I was dialling in my grinder last weekend for a new bag of coffee I'd just purchased when I had a light bulb moment 'hang on...have I been making Espresso the wrong way all this time?'.
Now I'm not new to the art of brewing coffee, for many years I was a professional Barista where I gained my knowledge and grew my love for those little brown beans. The issue however is that during the time I was a professional Barista, it was always when working on a commercial machine that didn't have Pre-Infusion, it wasn't an option - this was before it was a big thing!
Since leaving the hospitality industry I no longer work as a Barista but choose to share my love and knowledge for coffee through this blog, with an aim to help my readers get better results and really enjoy great coffee at home. I now run a Dual Boiler Espresso machine at home with computerised temperature controls, pre-infusion, volumetric controls all that good stuff.
Now the art of brewing coffee is all about experimentation, controlling the different variables to brew a great tasting coffee. The volumes, time quantities and temperatures that are often given by barista's are a great guide for what makes an awesome espresso, but at the end of the day you need to experiment with your equipment and chosen coffee to get the best results.
All along I have subscribed to the notion that a typical pour of espresso is based on the following metrics:
- 18grams of Ground Coffee
- Should produce 60 mls of Coffee
- Poured in a time between 22-30 seconds
For espresso I still believe this to be true, if the extraction runs too long it extracts too much caffeine and acidic flavours from the coffee, to quickly the coffee tastes sour and does not have the caramel full bodied flavour.
Since obtaining my espresso machine with the pre-infusion function I have been happy with the coffee, but always got the feeling it could be just a bit better, a bit richer, bolder and have a more caramel taste. The issue? Well now I know I was under extracting my coffee all this time!
I had adamantly stuck to my rule that the 60mls of espresso should be extracted between 22 and 30 seconds. But hang on a minute, my machine is set to run a 7 second pre-infusion!!
If you are not familiar, pre-infusion occurs at the beginning of a brew where the espresso machine gently saturates the coffee in the portafilter without applying any pressure, this ensures the sudden high pressure doesn't force water through channels in your coffee resulting in a less than desirable coffee. However as it doesn't apply any pressure for that 7 seconds (or whatever your machine is set for) it actually doesn't start the extraction of espresso (this was my epiphany moment).
For my machine and coffee the solution was to ensure that my 22-30 second extraction rule was still applied but being mindful not to include the pre-infusion in this time frame. So in reality what I needed to do was dial in my grinder to ensure my extractions were running somewhere between 30-40 seconds in total.
After adjusting the setting on my grinder, ensuring I was dosing constant amounts of ground coffee I ran the extraction again. As my machine has been programmed volumetrically I know that it will only finish once it extracts the correct 60mls, no matter how long it takes. I set the brew running and immediately noticed the difference.
The pour of the coffee was more honey like and had slowed down. There was a beautiful coffee aroma filling the kitchen and then 'clink' the machine shut off it's pump at the end of the brew - shot time read '37 seconds'. I sampled the shot and this was when I knew I'd nailed it. My morning coffee has been richer and less acidic every morning since, and Long Black's have a more palatable taste.
So what does this mean for you? Well, I would challenge you to experiment a little more with your machine. Taste your espresso before adding milk and don't be afraid to mess around with conventions and rules. It is all about experimentation.
We would love to hear how you have improved your coffee making by starting a conversation in the comments.