Post 500: Espresso…..

April 18th, 2008

It only just dawned on me that this next post would be a milestone post (thank you wordpress dashboard) so I thought I should post in an opinionated way about coffee as a couple of things have been eating away at my brain. It has been a real pleasure writing this blog over the last few years and again thanks to all of you who read, comment, correct and interact – it makes learning for me a pleasure.

    Fear of Dilution

This is something that I think we all agree on at Square Mile HQ – a little dilution is not a bad thing.

As coffee is forced onwards in an online game of one-upmanship it seems shots have been getting shorter and shorter. No doubt the very visual medium of the internet means we are more terrified than ever of even the vaguest signs of blonding.

A paler pour does not equal bad taste, it just means that there are less coffee solubles in that pour.

From the colour we can not gauge the quality of those solubles. Empirical evidence certainly suggests that the longer the paler pour continues the more increased the bitterness in the cup. However for me it is all about balance I struggle to find balance in super short shots. Even from a technical standpoint I struggle to see how a complete extraction of all the goodness the coffee has to offer can be done with such a small amount of liquid. (Even though, as Andy Schecter points out here, more energy is being spent in the cake in these type of shots)

The constant chase for the heavier bodied, “sweeter” shot sometimes makes me sad as I wonder how many good flavours and desirable aspects of the coffee get knocked out with the spent puck.


This shot may be blonding to some people but it still tasted good

    The rapidly disappearing single espresso

This one also turns me a bit ranty I am afraid. Maybe it is the bigger, better, harder, stronger thing but in many places around the world when you order an espresso you get a double. Whether the volume is 30ml, 45ml or 60ml this is irrelevant. I like coffee, I like drinking espresso and I like tasting different things. Whilst I may worry about coming across as the curmudgeonly Italian we specialty people all complain about who gets angry about our excessive dosing of coffee, I can’t help but agree that too much caffeine really limits my ability to enjoy my coffee. I really like a single espresso I think one of the most attractive things about great espresso in Scandanavia is that they are all just as hardcore about the quality but don’t feel the pressure of the big drinks to need every espresso brewed to be a double.

This isn’t really a rant about the single basket. I know a lot of people lament its rapid disappearance and I know it is a damn finicky thing to work with. That said one of my most viewed is this one – a single basket naked pour:

naked single basket

Naked single basket

    How to enjoy espresso

This one is less rant and a bit more fun I guess. Tasting shots you brew, or shots you are assessing is rarely, if ever, fun. Inspecting the shot in minute detail with your tongue and olfactory system you quickly find the flaws – a touch of astringency, or a hint of underextraction or maybe the shot shows itself a little overextracted in the finish. It is easy to demolish just about any shot (ask a competition judge if you don’t believe me!) but it is often very difficult to enjoy it.

A friend of mine once told me that a different part of your brain assesses things than makes hedonic decisions 1. One part of your brain decides if it like, and the other part analyzes it. One part tends to dominate (the mean, cynical part going by personal experience). Recently I’ve taken to trying to trick myself. (I am aware I am starting to sound crazy now). It all started when we were pulling shots of Coffee Collective’s espresso that Stephen used to win the Irish Barista championship. He pulled me a great looking shot and just as I got it to my lips he asked a distracting question and instead of paying attention to the shot my mind was elsewhere. When my brain finally reconnected with my mouth all that was left was an overall awareness of deliciousness but little more. Suddenly I was like a normal customer, a person who drinks coffee for money because they like it. It had been a long time since I had thought like that, and I really liked it.

So now I will either drink espresso as a harsh judge, and look for every flaw or I will try not to pay attention – to distract myself so I can just switch that part of my brain off to enjoy an espresso now and again.

  1. Though I confess, while I completely trust him – he is painfully smart – I never did go and find papers online to back this up  ↩︎

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