NEW! Ristretto Access - For Coffee Enthusiasts

Ristretto Access (ristretto or restricted,  it also happens to be a form of espresso) will be a blog / email service where I'll pick a coffee topic every two weeks to write about for us to discuss.

It will be focused on the home barista, with the unique challenges we face, although we will be borrowing a fair amount of technical stuff from the professional world as well. 

Posted on March 24, 2015 and filed under Ristretto Access.

Rookie Mistake

Recently I refurbished my home machine, which hadn't been running very well for awhile. 

It laid in pieces for weeks, much to the annoyance of any visitors who wanted a coffee! 

So, when I put it all back together, I expected good things to happen....well we all live in hope right? haha

After about half a kilo of coffee and still no shot worth drinking, I was getting worried I'd stuffed it up somehow, was I losing pressure? had I missed a valve?... There didn't seem to be anything technically wrong... no hissing or hot water spraying out of the machine.

maybe it was just the beans, they were given to me for free after all...

Voila! success!

So the lesson here? Don't use free beans with no roast date to test your machine.

As always fresh is best.


Posted on March 23, 2015 .

When Donuts and Coffee Don't Mix

For many, a coffee without a sweet little something-something just isn't complete. They just seem to go hand in hand. But should you be seeing a donut in your coffee instead of next to it? 

In case you were wondering, I'm not talking about a literal sweet donut here. I'm referring to an effect that can have a large impact on the quality of your espresso.


Can you see the donut?

This photo was taken about 20 seconds into the shot. It may look alright here, but soon after things go wrong. In a normal shot, the flow of coffee will cover the whole basket falling into one stream in the middle of the basket. In this case though, the hole in the middle of the shot stays, while the outside pours around it in multiple streams. The colour on the outside quickly changes to blonde, indicating over-extraction in these parts of the coffee. The middle of the basket stays hollow, almost completely dry.

In a naked portafilter like this, the effect is easy to see. A donut ring appears with a hole of unextracted coffee in the middle. In a normal, more traditional portafilter however, there are spouts covering your view of the bottom of the basket. So, this begs the question, how can we tell this is happening?

How to Diagnose

One way is by the colour of the shot. The shot starts normally, however it appears to finish too quickly, going pale and blonding early. It may also be characterised by dark flecks of colour late in the shot. Those dark flecks are caused by coffee coming from closer to the center of the basket, where the shot is running slower compared to the outside. 

Flavour can also inform you if your shot has this effect. Espressos with this effect often have a Jekyll and Hyde flavour profile, tasting both over and under-extracted at the same time. The shots lack sweetness and depth. 

Now, both of these characteristics can tell you a little, but as we know espresso is a complex beast and other things can cause these results. So is there a definitive way to prove if this is happening without forking out the money for a naked portafilter? 

Diagnose by Basket Analysis

When I saw this shot happening in front of me, I knew it was bad. I sure didn't want to taste it to verify my donut suspicions! So instead of just guessing I did a little basket analysis to see make sure I was right. 


This is a photo of the inside of the basket after the pour. 

Do you notice anything unusual about it? Remember we're aiming for an even extraction of the coffee across the whole basket. 

Notice how the centre appears very oily whereas the outside looks cleaner? This is a typical result of the donut effect. The outside is where the water was flowing freely through the basket, washing all the oils into the cup.

The centre is where the hole was. It had no water flowing through, leaving all the oils in the basket. 

This is a quick and easy check that I do whenever I have a shot that goes bad unexpectedly.

How to Fix

The donut effect is created by the barista creating uneven density in the basket. The water flows around the outside, through the less dense coffee, missing the denser centre altogether.

To fix this, try to spread and distribute the coffee grinds as evenly as you can across the basket before tamping. If you have a doserless grinder, be sure to move the basket around so you don't end up with a large mound in the middle.

With these tips I hope you find your donuts on the plate next time, rather that in your coffee!

Happy extracting,

Lucas Mason.

Posted on November 25, 2014 .

Is your dosing damaging your coffee?

Have you ever had one of those days, where nothing goes right? 

