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Thread: Frustrated Newbie Espresso Maker - Either too sour or too bitter

  1. #1
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    Frustrated Newbie Espresso Maker - Either too sour or too bitter

    Gene Cafe Coffee Roaster $850 - Free Beans Free Freight
    Hi All,


    I am a newbie home espresso maker in practice but I watched and read quite a lot before getting into espresso. I can verify that theory and practice are quite different and I am living that since a couple of weeks


    I am using Breville 920XL (Dual Boiler) machine coupled with Breville Smart Grinder Pro.


    Let me state my problem in a short sentence: I cannot get a well balanced shot no matter what I tried.


    Beans: I am using medium roasted beans around 2-2.5 weeks old bought from a local roastery/coffee shop. I tried 3 different blends with no luck of reproducing similar taste to what I have been tasting in the coffee shop.


    Brew Time: This is a problem, I am using 18-20gr of coffee and trying to get 38-40gr of espresso (1:2 ratio) but the brew time is barely around 20-21 secs. I tried going finer with the grind but it gets too bitter too quickly. The grind level where I reach 25secs brewing time is painfully bitter to drink. For the shots that are "drinkable" it takes 20-21secs to reach 1:2 ratio; I am able to reach the peak pressure of 9.5-10 bars and see the creamy honey looking flow at the beginning. But it gets too fast too quick and pressure goes down to 7 bars in 4-5 seconds after the first drip.


    PreInfusion: I played with preinfusion time (changing the PI pressure, getting rid of it altogether etc.) with no luck of getting the right timeframe of 25-30secs without getting too bitter coffee.


    Coffee Amount: I tried changing the coffee amount from 16-20grams with different parameters above with no luck.


    5 Secs Salami Shots: I tried the "5 seconds salami shot" of chris beca (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aD33p4_fJo) where I can easily produce the right chocolaty smooth taste in the first 5 seconds shot. So I realized I need to change the grind size if I like the first 5 secs portion of the shot. I went coarser it became too sour, I went finer it became bitter...


    I am using filtered water and tried 93C to 91C without changing other parameters.


    I started to think I am doing something wrong with a very basic thing like tamping or maybe there is a problem with my grinder's consistency?


    Happy to get any suggestions or questions...


    Best,
    Kaan

  2. #2
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    My first guess is that youíre getting channeling when using a finer grind (and getting longer extraction). The Breville grinder is prone to clumping and this can make channeling a problem due to the water avoiding the clumps and then forming channels.

    I used to have the Breville combo and my trick was to use a fine fork to break up clumps and then distribute the coffee evenly before tamping. It is slow and tedious but worth the effort.

    Also 2.5 weeks post roast is a bit long. I try not to use beans past about 12-15 days if I can help it but it does depend on the beans. Also keep in mind the roaster often has already let the beans degas before selling them so 2 weeks since buying beans could mean the beans are actually closer to 3 weeks old. I now only buy beans from roasters who print the roast date on the bag.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member LeroyC's Avatar
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    I would try a few different things:

    1. Try the ĎWDTí. As mentioned above you could be getting some channeling so improved distribution could help. Thereís lots of info on the web about the WDT. You donít need to go crazy, just try with something simple like a toothpick or skewer for starters.

    2. Try fresher coffee. Without knowing the roaster youíre buying from itís hard to say for sure, but 2.5 week old coffee might just be too old Iím this case. This really varies as everything from the coffee variety to the type of roaster used can influence it, but generally Iíd recommend starting to use an espresso blend about 2-3 days post-roast and using it all with about 10-14 days of opening the bag.

    3. Try a different roaster. The coffee roaster youíre buying from might only be selling average quality coffee. Iíve experienced that with at least 3 roasters here in NZ. All 3 were able to serve a reasonable coffee in their retail outlet, but when I bought beans to take home I couldnít get a good result no matter what I did.

    4. Donít get too hung up on the numbers. Itís great that youíve done some reading and are working with proper time, dose, yield parameters to guide you, but if you get a result from a 20sec shot that you like better than the 28sec shot then trust your senses and keep doing what you did to get the good 20sec shot. Iíve had amazing espressos as both ends of the spectrum - one of the best I ever made at home came from a 20sec shot and another from a 60sec shot.

