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Being a complete novice, I've been struggling to brew something that looks like proper espresso.

My machine (Ascaso Dream PID) came with 14 gram portafilter basket (58mm in diameter). Several sources have told me that I really should dose according to the dose label on my basket - no more than +/- 1 gram. I have tried to brew with 14 grams of coffee, but have failed miserably:

  • My shots always run too fast and the taste is pretty light and sour (underextracted?).
  • I have pushed my grinder (Baratza Sette 270Wi) to the smallest possible grind-size, but it's still too fast. Though at these smallest sizes it's getting pretty tricky to keep the water running evenly through the pack. Again, various sources have told me that I shouldn't go too fine with my grind. The manual of my grinder suggests starting with grind setting 7E for espresso. At that setting with 14 grams of coffee I'm getting a 30g shot in 16 seconds.
  • I have experimented with various ways of getting my tamping as consistent and level as possible. My current tamping process as follows: knock the portafilter several times against table to level off the initial pile of grains, spin the leveling tool, press down firmly with tamper.
  • I have fiddled a bit around with pressure. Haven't gone out of the 8..11 bar range. As expected I get a little longer shots with 8 bar. Mostly I've tried to settle to using 9.5 bars.
  • Haven't yet tried changing water temperature - it's been 93 degrees C.
  • I've tried with a 2 second pre-infusion and without. Not much of a difference.
  • It's worth mentioning that my timings are measured from pulling the lever - but it takes at least 5 seconds for the first drips to appear (about 9 seconds with pre-infusion).
  • Also worth mentioning is that I'm getting lots of variation from shot to shot with exactly the same settings. Like 31g shot in 22 seconds, and then 34g shot in 17 seconds. This seems to happen more when I go to these finer grind sizes. I suspect uneven extraction.
  • I have also used 3 different types of coffee beans. No real difference.

With the smallest possible grind size, 8 bar pressure and 15g coffee I've managed to get 31g shot in 27 seconds. But it tasted very underextracted.

The best results I've had have been when I've increased dose to 17..18 grams. Then I'm able to also use courser grinds. With these doses I'm finally getting some more crema and the taste is no more watery. Though my basket is pretty-much overflowing at such a large dose.

Most of the espresso-making tutorials I've seen always tend to deal with 18 gram or larger baskets.

So, is there hope in brewing espresso with 14 gram basket (and what should I change)? Or should I get myself a 18 gram basket and move on (my portafilter seems to have enough room to put a larger basket in).

  • You're obsessing about numbers... Do you have in impression of the shower in your coffee puck? Is your roast dark enough amd oily enough to produce non-sour espresso? Why should 14g or 18g or whatever be the correct amount to work with your machine, with your coffee according to your taste? – Horst Sep 11 at 20:42
  • Thanks for the answer @Horst. 1) There's definitely an impression of the shower after brewing. Before brewing: no impression with 14 grams, clear impression with 18 grams. Didn't yet test in-between. 2) No idea. My coffee bag says "Roast profile: Dark". I received this coffee along with my espresso machine, so I was hoping it's suitable for espresso. 3) I have no idea... I'm trying to find out. – Rene Saarsoo Sep 12 at 7:33
  • Ok, here's a simpler approach: (over)fill the basket, use finger to push the little coffee pyramid in the middle off, taking care not to press down. The filter should now be filled to the brim everywhere. Tamp with confortable pressure and brew. If extraction is too fast, grind finer. A good indicator is to look at the coffee-stream and see when it starts blonding, if that happens stop the extraction shortly afterwards. I don't know the coffee that came with your machine, but it's a good idea to get a few different beans. Dark roasts are easier, so look for dark oily beans. – Horst Sep 12 at 9:29
  • So, I tried this "owerfill the basket, push away the rest" technique. Doing so, I end up with roughly 14 grams of coffee in portafilter - a dose with which I've already experimented a lot, and which leads me to max out my grinder if I try to make it grind finer to reach abut 25 seconds of brew time. If I use this brush-off-the-rest technique the brew times become even shorten v/s dosing it at 14g to start with and using a leveling tool. Plus I'd be wasting even more coffee than I already do. So I don't feel like continuing on this path will lead me to any better place. – Rene Saarsoo Sep 12 at 15:17
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    I have ordered a larger 20g basket and a bottomless portafilter. Hoping to a) gain a better grasp of how well my extraction goes, b) be able to follow the more common espresso recipes of using 18..20g dose. – Rene Saarsoo Sep 21 at 8:58
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Turned out that the problem was in my grinder which failed to grind fine enough. After reading the online grinder manual (which unfortunately wasn't included with the grinder itself) I discovered the following section:

After the first few pounds of coffee, the grind produced at the lowest setting may not be fine enough for espresso. To shift the grind range finer, a small washer (included) can be installed below the cone burr.

After installing the extra washer, all my problems went away.

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