Video 3 – Espresso Vs Espresso

34 Comments

  1. Hey Jim,

    I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on espresso. By your definition, I guess I’m a “process” guy — I started out drinking espresso looking for the same experience every time, and judging each new shot by the standard of those that preceded it. Naturally I was usually disappointed, and for a while I thought I just didn’t like espresso very much. It wasn’t until I got a machine of my own and really started playing with it that I began to understand that the espresso machine is only the medium — and just one of many — through which I can experience coffee.

    For the past several months instead of buying coffee from my usual supplier I’ve been ordering beans from a different roaster each week, and the experience has been revelatory: the distance between any two roasters’ approach to what *they* consider espresso can be vast. Why should we seek to limit ourselves to a narrow definition of what is “proper” when there is a whole world of experiences waiting for us?

  2. Bravo James! If you’ll forgive a typical North American/Hollywood style analogy, I think your video message is like the ‘moment of clairvoyance’ Tom Cruise has at the beginning of Jerry Maguire. A complete rethink, that shakes several foundations.

    You’ll be happy to note (I’m sure you already know), our local ‘spro man, Mark Prince, has been quite positive on single origin espresso this year. As for me, though I bought a new mid range home espresso machine last fall (that I truly love and appreciate), I am getting most rotation from my french press and Chemex, depending on the bean and roast profile.

    What a tremendous journey coffee can be!

    Cheers,
    Sean

  3. I’m in the latter camp. I remember doing a post in March last year where, online and in front of the world, it dawned on me that espresso wasn’t everything. It’s just an expensive way to make coffee quickly with (regrettably) inconsistent results.

    I think that the magnifying effect that espresso brewing has is part of the reason we have the phenomenon of ‘god-shots’ and the like. Nearly all the cups of aeropress or french press coffee I make I very satisfying, the same can’t be said about espresso, because the truth is that even on a good day there is still that annoying room for improvement.

  4. Tip of the hat to you Mr HoffmanN,

    I am, we are (Intelli LA) the latter here, note most of our competing baristas using SO coffees, note SO coffees on the bar and note that the cafes, here in LA at least, serve just regular roasted coffee through the espresso machines. Yup, some of the SO espressos we’ve not roasted longer nor taken darker then for a “normal” filter style roast.

    All I want in the cup is the coffee, no “human” impact please.

  5. Espresso is just another way to brew coffee- an awesome way mind you. What other method gives you such rapid repeatability and such varied results from very subtle changes? You can up-dose, down-dose, use naked PFs, larger baskets, smaller baskets, pull your shots just that little bit shorter or longer and have immediate results that you can compare side-by-side.
    Espresso, or awesome espresso is an elusive beast and those of us who spend our days and our fortunes pursuing it will testify that it is not just an end-product produced within a rigid set of parameters to produce a drink that is described by absolutes, it is something you strive to produce and dedicate a great deal of energy to, observing many variables, controlling those you can and mitigating the others on a journey to get something nice, or even interesting, from whatever coffee goes into the grinder.
    If espresso was always the same- how crap would that be?

  6. I leave you with a question…

    Are you a narrow minded luddite who thinks espresso is a finished product?

    Or are you an enlightened being who sees it as just another brewing process?

    (joking)

    For my part, I’d say neither, as you describe the two camps. I am quite keen on SO espresso, but I don’t think we should necessarily expect or want an espresso machine to deliver the flavours we get from a filter brew.

    “Shoe-horning” I think was a good point.

    Really liked this video. Great arguement.

  7. Both!!!
    I apply camp 1 to the discoveries made about camp 2…until the coffee changes then I have to employ camp 2 powers in order to set camp 1 expectations for that coffee to deliver constant finished camp 2 products.

    You need both interchangeably not one for life.

    -chris
    p.s. deaton…did you humanly impact the beans by roasting, grinding, measuring, steeping etc?

    Coffee (the drink) without “human” impact has ceased to be coffee.