    The final note is a question - how are you storing your coffee? Make sure itís stored in an airtight container and isnít exposed to light. Ziplock bags are great for this as are containers like the Airscape. Keep it in a cool place, but preferably not in the fridge or freezer unless you live in the tropics (or Brisbane).
    Good luck. Keep persevering and enjoy the journey, youíre only just at the start.
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  4. #4
    Senior Member level3ninja's Avatar
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    I used to have this combo, and I too found that the clumpiness of the BCG820 caused channelling at proper espresso grind settings unless the clumps were dealt with. Use a toothpick and break up all the clumps etc, but try to me methodical and consistent in how much you do it each time. Big changes in amount of clump breaking and stirring can change how a shot will pour. Since you already have these beans I'd keep using them at least until you run out. Try the toothpick for now and see if that improves things. It might not fix it entirely but it should do something within a few shots. A dosing ring/collar can help keep everything in the basket whole you're doing this. Doesn't have to be expensive, they're just a piece of metal.

    If ever you do want to upgrade, start with the grinder. The BES920 is far more capable than the BCG820 allows it to be.
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    Hi All,

    Thanks a lot for your interest and quick responses.

    Indeed it seems like one of the problems 1was related to "channeling" as you all have mentioned. I tried WDT to break up all the clumps and the shots instantly became more consistent during the brewing process (much smooth decrease of the pressure during the brew).

    I am now able to get shots with 1:2 ratio between 25-30 secs. The problem now is the shots became too intense and sour (even noticeably salty I would say following the intense sourness).

    I increased the yield with no luck. Have modified the grind setting to coarser and then finer but the sourness is still there. At this point I stopped playing as I had almost 3-4 half of double shots at this hour (21:00) which will keep me up at night already

    Will update here as I progress.
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  6. #6
    Senior Member CafeLotta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaanemec View Post
    I am now able to get shots with 1:2 ratio between 25-30 secs. The problem now is the shots became too intense and sour (even noticeably salty I would say following the intense sourness).
    Using the same parameters, try bumping the Brew Temperature up to 94, 95, 96 etc to get rid of the sourness and see how it tastes. You'll hit the limit where bitterness tells you the Brew Temp is getting too hot. This can vary bean to bean.

    Edit. After changing the Brew Temp setting, run some water through the Grouphead and then allow maybe 5-10 mins for temps to stabilise before brewing.
    Last edited by CafeLotta; 3 Weeks Ago at 09:07 AM. Reason: Edit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CafeLotta View Post
    Using the same parameters, try bumping the Brew Temperature up to 94, 95, 96 etc to get rid of the sourness and see how it tastes.
    Awesome suggestion. Now I am able to get less sour extractions with more body. I even tried it with a light roast and 95C worked perfect.

    I also wanted to let all you know that the 1:3 ratio works much better for my taste rather than 1:2 ratio.

    To wrap up, for medium to light roasted coffees 18gr in, 46gr to 50gr out with a slightly higher temp (94-95) slightly adjusted for the bean turned out to be my sweet spot. I can still taste the sweetness of the espresso while getting the acidity and sourness out of the way.

    Now I'll work on my consistency game.

    Thanks y'all!
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  8. #8
    Senior Member CafeLotta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaanemec View Post
    I also wanted to let all you know that the 1:3 ratio works much better for my taste rather than 1:2 ratio.
    You could try a smaller basket. If you're using an 18g you could try a 15g for instance. I quite like the 15g VST Ridgeless for certain beans although the 20g is my go to..

    Good to hear you're getting improvements that suit your taste. Fine tuning each time you try a new bean or roast batch (or as beans age) is good practice. Doing the same thing over and over is a habit easy to fall into but might mean you're falling short of what the bean has to offer.
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  9. #9
    Member kexkez's Avatar
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    Are you bleeding the first few secs of the pour? Went to my first barista course at yahava during the week and was told for a long black to “ bleed” the first three seconds and not put it into the shot to reduce the sourness. The trainer was a keen long black drinker and said she feels it’s the best way to get that sweet shit.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    Sweet shit eh! nice turn of phrase.

    Dump the first few seconds of the pour for a long black, why would you do that?

