Pulling the Perfect Espresso Shot

Here we describe the precise steps to take to pull the perfect espresso shot.  Make sure you also use the proper grind size and follow the technical specifications.

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The Ingredients

Freshly roasted premium gourmet coffee that is stored properly in a cool, dark, and dry place. Grind the whole beans just before brewing.

  • 8 grams (2 tablespoons) of coffee grounds for a single shot.
  • 16 grams (4 tablespoons) of coffee grounds for a double shot.

Filtered water in your espresso machine, and pour it into a pre-warmed demitasse.  (See a detailed discussion of water preferences in Brewing the Perfect Cup of Coffee.)

The Preparation

Preheat the portafilter by running hot water through it to make sure the cold metal doesn’t lower the brewing temperature.

Fill the portafilter with the gourmet coffee grounds, using an even, downward twisting motion to tamp (compact) the grounds.

Tap the sides of the portafilter so any loose grounds fall off the sides, then tamp again. Use a medium amount of force when you tamp (pack/compact) the coffee.  Then if the shot pours too fast, use more force next time, and if it pours too slow, use less force.

Even and Level—Make sure the surface of the coffee grounds in the portafilter is even so the high pressure hot water can’t find a weak spot and blast through, which causes over extraction near the water stream and leaves the rest of the coffee under-extracted.

Brush the Rim—Once the grounds are finely compacted, brush any loose grounds off the rim to make sure the portafilter has a snug fit as you secure it and lock it into the group of the machine.

Brewing the Espresso

Brew Time—With the pre-warmed demitasse/shot glass in place, hit the brew button. As the stream of espresso begins after a few seconds it should look like maple syrup.

Time the Shot—The ideal time is 22 seconds from the time you hit the brew button. This is timed to extract the flavorful and aromatic oils but not too much of the bitter components, resulting in a concentrated, full-flavored shot of espresso.

The longer the shot the more bitter the taste, while shorter shots have less flavor.

The Layers

The Crema—After about a half an ounce has poured you should see a layer forming on top that is light brown in color.

This layer is the Crema, a fine-celled foam of oils containing the gourmet coffee’s best flavors and aromatic properties.

The layers should seem to separate as the glass fills to about the one-ounce mark.

If you see dark brown or black colors in the body of the espresso shot before it has finished, it means that it will have a burned taste.  To remedy this either use a courser grind or don’t tamp it so hard.

The Heart of the espresso shot shouldn’t be so light that its color blends with the Body, or the shot will be weak.  To remedy this either use a finer grind or tamp it down harder.


If the water pours too slow even when you haven’t tamped it very hard, then the grind is too fine—this creates very dark (over-extracted) shots.

If the water pours too fast even when the grounds were tamped very hard, then the grind is too coarse—this creates weak (under-extracted) shots.

If the espresso has a poor crema, the cause is usually under-extraction, stale coffee, or too low of a brewing temperature (make sure you preheat the portafilter and demitasse).

If a white ring begins to form atop the crema, stop the brewing because this means the good oils have finished extracting and any further extraction will be bitter and acidic.

The Result

A Perfect Shot of Espresso has a flavor that is sweet yet intense, and the crema on top should look like caramel.

CoffeeMan Dan says, ” When pulling an espresso shot, don’t forget to use The Perfect Grind for the Perfect Shot and follow all of the Technical Specifications of the Ideal Espresso.”

Once you have mastered your espresso pulling technique you are ready for a lesson in Steaming Milk/Aerating Foam so you can create Perfect Cappuccinos and Lattes, and other Gourmet Coffee Drinks.

To round out your Barista Skills make sure you are also well versed in the techniques of Brewing the Perfect Cup of Coffee and have a general understanding of the flavor terms used to describe the Taste Profiles of the World’s Gourmet Coffees.

The truly advanced Barista will have an appreciation for  The History of Coffee as it spread over the globe, and the prime coffee-growing regions that produce today’s premium gourmet coffees.

Coffee Fun Fact: Did You Know that the first espresso machines had levers you had to actually pull down in order for the espresso shot to pour—that is where the term “pulling shots” comes from.

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