Advanced Espresso Techniques with Fox Coffee: Taking Your Barista Skills to the Next Level

9 min read

Advanced Espresso Techniques with Fox Coffee: Taking Your Barista Skills to the Next Level

By now, you've mastered the basics of espresso extraction. The golden crema, the rich aroma, and the smooth flavour of a perfectly brewed shot no longer elude you. But, as with all arts, there’s always room to grow, refine, and innovate.

Today, we're diving deep into advanced espresso techniques, ensuring your home-brewed espresso rivals even the most seasoned coffee shops. Let's elevate your espresso game!


1. Dialing in Like a Pro

Dialling in is all about finding that sweet spot where your coffee tastes its best. It’s a constant game of adjusting grind size, dose, and shot time.

  • Micro-Adjustments: You might think a tiny tweak wouldn't make a difference, but in the realm of espresso, it's often these micro-adjustments that bring about perfection.
    - Grinder Calibration:
    A simple nudge on your grinder's setting can lead to noticeable differences in your espresso shot. Whether you're using a stepped or stepless grinder, understand the increments and how they impact the output. A rule of thumb is to always make one change at a time and note its impact.

  • Taste-Driven Decisions: A shot that leaves a pronounced sour taste often points towards under-extraction. This can mean your grind is too coarse, or your shot time was too brief, preventing the water from extracting those sweet and complex flavours from the coffee. On the other hand, a distinctly bitter shot can signify over-extraction. The grind might be too fine, causing the water to linger for too long with the coffee, extracting undesirable bitter compounds.
    - Using Taste as a Compass:
    Always trust your palate. Take a moment after sipping your espresso. Reflect on its taste. Is it balanced? Too acidic? Lacking in sweetness? These sensory cues will guide your next steps in dialling in.


2. Distribution Techniques

Why is Distribution Essential?

The flow of water through coffee grounds is very much influenced by how those grounds are spread out in the portafilter. Uniform distribution ensures even extraction, where water doesn’t find easy pathways (channels) and bypasses some of the coffee, which can lead to parts of the coffee being over-extracted (yielding bitter flavours) while other parts might be under-extracted (leading to sourness).

  • The Stockfleth's Move: The Stockfleth's technique is a manual method of coffee distribution that's been embraced by baristas worldwide.
    How it works:
    • Once your portafilter is filled with coffee grounds, use the side of your index finger to gently push the coffee from the centre of the portafilter towards the edges in a continuous, swirling motion.
    • The idea is to evenly spread out the grounds, ensuring no clumps or pockets are left behind.
    • This method requires a bit of practice to get the right touch, but once mastered, it can significantly enhance the uniformity of your espresso extraction. 

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3. Mastering Pressure Profiling

Pressure profiling is the act of modifying the brewing pressure at different stages of the espresso extraction. Instead of a static 9 bars of pressure – the industry standard for espresso – this method allows for dynamic adjustments, paving the way for bespoke espresso profiles.

  • Soft Pre-infusion: One foundational technique within pressure profiling is the soft pre-infusion. This stage sets the tone for the entire extraction process.
    Why Soft Pre-infusion Matters:
    • Even Saturation: By beginning the extraction at a lower pressure, water gently permeates the coffee puck. This ensures that the grounds are uniformly soaked, reducing the risk of channelling where water bypasses coffee particles, leading to uneven extraction.
    • Mitigating Over-Extraction: A gradual introduction of water reduces the chances of aggressively pulling out undesirable flavours, such as excessive bitterness.
    • A Platform for Complexity: The slower saturation during pre-infusion can extract more nuanced flavours, often resulting in a shot with layered tasting notes.
  • Building Up the Pressure
    Following the pre-infusion, the pressure is progressively increased. This phase is crucial for:
    • Extraction of Core Flavors: As the pressure rises, it begins to extract the primary flavours embedded within the coffee grounds. This phase is where the bold and robust characteristics of the espresso come to the fore.
    • Versatility: The rate at which you increase the pressure, and the maximum pressure you choose, can alter the flavour profile. A slower increase might highlight the coffee's acidity, while a rapid escalation can accentuate its body and richness.