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    The first few seconds is where the good shit is!
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    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BangalowBarista View Post
    The first few seconds is where the good shit is!
    Guess this applies to coffee as well as most things in life.

    When Bonny goes shopping she buys shit (yep he's talking bout coffee)


    Good shit.png
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    Hi again to all,


    I went and bought Medium Roasted Starbucks Guatemala beans (it was just for experimenting) and have been able to get the right shot time with right amount of coffee 1:2 - 28secs (which tasted like... well, boring and burnt Starbucks espresso).


    But still,with this experiment I have realized two things:
    - It seems like my grinder is struggling with fresher and higher quality roasts (same or even much finer grind settings would not let me have the same brewing pressure and time)
    - The grinder cannot do a consistent job even with starbucks beans. Even tough I do not change the parameters and grind setting I get quite different results.


    Now I am considering to get a Eureka Mignon Specialita that is being sold in a local coffee appliances shop (I am in Istanbul so I do not have a wide selection of prosumer grinders to buy).


    In the meantime, I am able to get "at least drinkable" chocolaty espressos with a good mouthfeel using the medium-dark roasts (brewing them at 90C-91C).


    Any thoughts?

  14. #14
    Senior Member level3ninja's Avatar
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    Are you using a set of scales to weigh the dose before every shot? If not that would be a cheap way to improve consistency dramatically. The timed output of the BCG820 is quite inconsistent.
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  15. #15
    Member kexkez's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yelta View Post
    Sweet shit eh! nice turn of phrase.

    Dump the first few seconds of the pour for a long black, why would you do that?
    Just completed a barista course at yahava on wednesday. The trainer said that for a long black she always bleeds the first 3 seconds to exclude the more bitter first elements. I don't tend to drink long blacks, but that was her advice.

  16. #16
    Member kexkez's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BangalowBarista View Post
    The first few seconds is where the good shit is!
    Shrug, she doesnt do it for a straight espresso only for long blacks.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by kexkez View Post
    Just completed a barista course at yahava on wednesday. The trainer said that for a long black she always bleeds the first 3 seconds to exclude the more bitter first elements. I don't tend to drink long blacks, but that was her advice.
    The first elements will be much more sour than bitter, typically. But to be fair I haven't tried this yet, so I can't knock it. If I remember I'll give it a go tomorrow morning by splitting a double into a long black without the first 3s, and a normal espresso.

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    Quote Originally Posted by level3ninja View Post
    Are you using a set of scales to weigh the dose before every shot? If not that would be a cheap way to improve consistency dramatically. The timed output of the BCG820 is quite inconsistent.
    Yes I am weighing every time. it is always 18-18.5 grams of ground coffee before starting the shot.

  19. #19
    Senior Member level3ninja's Avatar
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    It should always be the same weight, half a gram difference can change a shot a bit. I would suggest young your dose a bit too, this week also improve consistency. Try 20.0g.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by level3ninja View Post
    The first elements will be much more sour than bitter, typically. But to be fair I haven't tried this yet, so I can't knock it. If I remember I'll give it a go tomorrow morning by splitting a double into a long black without the first 3s, and a normal espresso.
    So I did remember, but I thought a better experiment would be to make two long blacks and miss the first 3s for one of them. The one I missed the first 3s with tasted more smooth and rounded, mellow I guess. The full shot long black tasted fine, less uniform and rounded, but still balanced and more interesting because there was more flavour (both in strength and variety).

  21. #21
    Member kexkez's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by level3ninja View Post
    So I did remember, but I thought a better experiment would be to make two long blacks and miss the first 3s for one of them. The one I missed the first 3s with tasted more smooth and rounded, mellow I guess. The full shot long black tasted fine, less uniform and rounded, but still balanced and more interesting because there was more flavour (both in strength and variety).
    I stand corrected, more sour not more bitter. sorry. That prob was what she said. anyway you tried it. It's all in the preference I guess. But something for the OP to try if they are struggling. 20 g seems a better amount of grind than the 18.5 they were using. Back to a few minor tweaks to mine now having done the course. Weighing grind not beans being the main thing.

