Is your espresso flowing out of your machine way too fast and don’t know what to do about it or what’s going wrong? Here is what you need to know and fix your espresso quickly.
If espresso is coming out of the machine too quickly, there is likely a problem with the amount of resistance the coffee bed provides. The resistance can be changed by adjusting: Grind size, amount of grounds and tamping pressure. Also make sure the portafilter is mounted in the machine correctly.
If you are using pre-ground coffee, I would strongly consider grinding your own beans in a good grinder. That way you have much more control over your espresso and will have better tasting coffee as well. Read more about Espresso grinders here.
That might all seem a bit complicated and it can be. Below you can find more details that help you figure out what’s wrong and what you can do to fix your espresso.
How Fast Should Espresso Flow?
Espresso is supposed to be finished pretty quickly. It’s literally in the name. In general, a good guideline to aim for is a shot that is done in 30 seconds. That is 30 seconds from the push of the button. However, that doesn’t mean if you let the machine go for 30 seconds you’ll get good espresso. Read more about shot timing in this article.
You’re also aiming to get the right amount of liquid into your cup in those 30 seconds. For a single shot of espresso this amount is 25-30 ml. So in 30 seconds you want to get 25-30 ml of liquid into the cup. If you have more liquid in your cup after 30 seconds, it’s flowing too fast.
If this is the case, the liquid coming out of the machine will probably become light before the 30 seconds is finished and you’ll have a bad tasting sour cup. The liquid getting lighter in color (“blonde) means that everything you wanted to extract from the grounds has been extracted. The compounds you’re getting in the lighter looking liquid are the bad tasting ones you don’t want.
As you might understand from above, a coffee scale is a very useful tool to figure out what’s going on. Any scale that is accurate to 0.1 grams and has a built in timer will do but it’s important to get one that fits on the drip tray of an espresso machine while also being low profile enough to get a cup between the scales and the portafilter. This Timemore scale (amazon link) is high quality, looks nice, has all the features you need and fits in most espresso machines.
There is some discussion of when to start the timer but most people agree you should start the timer from the moment you push the button. From that point the water is in contact with the coffee grounds and so the extraction process begins.
Timing from the first drop is not consistent because if your grind size is a bit finer, it can take longer for the first drops to get through. It’s useful to also keep track of the time from the push of the button to the first drop.
Of course there is some flexibility in the time. If your espresso shots take 29 seconds, that’s not a problem as long as you’re happy with the taste. And that’s the key: If you’re happy with the taste and texture, there is no problem. The numbers named above are just guidelines most baristas agree on what tends to make good espresso.
Why Is Espresso Flowing Too Fast?
There are a few reasons why your espresso comes out too fast. If it’s not exactly clear immediately what the problem is, you’ll probably have to experiment a little bit to see what the real problem is. Here are the biggest reasons.
1. Grind size
The first thing to check is the grind size of your coffee grounds. The grounds should be quite fine for espresso but also not too fine. Both too big and too small create their own problems.
- Espresso grounds too fine: If the grounds are too fine, you’ll probably see nothing coming out for a while and then suddenly it starts flowing quickly. What’s likely going on is called “channeling”. If the grounds are too fine, the water can’t flow through the coffee bed uniformly because the grounds are packed too close together. So what happens is that the water finds weak spots an digs tunnels through the bed. Then when a tunnel (channel) forms, all the water find that way of least resistance and flows through that spot. That means most of the coffee bed is not touched by the water and so is not extracted. So you’ll get very weak espresso.
- Espresso grounds too coarse: If the grounds are too coarse, there will be many little gaps between the particles, even if you tamp the bed. Those gaps are filled by air which doesn’t provide any resistance to the water. That means the water flows to the bottom without much resistance. That leads to an espresso that flows too fast. That also causes the coffee grounds to be under-extracted which means you don’t get everything you want from it. Usually this leads to a very sour espresso and one that doesn’t have that thick texture that makes it so enjoyable.
If you use pre-ground coffee in your espresso machine, make sure it says it’s meant for espresso anywhere on the bag. Coffee that’s ground for drip or pour over brewing methods won’t work well because it’s too coarse.
If you grind your own coffee, you can try adjusting the grind size. Go a touch finer or coarser based on the information above. For espresso you can make very small adjustments because a small adjustment has a big impact. However, you should know that not all grinders are capable of grinding well for espresso. Most grinders are capable of grinding somewhere in the region of the right size for espresso. However, grinders that are made for filter coffee usually can’t be adjusted finely enough to really dial in the right size to fine tune your espresso.
A dedicated grinder for espresso might seem excessive but if you want the best results, it’s going to be the best option.
