Got a new espresso machine and are wondering how much coffee you should actually put in the filter basket to get a good espresso? Here’s what you need to know.
Most espressos are brewed with a 1:2 ratio. A 1:2 ratio means 1 gram of coffee grounds for every 2 grams of liquid in the cup. A common serving size of espresso is 36 grams so to get a single shot of espresso from your machine, you have to add 18 grams of grounds to the filter basket.
However, you can also use different ratios and use the ratio to change the taste. You also have to use the right filter basket for the job. It can be a bit confusing if you’re new to making espresso so keep reading down below.
Espresso Brew Ratio
Espresso is usually seen as a certain drink and that’s how you order it. However, espresso just refers to the brewing method where hot water is pushed through a bed of finely ground coffee. This results in a small but very strong and intense-tasting cup of coffee. Just like everyone’s grandma makes apple pie a different way, every barista makes their espresso a different way.
That said, to get the espresso you expect, there are some simple guidelines you can follow.
Most espressos are brewed with a 1:2 ratio although it can range from 1:1.5 to 1:2.5. A 1:2 ratio means 1 gram of coffee grounds for every 2 grams of liquid in the cup. A standard serving size of espresso is 28 ml/1 Oz. So to get a single shot of espresso from your machine, you have to add 14 grams of grounds to the filter basket. For a double espresso, simply double both the amount of grounds and liquid.
Other ratios are also possible. However, often those are called different names. For example, a Lungo (long shot) has the same amount of grounds as an espresso, just with twice the amount of water pushed through it. A Ristretto (restricted) shot has only half the amount of water pushed through it.
The actual amount of coffee grounds you put in the basket is largely dictated by the size of the basket. Espresso baskets have a design capacity and they work best when filled very close to that capacity. Putting in more or less both have negative effects. So if you want to brew a standard 30 ml espresso, you need a 15-gram basket.
18-gram baskets are quite popular for home brewers and third wave coffeeshops which then results in a 36-gram espresso shot.
You’ll have to keep track of both the amount of grounds you put in the filter basket and the amount of liquid that ends up in your cup. For that reason, it’s a good idea to have a coffee scale. If your machine is automatic and you just push a button to get a single or double shot, it’s still a good idea to weigh the amount of grounds you put in the filter basket.
However, I understand if you don’t want to bust out the scales every time. In that case, take a spoon and scoop some coffee grounds onto a kitchen scale once. Now you know how much coffee grounds that spoon scoops and you can easily figure out how many scoops you need. Just use the same scoop every time. Using a scale is still better for consistency though.
The ratio is one of the most important reasons why your espresso comes out watery. Click here for a few more possible reasons and solutions.
Italian Style Espresso Ratio
The espresso brew ratios described above are standard for third-wave coffee shops. However, Italian-style espresso uses wildly different ratios. In Italy, you’re of course likely to get an Italian-style espresso and in the rest of Europe, it’s a mix.
Italian espresso is served in slightly smaller quantities (25 ml +- 2.5 ml). The amount of grounds used is 7 grams. You’ll notice that 25 divided by 7 gives you a ratio of 1:3.57. That’s wildly different than third-wave style espresso.
The Italian espresso has a much more intense bitter taste and some almost burnt notes while American style espresso is more balanced, has more sweetness and less bitterness.
Italy is where the espresso was invented and they just prefer a different taste in their espresso. Hey, they invented it, who am I to say they’re wrong? Coffee is all about taste anyway. The ratios above are just what most coffee shops in the US use so if you want to recreate something that tastes the same, following the same ratios is a good start.
Italian espresso also tends to be made with darker roasted beans and 20% of Robusta beans mixed in. Third-wave style espresso has moved towards using lighter roasted beans. Combine that with the higher ratio for Italian espresso and you’ll notice that Italian espresso is darker and more bitter.
Just FYI, if you like the Starbucks espresso, they’re using a 1:3 ratio which is closer to Italian than third-wave espresso.
Your espresso machine likely came with a few different baskets that you can put into the portafilter. You’ll get the best results if you match the size of the basket to the amount of coffee grounds you want to use and therefore the amount of espresso you want to brew.
If you put a little bit of ground coffee in a big basket, the coffee bed will be too loose and doesn’t provide enough resistance to get the pressures an espresso machine needs to brew properly. On the other hand if the coffee is packed in too hard (a little is good), it can cause too much resistance which then causes something called “channeling” which means the water digs a little tunnel through the coffee bed and the water flows through without touching the coffee.
Baskets often have a number (grams) etched on them. You don’t have to find an exact match, just use the one that’s closest. If the basket has nothing, a size like S, M, L, or single/double on it, you’ll have to figure out how much it can actually hold.
Sizes like: S, M, L, don’t say anything, and how much grounds you use for a single or double depends on what kind of ratio you’re using so it’s not very useful either.
For espresso, you’re supposed to tamp down the coffee grounds to compress them in the basket and squeeze out most of the air. That way there is no easy path for the water to flow through the bed of coffee and has to touch the grounds and extract them.
So you might think the basket is way too full when you fill it to the recommended amount. It will probably look like a heaping scoop. However, once you flatten it out and tamp it down, it’ll probably fit. If it’s still too much, you need to use a bigger basket or smaller dose and vice versa.
A nice tamper will help make this process easier. Click here to find a cheap but effective one on Amazon. Pushing down on the grounds with about 20-30 pounds of force is enough. More than that isn’t going to give you much extra. If you’ve got a scale that goes up to 30 pounds, it’s easy to check how much force this is. Just put the basket on the scale, zero it out, and push down until you get to the desired pressure.
Recommended Espresso Equipment
Besides an espresso machine, there are a few other tools that can make your espresso better. Here are my favorites:
- Espresso Machine: The Breville Barista Express (Amazon) is the sweet spot in price and quality for most casual home baristas. It comes with a built in grinder and most tools you need to brew espresso.
- Tamper: A nice tamper helps you tamp your grounds in the filter for the best result. Any correctly sized tamper can do the job but a nice heavy one just feels so much better in your hand than a plastic model. This Luxhaus one (Amazon) has a nice trick up it’s sleeve to make tamping very consistent.
- Beans: Good espresso starts with good beans. Using fresh beans is a big improvement over pre-ground coffee.
- Scales: Getting consistently good espresso means you have to know how much grounds is going into the machine and how much is coming out and how long this takes. A coffee scale is going to make your espresso much more consistent and also makes adjustments a lot easier. The Apexstone coffee scale (Amazon) is cheap and doesn’t look too sleek but is just as accurate as more expensive scales. The TimeMore scales (Amazon) look and feel a lot nicer but cost a bit more.
- Grinder: To make the best of your fresh beans, a good grinder is necessary. Espresso requires a good grinder to get the best results. The Baratza Sette 30 (Amazon) is a good espresso grinder that can also be used for other brewing methods and while not cheap, is good value for money. If you prefer hand grinders, the 1ZPresso JX-PRO is one of the best options (Amazon)
- Distribution tool: After grinding you can get some clumps in the coffee grounds. Those clumps should be broken up so the water can extract all the coffee grounds equally. Distribution tools are very simple things but this one (Amazon) is beautifully made and will look good in your kitchen.