Why Is Your Espresso Too Bitter (And What Can You Do About It)?

Brewing the most perfect espresso is truly an art form. However, you do not need to have any special skills or barista training to make the perfect espresso at home. You only need to have an espresso machine. So why does espresso become too bitter?

There are several reasons for this, and we covered all of them. Most importantly, we also included solutions you can try to ensure that you get a perfect espresso shot every time you use the machine. So let us get started!

Is Espresso Supposed To Be Bitter?

No, never. Espresso has such a complex flavor it owes to the coffee beans you use to make it. When done right, it should taste a bit like dark chocolate with a delicious caramelized undertone.

Need-To-Know About Espresso

Espresso is only one type of coffee out there. It is:

  • highly concentrated
  • served as a small strong shot
  • used as a base for versatile espresso-based beverages

The main thing that sets it apart from other brews is its brewing process – coffee beans are freshly roasted and ground, and then the espresso is extracted by rushing pressurized water at a precise temperature through the grounds. If everything is done right, you get a delicious brew with a flavorful espresso crema.

The Main Reasons Your Espresso Might Be Bitter

There are a few main reasons why your espresso shot does not have the best flavor:

Brewing Espresso


The Grind Size

The size of your coffee grounds takes a vital part in the brewing process. To pull a perfect espresso shot you should grind your coffee beans into a fine consistency. That way, your brew will pour out slowly and will have all the delicious flavors that need some time to dissolve. However, if you make a super-fine grind, the pressurized water won’t be able to pass through as easily and the process will take more time. As a result, your brew will have a bitter, almost burnt flavor.

Espresso Grind Size

To ensure that you always get the best grind size, we recommend choosing a machine with a conical burr grinder. It provides multiple settings to ensure that you always get the best results.


Over-extraction is the main and most common reason why your brew is bitter. To avoid it, you must have all your brewing parameters in line. This means that:

  • as said, you need to get the perfect grind size
  • the water temperature must be at the perfect setting – if it is too hot, it will burn your grounds; if it is too cold, your brew will be under-extracted. The perfect water temperature for espresso is around 190 to 196 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • shot timing – this determines how much water is let down – espresso is brewed within the first 20 to 30 seconds. Everything after that is just water diluting the espresso brew.

Over-extraction causes a bitter but also burnt taste. This happens if you:

  • tamp the coffee grounds with too much force and create a thick coffee puck (through which the water can not run properly)
  • add too much coffee into the filter
  • ground your coffee beans to a duper-fine consistency (again, water can not flow through)

Espresso tastes burnt when the pressurized water can not go through the coffee grounds. As a result, your coffee becomes overcooked due to the high water temperature. You can tell if the brew is burnt by the way it drips out. You will only get a small brew volume even after about 30 to 45-second the extraction process and it will be extra dark.

Dirty Equipment

In case you tried to fix all the previously mentioned brewing parameters, and your brew is still tasting a bit off, the problem might be in the machine, Moka pot, or any other equipment you use to brew espresso. When it comes to an espresso machine, oils from your coffee grounds build up on the inside of the machine and if all parts are not perfectly clean before you make the next brew, your espresso won’t taste right.

Cleaning An Espresso Machine

Oils can clog up the net showers leading to an uneven extraction process. Your brew will taste bitter and you will put unnecessary stress on the machine itself. To avoid this, you should always backflush your machine before you start the next brewing process.

Simple Ideas You Can Try To Fix Your Brew

Even though you might think that once your espresso has a bitter flavor you can only throw it away, think again. There are very simple ideas you can try to fix your brew and make it delicious once again:


While this may seem like a crazy idea, salt can actually help you fix your bitter espresso. You need to be careful with this method as too much salt will ruin your brew completely. Salt makes caffeine’s solubility lower and as a result, suppresses the bitterness. You only need a dash of salt to enhance the flavor of the underlying espresso flavors.


A lot of people drink espresso as it is, without any additions. However, if you do not mind it, you can quickly fix your bitter brew with a bit of sugar.

A Tablespoon Of Sugar

Milk & Cream

The fat content is milk and cream can easily neutralize the bitterness of your brew. So, even if you do not consume milk or cream with your espresso, give this solution a try – you never hear someone say that their macchiato or a latte is too bitter.

Other Things You Can Try

There are a couple of other things you can try to ensure that you always get optimal results:

  • always use freshly roasted coffee beans (stale beans never work for espresso)
  • be careful to choose high-quality coffee beans (Arabica is the best choice for espresso)
  • make sure you have good-quality water (if you have hard water in your household opt for filtered water instead)
  • pay attention to the brewing temperature (it needs to be around 190 to 196°F)
  • be careful not to exceed the shot timing (espresso needs about 25 to 30 seconds)

Opposite Problem You Might Come Across – Too Sour

Although the most common problem you might come across is bitterness, you might have some other issues with your brew too – espresso is too sour.

Adjusting The Brewing Paramaters On An Espresso Machine

Why Does Your Brew Taste Sour?

In case you over-extract your brew, it will have a bitter flavor. However, if you under-extract it, it will be too sour. You can notice that espresso has been under-extracted just by looking at it – it will have a thin, pale, and bubbly crema instead of the rich, thick, and dark one. This can happen if you:

  • tamp the coffee grounds without using enough pressure
  • don’t put enough coffee in the portafilter
  • in case your coffee grounds are too coarse

The bottom line is, that your brew will taste sour if the water can flow through the grounds freely. To avoid this, always use a fine espresso grind, fill up the filter basket so that when you tamp the coffee it is level with the top, and use enough and even force to tamp the grounds.

To Wrap It Up

No one wants to start their morning with a cup of bitter espresso. It should have a rich, caramelized, chocolatey flavor and smooth texture. If it does not, you need to adjust some of the brewing parameters.

If you are out of time and can not make another brew you can try any of the quick fixes that will conceal the bitterness in the brew so you can start your day properly.

As a former cook and a pastry chef, Patricia knows how to recognize fresh ingredients and appreciates their quality above all else. Her ideal day is spent at a local farmer’s market looking for the fruits, vegetables, and herbs she can combine and use to make meals for her loved ones. She is also a big coffee enthusiast and enjoys trying out different coffee brews while traveling.