  8. As for “shoe-horning”
    I like the logic. truly. Applied to coffee.

    Now though I feel like we are shoe-horning Baristas …gotta fit here…gotta fit there.
    Watch…the magic of blogs will cause someone to come out with Camp 1 and Camp 2 t-shirts.
    Anyone ever read Dr. Seuss ‘ “The Sneeches”?
    yes…so are the plain bellied Sneeches camp 1 and star bellied camp2?
    the future of this question will escalate until…
    to quote with my adaptations…

    “until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
    whether this one was that one or that one was this one
    or which one was CAMP ONE… or what one was CAMP TWO.”
    ;-)

    -chris

  9. I have never really thought about it untill this video. and the more I learn about coffee the more I experiment with diffrent techniques at home. and after seeing your thoughts on this I thnik I have to agree that espresso is a way to brew. I like to use my french press to make stronger brews like when I am making a latte at home (sans steamed milk, I heat and whip it on the stove top). keep up the informational video bits please

  10. Latter camp. I use my espresso kit less and less these days. In terms of enjoyment and furthering my (and my friends) understanding of coffee and of taste, a decent and relatively effortless press pot of coffee wipes the floor with even the best espresso I have tasted. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy espresso, but at the end of the day it’s just a way to brew coffee.

  11. Thanks for the engaging video James, I am glad you are stirring things up in this area. I am definitely of the latter camp, wherein espresso is simply one more method of brewing. We take that process very seriously, but no more seriously than our brewed coffee with the Clover, or the Chemex. At the end of the day, it has to be about the coffee, otherwise why bother.

  12. I’m a process man, myself. I sip a couple shots during my shift to make sure it tastes, well, okay – and that’s about it. I don’t drink dairy so espresso is almost meaningless for me… I think that’s all espresso really is – a vehicle for a milky beverage. All espresso machines come equipped with steam wands for a reason. I don’t believe it is elusive, magical, or a finished product. Although a lot of people do invest a hell of a lot of time, energy,money, passion, and ego into it… I respect that and expect there to be strong opinions on this subject.

    Although I do greatly enjoy the process! Pulling shots is fun (until your arm falls off).

    Thanks for your latest video blogs – I am enjoying them immensely.

  13. So this video, I think I may be in the minority here (although Walsh and I may agree)… I didn’t like the shoe-horning and black and white take – are you either this, or that?

    Past couple of days I’ve been engaging Mr. anti-spro (LOL), Alistair Durie in some good natured joshing over espresso. It resulted in, well, nothing really – I think Alistair is still sorta “done” with espresso, where I am not.

    I love everything about espresso. I love that it is frustrating. I love that it is a process. I love investigating that process. I love picking that process apart. I love the ritual. I love the idea of sitting down, reading my Mondiale, and sipping an espresso (insert Cafe Procope). I love just how brilliant the taste can be. I refuse to be pigeonholed into one camp or another. I am not anti single origin, contrary to popular belief (thanks Colin and Stephen for reinforcing that recently lol), but instead, still haven’t found a single origin that can ultimately perform as espresso.

    But this isn’t because I’m a process person or an in the cup person.

    This is because of something else I fully realise. We know jack shit about espresso. We are the equivalent of babies, fresh out of the womb, and barely able to sit up unaided yet, when it comes to espresso. Think about the last ten years of espresso development – 10 years out of the scant 60 years the world has known true high pressure espresso (since Gaggia’s commercialization of the piston machine); in 10 years we’ve gone from people being surprised at “the Guinness effect” to it being common place and defacto in a shot. We’ve gone from accepting pale brown, blond crema to expecting hazelnut, tiger striping, tiger flecking on our “perfect” shots. We’ve gone from accepting 4, 6, 8F variances during a shot pull to expecting >1F differences on a PID controlled machine. We’ve gone from accepting all blends are just homogenous cost plans featuring a roast profile to deliver taste, to coffees picked quite meticulously, roasted meticulously, and constantly tweaked to deliver a sum that is far greater than the parts in the cup.

