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Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

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  • Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

    Im trying to learn what it is Im tasting in the cup, so that I can make subtle changes to grinding/dosing/tamping to improve the quality of my shots and also to help with getting-to-know the different bean varieties/blends.

    I normally drink milk based coffees, but I thought it might make it easier for me to determine what is happening in the cup, if I take out the milk variable for these test shots. Im mainly thinking in terms of taste testing new roast batches / days post roast /  and/or new beans.

    So,.this morning I poured an espresso from Honduras Marcala SHG, Organic HG,(5 days post roast) and boy..does this stuff put hair on your chest or what?,.. or perhaps you need to already have hair on your chest and come from another planet to enjoy espresso.

    Here is my espresso,.. extraction time 27-28sec, looked nice and syrupy, 2/3coffee to 1/3crema right after extraction, reduced to what you see in the pic by the time a strolled over to the other side of the room to get camera and then take a few photos. The glass holds 110ml to the very top.

    To me, it tasted like some vile potent plant extraction,..erm um.. well what I would call bitter?..(straight to the back of the tongue), and I like bitter beers, but this stuff ack!!!. It was hard for me to get past the bitterness to taste anything else.

    So,.based on my pic and description, can anyone advise whether I have just got something very wrong in the espresso making process,.. or whether I got the espresso right and espresso lovers really are hairy chested aliens with a bizarre taste for acrid substances.  :-? ;D

  • #2
    Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

    Quality of the shot aside, my experience is that espresso is an acquired taste, but one well worth acquiring!


    • #3
      Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

      It all comes down to familiarity.

      What you experienced most likely is the rich mouthfeel of the espresso shot. This coated your entire tongue and palate with its buttery lusciousness. You may have noticed the shot was fairly thick and syrupy. Espresso is not, and should not, be like drinking water.

      You just need more time to acquaint yourself with the complexity that is espresso.


      • #4
        Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

        I would agree with the aquired taste thing - I am trying (REALLY trying) to aquire it, but at the moment a Macciato is as close as I get.

        Others can talk you through the pallette thing and what to look out for, what I will say though is if you can replicate that shot you showed us, maybe add milk and see if it is the taste you usually get out of your normal coffee - at least then you will be sure that the shot you have poured for the espresso is the same shot you would have poured normally (sort of like a baseline for your start point of espresso appreciation/hairy chestiness )

        I hope this makes sense


        • #5
          Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

          Hi Remy,

          No you dont need to be from another planet to enjoy espresso.

          However this is a bit of a minefield....
          Taste is personal and individual, and seems it can vary in an individual for multitudes of reasons.
          Some people are more sensitive to bitterness than others, which may be inherent in the individual, or a part of ongoing development of palate.
          I am probably more sensitive to sourness currently.

          However having said that, a good espresso should be well balanced and can be more or less sweet depending on the bean type/s brew temp and time, grind setting, bean freshness, what you ate/drank in the last half hour, the alignment of the planets, etc.
          Once you have tried a few good espressi you will understand what is good and what isnt.
          A home barista course is a great thing to do if you can.

          A good extraction should start very slowly, even drippy, and can take longer than 30 sec for a double basket, I have had good ones as long as 40 sec. (Not sure about the 6910, but generally avoid single baskets while you are learning to make good espresso, double baskets are much more forgiving). Freshly ground, fresh beans are critical, and non-pressurised baskets.
          The pour should appear in the glass/cup as mostly crema initially, and be stopped at the first sign of blonding....once blonding starts its all bitter.
          Probably better to start off with ristretto shots, a bit shorter.

          I find the PNG beans can give good sweet espresso if everything is done right.
          The beans give off an aroma with hints of honey.
          I have never tried anything from Honduras so cant comment on them.
          No doubt others with more experience than I will have some other suggestions also.

          Can also be worth making the effort to get to a reputable coffee shop if possible, such as the ones frequently mentioned in this forum, depending on where you live, someone will be able to recommend somewhere. If you can be there at a quiet time, most baristas would surely love to assist you by making a good espresso/ristretto, but check the type of bean or blend they are using on the day, and tell them you want a sweet one.

          Enjoy the journey


          • #6
            Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

            A nicely extracted espresso should be rich in coffee tastes.... But imperfections can change those flavours to undesirables overtones.

            And so many variables can cause them. Water too hot. Too cold. Stale grounds/beans. Incorrect pump pressure or tamping pressure, portafilter overloaded/underdosed...

            If yours tastes bitter, the water may be a few degrees too hot.

            You can play with all the variables to achieve a palatable shot.

            And/or add sugar.


            • #7
              Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

              Hey Remy ... on the whole Id endorse everything said prior.  How about trying this as a way of easing yourself into tasting the magically rich complexity that espresso is ...

              With that 110ml glass, start off with a kind of piccolo long black (for want of a better description :-?).  Firstly, fill the glass with 60ml kettle-boiled water, then extract your 30ml shot directly into that.  The results should subdue any bitterness that your palate is detecting, and the element of extra water may help you discern the essential flavour profiles of the beans youre using.

              If this works for you, then reduce the initial amount of water - say to 30ml.  That way youre getting half/half.

              As your palate accustoms itself to the intensity that less water will bring, maybe then, grasshopper (er, sorry, green frog ), you will enjoy pure, unadulterated espresso.

              If all this doesnt do it for you, then ... well ... go back to milk-based coffee.  At the end of the day, you cant force yourself to enjoy espresso because thats supposedly what purist coffee drinkings all about.  Its what YOU enjoy that counts!



              • #8
                Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?


