Bland coffee taste diagnosis
I've been putting up with quite ordinary tasting coffee for months now, and I'm looking for ideas on what things I could try to identify the problem. A busy 18 month old in the home has meant I haven't had much time to tinker with it, but after months of putting up with poor-tasting coffee, I need to do something about it. I drink milk-based drinks, and to me, the coffees my gear produces taste mostly like milk with a hint of (weak) coffee. There's not really much flavour from the coffee at all. My equipment is a Silvia V3 and K3. The Silvia is about 3 years old, and I've owned it from new. The grinder is about 2-3 months old.
As there are a number of variables, I'm seeking ideas on other things I can try, and I'll briefly describe what I've tried already:
1. My Breville Smart Grinder was replaced recently by a K3. The new grinder has made no difference to the taste that I can detect.
2. My Silvia was serviced several months ago by a site sponsor. I've since descaled a couple of times and have backflushed the machine several times recently. The waste produced by both backflushing and descaling indicates that my machine isn't particularly dirty inside. Since I'm the only coffee drinker in my household, it receives light use - 1-2 shots per day. I've also cleaned the portafilter, and group area several times.
3. My beans aren't from a site sponsor, but they are typically received within 3 days of roasting, and I consume the beans within about 3 weeks. I've also tried different vendors, and regardless of the variety or vendor, the result in the cup is similar.
4. I've tried different varieties of milk, but I typically buy the Supermarket home brand of milk. Perhaps a more upmarket milk is something else I can try?
5. User error??? I don't think my technique for both espresso and steaming has changed much at all over the last couple of years, but it's a difficult thing to describe here. Certainly, I was happy before this started with what I was producing.
Other than that, my only other thought is water quality. I've been living in this house for 2 years, but the quality of the coffee only seemed to suffer starting from a few months ago. The water I use in the machine is filtered by an under-sink filtration system. Not knowing much about filters, I'd imagine it's a lower-end of the market setup. Perhaps I should look at changing the canister?
I'm open to any others ideas or improvements people think I should try. The taste is really frustrating me! Grateful for your help.
If you're using stock Silvia baskets (aka thimbles) go to something more traditional. You could try a something like a precision double: Precision filter basket 58mm- Espresso parts | Talk Coffee or any other similar "standard" sized double.
Thereafter, it will likely be beans and/or technique.
Thanks for your suggestion. Yes I am using the standard Silvia double shot basket, and have been since I bought the machine. As the issue is only more recent, I'm not sure changing baskets will solve my problem. The Precision baskets are inexpensive, so I'm happy to be proven wrong. I may just order some and give it a go.
As far as technique is concerned, it's almost impossible to describe mine here, but all indications seem to me like they should produce a good shot - ie. begins flowing like honey, tiger striping, 25-30mL in 30 seconds, a healthy layer of crema etc - it just has no taste!
A while back I used a digital thermometer to help with temperature surfing. Although the thermometer no longer works, I now temperature surf based on timings, and this also was working well until recently. Besides this, I'm not sure what else has changed regarding my technique.
Much of this is dependent on the size of cups you are using, because anything bigger than Italian standard coffee cups (used with the small rancilio sized standard coffee filters) is too big and will cause watery or milky brew.
Are you using the rancilio double filter to make a single coffee?
If so then there shouldnt be any problem with "bland" coffee except of the cups are horrendously large compared to std espresso size.
If you are using the rancilio single filter to make a single coffee then I am not surprised the brew is '"bland".
Either use the rancilio double for each *single* brew OR as Chris mentioned, buy the right sized double filter for this market (holds roughly 2 to 3 grams more grinds than the rancilio double offering), and use either the "split" portion OR the double complete, to your likeing, for whatever cup size you are using.
That's about as much as can be said, without actually having the machine & grinder in front of me to test and cup the brew with a coffee that is known to work fine.
If you can buy coffee from a place that uses the same coffee in their own machine, try doing that (buying beans they use in their own machine) to see how it differs in your set up, to the way it cups from theirs.
What about your palate. Are you now getting bland character from wines or foods you normally drink and eat and should be fine?
Hope that helps.
Thanks for your thoughts. The cups I typically use are 140mL, so for a morning FW/latte there's about 30mL of coffee, and approximately 90-100mL of milk I'm guessing, assuming about 1cm of foam. I believe this is a common cup size in Europe, but the coffees you buy here usually seem larger than that. I wonder if this ratio is in keeping with what other snobs use?
I initially persisted for at least 12 months with the single Rancilio basket, because I considered a double to be wasteful (I'm the only coffee drinker here, and only drink one at a time), but about 18 months ago I started using the double basket and brewing into two separate cups, as my internet research indicated that the double basket was the way to go, even for a single drink. I now make a FW/latte from one of the single shots in the 140mL cup as described above, and the other shot I usually have as a macchiato as the other spout goes into a 70mL measuring cup. Both the FW and macchiato lack the punch they used to have.
As I said, I was quite satisfied with the taste this setup was producing until a few months ago, so my first thought was a slow build up of muck or grime in the machine or grinder. As I've now had the machine professionally cleaned and my grinder is only new, this doesn't seem to be the case. I agree a deeper basket will certainly yield a stronger taste, but I believe this is only masking the real problem. I also have a triple basket stashed away, but I haven't used this before.
As for my taste buds, I haven't noticed anything different about other foods or cafe coffees, but yes that is worth considering.
As I mentioned, I'd be interested to know what water people use? Is the tap water in NW Sydney any good, or do people filter/treat it prior to using it for coffee? Just another thought I had...
BTW, trying beans at home from a cafe whose coffees I like is a great idea too.