Whether you’re an at-home barista or working in a café, you’ve probably experienced pulling an espresso shot only to dump your grinds and find a wet, sloshy, and messy puck of grinds in your portafilter basket.
Suddenly you’re wondering where you went wrong – is the espresso shot even any good, and, maybe most pressingly, how can you fix it?
These are the questions that are continually asked and debated in espresso communities, and, surprisingly, there’s more controversy around “puckology” than you might assume.
But don’t worry, with our own first-hand café barista experience and at-home barista experience, we’ve done the research and answered your questions as best we can.
So, read on, and then simply relax with your newly improved and delicious cup of coffee.
- Wet Puck Insight: A wet espresso puck might be worrying, but it’s not an issue by itself. Rather, it’s a sign that suggests reevaluating your brewing process to ensure optimal shot quality.
- Possible Culprits: Multiple factors can contribute to a wet puck, primarily grind size, consistency, dose, and distribution, along with tamping pressure and machine settings.
- Perfecting Your Puck: The secret to a great espresso with a properly dried-out puck is the right combination of fresh coffee, precise grinding, consistent tamping, and a properly dialed-in espresso machine.
Is a Wet Puck a Problem?
Let’s tackle the controversy head-on – is a wet puck a problem? In and of itself, no. Having a puck that’s watery and wet is just data for you that something is off within the brewing process that may need to be fixed.
What really matters is the espresso shot that was just brewed – after all, that’s what you’re consuming, not the used coffee grinds.
More often than not, you’ll pick up on an issue with your espresso shot long before you see the puck. You’ll notice if it’s pulling faster or slower. You may notice that the espresso does not have its honey-colored stage, or that it smells acidic and bitter while being brewed.
If nothing unusual happened during the brewing process and the espresso looks like the average espresso you pull from your espresso machine, then you may not want to think twice about your watery puck.
But if your espresso shot looks, smells, or tastes off, then it’s worth investigating what’s contributing to the wet puck and how to fix it.
What Causes a Wet Puck and How To Fix It
When pulling an espresso shot, your grinds are packed firmly into the portafilter, and hot, pressurized water is added at a quick pace on top of the grinds, and then pushed through to brew the espresso.
Having a wet espresso puck means that the pressure is off on one or more elements, causing excess water to be left in the portafilter.
There are quite a few elements that will contribute to your puck being wet or soggy:
- Grind Size
- Grind Consistency
- Grind Dose
- Grind Distribution
- Tamping Pressure
- Portafilter Security
- Water Temperature
- Water Pressure
Although it looks like a lot, it’s just a checklist of things to run through mentally to asses what may have gone wrong.
Usually, the top four contenders for your wet coffee puck have to do with the grinds themselves. Grinds can be too coarse or even too fine, causing under or over-extraction. This should be evident in the way the espresso tastes and you can change it by dialing into the espresso you like best.
The end goal should be about what the espresso tastes like, not whether you have a wet or dry puck.
Another way grinds may contribute to your espresso puck being wet is if they are inconsistently ground, with fine and coarse grinds leading to uneven extraction.
This will cause the water to run through the espresso grinds unevenly, causing channeling and back up which will result in a wet puck. Make sure you’re investing in a quality espresso grinder that can produce evenly ground beans.
The only thing that looks worse than a wet puck is a wet puck riddled with holes caused by channeling
Of course, a glaring reason, and oftentimes the reason your puck is wet, is not having enough grinds in your portafilter. If your dose is low, there will be fewer grinds than there is water, causing over-extraction.
The best way to avoid this is to weigh your dose before brewing. You can try a single dosing technique, or simply weigh your dose once ground and adjust from there.
Lastly, if your beans aren’t evenly distributed before tamping, you will get channeling which may result in a watery coffee puck. There are lots of tools and tricks for ensuring the even distribution of grinds before tamping.
Tamping is an essential part of the espresso process. If you’re not tamping with enough pressure, you’re leaving your espresso grounds loose, allowing for the water to spray through them and causing your espresso to be weak and under-extracted.
Use enough weight, 20-30 lbs of pressure, to get your grinds securely into the portafilter, but don’t hurt yourself in the process by straining your wrist. Having a quality coffee tamper also makes a huge difference and can help you get your perfect espresso.
Water Pressure & Temperature
These two elements are the least likely to happen and the easiest to spot. Most espresso machines have the water temperature and pressure already preset, and that’s rarely what you fiddle with when dialing in your espresso.
Unless you are a full-on coffee connoisseur, you probably won’t be messing with your pressure or water temperature. However, always check to make sure that they are still at their normal preset units to ensure that’s not what’s causing your puck to be wet.
How To Get the Perfect Coffee Puck
The best way to get the perfect espresso shot with a perfect coffee puck is by investing time and energy into learning your espresso machine, getting quality espresso accessories, and learning to dial in your espresso.
Having fresh beans that are freshly ground before brewing is also key to having a delicious espresso and getting clean, even grinds that don’t make a mess.
At the end of the day, we hope you are sipping on a delicious espresso that best meets your coffee standards and preferences. We have plenty of resources to help you familiarize yourself with the coffee experience at all levels.