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Have you ever wondered if timing your espresso shot is worth it? If you’re a beginner, using a timer is essential to help you pull the perfect espresso.
In fact, precise timing can make all the difference between an average espresso and an unforgettable flavorful shot that truly hits the spot.
But as you hone your skills, timekeeping becomes less important, and you’ll be able to judge the quality of espresso by looks and taste.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits of timing your espresso and how it can elevate your coffee game. From getting the perfect crema to achieving the ideal extraction, using a stopwatch can be beneficial when making a great-tasting espresso.
So, whether you’re a home coffee enthusiast or simply looking to improve your home brewing skills, stick around and discover the secrets of espresso shot timing.
When To Start Timing Your Espresso Shots
The subject of timing a shot of espresso is a hotly debated topic amongst coffee aficionados.
The two prevailing schools of thought are to start the timer either as soon as the pump on your machine engages or at the first sign of coffee dripping from the filter basket.
However, the consensus by most professionals in the industry is that the ideal time to start your timer is as soon as the hot water hits the ground coffee in your filter basket.
Unfortunately, since the coffee puck is hidden from view, it can be challenging to determine precisely when the hot water makes contact with the dry coffee.
And to complicate things further, this saturation time varies depending on the type of espresso machine you’re using.
In most cases, there is only a few seconds delay between when the water hits the coffee in the portafilter basket and the very first drip that passes through the filter basket.
From my years of espresso tweaking, I disagree with the consensus of starting to time as soon as the hot water hits the coffee bed. And I suggest beginning your timing when you see the very first drips appear from underneath the basket.
Most high-end espresso coffee scales have a built-in function that automatically starts timing as soon as the first drips hit the scale, which makes life a little easier.
Regardless of when you hit your stopwatch, timing your espresso shots will eventually become second nature.
As you become familiar with the color of the flow, you’ll be able to ditch your timer, and timing your shot of espresso can be honed in on personal taste preference and the machine you’re used to using daily.
When To Stop Extraction
Ideally, you’ll want to stop timing your espresso shot when you see the coffee beginning to blonde. What is blonding?
This term indicates when your espresso flow starts to turn lighter and becomes thinner and more watery.
As soon as you see this happening, stop your machine. You can swap out your cup with another to catch an additional flow, but past this stage, the espresso extraction is typically very bitter.
If all your brewing parameters are aligned correctly, you can expect to see your shot of espresso blonding at around the 20 to 35 seconds range, and you should also have the right amount of liquid volume at around this time frame.
Timing Espresso Shot
Seriously, don’t get caught up in timing your espresso shot; it’s not a definitive way to measure a great-tasting espresso.
Shot timing should really be used as a guideline. There are no hard set rules with the extraction time when brewing espresso.
Timing is more an indication of whether the other parameters are aligned correctly; if you land somewhere in the ballpark, give yourself a pat on the back, but don’t stress over it.
If you’re struggling, here is a quick example. If your espresso pulls too quickly, this could indicate that you need a slightly finer grind or maybe a harder tamp.
If it pulls for too long and you may need to do the opposite.
Think of coarse-ground coffee like stones and fine-ground coffee like fine sand. The water will pass through the rocks much more quicker. So by changing your grind slightly, you’ll be able to fine-tune the time of your shot.
You’ll most likely need to change your grind size daily too. As coffee ages, your shots will pull faster, so you’ll have to compensate by grinding your coffee slightly finer. But you will never know unless you time your espresso.
As a beginner, having a rough time guide can be helpful, but as you advance and get comfortable with your machine, timing really should be regarded as an approximate indicator that can be used in conjunction with tasting and tweaking.
I have had amazing 20-second shots and amazing 50-second shots, and if that’s what tastes best to you with your coffee, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Just because a shot brewed outside the 25 to 30 seconds window does not make it bad.
Does Timing Really Matter?
So does timing your espresso shot really matter? I think you already know the answer.
When it comes to what matters when pulling an espresso, the most important thing is the end result – the taste of the espresso matters most.
The 30-second time window is a good reference point when first learning to brew espresso at home. And having a timer visible can be incredibly useful to know if you’re landing in the right ballpark when extracting your shot.
However, as you learn the ins and outs of your machine and determine how to dial in your espresso to your exact personal taste, you will be able to visually see when your coffee is done.
You’ll easily be able to identify when the color of your espresso shot changes to a translucent light blonde tan, and you will usually notice a whitish spot appear on the top of your crema.
This is the exact moment the shot is done, and that can sometimes happen in an inconsistent time frame.
Honestly, this is one area where home baristas have a considerable advantage over the pros working in a busy coffee shop – we taste almost all the shots we pull.
Whereas a busy barista who pulls hundreds of espressos a day has to rely on time once the machine has been calibrated.
So why stress over all the scientific diagnostics if you know how you want your shot to taste? If it’s too dark, bitter tasting, and thick, grind coarser. If you find it too light, sour and has a thin consistency, grind a little finer.
Don’t overcomplicate the process. It is just espresso.
I know that it can seem daunting when you first start tinkering with your espresso machine. As a beginner, you have no idea when to start timing espresso shots and when to stop, and nailing a perfect espresso shot seems like a distant dream.
If you’re at the beginning or just starting out on your espresso journey, the 25 to 30-second brew time rule is very helpful to get your ideal weight out in that time frame, and will, generally speaking, get you in a good zone.
But once you feel comfortable and have a feel of how your espresso machine functions, throw your stopwatch away and stop your shot by the color of the flow – you will know when you have the perfect shot of espresso.
But most importantly, enjoy the process.
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