4. Temperature Surfing

Why Temperature Matters in Espresso

Water temperature can drastically influence the extraction process. At too low a temperature, water fails to effectively extract the coffee's flavours, resulting in a sour, underwhelming shot. Conversely, excessively hot water leads to over-extraction, bringing out bitter compounds. The ideal espresso extraction dances on a fine line, balancing between these extremes. Temperature surfing allows baristas to maintain this equilibrium, even with machines that don't offer precise control.

What is Temperature Surfing?

Temperature surfing isn't about catching ocean waves; it's about navigating the thermal fluctuations inherent in certain espresso machines, especially single boiler systems. These machines don't maintain a constant brewing temperature. Instead, they cycle through hotter and cooler phases. The trick is to begin the extraction process at the optimal point in this cycle.

Steps to Temperature Surfing:

1. Pulling a 'Blank' Shot: Initiate the brewing process without coffee, allowing hot water to flow through the group head. This action not only cleanses the system but also cools the internal boiler slightly, moving it away from its peak steam temperature.

2. Detecting the Reheat: After the blank shot, the machine will seek to reheat. Most machines will give a cue—be it an audible click, a light, or even just the sound of the boiler reigniting. This is the machine's way of signalling it's working to reach its set brewing temperature.

3. Timing the Brew: Post the reheat signal, there's a window where the machine reaches its ideal brewing temperature. This is when you should start your actual espresso extraction. With repeated practice, you'll become proficient in identifying this sweet spot in the temperature cycle.

Benefits and Mastery:

  • Consistent Flavor: Temperature surfing offers a pathway to consistent, high-quality shots, even without state-of-the-art machines. The technique can narrow down the variable of water temperature, ensuring a steadier flavour profile across brews.
  • Engaged Brewing Process: While it might seem a tad labour-intensive, temperature surfing deepens your connection to the brewing process. It fosters an intimate understanding of your machine and the intricacies of espresso extraction.


5. Advanced Tamping Techniques

Before delving into advanced techniques, it's worth reiterating why tamping is crucial. An uneven tamp can lead to water finding the path of least resistance, resulting in an uneven extraction. Some parts of the coffee may be over-extracted, yielding bitterness, while others may be under-extracted, leading to sourness. A correctly tamped puck ensures that water flows uniformly, extracting flavours consistently.

The Nutation Technique: Swirling to Perfection

Nutation takes inspiration from the movement of celestial bodies. In the context of tamping, it involves imparting a slight spin during the initial press. Here's how it works:

  1. Begin the Tamp: Start pressing the coffee grounds as you normally would.
  2. Impart a Twist: While pressing, give the portafilter a slight swirling motion. The idea is not to move the grounds too much, but rather to ensure they are evenly distributed.
  3. Finish with a Straight Press: After the swirling motion, finish with a traditional straight tamp to ensure an even surface.

The advantage of the nutation technique is its ability to promote better water distribution, reducing the chances of channelling.



Variable Pressure Tamping: A Dance of Pressures

Unlike the traditional method where consistent force is applied throughout, variable pressure tamping involves a gradient of pressures. The approach is as follows:

  1. Start Light: Begin by lightly pressing the coffee grounds. This gentle pressure helps settle the grounds and remove any air pockets.
  2. Increase the Pressure: As you proceed, gradually amplify the pressure. This ensures the coffee grounds are compacted effectively, providing a sturdy foundation.
  3. Finish Firm: Conclude with a firm press, establishing a smooth, even surface.

By employing variable pressures, this technique can combat micro-channels, tiny pathways that can form in the coffee puck and disrupt the flow of water, resulting in an uneven extraction.


6. Exploring Different Brew Ratios

At its core, a brew ratio represents the proportion of coffee to water. It's a roadmap that guides the extraction process, influencing the flavour, body, and strength of your espresso. For instance, using 20 grams of coffee with a 1:2 ratio would yield a 40-gram shot of espresso.

Why Shake Things Up?

The essence of coffee lies in its diverse flavour profiles, which can range from fruity and acidic to deep and chocolaty. Adjusting the brew ratio can be likened to adjusting the focus on a camera – it can bring certain flavours into sharp clarity while softening others. Here's what happens when you tweak those numbers:

  • The Bold Explorer:

Opting for a 1:1.5 ratio results in a shot that's more concentrated than the traditional espresso. This can emphasize the coffee's inherent sweetness, while also bringing forward its deeper, more robust characteristics. It's a bold, full-bodied experience that's perfect for those who love intensity in their cup.

