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Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

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  • Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

    I’ve always been fascinated by coffee.  A dark little unpalatable brew whose  wonderful aroma promise much to the senses– but delivers acerbic disappointment to the palate.   Kinda like smelling pipe tobacco.  But plunge a teaspoonful of sugar into it, and everything changes. An entire, global institution has sprung up over sitting down and having a coffee – the world’s most internationally traded commodity. I love it.

    Maybe there’s a defective gene in my taste buds… but I find espresso without sugar totally undrinkable. Reviewers talking about sweetness speak a foreign tongue to me. The words sweet and coffee don’t appear in my vocabulary unless conjugated by the word sugar. Anyway, that’s me.

    What’s everyone else like?

    Do you too find espressos bitterly undrinkable but totally transformed by sugar? And how much of the white poison does it take to achieve that  metamorphose?  Or are you hairy-chested and drink it straight while finding the same pleasure as we sweet-tooths?  

  • #2
    Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

    I tend to agree with you Robusto.
    The caveat being Im only new to drinking straight espresso, and I still drink predominantly milk based drinks. Mostly piccolos and flat whites. I have been drinking more and more espresso at home trying to discern differences in blends and roast levels et al.
    I keep getting told by those who should know that a well made shot of espresso should have natural sweetness ie caramelised sugars from the roasted bean. When Ive asked these same people to make me a shot of this sweet sweet espresso Ive received a wide variety of tastes but only in a very few could I taste anything that resembled what I know as sweetness. Of the shots Ive had that presented some sweetness, it seemed to be kind raisin or fruitcake sort of sensation but always in the background, with a bitterness predominating.
    If I add about half a teaspoon of sugar then even average shots go down a lot more easily. Im not sure why, but I feel guilty for adding sugar to espresso. Its kind of like Im having a shandy... :-[
    During a barista competition I was watching the competitors described their cappuccinos as traditional. That meant no chocolate powder because the natural sweetness of the espresso and milk (lactose) negated it.
    I think that there is sweetness to be found in espresso, but only when the shot has been well constructed and if your palate is used to the type of sweetness that espresso exhibits. I read a lot of wine reviews and much of the time I wonder if Im ever going to find half of what is described.

    Stephen still looking for blueberries Frame


    • #3
      Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

      Well guys, I have to go in and bat for the other camp.

      Double shots, no sugar or milk is my method for ingestion of the bean soup.

      About ten years ago I was disillusioned with the “chunky out of date” workplace milk and even chunkier sugar and was drinking “supermarket brick” plunger without milk or sugar while at work.

      The transition to double espressos at work and home was an easy path from there and the more recent move to home roasted fresh beans means that I could never go back!

      As far as perceived sweetness goes I believe it is more a case of “less bitterness” for most people while sipping a fresh roast espresso through a great crema layer effectively coats your tongue with a similar to sweet sensation.

      I have had a saying for many years now…
      “I only have milk and sugar in bad coffee”

      Don’t get me wrong, I like sugar and will always love my milk, just keep them away from my espresso.

      Historically Aussies come from a tea, sugar and milk heritage (what your grandmother drinks) and sometime in the last 50 odd “baby-boomer” years there was a move to instant coffee (with milk and sugar). In the last 30 years there has been a trend towards espresso starting with percolated in the 70’s, drip filter in the 80’s and plunger in the 90’s.
      Now we are in the 00’s and we are starting to see home espresso machines in every junk-mail and in every kitchen section of department stores.

      Methods and tastes do change over time, I know mine have. :


      • #4
        Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

        I must admit that while I enjoy a straight espresso on occassion my favorite drink is espresso with microfoamed whole milk (a bit stiffer than ideal for latte art) with just a touch of sugar. Hhhmmm....NUMMY!

        Java "Loves his foam" phile
        Toys! I must have new toys!!!


        • #5
          Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

          Im with Andy, I almost solely drink straight doubles. Ill have the very, very occasional long black if I want to be a little more sociable and take my time drinking with friends.

          I find that if my espresso is too bitter I try to fix my current blend, or my extraction technique rather than adding sugar.

          For all that, espresso is just a drink, drink it how you enjoy it most.


          • #6
            Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

            I think you are describing a cappuccino Javaphile.

            Espresso is a bit like red wine or good scotch in that it may take some time to develop a taste for it.

            Some coffees will be sweeter by their nature such as Brazilian and Columbian. That doesnt mean it will taste like it is rich with honey.

