheers me up every time.
I am still testing out grinders...
One thing I did not know... The darker the coffee the less caffeine, still love the Freedom Fighter coffee bean which makes my morning drive enjoyable.
+Leo Laporte ...and careful, Leo! Unless you live in a stabilized environment, you should not rest on same parameters all year long. Grinding will be different according to season (because of different temperature and humidity.)
In terms of temperature, 200 degrees F is right where you should be, you might try 5 degrees in either direction to see if you get a noticeable improvement, but you don't want to deviate much from where you're at. Basically, you want just under a boil.
hay leo i listen to iPad today and macbreak weekly and security now i heard u talking about the mini iPad i had a suggestion <the Ibook>
if u read this please reply on my dads twitter page which is john kelsey
+Leo Laporte - I'm excited to hear that you're descending down the rabbit hole of espresso nirvana - I started the slide two years ago. I also have a Baratza Vario grinder, purchased solely for espresso. Some day you may decide to roast your own beans - it only takes about two hours a week. I have over 20 varieties to pick from - more fun than a wine cellar.
Leo, they have great espresso at my favorite Petaluma Italian restaurant, Cucina Paradiso, downtown.  You've lost sooooooo much weight you need a good Italian meal :)
Check out
I moved fomr a Super Auto to an espresso system a couple of years ago, and this was a great place to get started.

From a temp perspective, you're in the zone! +/- 5 degrees off of 200 is where you'll probably find the sweet spot for most good espresso roasts. 

I've found that although temp super important, once you get a machine with a good boiler or with a PID installed, you can leave temp alone and focus on dose/grind, tamp, and extraction time. These three parameters in your brewing of espresso are probably the most important. 

I tend to use scales and measure input and output by grams (bean weight before grinding, ground weight, extracted espresso weight) this gives me a good set of metrics to measure with. 

Keeping a legal pad around, (there's also a couple of iphone apps for tracking dose & extraction times), you can record output and adjust the dose, grind, and extraction time. 

For my machine (LM-GS3) I find that the good median target to start is 24 Grams of roasted beans (ground out to 22 grams of ground espresso) brewed in 26-30 seconds with an espresso output of 29 grams. I'll start there and adjust, recording until I get a certain roast right. Some may vary widely, just because of the light vs. dark roasts out there today. Once you do this enough times, you can toss the legal pad and just tune to what works on your setup. There's an amazing variety in the Bay area for roasted coffee, almost every local shop sells their roast. It's really a cool time to be discovering this delicious hobby!

I'm partial to my local neighborhood favorite

Happy Brewing!
Hi Leo.  I love good coffee as well.  I bought a 12 cup BUNN machine, and have been happy ever since.  Just makes coffee, not expresso,  but it does a wonderful job.  I have noticed that most coffee shops use BUNN machines as well.  Quite the difference.  I hardly ever buy cofee outside anymore.  I buy Starbucks beans at Costco, and grind them immediately before use.


I've tried, it all, and have found my favorite to be the moka style, one cup coffee maker (10 bucks for the pot) with a well roasted, ground Guatemalan bean from the local coffee shop. Best coffee I've ever had! I've even dreamed about it. 
Great to find a fellow coffee lover!  Sharing interests is what makes stuff like Google+ (and the internet in general) so great!  So now about the goods.... using a Breville? Nice, that's quality stuff right there.  I'm looking for a machine that can do it all - Espresso, Grounds and Frothing. No frills, just straight and simple business.  Anyone have a recommendation, let me know!
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