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Coffee aficionados know that there are few pleasures in life quite like a perfectly crafted espresso. It’s a sensory delight, from the intoxicating aromas wafting through the air to the rich, velvety crema that rests atop a beautifully balanced shot.
But as any seasoned home barista will tell you, the path to espresso nirvana is fraught with challenges, and among the most annoying is the sight of a stuck espresso puck clinging stubbornly to the grouphead of your machine.
In this article, we will unravel the mystery of the stuck espresso puck, exploring the reasons behind this pesky problem and sharing tips on how to prevent it from happening again.
Get ready to elevate your espresso game and bid adieu to those pesky stuck pucks once and for all.
Why Does My Espresso Puck Get Stuck?
A frequent cause of an espresso puck getting stuck to a grouphead is due to packing too much ground coffee into your portafilter basket.
Tamped coffee grounds expand when pressurized water is introduced to the basket during the brewing process.
So when your portafilter is locked into the grouphead there is nowhere for the coffee grounds to go when they start to expand but up, causing the espresso puck to stick to the group head.
You may have experienced your puck sticking to the shower screen of the grouphead when dialing in a new bag of coffee beans or experimenting with a different dose.
For example, when dialing in your espresso, if you’re using a grinder with a preset dose, they are notoriously inaccurate as they work on a timer rather than weight which can cause more or less coffee to land in your basket.
Always weigh your espresso dose, and don’t rely on your particular coffee grinder to always be accurate.
Another reason why your espresso puck becomes stuck could be due to brewing espresso with the wrong amount of pressure. Most of the best espresso machines will allow you to adjust the pressure and water temp. Make sure your machine is set to about 200 F and at least 1.3-1.5 on the pressure gauge.
And finally, another cause can be due to environmental factors, such as changes in ambient humidity.
If all other brewing factors are the same and you’re suddenly getting sticky pucks, humidity could be the cause. Changes in biometric pressure or humidity could be affecting the grind making it more or less clumpy, which might affect the integrity of the puck.
How To Get Espresso Puck Out?
If you’ve removed your portafilter and noticed that your basket is empty, have a quick glance up underneath your espresso machine, it’s probably stuck up in there.
To dislodge the espresso puck, take your portafilter and place it over the stuck puck. Gently move your portafilter back and forth and try to remove the puck from the grouphead so that it lands back in the basket.
Another option is to use a wooden spatula or string stick to try and remove the pesky puck! Just be careful where it lands, place your espresso knock box underneath.
If you’d rather not poke around underneath your espresso machine, simply run the shower screen without the portafilter attached, and the puck will fall off.
This method can produce a bit of mess, but if you leave your drip tray in place, a lot of the grounds and water will land in there.
How To Avoid A Puck Sticking To The Grouphead?
Diagnosing why your espresso puck is not coming out clean can take a bit of detective work.
Firstly I would take a closer look at your dose, rather than relying on your electric coffee grinder to spurt out the “correct” weight, use a coffee scale to double-check to ensure you’re getting the exact right dose.
Also, be sure to use the correct sized basket for your portafilter as well, for example, weighing out a double shot into a 20g basket and not a smaller single-serve basket.
Whichever basket you are using, make sure your ground coffee, when tamped, is sitting below the edge of the portafilter. If your coffee is up to the brim, you’ve filled your basket with too much coffee, and you’re going to run the risk of your espresso puck getting stuck to the grouphead.
If you’re not sure how much your basket can take, here is a quick way to test.
Fill the basket up to what you feel is the proper dose, and take note of the weight. Prep your coffee grounds as usual with a WDT tool and a tamp but before locking the portafilter into the grouphead gently place a coin on top of the puck.
Lock your portafilter into the machine and then unlock it and look to see if the coin has made an imprint on the puck.
If it hasn’t, add 1 to 5 grams and repeat the process until you find the magic number, then use then does your basket.
This quick and cheap trick will let you know the maximum dose you can put in that particular basket while still leaving room for headspace. Just take note that once you do this, you’ll have to adjust your recipe to suit the new dose.
What is the perfect dose? And how does that affect the quality of the coffee puck? The dose is the amount of coffee that is placed into the portafilter basket.
This amount is not set and can vary from machine to machine. The best way to check your dosing is after the espresso shot has been extracted.
What Should An Espresso Puck Look Like?
So what should the perfect espresso puck look like? Once you’ve pulled your espresso shot at the desired speed and your coffee grind is where you want it, wait a few moments for the water to drain and remove your portafilter from the machine.
With your portafilter sitting on your countertop, take a few minutes to analyze the puck.
Gently press on the surface of the coffee, it should feel firm to touch but with a very slight sponginess. Knock the coffee puck onto your countertop, and it should stay intact, indicating that your dose is perfect.
If you have used too much coffee, your puck will feel like a rock instead of having a spongy feel when touched.
Having a compact puck as hard as this tends to indicate that there is no expansion of the coffee taking place. Additional pressure is put on the gasket and shower screen of your espresso machine.
If you find that your espresso puck is wet or overlay soft, this could indicate that you’re dosing too low.
A low dose can also increase the chances of channeling taking place, which in turn will cause an uneven espresso extraction.
Also, your espresso will probably lack body and sweetness, and it tastes a little thin and over-extracted.
Final Thoughts On Stuck Pucks!
I get it, a stuck puck can be annoying, but it can be fixed with some minor adjustment to your puck prep if it’s a continued problem.
If you’re finding that your espresso puck is sticking to the underneath of your machine first, take a look at the amount of coffee you are adding to your basket and adjust accordingly.
If you want to squeeze in as much coffee as possible in your basket, try my coin trick.
Removing a puck from the grouphead is as easy as pressing the brew switch on your machine. The water raining down from the showerhead will dislodge the coffee puck, just make sure you have something underneath to catch it when it falls.
And a final note. to reduce the chances of getting your espresso puck stuck to grouphead make sure to keep your espresso machine clean and regularly wipe underneath the group head shower screen to remove any coffee oils and residue that can cause the puck to stick.
Also, make sure to rinse with a back flush after every use to remove any build-up of coffee that can cause clogging within the screen and affect the quality of your espresso in the process.
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