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Thread: Why Modern Espresso Is So Ugly

  1. #1
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    Why Modern Espresso Is So Ugly

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    After viewing the James Hoffmann Niche grinder review posted by LauriG I picked up on this video also by Hoffmann.

    Not sure I'm on board 100% with everything he says, however he has a point, the visual almost romantic interest and excitement of attaining a good pour has to a degree given way to technicalities, this from the video "The way the espresso sort of fell from the spout, it looked so good" we seldom see or hear this sort of enthusiasm any more, cant recall the last time I heard the terms tiger striping, or a pour that flowed like honey.

    Its almost as if the quest for the perfect espresso has been overtaken by a quest for technically perfect coffee made with the aid of increasingly complex and more expensive machinery, much of the (passion) has gone, now it seems to be increasingly about bragging rights, i.e. zero retention, variable flow, double boilers, PID's all very arguable I know.

    I found the video interesting, will be interesting to hear the views of others.



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  2. #2
    Senior Member flynnaus's Avatar
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    I can make no assumptions about higher tech equipment until I try them for myself. The visuals of the pour have always an important indicator for me but not a hard and fast indicator. I can't remember the last sink shot I poured, not because my technique is so good but I tend to try everything.
    I think pressure profiling may be a significant enhancement and my own experiments on pre-infusion seem to bear that out. Lately, I have been combining a finer grind with a longer pre-infusion with promising results.
    As you know, in the end, it's what is in the cup that counts.
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    Senior Member level3ninja's Avatar
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    If I remember that video correctly Yelta, he did say "The way the espresso sort of fell from the spout, it looked so good" but he also goes on to say that he much prefers the way espresso tastes now compared to then, he just wishes we could have both the good looks and the good taste.

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    Senior Member woodhouse's Avatar
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    i would prefer the ugliest-looking gusher shot that tastes amazing vs. a beautiful honey-dripped tiger-striped shot that tastes like shit. and funnily enough, in recent memory, a lot of the good shots i've had have been less-than-pretty.

  5. #5
    Senior Member LeroyC's Avatar
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    Well, slow, gloopy, drippy shots can end up tasting amazing. Short ratios and long extraction times. It really depends on all the other factors. Tiger striping in the actual streams of coffee has pretty much been proven to be bad most of the time as itís a sign of channeling, although itís not an absolute as again it depends on other factors. I agree that visual cues arenít always the best indicators of quality and success and I also agree that the thing I care about the most is what the end result tastes like.

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    Member LauriG's Avatar
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    James Hoffmann speaks about coffee with the mature love of a long marriage (with coffee) and hence is able to criticize his partner with an affection. I've just finished his book "The World Atlas of Coffe" 2nd edition, and although it may not offer any new information to the senior snobs here, it is a good read.

    I am still in the early stages of my espresso "expedition" (still waiting to save up enough for a machine next to my T64) but I certainly enjoy every part of the coffee making ritual, including the look of the pour. I doubt people buy naked PF's JUST to analyze their distribution technique. Surely the naked PF has become popular because we are indeed attracted to the visual beauty of the extraction, no?

    The experience of taste might involve some extrasensory elements, too. Some days life just tastes better. Maybe because the shot poured out sooooo beautifully?

    Here's another example of Hoffmann's point of view, which I found very helpful when hanging out with people who don't get any of this coffee snobbery at all:

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    Senior Member Rocky's Avatar
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    The first video is thought-provoking. I have never dwelled too much on the look of the stream as it pours, other than to be aware that sometimes that slower syrupy dark golden stream catches your attention because it looks like 'melted honeycomb' (my description). I am always more focused on when it blonds and whether it does so sooner than I think it should.
    The second vid makes good common sense and I am conscious of thinking about it this way, although there IS a limit to how low I am prepared to go before I leave the coffee sitting on the cafe table and head off to find something better. My coffee is one of the high points of my day and I'm not going to readily allow anyone to bugger it up.

