3 Simple Tricks To Stop Espresso Channeling


One of the most common questions I hear from people with home café gear is: how do I fix my Espresso shots and make them taste better, especially channeling?

How To Stop Espresso Channelling In Three Simple Steps

  1. One of the first things we can do is ensure we’re using a solid recipe. Working with coffee that’s ground to fine can often result in an increased channeling rate, likely due to the puck’s denser areas’ strong resistance. By making sure your shots are pulled at a ratio between 1 to 1 and 1 to 2.5 and in a timeframe between 20 to 35 seconds, you can ensure you’re not making things hard on yourself.
  2. The more evenly we distribute our coffee grounds in the basket, the less likely we are to see channeling instances. Distribution begins the moment you start grinding. Every grinder dispenses grounds into the basket a little bit differently. Some deliver a relatively even spread with no interference, while others may favor a certain region or be overly focused. Regardless, we like to help the grinder out by moving a Portafilter in small circles to ensure that the coffee is spread evenly across the entire surface of the basket.
  3. Last but not least, we have distribution tools and tampers tools. Tampers tools can work wonders by gently spreading our grounds evenly across the surface of the portafilter basket.

So that’s why in this article, I’m going to walk you through my process for diagnosing bad Espresso shots and improving them to get a perfect balance.

What Is Espresso Channeling?

Channeling is when the water comes from the machine. It doesn’t go through the coffee slowly and evenly, but finds the easiest path and can come out the other side even without extracting any coffee.

This will always be a process of trial and error. It’s not easy, but man, is it satisfying when you get everything perfect, and you get to taste that manna from heaven. 

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First, let’s Talk about equipment! I will be using my Rancilio Silvia and WPM grinder, a pretty decent combo for entry-level or just above that. 

As you’ll hear from many coffee people, the grinder is more important than the Espresso machine itself, so make sure you’re investing enough money in getting a good grinder from the get-go.

I skimped a little bit on my grinder in the first round and bought myself Baratza encore, a perfectly good grinder but gives you very limited steps to adjust for Espresso.

Once you get to know your grinder and your setup a little bit, you’ll be able to adjust your grinder for a new coffee within a certain range. 

You’ll need to do micro-adjustments with every new coffee you get because of all the different variables involved.

When people tell you to set your grinder to a certain setting, it’s not going to work for every coffee, and you’ll end up getting some unpalatable coffees if you do that.

Even if you buy the same coffee brand every time, you’ll still need to do micro-adjustments because of things like the coffee age and even the humidity level in the air.

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Another piece of equipment that I use is my bottomless portafilter, which helps diagnose shots and see where you might be going wrong. 

You can do this perfectly fine with the standard portafilter that comes with your machine. 

Still, a bottomless portafilter lets you diagnose what might be going wrong. Whether there’s channeling or whether you’ve improperly distributed in the portafilter.

What Is The Taste Of Espresso?

The truth is Espresso has different tastes depending on the type of coffee bean you use, how it is ground and how it is extracted. Some people like the flavor to be slightly bitter, others don’t so the best way to get the right Espresso taste for you is trial and error.

I’m almost done with the intro so let’s talk a little bit about tasting. You need to develop your palette so you can taste the difference between bitterness and sourness.

They can be a little bit confusing, and I’ve gotten them mixed up in the past. One way you can develop this flavor is by going to extremes. So if you pull a shot and it comes out drip by drip, that’s going to be under-extracted. 

So try that coffee by the time it cuts to like 45 seconds, and it’s just a little bit in the bottom. You can taste the bitterness in that cup.

On the other side of that, if your shot is coming out way too fast and you’re getting to your desired weight in 10 or 12 seconds, that is a really good one to try to test sourness. Your palate will very quickly start to adjust and understand the difference between bitterness and sourness.

In short, bitterness is pungent and unpleasant, and sourness is sharp and kind of makes you do that cringe thing. 

Okay, let’s try this process from the ground up with a new coffee that I roasted recently. 

I’m switching coffees from a Guatemalan coffee that I’ve been drinking for a few days to a new blend of Costa Rican and Ethiopian Gucci with some really interesting and bold flavors listed by the importers.

It lists flavors like blueberries from the Ethiopian and almonds and milk chocolate from the Costa Rican. 

So I want to try and pull those flavors out of the coffee with a great Espresso.