            I find that if you have a bit of a sweet tooth you will usually find espresso without sugar is overwhelmed by the other taste characteristics which you may find unpleasant.

            There is no penalty for having sugar in your coffee just as there is no penalty for having a milk based coffee in the afternoon, even if the Italian purest turn their noses up.

            I hardly ever use the word bitter to describe my home roasts. When the coffee has more bite it is because I have roasted a single origin like Kenyan which has this characteristic.

            Bottom line with adding things to coffee is if it tastes good - drink it.


            • #7
              Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

              Ill add my 2 penniess worth here. I only drink piccolo lattes (cafe macchiato alto) never full lattes. cappuccini, or espressos, and never with sugar. My pavoni, when it behaves properly (lets say one in 3 shots, low success rate I know) produces a reddish, marbly coloured brew that looks and tastes like heaven. These piccolos are really intense, and, yes, sweet and caramely.

              The trouble with my machine (and probably its operator as well) is the one in three success rate. Often my piccolos are too bitter. Thats why Im currently in the hunt for a machine, probabaly a Silvia, that can deliver the god shot more often.

              But my point is that the god shot, in the context of a piccolo (with about 11-12 grams of coffee in it, the pavoni double basket is a small affair) can be very sweet and, yes, very complex as well. The milk, if it is well done, and very micofoamed, does not have to reduce the complexity of the flavour too much.

              But I do admit, it is obvious, pure espresso, is the most complex and therefore refined drink of all. It is just that my palette, and probably my stomach as well, cant really handle it. But Im happy in piccolo land, and always trying to improve the intensity, complexity and sweetness of my shots.


              • #8
                Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

                Originally posted by Wired link=1115516893/0#5 date=1115608394
                I think you are describing a cappuccino Javaphile.

                Kinda, sorta, not really. Understand? ;D ;D ;D

                A cappuccino is a drink of 3s. It has 3 parts in equal proportions. Espresso, steamed milk, and froth.

                With my concoction I use 1 part espresso to 3 parts microfoam, with the microfoam taken to the point to where it floats (rather than sinking and then rising) too much for proper latte art but is still easily pourable. When completely settled a few minutes later (if it lasts that long!) this results in about 40-45% liquid and 55-60% foam.

                With the microfoam taken to this texture I find that it mixes with the espresso very nicely with several distinct flavor zones in the resulting drink.

                When I make this drink I sprinkle the sugar on top of the crema, add 2 parts of microfoam, give it a couple of quick stirs, and then do a hard pour of the last 1 part of microfoam. The initial addition and stirring of the microfoam virtually suspends the espresso and creama in the microfoam (hence why a slightly stiffer foam is needed) with varying intensity if you dont over stir. The hard pour of the last part of microfoam allows some of it to just slightly mix with the other part where if done right you end up with some very dense crema/sugar bands around the pure microfoam in the cup.

                When drunk you have 3 distinctly different yet very complementary flavors. The taste of the pure microfoam, the taste of the bands of condensed crema/sugar around the edges of the pure foam, and the taste of the velvety smooth and slightly sweet espresso foam. This of course presumes that you drink it before it sits so long everything seperates out and it becomes basicly a cappuccino with a tall head. ;D ;D

                I dont know if this is a recognised drink or has a name, but I do know it is pure heaven to drink.

                Java "Off to get a bit more wired" phile
                Toys! I must have new toys!!!


                • #9
                  Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

                  For anyone looking at trying to bring out various flavours, or diagnose certain problems in their espresso, the "Diagnosing the Taste and Appearance of an Extraction" section of Jim Schulmans home barista guide found here: is well worth a read. In fact the whole thing is well worth a read if you have some spare time.


                  • #10
                    Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

                    When I do milk based drinks I steam the milk a little slower than typical to get more thickening and less volume. The result is milk that when poured into the coffee, is fairly dense through to the bottom of the cup rather than separating. The higher density of the milk tends to intensify the coffee flavour and the milk tastes a lot sweeter than cold milk.


                    • #11
                      Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

                      Originally posted by robusto link=1115516893/0#0 date=1115516893
                      I’ve always been fascinated by coffee. A dark little unpalatable brew whose wonderful aroma promise much to the senses– but delivers acerbic disappointment to the palate. Kinda like smelling pipe tobacco. But plunge a teaspoonful of sugar into it, and everything changes.
                      Robusto, you paint a very similar picture to my first journey into the world of espresso. I had always drunk tea, long blacks and plunger coffee without sugar so thats the way I tackled espresso. I persisted for a while because I thought that was the way it was done and I would develop the taste. Then one day a guy who had been assisting me almost as a coach suggested I do as the Italians do and sweeten it. Worked a treat and I have done it ever since. I vary the amount I add in accordance with the quality of what I am drinking.