    It is a problem with anything that you become discriminating about - coffee, food, wine, clothes.... I think it is a personality thing. Some people are predisposed to become aficionados with these types of things, whilst others just take things as they come and if something is especially good then that is a bonus. Sometimes I think I would like to be the latter rather than the former.
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  8. #8
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    I've always considered aesthetics a basic part of food and beverage preparation as well as presentation.
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    Senior Member Rocky's Avatar
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    Mate, aesthetics are a huge influence on us all throughout life. I don't care how good a car it is, I'm not going to buy it if I think it is ugly.
    Fortunately people have fairly varied opinions on what is aesthetically pleasing.
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    Love James Hoffman and his book "The World Atlas of Coffee". One of the great things about someone like him is his years of experience and the fact that he gets people thinking and talking about coffee. Maybe as an industry we are over complicating things with regard to machinery and equipment and perhaps the customer or end user is only interested in a good tasting cup of coffee. Thoughts?

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    If you took James' first video in isolation or Yelta's point of view in his first post in isolation, you'd be forgiven for thinking that either of them think that there is only one acceptable style of coffee and everything else is wrong. Different styles of coffee in the cup benefit from different green beans, different roasting styles, different equipment and different extraction conditions. The people who want rich, no acid, chocolate bombs will always disagree on the best way to do things from the people that want maximum floral and fruit aromas, tonnes of acidity and body be damned. If they keep putting content online about their view of things being good or bad without giving context, they will forever confuse the rest of us and create debate. It's sort of like how, like clockwork, every few months there is a clickbait journalism article that says "Study X shows that eating more/less of food Y results in health outcome Z". Of course, the devil in these studies is always in the detail - you seldom see such articles state what the control group is, and without knowing that, they're not really informative: cutting butter out from your diet probably has a different effect from people who eat a stick a day than it does on people who eat almost none to start off with.

    Its almost as if the quest for the perfect espresso has been overtaken by a quest for technically perfect coffee made with the aid of increasingly complex and more expensive machinery, much of the (passion) has gone, now it seems to be increasingly about bragging rights, i.e. zero retention, variable flow, double boilers, PID's all very arguable I know.
    I sort of both agree and disagree with this.

    I agree, in that I have gone to tonnes of cafes that have expensive equipment and all of the trappings of quality, but fail to deliver. Last weekend when doing a cafe crawl in Surry Hills, for example, I had a barista throw a whole heap of buzzwords at me about the single origins that they had on offer, but it seemed pretty obvious that it was a script when he was unsure when I asked him specific questions about the details he was trying to use as a selling point ("are you sure you mean wet process and not wet hull? from what you say, it seems likely to me what you are actually describing is wet hull. I'm asking because I usually really hate wet hulled coffee" "uhh... it says wet process"). They had any number of EK43s and LMs around and a printout of Matt Perger's espresso dialling in compass on the wall. I bet they had a refractometer under the counter. We ordered (and paid for) three coffees, took a sip of each and left. Good equipment doesn't mean good results.

    I sort of disagree in terms of "overtaking". I feel like pressure and flow profiling has really been all hat and no cowboy in Australia. I can literally only think of one cafe that uses a paddle on their machine as anything other than an on/off switch and I would fall out of my chair if you told me that there are any cafes out there that are actually doing anything other than using a fairly stock profile across everything that they offer. The LM Strada appeared in a few cafes a few years ago and I have noticed that many of them have replaced them with a volumetric linea PB. For a $4 espresso, I don't think anyone is seriously going to do an individual pressure profile selected for a particular bean. Basically, I think that a lot of stuff that is discussed online stays online. I don't think that you can go into a cafe in Australia and buy an espresso that has any real pressure profiling beyond some sort of preinfusion.