I haven’t dialed this one in yet, So I’m going to explain to you how I adjust from the Guatemalan to the new Costa Rican and Ethiopian blend. 

On my WPM grinder, I usually start at around a ten on the grind setting. I then adjust from 7 to 14 depending on the type of coffee.

The roast level plays a big role in this, and I usually find that darker roasted coffees can be ground a little bit coarser, and lighter roasted coffees will be ground a little bit finer.

This is because darker roasted coffees tend to have more oils on the bean’s surface, which helps create more resistance for the water to push through.

I use my Hario scale, which can adjust 01 of a gram to precisely calculate how much I dose.

In my first test, I started at ten grams to see what this coffee tastes like. The first shot was sour, and if it’s this bad, then what I want to do is dial a lot finer. 

Maybe one or two steps because it came out in about 12 seconds, and I wanted to do about 25 seconds, so I’m going to dial it two points finer and see how that comes out.

I generally only dose for the amount of coffee that I’m doing, so I weighed the coffee before putting it in the grinder. 

now, be aware that many coffee grinders have a little bit of retention of old coffee grounds

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So if it’s the first coffee of the day or you haven’t made a cup of coffee for a couple of hours, I would suggest grinding out a little bit of the coffee and tapping on the side of your grinder to make sure there’s no coffee left over.

There’s nothing worse than ruining a good cup of coffee because there’s a little bit, maybe a half a gram, or a gram of coffee left in the machine. 

The shot came out super slowly on this test, and I wasn’t expecting good things, and it looked like a very bitter coffee. It was completely bland. I mean, it was really, really bitter.

On my last test, I went a little coarser, and hopefully, that’ll get a much better shot timing. This was my second try, and I only adjusted the grinder setting.

I didn’t change the dose of the coffee. Make sure that you don’t get into the habit of changing the dose to correct the timings. 

The dose should only be to have more or less coffee coming out in the end.

On the third shot, it was much better. It had a much richer crema. It came out in 23 seconds for the right weight, and I was excited to try this one because it looks a lot thicker and creamier, a lot better extraction than the previous ones.

After tasting, I found it was a much better Espresso than the previous two. The sourness and bitterness had gone. It tasted much better, much clearer.

I didn’t taste the blueberry flavor I was hoping to get out of these Ethiopian beans, but since this coffee shot came out as well as it could have, I might have just needed to roast the coffee beans a little bit lighter to get those flavors.

Channeling is one of those issues that are hard to diagnose, especially if you don’t have a bottomless portafilter.

If you have a bottomless portafilter, you can often tell by seeing where the coffee comes from and whether it collects together into a single stream from the center? 

If you see the Espresso coming out more from one side than the other or much faster from one side than the other, that might indicate that the coffee puck area has lower resistance.

Even if you don’t have a bottom sports filter, you can still often see channeling on a standard spout if you see the coffee coming out a lot faster after a long delay. 

That long delay is when there’s too much pressure, and the water is trying to find a place to get through. 

In these cases, even if you’ve adjusted for this, you might find that you get the correct coffee weight in the right amount of time, but it tastes sour. For me, that usually indicates channeling.

It sounds counterintuitive, but if you’re getting this problem, try adjusting a little bit coarser, as this might help reduce the amount of pressure and get a more uniform extraction.

Related Questions

How Hard Should You Tamp Espresso?

You’ll often hear a Barista saying that 30 pounds of force are correct, but in reality, the strength of your tamp will have very little effect on your shot, so don’t dwell on it. The actual amount of weight you are putting onto the coffee with a tamper isn’t so important that you are doing it consistently time after time.

How Do You Distribute Coffee Evenly?

It’s very important when coffee falls into the filter basket that it falls evenly. There should be an even equal density inside the filter basket of the coffee. Before you tamp, it should already be flat and level. So no big hills and no big valleys or divides.

What Is Pre-Infusion Espresso?

Pre-infusion is the process of wetting or saturating the coffee grounds under very low pressure. This occurs before the brewing of your coffee begins, and the pressure is not high enough to extract Espresso

When observing your Espresso machine doing pre-infusion, you may notice that the pressure applied will be between one to three bars of pressure on the brew pressure gauge. Without pre-infusion, the coffee grounds would be submitted to a full nine bars of brewing pressure.

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