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I have a relatively cheap (<£100) espresso machine. Sometimes I find that after making a drink, I remove the handle and find the filter basket has lots of water in, so rather than tapping out a dry, compacted lump of coffee grounds into the bin, I have to wash a sloppy mess down the sink.

Sometimes I get it right, but I haven't worked out what I'm doing inconsistently to make this happen.

  • What kind of machine -- (e.g., is it steam-based, or do you tamp, ...)? Some inexpensive machines are called "espresso machines" but produce something like moka instead of "real" espresso. See this question about wet grounds in the portafilter -- though it's a totally different question, it sounds like similar symptom. – hoc_age Mar 3 '16 at 14:58
  • It has a pump and a refillable water tank at the back. It has a steam attachment for heating and frothing milk. I'll try and find the actual model on the interwebs, but it's not a fancy machine. – Neil Barnwell Mar 3 '16 at 15:11
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    Do you tamp (compress) the grounds into the portafilter (basket) with a tamper, or do you just loosely fill it with grounds without compressing? There are two very different types of "espresso" machines, for which that fact is a primary distinguisher. – hoc_age Mar 3 '16 at 18:29
  • I do tamp them, but I wouldn't say I press very hard. Enough to squash it all smooth and that's it. The machine came with a plastic combination scoop/tamper tool. – Neil Barnwell Mar 5 '16 at 16:47
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I have seen this happen due to the age of the coffee being used. I believe that fresh coffee, something roasted within a week of use may cause the soupy puck you are experiencing. The rule of thumb is if the coffee tastes good, don't work about the puck.

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A few possibilities spring to mind:

  • You are over-tamping the grounds so the steam is condensing in the grounds and can't escape. Check the manual to see if it wants you to compress the grounds or not before brewing.
  • The grounds are inconsistent and not suitable, clogging the output. Are you grinding these yourself, and if so is it a Burr grinder (good) or one with small spinning blades (not good)
  • I don't believe I tamp very hard. Just a firm pat all round, really to make sure it's pushed right up to the edges. The machine came with a plastic tamper/scoop tool that it says to use. I do have a burr grinder, but I guess I don't have the skills to decide what setting to use. It's currently set to 4/10 ish at the moment (where 1 is finest and 10 is coarsest). – Neil Barnwell Mar 5 '16 at 16:50
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If the puck is a bit wet that's not necessarily a problem as long as your extraction is fine. As I understand you are still able to pull the shot, so clogging as suggested is probably not the reason.

The reasons for pucks to be wet is most often that the space between the puck and the group head is too big. When you start pulling the shot, the water is pumped through the group head onto your grounds, filling up the space between the head (more precisely the metal filter) and the puck. The pressure then pushes the water through the grounds, extracting the coffee. When you finish the extraction process there's obviously still water in this chamber and if it's too much it will wet the puck into the sloppy mess you are referring to.

It could be that the basket you are using is too big for the shots you pull or rather that you use too little ground coffee. If it's a single basket you should use about 9-10g of coffee for an espresso with a yield of about 18-20g. However as I said, it's not really a problem if the extraction is ok and the espresso tastes good.

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