    I'd also argue that, Yelta, to the extent you are saying that the tech stuff doesn't help, that's pretty easy to prove or disprove by actually tasting some stuff side by side. But I don't think that your'e actually saying that; I think that you're saying that some people are focussing on that above getting coffee to taste good. I certainly agree with that. Charlie Trotter once wrote that he didn't trust any chefs under 30 because he didn't think that they had lived for long enough to have enough tasting experience to develop a good palate; I suspect that that's probably true in the context of coffee for a lot of people who make it.

    One of the interesting things to observe is that the style of coffee that James refers to seems to be one that works for coffee that is lightly roasted, but properly developed. Such coffee performs well at brew ratios above 2:1 and at high extractions, so one would expect that cafes doing that might use a 15 or at most 18g VST basket and, say, extract 40g from it. Yet if you have a look around at websites of coffee roasteries in Australia that use all of the marketing language of this style of specialty coffee and if they do recommend brew parameters for their espresso blends, they almost invariably say to use 20-22g of coffee to extract 40g, which is very telling. Like pressure profiling, all of my experience suggests that the properly developed light roasts are talked about in Australia more than they actually exist in the wilderness.

    Cheers,
    Luca

  12. #12
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=luca;655688]"If you took James' first video in isolation or Yelta's point of view in his first post in isolation, you'd be forgiven for thinking that either of them think that there is only one acceptable style of coffee and everything else is wrong."

    Certainly not my intention, I'm only offering a personal perspective, accept or reject, it matters little to me.



    "I sort of both agree and disagree with this.
    I agree, in that I have gone to tonnes of cafes that have expensive equipment and all of the trappings of quality, but fail to deliver.
    I sort of disagree in terms of "overtaking". I feel like pressure and flow profiling has really been all hat and no cowboy in Australia. I can literally only think of one cafe that uses a paddle on their machine as anything other than an on/off switch and I would fall out of my chair if you told me that there are any cafes out there that are actually doing anything other than using a fairly stock profile across everything that they offer. The LM Strada appeared in a few cafes a few years ago and I have noticed that many of them have replaced them with a volumetric linea PB. For a $4 espresso, I don't think anyone is seriously going to do an individual pressure profile selected for a particular bean. Basically, I think that a lot of stuff that is discussed online stays online. I don't think that you can go into a cafe in Australia and buy an espresso that has any real pressure profiling beyond some sort of preinfusion."


    I think we're looking at this through different eyes Luca, you from the perspective of someone involved in the industry and me from the viewpoint of a keen home consumer (I hesitate to use the term barista) if trained commercial users are not utilising the technology on offer I suspect home users may well be fiddling with variables with little real concept as to what they are doing, on the other hand home users are not subject to the pressure of volume, so perhaps some do get meaningful results! whatever that means.

    "I'd also argue that, Yelta, to the extent you are saying that the tech stuff doesn't help"

    Not saying in general terms that it doesn't help, what I am implying is that for the average home user it simply confuses the issue.

    "One of the interesting things to observe is that the style of coffee that James refers to seems to be one that works for coffee that is lightly roasted, but properly developed. Such coffee performs well at brew ratios above 2:1 and at high extractions, so one would expect that cafes doing that might use a 15 or at most 18g VST basket and, say, extract 40g from it. Yet if you have a look around at websites of coffee roasteries in Australia that use all of the marketing language of this style of specialty coffee and if they do recommend brew parameters for their espresso blends, they almost invariably say to use 20-22g of coffee to extract 40g, which is very telling. Like pressure profiling, all of my experience suggests that the properly developed light roasts are talked about in Australia more than they actually exist in the wilderness."

    My only comment on light roasts is to say that they simply not to my taste.

    [/QUOTE
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    Hi Yelta,

    I totally respect that people have different taste preferences and I'm not trying to tell anyone that they should have any particular taste preferences. A recurring theme in what I post is that applying what works well to optimise one taste preference may result in worse results for other taste preferences. I want people to be able to read stuff and rely on it to get results that make them happy. Words are a terrible way to communicate tastes and I feel that people don't do much to set expectations for the readers who might try to apply things out of the context for which they are meant, leading to disappointment.

