Pre-infusion - everything you need to know for making fantastic espresso.


Extracting espresso, as we have mentioned many times, is a game of controlling variables to achieve consistency.

Pre-infusion is one of the tools in your arsenal, to achieve great coffee. Yet, do you know how it affects extraction, the flavours in your final cup or when and how to use it?

Our aim here at Newton Espresso is to not only teach you how to make great coffee at home, it’s also a little about the how's and why's.

With this extra knowledge you can pick and choose different techniques to suit your coffee, your equipment and the situation at hand. As the old saying goes, teach a man to fish, right?

One of the great advantages of manual brewing is uninterrupted control over your flow profile including whether to use pre-infusion and how long you pre-infuse for.


Filling the Newton BRUA brew chamber from a gooseneck kettle.


What is pre-infusion and why use it?

Pre-infusion is a term used in coffee, for infusing or saturating the espresso puck with water before beginning the full extraction.

The aim of this technique is to evenly saturate the whole coffee bed. Firstly, this allows a release of C02 before the full extraction begins. C02 gases repel water from the grounds inhibiting some extraction of the coffee particles. Secondly, it enables water to move more evenly throughout all the grinds when the full flow of water begins, reducing channeling and aiding extraction.  

A fully saturated coffee puck, with built up gases released, can flow much faster than the same coffee without pre-infusion. This means we can grind finer while still maintaining a great flow rate and keeps channeling to a minimum while also boosting our extraction.

Pre-infusion can also help lengthen water contact times on less soluble coffees - like lighter roasts.

It can also help disperse gases in very fresh coffee. If you are stuck using coffee that hasn't been rested very long, a longer pre-infusion can assist in reducing the gases and harshness of the coffee.


Coffee dripping from espresso basket as espresso extraction begins.


How to use pre-infusion properly.

Pre-infusion is a simple technique to employ. Like with many of the techniques we have discussed, using it properly and consistently involves measuring and controlling your variables.

With manual espresso like the BRUA, this involves you to physically change the rate that you press the lever. Giving you full control over your pre-infusion.

It's often thought that having a super slow flow rate is best for pre-infusion, however this is not really the case. Because extraction will begin, the moment water touches the coffee particles, it is best to employ a steady even flow of water to the coffee. Basically we don't want the top half of the coffee bed to have drastically more water contact time than the bottom half. This would mean the top half would experience an over extraction, adding astringency to the final cup.

This doesn't mean slam the lever down super hard! Instead apply even pressure at your standard flow rate. Once you see the coffee start to appear on the bottom of the basket, hold the pressure there, don't keep pushing down further. Hold this pressure for anywhere between 4-12 seconds. Continue pressing the shot from here to your desired yield.

You may notice the resistance in the puck is less than before the pre-infusion, this is perfectly fine and indicates an even water distribution that occurs with correct pre-infusion. If it is flowing with no resistance at all or too little resistance, simply fine up the grind to accommodate for the added pre-infusion.


person operating the Newton BRUA espresso maker


When should you use pre-infusion?

While I use pre-infusion with most of my coffee's, it is part of the extraction and therefore does affect flavour. Most of the time, this is in a positive way.

Sometimes, no pre-infusion can produce a tastier cup (or at least very little pre-infusion), especially with very easy to extract coffees that bring more acidity to coffees that could be dull without it.

With many parts of coffee, the best way to understand when to use pre-infusion is through experience and experimentation. Try with and without. Try short times of 4 seconds-or longer times of 12 seconds. Taste with intent. Take notice of the differences in flavours and what you like.

Final thoughts…

One of the greatest advantages of the BRUA is the ability to fully control your extraction flow rate. Finding the same ability on a pump driven machine is possible, however, not without a huge cost. Even then, there are very few that can offer this level of control.

We highly recommend using this pre-infusion technique to unlock the full potential of your coffees at home. In fact, play with different levels of pre-infusion; push past the 12 seconds and try 20-or 30 seconds - especially with lighter roasts. This falls into the category of what we call bloomed espresso - a topic we will cover in our more advanced posts in the future.

Until next time, enjoy what you have learned, enjoy your coffees and the journey of espresso!

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