Timing Espresso Shots Right Can Produce a Perfect Pull

If you’re new to home espresso, or looking to improve your espresso game, timing your espresso extraction is a great place to start.

A well-extracted shot of espresso should run somewhere between 20-40 seconds, with most shots hitting the 25-32 second range.

There is, however, a lot of nuance and variability when it comes to pulling a great shot of espresso. Time is only one factor.

Espresso experts will tell you that dose and yield are far more important and to dismiss timing altogether as long as you’re achieving the desired result. But if you’re new to home espresso, weighing and measuring your coffee grounds and extracted espresso may be a bit more than you’re looking to take on right now. Timing your shots gives you a great guideline to play with while adjusting and experimenting.

There are several things to consider when pulling espresso, such as when to start timing your shot, when to stop extraction of espresso, and how to adjust your process to get the desired result.

Espresso machine pouring espresso into clear glass as barista begins timing espresso shots

Let’s break down everything you need to know to for timing espresso shots and getting that perfect pull.

The Perfect Shot of Espresso

Before we get into the nitty gritty of timing, let’s consider the elements of a great espresso shot: looks, taste, yield, and timing. Everyone has their own preferences, and there will be a lot of variability depending on the espresso machine you use, your variety of beans, your coffee grinder, and your process.

These are the basic elements to watch for when pulling a shot of espresso coffee:

  • Look. Ideally you should have a striated shot with heart, body, and crema. The heart at the bottom should be dark and rich. The body should have a warm milk chocolate appearance, finished with the creamy caramel espresso crema on top.
  • Taste. This will vary depending on your beans, but you’re looking for a well-balanced flavor profile, preferably with a touch of sweetness and clarity of flavor. Although some beans have a lovely bright acidity, we’re aiming to avoid harsh bitterness.
  • Yield. In terms of a target yield, you’re looking for a ratio of approximately 1:2 dose to yield. If you use 20 grams of coffee, you should get around 40 grams of extracted espresso. You can use clear shot glasses to measure shot volume. For a double shot you’re looking for approximately two ounces of espresso.
  • Timing. As mentioned, most shots should run between 20-40 seconds. If you find yourself well outside this range, you likely need to adjust your process.

Cup of espresso prepared after barista learned timing espresso shots

Making Adjustments

As you experiment and become accustomed to your machine, there are several variables you can play with, such as temperature, flow rate, and shot profiling. But the factors that have the greatest impact on your extraction are grind size and dose. They are also the most simple to adjust.

Grind Size

Finding the perfect grind will take some experimentation, but starting with a quality burr grinder with adjustable settings is essential.

An espresso grind is quite fine, and adjustments are fairly straightforward. If your extraction is running too fast, or your shot is thin and watery, you likely need a finer grind. If the opposite is true and your shots are running long or not flowing well, and the flavor is bitter or bland, try a coarser grind.

Fine espresso grinds prepared after barista learned timing espresso shots

Dose

Adjusting your dose is similar to grind size: if your shots are too fast you may need to up your coffee dose, but if they’re restricted or too slow you should try lowering your dose.

If you’re not weighing your dose, you can up your dose by running your grinder for longer (and the opposite for lowering your dose).

When To Start Timing Your Espresso Shot

There’s a lot of debate around this topic. The two prevailing opinions are either as soon as the pump on your machine starts, or at the first drip of coffee from the filter basket. The consensus, however, is that you should start timing your espresso shot when water hits the ground coffee in your filter basket.

Since you can’t see your coffee puck, it can be tricky to discern exactly how long it takes for the hot water to hit the dry coffee. All espresso machines function differently, so that saturation time will vary. In most cases, only a few seconds will pass between the water hitting the dry coffee and that first drip from the filter basket. So if you time between flipping the switch (or lever) and the first drip, you’ll get a rough idea.

First drip of espresso from machine for timing espresso shots

As long as you hit those four essential points of look, flavor, volume and extraction time (anywhere between 20-40 seconds), you don’t need to worry too much about when to start your timer. The main thing is consistency: if you perform the same procedure for each brew, and only modify a single variable at a time, you’ll eventually get the result you’re looking for.

When To Stop Extraction

You want to stop the extraction process when your espresso starts to blonde. Blonding is when the flow of your espresso turns a very light tan and starts to become thin and watery. As soon as you see this process begin, stop your shot. Past this point you’ll begin to extract undesirable qualities, such as bitterness.

Ideally, when your shot begins blonding you’ll be within the 25-35 second range, have the appropriate shot volume, and your espresso will look and taste its best. If that’s not the case, it’s time for an adjustment.

Timing Espresso Shots

As you can see, there are many factors that contribute to pulling that perfect shot of espresso. Timing is more an indication of whether these factors are adjusted properly for an ideal espresso experience. Shot timing is a guideline and a helpful tool, but there are no hard and fast rules for any approach to brewing espresso.

If you run a 50-second shot and it looks great and meets your personal taste, that’s a quality shot of espresso. Through years of practice and experimentation the industry has agreed that most great shots of espresso fall into that 20-40 second window, so that’s where you should aim to be—and likely where you’ll end up—if you want to make excellent espresso.

 

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