    I think underlying James' video is the unstated point that the type of espresso that he is talking about is really about emphasising fruit flavours, may be high in acidity and may sacrifice body to achieve other results. He is likely talking about using lighter roasts than you like. It would not surprise me if your following the style of extraction he is talking about with the type of roast that you like results in an extraction that you don't like. That's not to say that either of you are wrong. But I do want to bring out these underlying assumptions so that people reading this thread who want a gloopy chocolate bomb don't go on a fruitless quest of trying to apply an extraction style that will predictably disappoint them. Equally, if people do want a lighter bodied, high acid, clean and fruity espresso, then I don't want them to be discouraged from trying James' ugly shots.

    My point on the observation about commercial roasters recommending 22g to yield 40g is intended to highlight another instance of the words not matching what is in the cup. What I am saying is they describe their roasts like they are light roasts, but they are actually roasting darker, which we can tell from the fact that they recommend extraction parameters for which darker roasts taste better. So consumers that rely on their words might be disappointed.

    So perhaps what I've waffled around is this: you invited discussion stemming from the video and I guess my point is that the video seems to assume a particular style of espresso, but I don't think that that good examples of that style of espresso are common in Australia. The good news for readers of this thread is that they can try it for themselves and find out exactly what James is talking about by ordering some coffee from his company, Square Mile, in London.

    Cheers,
    Luca

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    Quote Originally Posted by luca View Post
    I agree, in that I have gone to tonnes of cafes that have expensive equipment and all of the trappings of quality, but fail to deliver. Last weekend when doing a cafe crawl in Surry Hills, for example, I had a barista throw a whole heap of buzzwords at me about the single origins that they had on offer, but it seemed pretty obvious that it was a script when he was unsure when I asked him specific questions about the details he was trying to use as a selling point ("are you sure you mean wet process and not wet hull? from what you say, it seems likely to me what you are actually describing is wet hull. I'm asking because I usually really hate wet hulled coffee" "uhh... it says wet process"). They had any number of EK43s and LMs around and a printout of Matt Perger's espresso dialling in compass on the wall. I bet they had a refractometer under the counter. We ordered (and paid for) three coffees, took a sip of each and left. Good equipment doesn't mean good results.
    The worst "specialist cafe" coffee I encountered was using a Robur (my least favourite grinder) and a Strada (one of my favourite machines). Utterly undrinkable, with a long list of stuff ups beginning with the wrong grinding texture and ending with scalding the milk. Fancy machines seem to attract the most inept baristas who can certainly deliver a "unique cuppa" to your table. All I want is something I can drink and smile afterwards.

    Quote Originally Posted by luca View Post
    I sort of disagree in terms of "overtaking". I feel like pressure and flow profiling has really been all hat and no cowboy in Australia. I can literally only think of one cafe that uses a paddle on their machine as anything other than an on/off switch and I would fall out of my chair if you told me that there are any cafes out there that are actually doing anything other than using a fairly stock profile across everything that they offer. The LM Strada appeared in a few cafes a few years ago and I have noticed that many of them have replaced them with a volumetric linea PB. For a $4 espresso, I don't think anyone is seriously going to do an individual pressure profile selected for a particular bean. Basically, I think that a lot of stuff that is discussed online stays online. I don't think that you can go into a cafe in Australia and buy an espresso that has any real pressure profiling beyond some sort of preinfusion.
    I agree completely. FWIW, I reckon the Strada is more of a scientific instrument than a cafe machine. IMO probably best used by large scale roasters to keep quality up to an OK level.