It's almost as if you're in a parallel universe! Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong and when you go to fix it, it only gets worse...

Ever had that happen with your coffee?

You run a shot, it runs too quick. Adjust the grinder, the shot runs too slow, adjust the grinder, it channels... you get the picture... 

If this sounds like you then take heart! You're not alone! 

In fact, I'll go one further and say "good on you! Well Done!" why? because most people don't realise or even care if this happens. They'll just drink anything that comes out. But for those of us who do care, let's fix it.

This all too common and frustrating situation, is called "chasing the grind" and often boils down to one issue... inconsistency.

For the budding barista, the most challenging aspect of coffee is getting a solid routine. But what does routine have to do with this? Isn't the problem the grind?

Well it may be.... but more likely it is something much more basic. The dose

The amount of coffee that goes into your basket greatly affects the flow of your espresso shot. This one aspect of coffee preparation, has more impact on your shot than almost any other and is the most difficult for beginners to understand and master. You can very easily have a difference of 5g between your highest and lowest dose. That's roughly 25% extra coffee for the water to flow through!

So I'm going to ask you a few questions...

How many times do you collapse (tapping the basket on the bench before you tamp)? Do you collapse only at the end or in the middle as well? Are you a jiggler of the coffee or do you solidly bang it down? 

Believe it or not, each of those questions will have a bearing on the size of your coffee dose. And to be honest, whatever you answered to those questions is fine. As long as knew the answer.The key is to be consistent. To make fine adjustments, you need to be working with the same dose otherwise it'll just be a guessing game.

Let's go through the morning scenario again but this time with consistency in mind.

You run a shot, it runs too quick (you didn't collapse at all, underdosed but you didn't realise it). You adjust the grinder (finer to run slower). The shot runs too slow (this time you collapsed but the grind is too fine now), so you adjust the grinder again(coarser), but now it channels (This time you jiggled and collapsed, so too much coffee was in the basket and the water ran down the side)

Can you see how each time you change your dosing technique how it can effect your coffee? And then you change the grind as well just to confuse things further! Before you know it you're chasing your tail and your grind. This is often how baristas start chasing their grind and end up getting more and more frustrated in the process!

So before you decide to change your grind setting, pause and think...

Did I change my dosing technique? 

Do I need to change my grind or was it my inconsistency that caused the problem?


Happy Extracting,


Lucas Mason

the Home Ground Barista

Posted on October 28, 2014 .

Is it me or the machine?

Is your coffee machine working for you or against you?

Many budding baristas face this issue as they embark on their coffee journey. Temperature and pressure instability, badly maintained equipment, scale buildup, broken parts, blocked steam wands and dented tampers are just some of the many problems people encounter.

Does your set up stack up?

Are there problems with your equipment that are holding you back from getting the best out of your coffee beans?

Maintenance can be your ticket to progress or your Achilles heel. Which is yours?

Maintenance can be your ticket to progress or your Achilles heel. Which is yours?


Below are a few questions you should be asking to leave nothing in the way of your coffee.

1) When was the last time my machine was serviced by a technician? 

Even if you do the servicing yourself it is important to keep the maintenance up, keeping your seals fresh, shower screens clean, and scale build up under control. If you do take it to a tech, get them to check that the pressure and temperature is set correctly, especially if you have an Italian import. These tend to come out of the factory running super hot and at high pressure which can wreak havoc on your espresso, without you even knowing.

2) Can I find my blind filter basket?

This is the easiest way to keep everything working the way it should! This is one of those pieces that can easily go missing or forgotten. Whether it be a full replacement blind blasket or just a rubber insert, this small piece of equipment is essential to keep your coffee on track. You can backflush with water after each coffee session.

3) Have I got coffee chemical cleaner?

This is almost as important as the blind basket to make sure the inside of your machine is as clean as the outside. Remember this is where your coffee actually comes from and is more important than whether you can see your face in the chrome! I've seen some sparkling machines, in horrid internal condition. Regular backflushing with chemical every 1-2 weeks will keep everything flowing nicely and prevent anything from disrupting your coffee.

4) Are my seals leaking?