  • The Balanced Aficionado:

Venturing beyond the traditional, a 1:2.5 ratio offers a slightly extended extraction. The result is a shot that beautifully balances brightness and body. The flavours are allowed to dance on your palate, making it an ideal choice for beans with intricate and layered tasting notes.

  • The Delicate Maestro:

This is for lovers of nuance. A 1:3 ratio produces a shot that's more diluted but in the best possible way. It shines a spotlight on the subtle, delicate flavours in the coffee, often revealing notes you might miss with more concentrated ratios. It's akin to enjoying a fine wine, where every sip reveals a new layer.

Embracing Experimentation

Coffee, in its very essence, is about discovery. Different beans, roast levels, and origins will all respond uniquely to different brew ratios. The beauty is in the journey - experimenting with various ratios to unearth the sweet spot for each particular bean.



7. Playing with Puck Prep

The puck is the compressed cake of coffee grounds in your portafilter. When water is forced through this puck under high pressure, the solubles from the coffee are extracted, creating that rich, aromatic shot of espresso. How this puck is prepared directly influences how water travels through it. Any inconsistencies or imperfections in the puck can lead to uneven extraction, which in turn can impact flavour, texture, and clarity.

Puck Screens: The Even Distributors

Puck screens, or dispersion screens, are fine metal screens placed atop the coffee puck before brewing. Their main benefits include:

  1. Enhancing Water Distribution: They ensure that water, when forced through the group head, is dispersed evenly across the entire surface of the puck. This helps avoid 'hot spots' or areas of uneven extraction.
  2. Protecting the Machine: By providing a barrier between the puck and the machine's shower screen, puck screens prevent coffee residue from clogging the machine.


Needle Disruption: A Delicate Intervention

Needle disruption sounds more intense than it actually is. This technique involves:

  1. Gently Probing: After tamping, a fine needle (or a specialized tool designed for this purpose) is used to gently probe the puck, creating tiny channels.
  2. Preventing Channeling: These miniature channels can help guide the flow of water, ensuring it doesn't find a path of least resistance and lead to uneven extraction.
  3. Exploration and Caution: It's worth noting that this method requires a delicate touch and practice. Too deep or too many channels can have the opposite effect, leading to over-extraction in certain areas.



8. Post-shot Rituals

Once you've pulled the shot, it might seem like the hard work is done. The beans were selected meticulously, the grind was adjusted to perfection, the puck was prepared with care, and the shot was extracted with precision. However, how you end the extraction is as consequential as every step leading up to it.

The Blonding Phenomenon

Blonding is one of those espresso terms that sounds a bit mysterious but is quite straightforward once you get the hang of it.

  1. The Color Shift: As the espresso extraction progresses, the colour changes. It begins as a dark, caramel-hued stream and gradually lightens, eventually turning to a pale blond shade.
  2. What It Signifies: This colour change is an indicator of the solubles being extracted from the coffee. The dark phase is where most of the rich flavours and aromas are concentrated. As it lightens, the extraction starts to pull out the less pleasant, over-extracted components which can add bitterness to the shot.
  3. Taste Evolution: The earlier stages of extraction primarily involve acids, followed by sugars, and then the bitters. The blonding phase typically means you're nearing the tail end of the sugars and entering the realm of the bitters.

Mastering the Blonding Watch

The key to maximizing the flavours in your espresso lies in carefully observing this colour transition.

  1. Timing is Key: While the exact moment to stop the shot varies based on the coffee, the machine, and personal preference, it's generally a good rule of thumb to halt the extraction just as blonding begins or just a touch after.
  2. Flavour Over Volume: Rather than aiming for a specific volume of liquid, basing your extraction time on the blonding can ensure a consistently flavorful shot.
  3. Practice and Experimentation: Like all aspects of coffee brewing, it might take a few tries to find your sweet spot. Experiment with different stopping points, taste each result and adjust accordingly.




At Fox Coffee, our journey into the world of espresso is all about pushing boundaries, exploring nuances, and celebrating the intricate dance of science and art that is espresso brewing. Advanced techniques require patience, practice, and a touch of experimentation. But remember, it's not just about the destination; it's about the journey and the delightful cups you brew along the way.

Keep brewing, keep experimenting, and as always, let your passion for coffee shine through in every cup. Cheers to the next level of espresso excellence!

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