This weekend, I have been taking notes on all of my espresso shots so that I can record exactly which recipes do and do not work. So far, I have experimented with at least 10 recipes and only two of them worked out. I have determined that a 16 gram dose pulled at a 7 grind setting on my Encore with a 15 second preinfusion yields a "not bad" shot. With this in mind, I have direction as to what variables I need to change to improve my espresso shots.
I was chatting with someone in the Espresso Aficionado Discord group and someone told me that the issues I have been experiencing may be down to the grinder that I use. The Baratza Encore has big steps. A person in the Discord recommended that "at some point you need to adjust the shot by dose because if you change the grind the shot are going to choke the Flair or the water are going to run free with channeling." This is a new perspective for me but one that makes total sense.
Grind size is not fully within my control. One step on my Encore has a massive impact on the flow rate of my coffees. I am not using this as an excuse to blame my tools, however. Rather, I now recognise the limitations of my grinder and know what I need to do to improve my espresso shots. I am going to keep my grinder at 7 in my next shot and pull with a 16.5 dose. I hope this will build enough resistance to get me to a good shot (but not so much that the shot chokes).
Going to 6 on my grinder is feasible with a lower dose but I am almost certain the shot would choke at a 16 gram ground to that setting. So instead I am going to play around with my dose. I'll try 16.5 grams to see if that is better.
Getting a new grinder is on my mind but I am not ready to pull the trigger. I pulled a shot today that worked well as an Americano and I feel like I am getting the hang of things. With every new shot I pull, I gain more experience and insight into what factors influence my espresso making on the Flair Espresso maker. I hope that soon I will be able to report I have made a delicious shot that does not have the biting acidity that most of my shots have. I know I am close to this goal with my current setup. I just need to keep trying.