The rubber seals in your machine, if cracked or dry can destroy an espresso. Over time, coffee grinds can get trapped in the seal creating a leak, the rubber also wears down with use and begin to go dry and go brittle from the heat. Use your gasket brush to remove any coffee grinds before you backflush and check their condition for brittleness every 6 months.

5) When was the last time I descaled?

Scale buildup can become a very big problem and can cause a host of issues with your equipment. If you ignore it. Luckily it is very easy to stay on top of. Use filtered water, especially in hard water areas, and descale every 6-12 months to remove any buildup (this depends on water quality and amount of use). Your technician can do this for you if you don't feel comfortable, and be sure to check your warranty details if you plan on removing parts of the machine yourself.


So is it you or the machine? Is your machine holding you back or supporting your coffee efforts? 

In every lesson I teach, I leave my students with this message: "The last hour or two are a waste if you don't keep it clean!" This is the one thing that will instantly improve your coffee and takes less time than well, the time it takes to make a coffee! So don't let your maintenance routine be your Achilles heel.


Happy extracting!

The Home Ground Barista

Posted on October 21, 2014 .

Hot Tip Tuesday #3

This week's tip, continues on our milk theme. Today we're focusing on temperature and how to our milk just right using a temperature probe.

Do you use one? It is a tool that can have a great effect on your consistency and give you confidence. However there are a few things to keep in mind when using them.


1. Remember the lag

Temperature readings, especially on cheaper probes, are not instantaneous. So although you may turn the steam off when the probe says 60 degrees, watch how the gauge continues to rise even with the steam off. How many degrees out was it? How long was the lag? 

2. Calibrate

Has your temperature probe been calibrated correctly? There isn't any point using the probe if it is reading the wrong temperature anyway. To calibrate, put the probe in a known temperature of water (ie.boiling or freezing water) check it is reading correctly and adjust the needle if necessary.

Please note: Calibration techniques may vary between probes

3. Read the milk not the steam

Try to keep the temperature probe away from the steam tip, otherwise you may be reading the steam temperature rather than the milk, leaving you with a very cold cup of coffee.


So if you use  a temperature probe with your milk, remember these 3 things so you milk isn't too hot or too cold, but just right!

Posted on October 15, 2014 .


Apologies for the late update, it's been a pretty hectic few weeks! On top of being busy with Home Ground Barista jobs I have also been out at the showgrounds, helping out Reverence Coffee Roasters and the RASV using the gold award winning Carousel blend, I've also moved house in the last couple of weeks so don't think I've forgotten about you!

But now, I can get focused again on helping out my fellow home baristas with some more Tuesday Tip action!

Today, we are going to focus on simplifying the milk process.

Posted on October 7, 2014 .

Hot Tip Tuesday #1


Every Tuesday, I'll be giving you a tip to help all of you budding home baristas out there.

Let me know how you go in the comments below!

Getting The Right Milk Temperature

Hands can get insensitive, temp probes inaccurate but by using your ears, the milk will always  tell you when it's done 

Hands can get insensitive, temp probes inaccurate but by using your ears, the milk will always  tell you when it's done 

Today's Hot Tip is how to get the right milk temperature without using a thermometer... 

Clue: it's all about listening... (not always my strong point)

As milk heats up, the tone of your milk also changes. As the tone begins to drop off, it's time to stop heating and start pouring!

If your milk starts growling, give it a whiff... smell like off milk??? sorry, but you've just burnt your milk, you might want to start again...

Still reaching for that temperature probe?? Keep practising, with time and practice you'll use your probe more for latte art than temperature!

Posted on September 9, 2014 .

2 easy ways to make your first coffee of the day drinkable

Don't you hate that first coffee of the day? 

You don't even have to drink it to know its bad. Chuck it out and start again!

If you're running low on beans though, (or you are running low on cash), this first coffee may be your only option. Or sometimes, let's be honest, you can't be bothered mucking around and just want some caffiene in your system.

So if you can't bring yourself to throw out the first espresso of the morning, here's two tips that will make it more palatable.

Posted on July 4, 2014 .