    I could go on. I was recently watching my copy of the 2003 WBC in Boston, and watching the six finalists pull their shots. The tight closeups of the shot pulls, the method of preparation, all seemed so ancient now. Shots that, if pulled today would be binned without hesitation. And watching that, I realise how far we’ve come in just 10 years of espresso development.

    and I realise how far we still have to go.

    I refuse to be put into a camp simply because I know that 2 years from now, we’ll look back to last year and go “we didn’t know shit about espresso”. Five years from now, the same. Ten years from now we’ll be looking back at our videos, our screeds, our discussions at trade shows and having a laugh about how naive we were about some things.

    Espresso’s not a process. It’s not what in the cup either. It’s both and a lot more. It’s an evolution that we’re smack dab in the earliest stages of. That is the thing that makes me the most excited about espresso.

  14. I would say i fit into both sides, the process side in that i understand there are many things that can affect the end result, however the expectation side in that i expect a certain experience from drinking espresso, smooth, intense, satisfying and complex. I enjoy both S.O. espresso as well as blends, it’s like going to a chili cook off, every coffee and the dynamic of it’s preparation has it’s own signature.

    Another thought that i sometimes ponder is that as coffee people we always look to challenge and improve, espresso is certainly the cat with the most variables, the hardest to tame, it’s deemed the natural progression up the ladder for anyone who perceives themselves as “Serious about Coffee”. Is it infatuation with the idea of espresso or the drink itself we love. I see people sipping there starbucks espresso and i ask myself, are they really enjoying that or are they just trying to impress someone.

  15. Hello James,

    I remember the first time I ordered an espresso – I was much younger and it was because all the adults around me drunk some swiss “café creme” and independent from taste I found that this coffee looked and felt uncool. I liked more the “Italian style” and I liked also wondering people who was saying “Oh, espresso – that’s too strong for me” (like Fishermans friend ;-)

    Today I also like different brewing methods and with espresso “taste” has become the most important thing. But if I really honest to me I still like the look and feel of espresso, the brown crema in a fat white cup and the moderate volume – despite of the advantages of other brewing methods.

    In relation to your first video I wasn’t surprised about the taste of the crema but it has hurt to do it. So the real question to me is: “Am I willing to do anything for taste?” Like replacing a stylish iPhone by a ugly but technical better one?

    A further nice question is: are we really often disappointed by the espresso or in fact by the skills and perception of the barista?

  16. oops – sorry I meant:
    “Am I willing to do EVERYTHING for taste”. Where is the limit and where is the point we lose the “product” we’ve loved and lose the interest in the “process” because nothing is satisfying anymore?

  17. I’m with Mark, for the most part. I don’t believe this is a black/white, product/process question.

    It’s an interesting point of discussion, but is a bit simplistic when it comes to the day-to-day reality of espresso. Getting a demitasse served to you involves both product and process. There cannot be one without the other. They are , therefore, inextricably intertwined.

    A person can, however, believe that the emphasis of one (product or process) is more “important” or “fundamental” to what makes an espresso. But ultimately, enjoying an espresso is a subjective experience and though it can be controlled by both the product and the process, I’ve found that there is not a universal formula for what is “great” espresso from one person to the next.

    Sure, there are accepted “bad” attributes that most people agree on, but one person’s “killer” shot is another person’s “not quite right.” Depending on the individual the way to fix it (by product or process) will differ.

    Ultimately, I believe “espresso” is defined by the drinker, not the maker.

  18. Grazie, James!

    I’ve appreciated these 3 videos of yours, as well as the reactions. I tend to view espresso making as analogous to certain other “open-ended” human endeavors, for ex., flying, music, and acting. All of these have been converted into uniform, highly predictable commodities for the masses. I realise now that a big part of espresso’s appeal for me is the process. So many variables come into play that in order to avoid frustration, I think one has to approach espresso making like playing music (as opposed to listening to a recording). I rather like the fact that each shot will be different from the one before. If I were aiming for perfect repetition, all I’d need is a Francis Francis X8.

