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  • Diagnosis of an espresso shot

    Hi all,

    (warning: long first post!)

    Summary: I need help diagnosing a bad espresso shot. Jared Diamond paraphrased Tolstoys opening from Anna Karenina, and so will I: all good espresso shots are more or less like one another; every bad espresso shot is bad in its own particular way. Ive read a lot online and am probably 80% of the way towards the seven major variables in making good espresso, but still get a bitter/acrid shot.

    Using the double basket, I get about 60 mls in about 30 seconds, but
    - Coffee pour starts in about 5 seconds (I think thats OK)
    - Crema starts 2-3 seconds after pour starts (about 8 seconds in)
    - Shot colour changes from brown to orange/yellow starts about 15 seconds in!

    The shot when its finished is immediately mostly black but with crema that sits on top with blonde freckles in the middle. Its drinkable with milk, but acrid on its own.


    Coarser or finer grinds change the time drastically from 30 seconds (from 20 seconds or 50 seconds).

    Increasing the dose (reducing the grind) makes it more acrid, and slower, Decreasing the dose makes it runny and flavourless.

    My theory is its the beans, but if I cant trust specialty shops like Jasper Coffee or Beans & Bagels in Fitzroy, am I giong to have to start mail-ordering beans??? Thats cool, guess Ill have to plan more.

    Of course you may tell me either a) I havent cleaned enough, b) I need exactly 14g, c) my temperature surfing is ad-hoc and arbitrary or d) my tamping stinks.

    Details below. Look forward to ANY comments.


    Equipment: Im the VERY proud owner of a second-hand Silvia/Rocky combination, which even came with a Pullman tamper. Ive back-flushed it with descaling powder. Using the double basket.

    Water: I use filtered tap water, out of a Brita jug. (Probably dont need to, Melbournes water is awesome.)

    Beans: I first bought some from Jasper Coffee in Fitzroy, trying a) Columbian decaf (with the learning curve, I dont want overdosing on caffeine to be a barrier!), b) Sumatra dark roast and c) a fair trade blend called Femenino, which I knew my wife would like (I also will try to go exclusively fair-trade in the future). The Sumatra gave best results, followed by the Femenino, followed by the decaf which is consistently bad.

    I DONT know how fresh they were. Alarm bells went off because they came out of a sack, and I thought - did they roast those yesterday?? Or are those decaf beans so undersold that theyre weeks old? I didnt ask because I was a bit embarrassed at asking a snobby question. So I decided to make an assumption in favour of a reputable shop - silly.

    Grind: Ive experimented up and down my Rocky, between about 10 and 6. I found a sweet spot with the beans in question (Im just using the Feminino for experimentation) at about 7 on my grinder - am aware that its an arbitrary number that varies grinder to grinder.

    Tamp: I dont have scales but I think Im tamping around 10-15 kgs... I dont press down too hard. Ive played with scales but not with a tamper on the scales. I tamp evenly, knock on the sides and tamp gently again and polish.

    Temperature: Im doing a reverse temp surf. I draw water through the boiler, wait till the light goes on, then off, and then count two minutes before doing a pull. I dont have a thermometer so this is a bit finger in the air!

    Dose: I have digital scales accurate to 1g (so Id say +/- 1g error), and I also have a bodum 7g scoop. Those two together mean Im confident Im 13-15g in dose. In volume terms, when I dose into the double basket, I get a mound over the top and it tamps down about 4-5mm below the rim.

  • #2
    Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

    Originally posted by danahooshmand link=1207705612/0#0 date=1207705611
    Hi all,

    Equipment: Im the VERY proud owner of a second-hand Silvia/Rocky combination, which even came with a Pullman tamper. Ive back-flushed it with descaling powder. Using the double basket.

    Welcome to CS!
    Descaling powder is not used for backflushing. If you were using the double basket are the holes blocked? You are suppose to use backflush detergent such as Cafetto
    <------------------- Sponsor

    Try up dosing more but use a coarser grind if you havnt tried. Normally that should help the blonding too early.

