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Why is My Espresso Bitter? 3 Ways to Achieve a Better Cup

Why is my espresso bitter? A coffee expert provides 3 ways to understand the causes of bitterness in espresso, and how to solve them.

Why is My Espresso Bitter

Expert Consulted: Carl. Utilizing my 6 years of experience in the coffee industry, I’m able to provide accurate and concise information, helping you make informed choices about beans, brewing methods, and equipment, thereby elevating your coffee experience. In this article, I’ll share my knowledge to answer the question: Why is my espresso bitter?

One of the most common issues people face when brewing espresso is bitterness.

But what can you do to diagnose why your espresso is bitter and what can you do to fix it?

Typically, espresso is bitter due to over-extraction. This is usually caused by two things: having too fine of a grind, or letting your espresso extract for too long. So try to coarsen your grind a little and don’t let your shot run for as long. Your shot should run between about 25-35 seconds with the texture of warm honey.

I go into much further detail in the rest of this article to truly answer the question: Why is my espresso bitter? For more information on espresso, check out this article.

Why is My Espresso Bitter? 3 Ways To Solve It.

Nobody likes a bitter espresso or even a bitter coffee in general, so here are 3 ways to achieve the perfect espresso.

1: Grind Size

When grinding for espresso, you will usually want to go quite fine, but when going too fine this could cause your coffee to over-extract and therefore lead to bitter or burnt-tasting coffee.

To solve these issues, try grinding a bit coarser; this will allow the water to pass through the coffee puck more easily.

If this still doesn’t solve your bitter problem, then you may need to adjust your shot time and brew ratio.

2: Brew Ratio/Shot Time

Coffee Timer: Why is my espresso bitter
Coffee Timer (1)

Something very important in brewing espresso is your brew ratio, A.K.A shot time. A brew ratio is simply the amount of coffee that you grind and the amount of liquid espresso that you receive.

Only start messing around with brew ratios once you have a perfect flow rate, your espresso should flow like warm honey.

Most people choose to go for a 1:2 ratio, meaning if you were to put 18g in, you want to get 36g out. Aim for about 20-30 seconds for a 1:2 ratio, starting your timer as soon as the first drop hits your cup.

Toward the end of your shot is where those bitter flavors are waiting for you. On the other hand, the start of your shot is where those sour flavors will be.

So, I would try to aim for a 1:2 ratio if using a darker roast, a 1:2.5 ratio if using a medium roast, and if you’re using a lighter roast I’d suggest either 1:2.5 or 1:3.

For a 1:2.5 ratio try to reach that in about 25-35 seconds, same with a 1:3 ratio.

It’s important to remember that these are just guidelines, and everyone’s taste buds and preferences are different.

Test different ratios and find what tastes the best to you.

3: Sweeteners

Sweeteners: Why is my espresso bitter
Sweeteners (2)

If all else fails, it may just be that your taste buds don’t favor pure black espresso. In this case, I suggest adding some sweeteners.

This is especially useful for those who cannot control the brew ratio, for example, people who own a bean-to-cup machine.


Sugar: Why is my espresso bitter
Sugar (3)

Easily the most common sweetener people use in their coffee, even in milk-based coffees. More information regarding sugar and sweeteners in coffee here.

You can add as much sugar as you want pretty much, just don’t go overboard. This will help counteract the strong bitter flavors of the espresso.


Milk: Why is my espresso bitter
Milk (4)

Another commonly used sweetener, although this changes your drink from an ‘espresso’ to a milk-based coffee like a latte, for example, milk is needed for some people to enjoy a coffee.

I highly recommend steaming the milk if possible, this will bring out the sweetness and provide you with a lovely silky texture.

Just like sugar, you can add as much milk as you want really, there’s no such thing as ‘too much’, so go with what you like.

How Much Do Beans Matter?

Coffee Beans: Why is my espresso bitter
Coffee Beans (5)

The simple answer is a lot. The difference between fresh beans and non-fresh beans is unmistakable. For more information on the importance of freshly roasted beans, check out this article.

If you’re using beans from a supermarket or just beans without a roast date on them, stop.

Stale/old beans will produce many unpleasant flavors, one being bitterness.

To avoid this, buy some freshly roasted beans from a local roaster near you, and make sure there’s a roast date somewhere on the bag.

It’s worth mentioning that some people may enjoy the flavor of ‘stale’ beans, and you could be one of them. So, always trust your tastebuds over anything else.


Let’s quickly recap what I just mentioned.

Always make sure to check your grind size, you want it to be not too fine, but also not too coarse. You’ll know when you’re in that sweet spot once your espresso is flowing like warm honey.

Next is your brew ratio/shot time, which is how much coffee you put in, and how much liquid espresso you get out.

An example of a 1:2 ratio would be 18g of coffee in, and 36g of liquid espresso out. For a 1:2 ratio, you want to aim for about 20-30 seconds of extraction time.

The bitter flavors are towards the end, meanwhile, the sour flavors are at the start. You must find a balance and also what you prefer.

You may also add some sweeteners if all else fails, a few popular ones are Sugar and Milk, while there are plenty of other sweeteners out there, adding those to espresso is a little odd.

But you’re free to do whatever you like, always listen to your tastebuds.

Last but certainly not least, bean freshness. Always buy fresh beans from a local roaster if possible, the difference will be very noticeable, and the flavors will be much more complex.

Hopefully, you will no longer be asking yourself the question: Why is my espresso bitter?

Image Attribution and Licensing

Main Image: Canva Pro/Getty Images – ‘bad taste coffee’ by stock_colors.

#1: Canva Pro/Getty Images – ‘Coffee Beans and Coffee Cups During Coffee Drinking’ by mccann.

#2: Canva Pro/Getty Images – ‘Assorted Artificial Sweetener Envelopes’ by Juanmonino.

#3: Canva Pro/pixabay – ‘485045.jpg’ by 422737

#4: Canva Pro/Getty Images – ‘milk’ by limpido.

#5: Canva Pro – ‘coffee beans cutout’ by DAPA Images.