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Calibrating Your Shot Sizes Correctly, and Setting Up Your Machine to Reproduce Them

In this article, we explain how to set up an automatic commercial espresso machine (or a home automatic espresso machine) to give you the right shot sizes for the various espresso drinks that you are likely to make.

The Volumetric Keypad

Automatic commercial espresso machines will have a keypad for each group. The keypad will have at least two (and usually more) keys with icons depicting various partially-filled cups. (Click on the image above to see an enlarged view of the front of a commercial espresso machine. The keypads for the groups are easy to see in this picture.) These depictions connote various drinks, and the function of their corresponding keys is to deliver a specific volume of water when the key is pressed.

Once each key has been programmed, there is no more guesswork. All that your staff needs to do is to load and tamp the right amount of coffee into the group handle, lock it in, and then press the right key. This will allow your staff to get consistent and repeatable shots.

For most automatic commercial espresso machines, there is another button on the volumetric keypad that is labeled "Program," or "Prog/Stop," or something to this effect. This is the button that allows you to program the other keys for a group. The way that most automatic commercial espresso machines work is that you push this button, and then the key that you wish to program.

This will start a shot. When you have determined that the right volume has been extracted (in one of two ways described below), you will push the "Prog/Stop" button once more to stop the extraction and complete the programming for the selected key.

The Espresso and the Doppio

Your first key will (perhaps) show a single cup that is half-full. This connotes the basic Single Espresso. In fact, since the keys are programmable, you can choose any key that you like for any drink, but these "cartoon drawings" (icons) on the keypad are universally understood to connote what we are describing here. This is likely to be the most frequently used key.

The Single Espresso should be exactly 1 fluid ounce, which is about 30 milliliters. It will be made with the single group handle, and ¼ ounce (7 grams) of coffee.

There will be a second key that will (perhaps) show two cups that are half-full. This connotes the Double Espresso, also called a "Doppio" (Italian for "double," and pronounced "DOUGH-pee-oh"). The Doppio key should be programmed for 2 fluid ounces, which is about 60 milliliters. It will be made with the double group handle and two doses - ½ ounce (14 grams) of coffee.

The Americano

There may be other keys. If so, one of them will likely show a cup that is nearly full. And there may be another showing two cups that are nearly full. The nearly full cup is meant to connote an Americano, which is also called a "Lungo."

The origin of the "Americano" (in case you have not already guessed) was in World War II Italy. Many American soldiers had never tasted espresso before, and found it too strong for their taste. Italian baristas learned to dilute the espresso with hot water for their American customers, and called the drink an "Americano."

How an Americano (or Longo) is made in some coffee shops is to over-extract a single or double dose of coffee using twice as much - or more - water as would be used for a doppio. This key, the full cup denoting the Americano, is meant to be programmed for the amount of water used, which can be 2-3 fluid ounces. The two full cups would then be programmed for twice this amount for a Double Americano, in which a double-dose of coffee (½ ounce) is over-extracted.

This method of making and Americano, while common, is considered incorrect by many for the very simple reason that espresso should not be over-extracted. The perfect espresso extraction should be 1 fluid ounce in 30 seconds. Making an Americano by extracting 2-3 ounces through a single dose of coffee will take a minute or so. The result will be very bitter.

While some people are accustomed to this (somewhat mistaken) practice, and think that an Americano should taste this way, we feel that this is not the correct way to make an Americano. To make an Americano, half fill a Cappuccino cup with hot water, and then pour one or two shots of espresso on top of the water. (The reason that the espresso is poured onto the water is so that the crema will remain on top instead of being blended in.)

The Ristretto

If you are in the camp that believes that an Americano should not be an over-extracted espresso, and if you have extra keys on your volumetric keypad that were intended for making Americanos in this manner, then you can use these keys for something else. If you have a third key (beyond the Doppio), we recommend using it for a Ristretto. If you have a fourth key, you can use it for a Double Ristretto.