    Not much info to give but hope it helps anyway.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

      Hi danahooshmand and welcome to CS!

      I think you may have answered your own question - if youre getting different results using different beans, then its fair to suspect them as the main culprit in your pursuit of the god-shot.

      There are some great roasted coffee suppliers in Melbourne - CoffeeSnobs Brown and Veneziano wont dissapoint, and if you cant pick them up, postage would be reasonable and quick.

      One thing I might suggest is that you dont hit the sides of the pf with your tamper. I find that doing so will shift or crack the puck, allowing water to run through these weak spots in the puck rather than through the grinds. If you need to settle the grounds, tap down the pf on a rubber matt a few times before tamping.

      All the best!

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

        Hi Danahooshmand,

        Its a journey, might seem like you are in the valley now, but you will get through it,
        if you keep going.

        Absolutely as Dennis posted, rap the PF on the bench vertically to help get maximum dose into the basket. Standard Silvia double basket will hold around 17-18g with updosing, and will give better pours.
        Forget the 60mls rule, as CK posted, the best time to stop the pour is at the start of blonding, this is weak pale yellow/tan colour with no gas in it. Once blonding has started, there is nothing nice left, only bitterness. Sometimes the transition to blonding is quite obvious, other times less obvious.

        Be aware also that different beans nearly always behave differently, so good if you can stick with one supplier and type initially, although must admit the excitement of home roasting etc has meant I do vary from week to week.

        Rocky retains a few grams of grounds internally, helps to purge this and chuck it before you start dosing the basket, unless it is immediately after the last shot.

        Enjoy the journey.
        Bullitt

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

          Thanks for your replies!

          So far Ive taken

          Updosing: Pack 17-18 grams into the Silvia basket. Possibly also grinding slightly coarser.
          Blonding: Stop the shot when it goes yellow, ignoring the 60 seconds rule
          Cleaning: use cafetto to backflush.
          Tamping: dont tap; rap.

          I am using cafetto! Its a satchet of cafetto powder. A guy at Jasper took a while explaining how to use it in a Silvia. Piece of thin cardboard to block the single basket holes (but not totally), half a teaspoon of powder, run it for a few seconds a few times, then flush clean a few more times. I havent googled cleaning much, and Ill do so soon before asking any questions.

          Coffee: get better beans! this is undoubtedly a big part of it.

          So what are these coffeesnobs brown and veneziano beans? Is this the bean bay? Im unclear how to order beans through coffeesnobs and totally in the dark about how to pick them up. Melbourne by any chance, or Sydney?

          Anyway Ill go explore (but would appreciate an answer anyway).

          Dana

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

            Click on the sponsors logs on lh side of CS home page. CS brown has some great beans and you can purchase them online. Several sponsors also have great beans and also sell online.
            All the above advice should get you on track, once you have quality beans you should start to produce better espresso until eventually producing great espresso.....stick with it and good luck...............gm

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

              Hmm, cafetto make both backflushing powder and descale, so just have a check which youve got. I dont know what hes talking about with some cardboard, can you use a blind filter on a Silvia? I wouldnt know??

              Im going to agree with everyone else, Id suspect stale beans are your problem. Try to buy stuff with a roasted on date on it, so you know exactly how old it is.

              CS Brown are available on this site, you can have them mailed to you just click on BeanBay, then click brown beans and see what takes your fancy.

              Or you could go to Venezianos (or cuppacoffees or several other sponsors) website and see what theyre offering. So much good coffee, so little time!



              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

                To add to the whole descale versus backflush detergent. If it is descaler, usually after descaling you need to flush REALLY well, and also your first shot after should be a "sink shot" that is pull a shot and throw it away as it wont taste great and you need to put a few of the oils back into your machine.
                If you are using descaler this could be part of the reason behind the slightly off tasting shot as well.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

                  Originally posted by danahooshmand link=1207705612/0#4 date=1207713120
                  Thanks for your replies!