                      There might be a parallel in here about wine and drinking temperature - the lower the quality (i.e. for white wine) the colder you need to drink it to make it palatable.

                      The exception to my usual practise is when I am assessing coffees and tasting comparatively. In these instances I split a double into 2, and sweeten one. Then I move across the lineup tasting and comparing the unsweetened ones before repeating this with the sweetened versions. In another wine parallel, sweetness fills out the middle palate. Just a little might be all you require to bring the flavours forward without making the drink obviously sweet. You can of course go completely overboard and produce coffee flavoured sugar syrup but most people end up somewhere in the middle. If it tastes better with the addition of a little sugar thats fine. Dont let anyone try to convince you that you are not getting it, or are missing out in some way because you keep the sugar spoon handy.




                      • #12
                        Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

                        Hey All!

                        Hmm....Reading this thread about 30mins inspiried me to go downstairs and use up the remaining Indian Rattangiri (spelling?) I had in the pantry.....

                        Brewed up an o.k. shot (Still learing with the Diadema... 8)) a little bit fast (16sec) in the single basket, but reasonable.

                        Deliberately did not add my usual 2 tsps of sugar...Put the glass to my lips an sipped......YUK!

                        Added a single tsp of sugar......ahhhhhh :P. - Note to self - cut down on the sugar or you will die early > 1 tsp does the job nicely!

                        Now, I am traditionally a heavy sugar adder if such a phrase exists; but had no hope of drinking that shot as it stood.

                        The above said, I now put the challenge to the superior skills of Chris (2muchcoffeeman) on Sat morning to make me two espressi, I will drink one as it stands and one the way I usually go - 1-2 sugars.....

                        My theory is that I am still far too new to the world of espresso to produce an above average shot. That combined with a new E-61 machine clearly displaying L Plates does not allow me to make a judgement on whether sugar is required or not!

                        So look forward to meeting all who attend on Sat morning and trying an espresso without sugar




                        • #13
                          Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

                          Good thought James... line up those shots 2muchcoffeeman ;D

                          The other variable that hasn’t been mentioned in this mini debate is “what do you have with coffee”…. Does dunking some biscotti in your espresso count as sweetening it? How about chocolate or cake on the side?
                          I cannot ever picture my grandmother without a “bickie” with her cup of tea.

                          Maybe some of us are sweetening in the mouth and not the cup!


                          • #14
                            Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

                            Like the sponge kept by the coffee machinery, I have soaked up the eclectic responses. Its obvious no-one in their right mind (make that palate) would deliberately drink an espresso let alone wax lyrically about it unless it did provide much pleasure, with or without sugar.

                            Out of respect and sheer envy for the "bittertooths" I then tried...and drink the brew unsweetened. I searched for the sweetness or dimished bitterness and whatever qualities you bittertooths relish. But sadly, to no avail. All I can say is, I envy you for the sophistication of palates which discern the complexities.
                            I was brought up on the sugared type since early childhood and the decades since. Those made in Italian, pressurised cafettera stove top coffee makers. Until a year ago--pre Silvia and its cheaper predecessor-- that product defined an espresso as drunk by me, family, friends et al. Anyone familiar with those coffees would know they MUST be made bearable with a teaspoon of sugar because of the bitter over-extraction caused by super-heated steam. I suppose the habit carried over into the present. But there is one large step forward... on the occasional times I have a cappucino or latte, I no longer add sugar, nor have the desire nor need to do so. Who know? Lattes today.... espressos next.


                            • #15
                              Re: Espresso. How sweet it is -- or isnt

                              Changing the taste buds takes quite awhile....
                              I used to have at LEAST 1-2 sugars in any coffee or tea.
                              Then I decided to reduce my sugar intake to 0, I found I was unable to drink the tea or coffee :-X . I very slowly reduced the amount of sugar in tea and coffee, now I have no sugar in either, unless the coffee is really bad bad... but no I think I am not going to drink that muck! This process took ages(months), try reducing by 1/4 tsp increments, you will know when you no longer need sugar because the coffee will taste way too sweet! esp Sprite :-X, I would also recommend an initial change to raw or demera sugar if you are not already using it, as it adds a caramel note and is not nearly as sweet as white sugar.

                              But no longer needing sugar in a latte is a big step fwd, well done