The first 2/3 of an espresso extraction is the most pure and sweetest part of the extraction. This is called a Ristretto (which is Italian for "restricted," and is pronounced "ree-STRET-oh"). A Ristretto should then be 2/3 of a fluid ounce, which is 20 milliliters.

The Ristretto is made by extracting 2/3 of an ounce of water through a single dose (1/4 ounce) of coffee, using the single group handle. Since an Espresso extraction should be calibrated to 30 seconds, the Ristretto extraction will take about 20 seconds.

A Double Ristretto (should you program it) will be 1 + 1/3 ounces of water. It will be made using the double group handle and two doses (½ ounce) of coffee. The table below shows the various volumes and weights needed for these drinks:

Drink Water
Espresso 1 fl. oz.
30 ml.
1 ounce
30 grams
1/4 ounce
7 grams
Doppio 2 fl. oz.
60 ml.
2 ounces
60 grams
1/2 ounce
14 grams
2/3 fl. oz.
20 ml.
2/3 ounce
20 grams
1/4 ounce
7 grams
4/3 fl. oz.
40 ml.
4/3 ounce
40 grams
1/2 ounce
14 grams

Two Methods for Measuring Your Shots to Program Your Espresso Machine

To program your shots, you can measure them by volume or by weight. This is the reason that we have put both the volume and weight of the shots in the table above. And it is quite easy to remember. It was no accident that water was the standard when both measurement metrics (US and Metric) were defined. For this reason, 1 fluid ounce of water (or espresso) weighs 1 ounce, and 1 milliliter of water (or espresso) weighs 1 gram.

To measure your shots by volume, you will need to use the kind of graduated cylinder that is used for measuring liquid doses of medicine. You can find these in any drugstore. You want the cylinder to have a small diameter so that you will be able to easily see the difference between 0.9 ounces, 1 ounce, and 1.1 ounces.

When you program your commercial espresso machine for espresso, you want to measure as close to 1 ounce as possible. Put the graduated cylinder under the grouphead to measure your shots as you program the machine. You might need a funnel if the diameter of the cylinder is very small.

Some people believe that it is more accurate to program their commercial espresso machine by weighing the shots. They feel that the crema at the top of the espresso (which has negligible weight) can cause you to read the shot volume incorrectly, which will result in shot sizes that are slightly smaller than they should be. Also, certain blends produce more crema than others.

To measure your shots by weight, you will need a postal scale that can measure fractions of an ounce with reasonable accuracy. (A kitchen scale will not give you a reading that is sufficiently accurate, since it is typically used to measure things that are at least several ounces.)

Put the scale under the grouphead, put an espresso cup or shot glass on the scale, and then zero the scale. You are now ready to program the shots in your commercial espresso machine by weight. Refer to the table above.

Programming Your Commercial Espresso Machine

We have discussed the various shot sizes required to make some basic drinks: the Espresso, the Doppio, and the Ristretto. We have also discussed the Americano, and made recommendations as to its proper (and incorrect) methods of preparation. This led to our suggesting four different shot sizes that you might want to program into the volumetric keypad on your commercial espresso machine.

Programming the espresso machine is quite simple. First, prepare the group for the drink that you are going to calibrate. Load up the appropriate group handle with the right amount of coffee, and lock it in. Decide how you are going to measure your shots. If it is by volume, put the graduated cylinder under the grouphead. If it is by weight, put your scale with a cup (zeroed-out) under the grouphead.

Push the "Prog/Start" button (or whatever is the equivalent for your espresso machine). Then push the key that you want to program. The extraction will start. Watch the espresso as it runs into your graduated cylinder, or watch the scale as the cup on it begins to fill.

When the appropriate volume or weight is reached (see the table above) for the key that you are programming, push the "Prog/Start" button again. This will stop the extraction, and complete the programming for the selected key.

After you have programmed all of the keys on all groupheads, your commercial espresso machine will be ready for use by any of your staff, with no guesswork involved.

...written by your friends at The Coffee Brewers

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