                  So far Ive taken

                  Updosing: Pack 17-18 grams into the Silvia basket. Possibly also grinding slightly coarser.
                  Blonding: Stop the shot when it goes yellow, ignoring the 60 seconds rule
                  Cleaning: use cafetto to backflush.
                  Tamping: dont tap; rap.

                  I am using cafetto! Its a satchet of cafetto powder. A guy at Jasper took a while explaining how to use it in a Silvia. Piece of thin cardboard to block the single basket holes (but not totally), half a teaspoon of powder, run it for a few seconds a few times, then flush clean a few more times. I havent googled cleaning much, and Ill do so soon before asking any questions.

                  Coffee: get better beans! this is undoubtedly a big part of it.

                  So what are these coffeesnobs brown and veneziano beans? Is this the bean bay? Im unclear how to order beans through coffeesnobs and totally in the dark about how to pick them up. Melbourne by any chance, or Sydney?

                  Anyway Ill go explore (but would appreciate an answer anyway).

                  Dana
                  Venezianos (aka First Pour) is on Bond Street in Abbotsford (VIC), just off Victoria Street in Richmond. While youre there for beans, also ask for a blind filter which works heaps better than cardboard in the basket for backflushing. Ive tried the beans at Jasper and Ive got to say they were good so I suspect it may not be the beans. Might help to know when they were roasted though.

                  As for the backflushing procedure itself, it aint one of my favourite things to do and I was about to put up a post asking how long does a typical backflushing take from start to finish just to see if Im making an easy task hard.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

                    1. I cant believe that they suggested cardboard!  
                    2. With buckets of brown sitting around the floor gathering dust and going stale, I reckon there are many better bean options. Last year, I had one of the worst (read 100 deg 80ml underextracted garbage) espressos there that I have ever experienced.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

                      Let me second the advice to stop the shot as soon as it blonds. I use 18 grams in my double basket in a VBM Domobar and usually express about 20 ml of coffee in 20 to 25 seconds. What comes after than is quite pale and bitter and I dont like what it does to my mouth.
                      Check for yourself by swapping cups at 20 ml or so and express another 20 ml. Drink from both separately to get used to the different flavours, then combine and see what you like.
                      Good fresh beans are a must.
                      Your grind level sounds a bit coarse to me--maybe because Im aiming at 20 ml in 20 seconds, not 60 ml in 30 seconds.
                      Be persistent, it really is an art!
                      Greg

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

                        I was happy to hear cardboard because it didnt mean buying ANOTHER accessory! Ill get one though if its in the $5-10 range (as it should be). Abbotsford is riding distance (for now!) so Ill pop over once Ive exhausted the current supply.

                        Yeah, you know what, the cafetto is cafetto descaling powder. Either the shop assistant didnt know the difference or made a mistake handing met he wrong packet. No dramas, Ill go get some cafetto cleaning stuff.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

                          Cafetto cleaning solution AFAIK only comes in a plastic jar.



                          The descaler comes in a sachet.



                          I would hope theyd know the difference.  :

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

                            Ill just quickly chime in.

                            Ross does an amazing job at Jasper as their roaster. Beans and Bagel...I walk past it all the time but never give it a second glance when crossing Johnson St on Brunswick St.

                            I practically live in Fitzroy although my home is in Clayton. I work at Veneziano as the manager of The First Pour.

                            Come visit...our beans wont disappoint...I promise!

                            Cheers,

                            David.

                            PS: Chris, you must have had a really awful barista pull you an extremely unacceptable espresso. Ive had a few acceptable espressos there. Considering they only offer single origin through their g10 or whatever machine expobar it is....

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Diagnosis of an espresso shot

                              Gday danahooshmand,

                              Welcome to CoffeeSnobs....... [smiley=thumbsup.gif]

                              Dont think that Im trying to fob you off, I would never do that and besides, theres lots of great advice already been given. If you would like to read some really interesting and valuable information on how to squeeze the very best performance from your espresso system, pay a visit to Home Barista and in particular, this section, where they detail nearly everything you need to know about pouring excellent espresso.

                              All the best mate and have fun ,
                              Mal.

                              Comment

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