  22. #22
    Senior Member CafeLotta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaanemec View Post
    Now I am considering to get a Eureka Mignon Specialita that is being sold in a local coffee appliances shop (I am in Istanbul so I do not have a wide selection of prosumer grinders to buy).
    The Eureka Mignon Specialita seems to get fairly good reviews and reportedly has fairly low retention.

    CoffeeSnobs in Istanbul....... Quite amazing the places members pop-up in!
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  23. #23
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    Hi All,


    I bought Eureka Mignon Specialita grinder. The consistency has been improved like day and night. I can now pull shots 25-30 secs with smooth, delicious, balanced non-sour taste...


    I am using single wall double basket of 920xl, fill it with 18gr coffee, pull 36-37gr espresso in 24-26secs. Tastes great.


    I suggest to everyone who comes up to this thread and looking to improve their shots, grinder is more important than you think.


    Thanks a lot to everyone who contributed to the solution!


    Best,
    Kaan
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  24. #24
    Senior Member level3ninja's Avatar
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    Good to hear Kaan! Yes once your machine is "good enough" the grinder is pretty much responsible for the rest of the quality capability in the equation. Buy the best grinder you can afford.
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  25. #25
    Senior Member LeroyC's Avatar
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    Frustrated Newbie Espresso Maker - Either too sour or too bitter

    Quote Originally Posted by kexkez View Post
    I stand corrected, more sour not more bitter. sorry. That prob was what she said. anyway you tried it. It's all in the preference I guess. But something for the OP to try if they are struggling. 20 g seems a better amount of grind than the 18.5 they were using. Back to a few minor tweaks to mine now having done the course. Weighing grind not beans being the main thing.
    A 20g dose is not better than 18.5g.....unless it is. Thereís lots of variables to consider when working out what dose to use and the best amount is the right amount, not the biggest amount. Basket size is just one of those variables and the standard Breville double basket isnít particularly deep so Iíd suggest that 20g could be pushing the limits of its capacity depending on the roast level of the coffee being used.
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  26. #26
    Senior Member level3ninja's Avatar
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    20g is the standard dose for the 920. The 900 was 18g.

  27. #27
    Senior Member LeroyC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by level3ninja View Post
    20g is the standard dose for the 920. The 900 was 18g.
    Really? Thatís bigger than I wouldíve expected for such a shallow filter basket. Iím leaning towards lower doses on the BDB, even with an IMS filter basket. Pretty much as low as I can go for a good result.

  28. #28
    Senior Member level3ninja's Avatar
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    From memory the 900 basket is 16-20g and the 920 is 18-22g. They are relatively shallow baskets but the amount the shower screen decends into the basket is also very low so they like to be dosed high.

  29. #29
    Senior Member LeroyC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by level3ninja View Post
    From memory the 900 basket is 16-20g and the 920 is 18-22g. They are relatively shallow baskets but the amount the shower screen decends into the basket is also very low so they like to be dosed high.
    Thatís interesting. Hereís a photo showing my Breville double shot basket next to my new 15g VST. As you can see itís not much bigger. I bought my machine off a company that refurbished them so I wonder if Iíve ended up with what was originally a 900 basket with mine?? Iíve popped it in this morning in place of my IMS basket to see how much it comfortably fits.


  30. #30
    Senior Member level3ninja's Avatar
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    Here's mine.

    L-R: 1. Breville 920 double, 2. VST 18g, 3. VST 20g, 4. VST 22g
    20200216_172823.jpg

    L-R: 1. Breville 920 double, 2. EPHQ 14-18g, 3. EPHQ 18-21g
    20200216_172939.jpg
    Last edited by level3ninja; 3 Days Ago at 08:50 PM.
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  31. #31
    Senior Member LeroyC's Avatar
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    Behmor Brazen - $249 - Free Freight
    Quote Originally Posted by level3ninja View Post
    Here's mine.

    L-R: 1. Breville 920 double, 2. VST 18g, 3. VST20g, 4. VST22g
    20200216_172823.jpg

    L-R: 1. Breville 920 double, 2. EPHQ 14-18g, 3. EPHQ 18-21g
    20200216_172939.jpg
    Ok so mine must be a 920 basket. It took 18g this morning no trouble -



    Thanks mate. Very interesting.



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