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Is there something wrong with my tastebuds?

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  • Is there something wrong with my tastebuds?

    Hi all,

    I'm hoping someone can help me out here - I've been buying roasted beans from lots of different places - some single origins, some blends. I let people know that I drink a double shot ristretto and ask for bean recommendations. I get the beans home, grind 'em up and pull a shot. The shot looks good so I taste it and it's like I've just sucked on a lemon - there's some coffee taste in there but all I get is this massive spike being driven up through the roof of my mouth.

    I used to think it was because the beans were too fresh so I've waited a few days, a week or two and sometimes the beans have settled down a little but the result is still pretty much the same. I think it's because the beans have been roasted a bit light. The beans I tend to like look obviously darker and have a broader flavour.

    The thing I don't understand is that the beans have come from award-winning roasters and some of the beans have also won awards, so someone somewhere obviously enjoys drinking coffee like this.

    What am I missing? What is so pleasant about sucking on a lemon?

  • #2
    The beans are one part of the equation, to help diagnose further it would be great to get some more info on your equipment and technique. Seems unlikely that all the roasts you've tried are at fault, could be low brew water temperature or under extracted i.e. the shot is running too fast?


    • #3
      Machine? Grinder? Dose? Temp of water at group?


      • #4
        Is there something wrong with my tastebuds?

        Also, have you tried the same bean at the cafe? Ordering the same coffee? Has to be a good and trusted cafe/barista though...


        • #5
          The beans are only one component of the end result.
          Do you ever get a coffee made at the place you buy the beans from? If so, does it taste like lemons there?
          What equipment are you using to make the coffee?
          What grinder?
          What machine?

          It may be that you are doing everything fine and it just comes down to the fact that your taste buds don't like coffee, but I would have a small wager that one or more components in your coffee making process could be improved to make the resulting brew not taste like sucking lemons.



          • #6
            Is there something wrong with my tastebuds?

            What equipment?

            If "sucked on a lemon" means sour shots, in my experience it's caused by one of three things: under-roasted beans, dirty machine or low brew temp.

            Dirty machine is easy to diagnose: pull a shot of water from a warm machine, let it cool (or put in fridge) and taste it! If it doesn't taste like water, the machine isn't clean.

            Brew temp depends on your machine and you've already said you've tried quite a few different roasts?


            • #7
              Hi Jools,

              People have jumped on your technique and even suggested that you don't like coffee??
              Your technique may well be playing a part but my reading of your post suggested otherwise.
              Poor technique producing fast pours will result in sour, thin shots with pale crema but not necessarily distinctly lemon. ( or grapefruit or pineapple).
              My experience tells me that those flavours are present in lighter roasts.
              The other thing I read was that you know that you like darker roasts than the ones you are questioning and which you have
              already called light. It seems that you have differentiated some of the factors.
              Trying the beans at the point of sale is good advice. Low brew temp is also a good point but will sour light and dark roasts.

              Nothing's nice about sucking lemons.
              And to the contrary! There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with your tastebuds!
              My reading of your post is they are telling you that you're not a fan of '3rd wave' roasting, (light roasting) most people aren't, so you're in plenty of company.
              You'll have to find the roasters who have an understanding of what an espresso roast is, rather than those who think that a light roast will
              present well when made as an espresso.
              The majority of good roasters are in tune with great espresso roasting but lighter roasts seem to be more common in
              the cbd area of cities.
              Just because a bean has a Cup of Excellence award doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to make a great espresso or is roasted to do so.
              Quite a few CoE beans end up as pour-over or filter roasts simply because the roaster wants to present the bean with it's
              inherent character and flavour as a bean and not have those characters influenced or masked by 'roastiness'. This is fair enough,
              they probably paid a truckload for them. Make them as an espresso and the brightness will often be lemon/grapefruit.

              My problem with that style of roasting comes when people try and convince me that as a light roast the bean also makes great espresso.
              They don't. Ask for beans not to have as an espresso but which are roasted as an espresso (medium to dark) roast.
              The flip side is burnt, ashy bitterness of over roasted beans, you'll want to avoid them as well!

              Trust your senses I think they're working fine!


              • #8
                Instead of ristretto, run a full double and time it.
                Is it the same taste at different grinds and doses?
                If it was me I'd grind finer or dose more at the current grind.
                But I suspect you are grinding too coarse.


                • #9
                  Wow - guys, thanks heaps for the awesome response!

                  Let me try and answer some of your questions:

                  Equipment at home is a Compak K10 WBC and a La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi II. I usually have this set to 93 but I haven't experimented with different temperatures.

