Dialing In - Espresso with Breville Barista Express

Dialing In - Espresso with Breville Barista Express

As we discuss the coffees we've been making at home, we wanted to share our method for getting the best espresso we can pull from them.

Currently, we use a pretty lazy method to dial coffee in but we expect that to change over time as we get comfortable with all the different variables that make a good espresso shot.

If and when we update our baseline method, we will update this post.

The plan is to use our most current method listed here to pull our initial shots and dial in from there once we have a baseline.

We recommend starting with espressos that you've enjoyed at decent coffee shops, so you have an idea of what they're supposed to taste like to compare to your shots.

As mentioned in the Keep Roasting intro post, the espresso machine we are using is the Breville Barista Express (model BES870XL).

There may be others on an espresso journey with the same machine, that could benefit from knowing how we use this machine.

Our first shot method makes heavy use of the automatic features of the machine.

person tamping portafilter for Breville Barista Express

Grind Size

For starters we set the grind size to 4 on the built in grinder.

The reason is that based on the coffees we've used thus far, we've had a lot of satisfactory shots at a 4 grind size.

For the most part when we've had to change the grind size, it's either been down to a 3 or up to a 5.

This may vary based on the darkness of the coffee that you enjoy, but the baseline grind size we'll use for our future posts in this series will be 4.

Grind Amount

In the beginning, we used to set the grind amount dial to a notch or 2 below the middle setting for automatic grinding.

While this seems like a good baseline, the weight may vary depending on the coffee and how full the hopper is.

As far as I know, on the automatic setting, the Breville Barista Express pretty much just grinds for a number of seconds depending on grind amount.

To get a more consistent grind amount, we recommend getting a decent kitchen scale with gram measurements and grinding using the manual setting instead.

For our purposes going forward on the site, we will be starting with the grind amount set to the 12 o’clock position for our initial shot.

We’ve found that grind amount to be a good starting point for the non-standard 54 inch filter basket on this machine.

Also, a good practice when changing grind size or grind amount is manually grinding a bit to get rid of the grounds from the old setting.

Wasteful, I know, but your next door will have a more consistent grind size and amount.

Filter Size

Always set to double espresso.


There is a way to adjust the temperature of the Breville Barista Express within a few degrees, but this is one variable we leave as default for our purposes.


We use filtered water straight from the dispenser on our fridge.

The Barista Express also includes a filter that you should change every few weeks.

We may experiment with some DIY mineral water later down the line.


We always use the normal (non-pressurized) double espresso filter basket.

We like the training wheels that this machine provides, but we want to learn how to control our shots as we dial them in.

For this reason, we stay away from the pressurized filter baskets.


Turn the machine on.

Since this is a single boiler machine, we like to heat it up for 20-30 mins before use.

While the machine is heating up, make sure that the water tank is full and that the coffee you want to brew is in the hopper.

Also, make sure to wipe down or rinse the group head between uses to prevent over-extraction caused by coffee getting stuck in there.

The light under double should be lit up under the Filter Size.

If weighing, using a good kitchen scale that measures grams, zero out your portafilter.

Place the portafilter underneath the grinder and click the button for an automatic amount or by pressing the portafilter in and holding for to grind a manual amount.

Watch the grounds trickle.

You can shake or tap the portafilter as the grounds come down so that the coffee settles into the portafilter a bit for less waste.

Measure the grind amount periodically until you get it to 18 grams if grinding manually.

Once you’re done grinding, it's time to tamp.

Before tamping, we recommend using some sort of distributor tool.

We found a cheap one on Amazon that fits the non standard baskets of the Breville Barista Express.

Once we started using one of these our tamps became a lot more consistent.

Tamping is the hardest part of this whole process.

Tamp too light, and the coffee may just pour straight through.

Tamp too hard and the shot will trickle out for a min or more.

After the tamp, you are ready to brew.

Put the portafilter under the brew head and twist to lock it in.

Put a cup underneath and press the double shot button to start the brew.

The Barista Express doesn't have a timer, so have your phone or smart scale ready to time it with the stopwatch.

Start the clock when you press the brew button.

Stop the clock when you hear the machine stop brewing

We've found that it's also a good indicator if the coffee starts to drip into the cup around the 10-12 second mark.

Ideally your shot will take anywhere in a range of 24-34 seconds to brew for most coffees.

Some roasters provide guidelines for beans in (in grams), coffee out (in grams), and shot time.

A quality compact scale placed under the cup can help to track shot weight and time.


If the shot brewed out straight away in less than 20 seconds, you may want to scrap it and start over.

If that happens, you should set the grind to the next finer setting and try again.

If the shot took very long to brew, say 40 second it more, you'll want to go to the next coarser grind setting.

If you get a shot in the good pressure range and the timing seems right, give it a taste.

This is where starting out with familiar coffees comes in.

If it's too bitter, you'll want to reduce the grind amount or tamp more gently.

Too acidic, try adding more grounds or tamp harder next time.

Having some idea of how the coffee should taste really helped me learn to dial things in for my taste when I first started making espresso myself.

That's pretty much it for our basic process.

As we get more comfortable we'll introduce more variables into the mix.

Again, all the coffees we dial in in this series will follow this same process unless otherwise indicated.

We will update this post with any future revisions to the process.


How to Use an Espresso Leveler and Distributor


Why Does My Espresso Taste Like Tomatoes?