    Early on, I was technically obsessed, in the way geeks like to tackle a project, reveling in the challenge to “get it right” — as if there were One Right Way. My attitude is more relaxed now, but not complacent — there’s a journey, and I take its demands seriously, but I don’t concern myself with reaching an ultimate destination.

    Ciao,
    Wayne

  19. I tend to think of it as a process, but if the finished product isn’t enjoyable, why bother?

    That having been said, I tend to agree with the idea that an espresso should taste like the coffee that it was made from, and nothing more.

    Since any coffee can be brewed as espresso, espresso much, therefore, be a brew method resulting in a finished product.

    It takes camp 2 to make camp 1, as it were. But without expectations (camp 1), we would not have any idea what we were actually trying to accomplish with the method independent of the finished product (camp 2). And here I am in a sort of agreement with Deferio.

    The Sneech need not worry whether its belly is adorned with a star or not. It needs only be confident that it is a Sneech.

  20. Of course its a process, we’re making how many subjective choices from green to cup? Its one of the most brilliant things about coffee…we get a bag of potential that has had its own journey through varietal, terroir, process, storage, roasting and packing then it begins a whole other journey. So many variations…but in a bar its as much about milk texture as the shots….So as coffee evangelists we need to offer amazing drinks full of yummy coffee infusions, which is us being clever, and also give our superstar coffees a chance to shine! I’m doing a “Coffee Safari” for about 50 people soon, the majority of whom are curious newbies…5 coffees, 50 single cup filter holders and me jumping about as people freak out about how much contrast there is between different fresh roasted origins…so focussing the origin into an espresso extraction as a base or as an end in itself is familiar and solid ground…but its also amazing to present the origin as a bean full of potential to be placed in the hands of the brewer who then completes its journey…all in the cause of the good stuff!!!

  21. I admire your honesty and clarity of thought… you utter what I, and I suppose, some others have been thinking for a long time in your first video and this one and you are apparently not afraid of upsetting large parts of the communities you spend so much time in. Even though I have had similar thoughts I usually tend to blame my possibly underdeveloped sense of taste for my judgement that disagrees so much with the predominant public discourse.
    Just a single little point you’re missing with this one, in my opinion, though: While espresso clearly was conceived as a quick way of brewing fresh drinks, it has evolved from that to a coffee specialty. It is certainly not the best way of transporting the taste from the coffee bean into the cup without much alteration thus merely liquefying the solid of the beans and ground. But what it does has become so important that the process now has it’s own status that people value. The taste that an espresso machine can extract from the right miscela and roast is something you can really love even though it’s not an accurate depiction of the beans.. if you want, you can think of the French Press as a more naturalistic or photographic way of creating a picture while an espresso machine would be a late Picasso or… I don’t know, Fusion Jazz.

  22. Not sure what camp im in. For me espresso is the infinite challenge that i love so much and thats what got me into coffee in the first place, so when it comes to espresso it’s not about the so called GOD shot it’s about challenging myself every time i step behind a machine.

  23. Espresso, or awesome espresso is an elusive beast and those of us who spend our days and our fortunes pursuing it will testify that it is not just an end-product produced within a rigid set of parameters to produce a drink that is described by absolutes, it is something you strive to produce and dedicate a great deal of energy to, observing many variables, controlling those you can and mitigating the others on a journey to get something nice, or even interesting, from whatever coffee goes into the grinder.

    I think espresso is particularly alluring to those of us behind a great espresso machine because its elusive nature means that we are as thrilled by the chase as we are by the capture. One could argue that, from the other side of the counter, we really shouldn’t be trying to sell and charge so much for something that is so hit and miss. (I know that isn’t really a fair argument, but you get what I mean).

    I love making espresso (most days), and I worry that I sometimes I enjoy making it more than drinking it. But then I am sure there are lots of chefs who love cooking certain dishes more than they will ever enjoy eating them.

  24. I don’t think we should necessarily expect or want an espresso machine to deliver the flavours we get from a filter brew.

