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Some coffee questions

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  • Some coffee questions

    I've been thinking about looking around for some part time barista work here in Bendigo so I have been trying out various adjustments etc to get a better idea of the parameters around coffee so I can produce eye-popping coffee from most setups.

    Some of the things I have tried are different beans (up to about the 8th different type although the Phoenix one I got for my morning cup is so far my top choice) different grind/tamp combinations on the same beans, different milks to see how they froth (from a thread elsewhere on CS) varying the grind depending on room temp, rainy day or sunny etc.

    I've got to get to doing the Mods on my grinder detailed by Ray_C in his thread to get more consistency in what it produces, but so far I have learned quite a bit.

    One thing I am having a problem with - almost everywhere I buy a coffee, my long macchiato is bitter. Many places just make a long black and add a small amount of milk - not talking about them, but the ones who actually DO make me a long Macch. It comes looking great, plenty of crema with the dollop of foam in the centre - some get artisitic and deliver a 3 layer macch - black at the bottom, stained in the middles, crema and froth at the top, but almost without exception there is a strong bitterness that hits the sides and roof of the mouth.

    I've been trying to reproduce that at home so I can know what causes it and be able to make smooth and strong short coffees without the bitter taste.

    The closest I have been able to get is 2 x double shots, over-tamped (so the gauge rises to a bit above the max 'good' area) and with the water temp cranked up. The SB 6910 lets me change the thermoblock temp and I cranked it up above factory by 4º and for the first time got a hint of the bitter taste in my quad shot.

    Do commercial machines typically run hotter than home machines like my 6910? Do they usually have higher pressure in the group head?

    I've tried quite a few combos so far and I have to have both over-tamp and higher temp to get the taste - one or the other doesn't seem to do it. With the common occurrence of the bitter coffee in lots of cafes I figure it has to be something other than just a whole lot of crappy baristas (not that there aren't plenty of them ) and if I get some work as a barista I'd like to be the one that has the 'Wow!' factor in my coffee.

    I realise my grinder might be a part of the issue with slightly inconsistent results, particularly seeing I am also adjusting it regularly to grind decaf for the missus as well as trying out 6 different Roaster beans and 3 different 'shop' beans (I found a cafe that let me take some of their beans to try at home and bought some at Coles a while back) I realise some of you might stop reading at this point, shrug and figure I deserve whatever happens due to not using only the premiumest of beans, but I figure the better understanding I have of all aspects of coffee, the better barista I can be on ANY machine.

    Any assistance understanding this would be greatly appreciated.

    Oh... also spending a few days in Melb between 18th and 21st - any site sponsors who can give me a little time while I am there would be very much appreciated.

  • #2
    The most common cause of bitterness in coffee as I understand it is over extraction - which means not enough fresh grind in the basket for the volume of coffee being extracted in the cup

    I use 22g baskets at my work but I still will not extract more than 50mls max from any double shot, as I don't like the flavours that the coffee produces when extracted past this point, and in most instances ill only extract 45mls for a double shot (read long mac / double espresso) and would only extract slightly longer for a long black or a 12oz takeaway)

    I'm guessing places that use 7 or 14g baskets are extracting their coffee a lot longer than that, and as a personal taste preference I either find the coffee too weak and / or over extracted for my liking

    Grinding to order is also a big issue here coz unless the ground beans are used within a minute max of grinding your going to start losing flavour, and in my expedience at least this is still an issue for many places

    For a long mac I start by preheating my glass, by half filling it with boiling water and leaving it in their for 30sec before dumping, then running 45ml of coffee from a triple basket, topped with a layer of textured milk, and a drizzle of cold milk - so that no more than half the latte glass is filled in total volume

    Others may have different ways of macking a long mac, but this is what works for me, as the resulting flavours are smooth and velvety, sweet and strong, without any overt bitterness

    I think the milk that you're using makes a great deal of difference as well. Folks have different preferences but for me it's unhomoginised all way for super creamy texture and flavours which meld effortlessly with the coffee

    Good luck on your coffee quest!

    Last edited by askthecoffeeguy; 5 June 2013, 10:32 AM.


    • #3
      Grinding too fine and brewing too hot will cause bitterness. Try adjusting the grind a bit coarser and use some bathroom scales to check you are tamping to around 15kg. Fine tune the grind until you achieve the correct extraction rate.

      Good Extraction, Good Espresso - Espresso Guide •

      Once you have your timing per shot right then adjust the temperature to get rid of the bitterness. This of course assumes you're using fresh roasted beans no older than about 3-4 weeks after roasting otherwise you'll probably be chasing your tail.

      Read up about correct filling of the filter basket and avoiding channeling also. This could be causing problems also if it is occurring.

      PS Sorry Journeyman, I didn't read your post properly before replying. I suppose if you're trying to recreate the bitterness try these things in reverse!!


      • #4

        I had a 6910 for just over two years. With care and practice (an a bit of luck sometimes) you can make really good shot. It will not do it all the time, prob about 90% of the time, no matter how careful you are.

        In terms of temp and pressure, the 6910 is not too bad as far as thermo-blocks go, certainly good enough to make a really nice milk drink.

        Dunno what grinder you have, but if its the SB that comes with the 6910, then changing grind for the decaf and then back again will make things difficult.

        I would advise picking a "crowd-pleaser" espresso blend from a reputable coffee roaster. Don't start with anything that's roasted too light (just an normal medium level, evenly brown with no or very little surface oil) - the lower level grinders struggle with light roasts (my Breville Smart grinder does). Stick with that blend and get to know how it behaves. Drop your temp back to default and establish a starting point for dose using the five-cent test. Make sure you can reproduce that dose (I would suggest weighing) Then adjust your grind to get the standard pour (about 60mL in 27 sec for a double) and taste it (no milk). Then go too coarse (taste) and too fine (taste). See what you like. Just tamp firmly, but the same every time (exactly how firmly will make very little difference). After you can do that with reasonable consistency, then play with dose, and then perhaps temp and taste the effects.