2. Amount of coffee/Basket size
Make sure the ratio of grounds to liquid is right and if you are using the right size basket for that amount of coffee grounds. There is a big difference between Italian style espresso and the rest of the world. Italian espresso actually uses less coffee grounds than the espresso you’re likely used to.
However, the espresso most people around the world are used to uses a ratio of 1:1.5 to 1:2:5. That means one gram of grounds for every 1.5 to 2.5 grams of liquid in your cup. That means for a single shot of espresso (28 ml/1 Oz.) on average 14 grams of grounds are used. For a double shot you simple double both the amount of grounds and amount of liquid in your cup.
The baskets that click into the portafilter (thing with the large handle that twists into your espresso machine) come in different sizes. You want to match the basket to the amount of coffee grounds you are going to use. You can use a few grams less than the basket is used for but using only half the capacity won’t work well.
If the basket is only half full, the coffee grounds have too much space so they don’t form a good solid bed of coffee that provides the proper resistance. On the other hand, if you try to put too much grounds in a basket that’s too small, the puck will be too compressed and the liquid will channel through.
Channeling is one of the reasons why your espresso is too watery. There are a few other reasons you can find here.
Often, baskets will have the amount of grams it can hold etched somewhere on it. If yours don’t, it’s a good idea to fill the basket and then measure how much it holds to make sure. Don’t trust the basket that just says “single” or “double” because if that follows the Italian standard, you will use a wildly different brew ratio.
If you need a new basket for your desired amount of coffee, check out IMS baskets on Amazon. They are available in tons of different sizes and are produced to very tight tolerances which means a more consistent extraction.
After putting the coffee grounds in the basket, you should tamp them. This is done with a tamper which is a very simple device with a flat bottom. Click here to find an espresso tamper on Amazon. The tamping compresses the coffee particles together and squeezes out the air. The air between the coffee particles doesn’t provide any resistance and the water would easily flow there without any resistance and without ever touching any coffee. This leads to uneven extraction and a coffee bed that doesn’t provide enough resistance. It also evens out the coffee bed further improving even extraction.
There is a lot of discussion on how hard to tamp your espresso grounds. Some people say you can’t tamp hard enough but that maximum compression is reached pretty quickly so pressing super hard isn’t necessary. Others say that pressing too hard can compress the bed too much which can cause over extraction (because the water is in contact with the grounds too long) or channeling.
So if one camp says you can’t tamp hard enough but that pressing super hard doesn’t yield any benefits and the other camp says you can tamp too hard, the right solution is to tamp relatively hard but don’t go overboard. How much pressure is enough? 20-30 lbs. of pressure is recommended. You can easily figure out how much that is by placing the basket on a scale, zero out the scale and press until you see the desired number on the scale.
Tamping not hard enough is usually not a problem for a long period of time because the coffee grounds will swell up and the particles kind of compress against themselves. That might cause the first liquid to come through a little faster but if the basket size and grind size are correct, it will solve itself quickly. However, that first bit of liquid can still screw up your shot of espresso so it’s still better to tamp with the right pressure to prevent that first bit of liquid from flowing too quickly though.
4. Basket not locked in
One thing that might be very simple to fix is the basket. On some machines it’s a little hard to feel when they’re locked in and seal properly. You’ll be able to see if this is a problem pretty quickly. Just look where the liquid comes from when it starts flowing too fast. Is it actually going through the filter or if it’s flowing around the outside?
If it’s flowing around the outside, something is wrong with the seal of the basket against the machine. The basket is probably just not locked in tight enough. Check if there you can twist it a little further. If that doesn’t do the trick, make sure the basket isn’t damaged, especially the upper rim. Or finally, if the basket is the right one for the machine.
As you might notice from above, it’s all a question of pressure versus resistance. On most simpler machines the pressure is not adjustable and it’s all in the resistance the coffee bed provides. Even on machine where the pressure is adjustable to some degree, it’s not good to turn it down really low just to get the right flow rate. It’s better to keep the pressure high and adjust the resistance in the bed. And there are a few ways you can change that resistance as you can see above.
On lever espresso machines, you have to pull the lever that creates the pressure with your own muscles. If you want full control over the pressure, that might be a good option. Find the 5 best lever espresso machines here.
You need the right balance of pressure and resistance. The pressure combined with the water temperature is what extracts the coffee grounds so quickly. You have both low pressure and a bed that provides little resistance, you’ll get very weak espresso and won’t taste very good. If the pressure is low but the resistance is high, maybe nothing even comes out or it takes very long. And if the pressure is high and the resistance is high, it will probably channel. It’s all about getting the right balance.
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.