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How to Calibrate Super Automatic Espresso Machines

How to Calibrate Super Automatic Espresso Machines
Category: How To Guides
Posted:
Views: 12983
Comments and Reviews: 4 [Read/Post]
Synopsis: Here is a brief breakdown of the ways that you can control the final result on a super-automatic machine.

How to Adjust Drinks on a
Super-Automatic Espresso Machine

We encourage you to play around with the settings on your new machine a little bit to see what the results are.  This is a good way to learn what things affect the taste of your drink and to make sure you are getting the taste you enjoy the most.  Here is a brief breakdown of the ways that you can control the final result on a super-automatic machine.

Remember though that the freshness of the coffee and the water quality are two of the most important factors in making a good espresso.  None of the guidelines below can compensate very much for stale coffee and bad water.  Getting your beans fresh from a local roaster once or twice a week will make for a better drink than buying beans from chain coffee shops or brands imported from Europe as many of those have been sitting long after their freshness has run out before they even get to the store where you can buy them. 

This may seem overwhelming to you at first and it is true that there are many variables that go into your espresso or coffee but just take it one step at a time and once you understand how all the variables come into play, it will be easy to make adjustments whenever needed.  Many people are perfectly happy with the settings right out of the box and never change anything and that is all right too.  The only thing that counts is that you enjoy the cups you make. 

   

Grinder Settings

Beans in Grinder

Adjusting the grind is an often-neglected part of setting up super-automatic machines but it has a huge effect on the espresso quality.  Some experimentation is generally required as different beans react best with different grinds.  In general, the darker the roast, the coarser the grind should be.  You can tell when your grind setting is right if the espresso is coming out thick with plenty of crema and neither too fast or too slow. 

You can also open the waste container and look at the coffee pucks.  They should be firm and not soggy.  If you crumble one in your hands, you should be able to see and feel each particle.  It should not be ground fine as powder and should not be too large particles.  Check this after you have the espresso coming out to your liking and then keep an eye on it in the future as you should become familiar with what they should look like and can then tell when the grind is off. 

The grind is ultimately changing the length of time that the water is in contact with the ground coffee, called extraction time.  A coarser grind is easier for the water to move through, so it will pour out faster.  A finer grind will slow down the pour.  The longer the water is in contact with the grounds, the more it will absorb out of them.  The first things it absorbs are aroma and flavour, then caffeine and tannic acid (tannic acid is responsible for stomach problems for a lot of people and makes the coffee taste bitter).  If you let the water absorb too much, it will run out of the good things to absorb (flavour and aroma) and then only be extracting the bad things (caffeine and tannic acid).  If you don't let it absorb enough, it will taste very weak and not have any crema.  So you want to find the perfect balance where it absorbs the full flavours but little caffeine or tannic acid.  This doesn't mean the centre setting on the grinder generally, but the perfect point is usually closer to the finest setting.

So, in a nutshell, if the espresso is coming out very quickly, with little or no crema and little or no taste, the grind is quite likely too coarse.  Try turning it a few notches finer.  If the espresso is coming out very slowly, or barely coming out at all, and the taste is harsh and bitter, the grind is probably too fine.  Try turning it a bit coarser.

Remember, on many machines you should only change the grinder setting while the grinder is actually running (always read your user manual).  Start making a drink and then adjust it a couple of settings while you can hear the grinder working.  It will take a couple of shots before you notice the difference so test it a couple of times before you change the setting again.

 

Water Volume

image

Obviously, if you want to make a larger or smaller sized drink, you would adjust the water volume setting.  This can also be used to change the strength of the drink.  By keeping the amount of coffee that will be ground the same but adjusting the water, you can make a smaller, stronger drink or a larger, milder drink.  But don't forget about extraction time! 

If you have a lot of water going through a small amount of ground coffee, it will have the same effect as a smaller amount of water going too slowly through the coffee (as discussed above in the grinder section).  Too much water will therefore extract not only the flavour and aroma but also the caffeine and tannic acid, again resulting in a bitter drink.  Again, it's all about balance.  Making the grind coarser to speed up the flow of water can improve the result if you find it tastes bitter in a long drink.  Or try making an Americano if you want a larger drink - brew a regular shot of espresso and then top it up with hot water.  There are a couple of models that don't allow you to adjust the amount of coffee so if you need more in order to get a stronger taste, you might have to cut the water volume in half and brew twice.

 

Coffee amount

Espresso Basket and Tamper
Most machines do allow you to adjust how much coffee gets ground per cup.  Sometimes it is a dial, sometimes with markings to reflect the amount in grams, sometimes all you have is button options for mild, medium and strong without an actual amount in grams.  Adding more coffee will make it harder for the water to flow through, so this will slow down the extraction time as well as increase the coffee to water ratio, thus making a stronger cup.  Again, if you want to make a larger drink, like a mug of coffee, you will probably want to add more coffee and make the grind a bit coarser to reduce the bitterness from a too-long extraction.
   

Extraction Time

Up until now we haven't talked much about extraction time. There is no golden rule. Some talk about the "god shot" for espresso which should be around 25-30 seconds. Extraction time is the time hot water is in contact with ground coffee. The longer the extraction time, the more solids get extracted. Some solids are desirable others are not. The following extraction times are just general rules.
While adjusting the aforementioned variables, keep an eye on the extraction time. This is best done with a stop watch. Measure the time it takes for the coffee to flow out of the coffee spout from start to finish. This is approximately the extraction time.

 

Espresso

For Espresso or short coffee, try to adjust all the previously mentioned variables while keeping the extraction time between 10 and 20 seconds. Keep an eye on the crema. Once white dots start building, over-extraction occurs.

Pressure Brewed Coffee

To make regular pressure brewed coffee, we recommend to brew no longer then 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, unwanted solids will start extracting. Again, keep an eye on the white dots on the crema. Stop the brewing at 30 seconds and add hot water.
   
   


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Comments and Reviews on How to Calibrate Super Automatic Espresso Machines

Espresso Planet - RP 25/10/2013 19:15
A sour/bitter note would indicate under extraction.
Try to increase the water amount to get longer extraction times.
Start with freshly roasted coffee.
Try a slightly darker roast.
TIP: While cupping large amounts of coffee, don't swallow the coffee, spit it out. Eating a bit of banana will help reduce acid reflux.
angie 25/10/2013 18:32
Hi, I just received my DeLonghi Magnifica ESAM 35oo, the coffee is sour bitter in the extreme, imposible to drink.From trying on and calibrating one day I had to stay ill the next with headache and abdominal pain. I tried all gring nr from 1 to 7, temperature, etc, I am lost, dont know if I should return and try other machine.Please help me as I really like this one and the price was super.Thanks!
EP Moderator 08/12/2010 12:39
Which espresso machine do you have?
What extraction time do you currently get?
What water volume have you programmed?
RP
Ali 08/12/2010 11:44
Many thanks for the valuable comments and I try all mentioned comments but the issue here the once I pres for the a shot of espresso the machine will not stop enable me to reach 25-30 as extraction time
Please assist what I should do
Many thanks
Ali


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