        Have fun.



        • #5
          I've tried most of the above (short of changing my bean choice) and the closest I can get is just a hint of the bitterness I get in most cafés. I think I will have to go watch them do it and time the shots. I find it difficult to believe they would ALL be too hot on their shots, so maybe it is the tamping and too fine a grind...

          For the milk, I like a little sweetness and at home I use Natvia, about half a teaspoon in the milk before I heat it. But I can drink it without the sweetness (as in I forgot a few times) and I still don't get that bitter flavour.

          Thanks for the replies...


          • #6
            maybe add some robusta to your blend?


            • #7
              Originally posted by Journeyman View Post
              "...almost without exception there is a strong bitterness that hits the sides and roof of the mouth.

              I've been trying to reproduce that at home so I can know what causes it and be able to make smooth and strong short coffees without the bitter taste."
              Let me get this straight... you're actually trying hard to learn how to make bad coffee at home and are struggling with it thus far. Here's a clue... instead of focusing on learning bad coffee so that you can avoid it in the future, why not simply embrace the fact that you're finding this quest difficult and do what everyone else is doing, and concentrate on making good or even great coffee.


              • #8
                My thoughts are that because they are making a 'long' drink they are maybe running the shot too long and thus getting bitterness from overextraction?.

                I agree with Vinitasse, just focus on making killer long macs to beat those bitter ones.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Journeyman View Post
                  I've tried most of the above (short of changing my bean choice) ...
                  And that's probably got a lot to do with it. Even on stupidly long pours I find it hard to get bitterness from light beans, but dark roasts require a little more finesse in that regard.

                  Try some supermarket dark/espresso roasts or buy some beans from a cafe that gives you a bitter drink, if you really wasn't too experience it.


                  • #10
                    *grins* I understand your general puzzlement. But it's to do with how I'm built - some of you might have seen my grinder thread a while back... I don't like to not have explanations. To me, knowing what makes those coffees like they are is valuable knowledge - if all I ever do is concentrate on making my coffee on my home machine as good as I can, what happens if I start work as a barista and don't know what to do to fix the bitterness issue? My puzzle is this... so many baristas/coffee makers get it wrong in the bitterness area that I figure it must be something basic. e.g. the pub I worked at, I wasn't allowed to change the grind (nor was anyone else) but I never saw any of them doing the timed shots to work out how much tamping was needed to try to compensate for changes in the beans. Maybe most aren't aware of the volatility of grinding at different humidity/temps etc?

                    I'm kind of presuming it is the grinding process, as cafés have widely varied bean supplies and they use professional machines - and you can usually smell a machine set too hot the moment you walk in the door.

                    Would old beans cause it or would they tend more to losing flavour? Many cafés do brief bursts of trade and then their beans sit in the grinder until the next surge in drinkers. I have tried supermarket beans ( and copped some comments for it here) and was surprised that what I got from them tasted better than probably half the cafés out there. Buying good beans lifted that to probably 70% and getting the recent phoenix beans jumped it again.


                    • #11
                      There are multiple ways to make bad, bitter coffee (including but not limited to: using overly dark or even burnt coffee, brewing too hot, over extracting, using stale, oxidized coffee, etc...) but there is only one way to get it right... and if you're already there you don't need to know anything else.

                      To put it another way... you can purposely drive your car into a tree to see what that may be like but it will not make you a better driver. If you can already drive without hitting any trees there really ain't no advantage in hitting one on purpose is there?

                      So stop it already... you make my head hurt


                      • #12
                        You should have a coffee; it's good for when your head hurts. I can get my car from A to B without hitting trees, but if someone who did the same driver training as me keeps hitting trees, I'd want to know why.

                        To put it another way, I could have just bought a new/different grinder but instead I wanted to know why it was so inconsistent and being who I am I persisted until I found out and now I have a decent grinder that cost me nothing. I like to know the WHY's of things I guess...

                        Thanks for the list of things.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Vinitasse View Post
                          To put it another way... you can purposely drive your car into a tree to see what that may be like but it will not make you a better driver. If you can already drive without hitting any trees there really ain't no advantage in hitting one on purpose is there?
                          Alternatively, you could compare it to heading out to a skidpan and faffing about so you know what loss of traction feels like so that you can cope with (and avoid) loss of traction in a range of cars... There's no major loss in making bad coffee; beans aren't expensive and seeing what happens when you push a given variable too far is useful, I think.

                          As an aside, if you do get work at a place and their coffee isn't great and you think it's down to bad beans or machine settings... let's just say that you may want to take it slow/tactfully, because getting a job then immediately telling everyone how things are done is not a recipe for success.


                          • #14
                            *grins* Oh, I know, I know... (in my head I am hearing Sybil Faulty ) Hopefully in such a case, it would be something under my control and the difference in coffee would provide customer-driven change.


                            • #15
                              As a coffee snob of some 45 years, and a psychotherapist for more than 40, I can safely say that working out how to do stuff wrong is usually a complete waste of time and energy. And it puts entirely the wrong ideas in your head.

                              As a therapy trainer, one of my first tasks is to beat the goal of finding out *why* the client is doing something that doesn't work, out of the student's head. They need to learn how to focus on getting positive results. This is something that is often non-intuitive.

                              Work out how to do things with excellence and finesse will give you all the skills you need to produce high quality results. And it sounds as though you are already mostly there.