    Quote Originally Posted by luca View Post
    I'd also argue that, Yelta, to the extent you are saying that the tech stuff doesn't help, that's pretty easy to prove or disprove by actually tasting some stuff side by side. But I don't think that your'e actually saying that; I think that you're saying that some people are focusing on that above getting coffee to taste good. I certainly agree with that. Charlie Trotter once wrote that he didn't trust any chefs under 30 because he didn't think that they had lived for long enough to have enough tasting experience to develop a good palate; I suspect that that's probably true in the context of coffee for a lot of people who make it.

    One of the interesting things to observe is that the style of coffee that James refers to seems to be one that works for coffee that is lightly roasted, but properly developed. Such coffee performs well at brew ratios above 2:1 and at high extractions, so one would expect that cafes doing that might use a 15 or at most 18g VST basket and, say, extract 40g from it. Yet if you have a look around at websites of coffee roasteries in Australia that use all of the marketing language of this style of specialty coffee and if they do recommend brew parameters for their espresso blends, they almost invariably say to use 20-22g of coffee to extract 40g, which is very telling. Like pressure profiling, all of my experience suggests that the properly developed light roasts are talked about in Australia more than they actually exist in the wilderness.

    Cheers,
    Luca
    Properly developed light roasts (my personal pick) - were widely available as an "over the counter cuppa" in Perth from 1975 as an option at W Pth's best roaster / cafe* - until the original owner retired and it slowly went to schlock until it finally closed last year (sob, his air bed roaster is now just used for making 1,000 pods an hour for wholesalers - what a waste). Nowadays, courtesy of his legacy, there are at least 4 "boutique roasters" doing properly developed light roasts over here as a part of their trade. I know of no other cafe here (then or now) that can really do a high quality light roast and deliver it to your table, so in that sense West Oz has gone backwards lately. I also know a dozen or so cafes that prove that they can't do decent light roasts every day(cuppa?). Luckily I can get a good light roast without firing up my Behmor 1600+ and I have good enough equipment at home to keep my addiction at a reasonable level. Needless to say, I only get coffees "on the road" when friends / rellies are around as I am usually quite disappointed.

    Having said that, even traditional Italian espresso (with up to 15% robusta) can also perform well at high extraction ratios and I can ocassionally enjoy a good one "out on the town" these days. Freo, Vic Park and Mandurah all have cafes that can nail those quite well.

    TampIt
    W Pth's best roaster / cafe* - that is where I did my three week intensive course in 1979. Put me on the path to enjoying a lightly roasted, single farm lot, (very) high altitude Colombian which remains one of my favourite coffees of all time. Son of a bitch to set up, worth every second of the grief when enjoying the cuppa. Add Cuban Laqino, Ethiopian Mocha (the original one that give the chocolate mix its name, not the Yemen port), Sulawesi Blue, Costa Rican and (currently) Equadorian to the list and I would be in heaven. Unfortunaltely most of those are really hard to get these days. Oh, and the real 1970's Jamaican Blue Mountain (if it is still possible to get, even at $3,000 per kilo it was fake) - I have only had rubbish with the same name since about 1990.

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    I really hate it how the guys doing a bad job bugger it up for the guys who put in 10x the effort and do a great job, since people go to a fancy cafe, get a coffee that tastes terrible and then think and post everywhere that it's a general principle applying to all fancy cafes that the emperor has no clothes. It must be really dispiriting for the good guys.
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  16. #16
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by luca View Post
    I really hate it how the guys doing a bad job bugger it up for the guys who put in 10x the effort and do a great job, since people go to a fancy cafe, get a coffee that tastes terrible and then think and post everywhere that it's a general principle applying to all fancy cafes that the emperor has no clothes. It must be really dispiriting for the good guys.
    A fact of life Luca, there are good and bad in all fields of endeavour, good bakers and bad, good dentists, good mechanics, good bartenders and of course good barista's, the list is endless.

    Daily life is full of choices and decisions, the bad make us appreciate the good even more, imagine if everyone excelled in their chosen field, the whingers would have nothing left to complain about.

    PS The interesting thing is the best operators in most fields seem to shine regardless of the modesty of the tools available to them.
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