                Thats a good looking shot,
                Whilst looks are no guarantee that it will be perfect [especially if the temp is too hot], I think youre in the zone.

                Espresso is a "potent plant extraction".

                As the others have said, Espresso is an acquired taste.
                Actually its as much an experience/mouthfeel rather than just a taste and Nunu described that experience very well above.

                The closest "taste" analogy would be a coverture or rich dark chocolate.
                While still full of sugar [and hence sweeter than espresso] in contrast to milk chocolate, dark chocolate will have more bitterness and complexity or put more simply a "grown-ups flavour".......Espresso is a bit like this....and just like espresso, dark chocolate is an acquired taste

                If the shot is made well one tends to detect "pleasant subtle hints" of bitterness which create a character to the aftertaste and this can linger on for some time.....It acts as a reminder and sort of carries on the lovely character produced from the beans.
                A bit like the tanin/drying aftertaste following a guzzle of nice red wine.

                Whereas the bitterness in a badly made espresso can be like the taste of sudafeds...........bleauchhhhh!
                Try tasting a strong black instant coffee and you will know exactly the what bad bitterness can taste like.


                • #9
                  Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

                  Yeah Remy, take on GrindOnDemands little tip of having a relatively short, long black. I do this often as part of trying to get my taste buds to hit the books. Trying to train them that is, in identifying the different profiles, characteristics etc. Another thing you may find is that as the coffee cools down, kinda like a luke-warm long black, youll find youll be able to pick up some other taste qualities/iniquities in the coffee that you may otherwise miss at the hotter temps.... but you have to learn to drink cooled coffee which isnt always a pleasant experience.


                  • #10
                    Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

                    OMG you guys are great!! awesome info,.. read it all,.. will re-read again as soon as I get a chance later tonight (probably after BeanBay), and try some of the suggestions,.. wow they make sense, smart smart! Will reply better later too. Thanks heaps!


                    • #11
                      Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

                      Just like to add my reinforcement of Tonys technique above.... Thats how I trained (sounds a bit high-brow :) my palate to accept the wonderful delights of an excellent espresso. Very handy too once you become accomplished as you can troubleshoot your overall performance very quickly. Stick with it Remy.....



                      • #12
                        Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

                        I find it good to drink espresso with someone who knows what a good one tastes like. Pour a double shot into 2 espresso cups and drink it together. That way you know if you dont like the taste or if it really was bad. Or visit a cafe that you are sure of a good coffee and ask for a ristretto.

                        Also - a shot that is technically perfect in extraction can still taste bad.

                        I find the difference between a good shot and and an average one is huge, one will leave you satisfied and the other will turn you off.


                        • #13
                          Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

                          Thanks guys. Ill have to wait now for another 4 or 5 days before my next lot of beans is ready and I can try again. I used up the last of my beans about 10mins ago . I stupidly thought a valve bag that was standing up in my coffee cupboard had beans in it *slaps forehead* and was counting on them to see me through till my next roast is ready.


                          • #14
                            Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

                            Remy I dont normally drink espresso either but occasionally sample one from someone I trust as a bechmark.

                            I think thought they had a slight bitter taste but nothing I cant handle.

                            Well a few weeks ago the guy that makes the best coffee on campus (at work) made me an espresso with my beans.
                            A PNG Kimel that is the bulk of my stash.

                            My boss likes it when I make an espresso for him on the  Sunbeam 6910 but Ive tried them and their no better than the best Ive had made for me.

                            Well this one he made me on his La Marzocco was the best espresso Ive ever tasted and Im not just saying that because I roasted the beans.

                            The problem I have now is trying to make one as good.

                            So espresso can taste a whole lot better than that one you tried this morning.


                            • #15
                              Re: Enjoying espresso. Whats the secret?

                              Yeah I thought it has to be worth the effort,.. otherwise why would people persist. My brother persisted with olives for years when he was a kid,.. he hated them but kept trying them until he aquired the taste. I just loved them naturally and my brother couldnt understand how we could eat something that tasted to horrid to him at the time.

                              Yep thick and syrupy,..but buttery lusciousness?? erm...I couldnt quite get that devine sounding taste through the bitter oleander wood pulp taste. Will keep trying though.

                              Yeah,..perhaps I could just add a liitle dash of milk at first, straight from the fridge,.. it will cool it and dumb it down a bit, which might help me get used to it. Hmmm..

                              I think it would definitely help if I tried one made by a good barista,.. at least then Id know how far off the mark I am. I prefer a bitter beer funny enough, but was surprised with the bitterness in my espresso.

                              I only ever use the double normal(not the pressurised) basket.  It did come out all crema looking except for the drippy dark start of flow but soon reduced in the cup. I will try the manual button next time and pour a ristretto,.. or maybe I should just move the glass half pour and put another under for the second half, that I can taste the difference between both. Yeah..ill do that me thinks. My PNG Peaberry is not quite 2 days post roast (as is the only other beans I have atm > ) so yeah, I will give the PNG a crack when its ready.

                              Great idea about finding a local barista here to show me how to pour a good sweet espresso/ristretto.  Anyone know where I could try in the north side of Canberra??

                              regarding the water temp,.. I have been meaning to ask here for weeks now because I have seen it mentioned a few times on CS(I think) and on the net in general where the temp is adjustable on the 6910 WTFrock?  I cannot for the life of me see how I can adjust the temp of this machine. Can someone put me out of my misery here,. Im sure I read this in a few places in the first few weeks of getting mine (when I was not ready to fiddle with temps or understood much in the coffee making process at that point in time).  Do people really have sugar in espresso?  I will try a sprinkle of sugar too in a few to see how I go there.