                  I don't think my problem is equipment or technique because I am able to produce some absolutely stunning shots with other beans using the same equipment and technique. Also I can smell the difference in the grinder - I can smell this pungent streak from the ground beans. As I mentioned in the original post the resulting shot looks good in the cup - around a 30 sec pour for about 20mls with a rich, dark crema - its not thin, watery, under-extracted..

                  Maybe I need to change the technique or temperature for the lighter roasted beans? How would I experiment - smaller dose? Higher temp? I already grind quite fine.

                  At work I have the aeropress / kyocera combo - when I make a long black with this combo it is a little more palatable, more of the coffee flavours come through as the lemon hit is toned down a bit.

                  I have had similar results a few times when buying a ristretto from a cafe - needless to say I didn't buy their beans! I had a chat with the barista at one of the outlets and asked him if he got the same lemon hit and he said he liked the flavours - I don't think he was overly experienced though.. Most of the beans that cause me problems are when I haven't been able to sample first.

                  Chokkidog - thanks very much for your explanation, it makes a lot of sense and I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one struggling with the lighter roasts! Some of the places I've bought beans from do a lot of pourover and cold-drip coffees and I'm assuming the lighter roasts work better here?


                  • #10
                    Hey jools,

                    I was recently served a 3rd wave 'espresso' in Melbourne, afterwards I was approached by the barista
                    who had the other half of the shot, he was talking about berries and fruit, I could hardly talk from the mouth puckering slap of lime!
                    I wanted to say something about the juice bar down the road.......... but could only manage a sort of kissing noise!!

                    I don't really struggle with lighter roasts, I just don't buy them! ;-)
                    If I'm given one, it won't go in my espresso machine, just my press.
                    My son is into pour-over, siphon and espresso, has a Behmor and roasts accordingly.
                    I roast commercially and do lots of espresso roasts and some filter roasts but always avoid the lemons, I prefer apples! ;-o



                    • #11
                      Jools perhaps try increase your pre-infusion time that could help soften the brightness of the acidic taste you are getting. But I think generally most roasteries are roasting pretty light now even for espresso. Have you tried axil? I generally find them good for espresso. It's a shame that almost all of the decent coffee shops in the cbd now are going for very bright acidic espresso, except maybe naked espresso on little Burke I highly recommend them.


                      • #12
                        Hey Chokkidog,

                        That sounds like a few coffees I've had - the barista wanking on about the fruits and berries and whatever and I'm trying to deal with my mouth's overwhelming urge to open wide and expel the remains of the citrus grenade that just went off in there!

                        I don't get it - is it a lack of experience? Have these people not tasted a proper espresso? Or is it something that doesn't affect the younger tastebuds as much..


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by jools View Post
                          Hey Chokkidog,

                          That sounds like a few coffees I've had - the barista wanking on about the fruits and berries and whatever and I'm trying to deal with my mouth's overwhelming urge to open wide and expel the remains of the citrus grenade that just went off in there!

                          I don't get it - is it a lack of experience? Have these people not tasted a proper espresso? Or is it something that doesn't affect the younger tastebuds as much..
                          It's the emperor's new clothes syndrome. I doubt they can taste anything apart from sour, which they confuse for citrus. Ah gooseberries - did someone say they can taste gooseberries in this coffee?


                          • #14
                            Try a lower dose and finer grind. Your grinder is a conical right? I noticed my shots were alot brighter when years ago i moved to a mazzer kony and dropping the dose and grinding finer helped with this.

                            If that doesnt help then leave the light roasts for non espresso brew methods.

                            Have fun


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Dennis View Post
                              It's the emperor's new clothes syndrome. I doubt they can taste anything apart from sour, which they confuse for citrus.
                              It might also be because they actually do taste citrus. To quote directly from - the leading information portal on coffee science and chemistry

                              "Like all living organisms, citric acid plays an important role as a key intermediate compound in the [coffee]plant's metabolic life. In green coffee, citric acid [imparts citrus flavours/aromas] along with malic [green apple flavours/aromas] and quinic [bitter & astringent] acid constitute a significant portion of coffee's total acid content and in the development of perceived acidity.
                              During roasting, citric acid reaches a maximum at light to medium roasts, then quickly diminishes as roasting levels progress. A typical medium roast will lose about 50% of its initial citric acid concentration and diminishes further as roasting progresses."

                              Having said that, they also add:

                              "With an intensely sour/sharp charateristic, excessive citric acid in coffee is detrimental to quality. In the beverage industry, commonly uses citric acid as a food acidulant imparting sharp sour and tart notes. However, when this occurs in coffee it is typically an indicator of poor post harvest separation. If care is not taken to separate unripe green beans from ripened red ones, the batch can severely be affected. This is beacause green unripe beans contain underdeveloped sugar which do not fully develop during roasting - commonly appearing as lighter color beans (quakers). "

                              Just someone else's two cents worth.