    Why not? If those are the flavours that are intrinsic to the coffee then why wouldn’t we want them. We might want them in a more condensed/intensive form that filter brewing, with different emphasis on certain characteristics but ultimately I want my espresso to taste as little of the barista (or machine certainly) as possible!

  25. I think the point Gwilym made summed most things up regarding espresso. Some look at he science of it, some study the origins and what they bring, some folk have drunk too many 100% arabica coffees that they cannot get their heads around robusta. Espresso is also defined by the situation and when your drinking it. With fellow Barisiti like wine tasters we may discuss the finer points on the opposite end of the scale the romance of drinking an espresso in Venice can delight. Rather like going to a wine tasting to drink wine or going to The Fat Duck for dinner and have a fine bottle of wine. You are right James its what you make it. As for espresso machines I like the challenge of differing coffee standards. Its what makes us want to constantly re visit a machine to tinker.
    Enjoying the vedeo blogs!!!!!!!!

  26. James, as usual, your comments are an ever present source of contention and discourse in our shop. Our crew is made of traditionalists and third-wave devotees alike, and the I often wonder if I am whole-heartedly one or the other. We press or vac all of our drip and always have. I had to fight off some of the early crew to avoid speed of production vs quality by going mechanical in the past, and eventually got a La Marz. and how the floodgates opened again. Since then, we have had spro blends with and sans robusta, SOs aplenty and even played with Liberica in various preps. We have found that outside of the presence of defects, we can enjoy every single bean in the house, in any combination, in any prep style we employ. That seems like a good track to be on, seeing how our clientèle have made this journey along with us, even to the point that they do not get stuffy if we do not have a preferred bean on the floor – it just provides an opportunity for something entirely new for them which they are glad to have.

    What amazes me is the stiffness I still find in myself from time to time during your videos or blogs. I don’t get it. I accept that what I “know” now, I will very likely disagree with two years from now, but that something still gets riled up when removing crema or a topic of coffee semantics is breeched baffles me. Thanks you for your adventurous spirit and commitment to pressing on. You and your group of friends push us to let the coffee be better. Cheers.

  27. I became a coffee professional because I missed ‘good’ espresso’s in Antwerp. Other coffee brewing systems never appealed me before.
    These days I’m trying day and night to lift up my (aero) press, filter and cupping quality, but still experiencing way better and deeper tastes in my espresso’s. I adore them all, but the ‘kick’ of a good espresso, So or Blended, is not comparable to other coffee drinks.
    And now we have our clients addicted to this (espresso)stuff, they have also problems enjoying ‘lighter’ drinks. On an almost daily basis we serve free Eva Solo’s and Press brewed Single Origin Coffee’s at the bar, but the reactions are never so positive as with clean espresso shots – always adviced to stir really well before drinking.

    We’ll see where it will get us, but I don’t think espresso is going to lose it’s popularity in the next decade.

  28. I unequivocally see myself in the process camp. nothing is ever for certain in coffee, so long as it’s delicious I am game.

  29. Only noticed this reply now, jeez it’s hard to keep up with the pace of comments here (a good complaint).

    I’d say the only flavours intrinsic to the coffee are the ones you get when you put the bean in your mouth and chew. With all brews you are extracting a portion of that. We have innumerable ways to brew what we broadly all “filter” coffee that can all approach the same type of extraction from a bean, why try and make one brew method that inherently produces a different result like all the others?

    I totally see your point about all this, but I do think it’s a case of shoe-horning espresso into our filter palate.

  30. What is your point of reference for starting with any given coffee being brewed in espresso? Its all well and good to rid ourselves of previous or current expectations, but once they are gone and we have a clean slate, where do you start at the roaster, where do you start at the grinder, where do you start at the machine? My own bent would be to try expressing the coffee by changing the variables of roasting and grinding etc… That being said, it could taste great as each variable is changed. As a cafe owner, how do you translate that to your customers who want concrete help on having better coffee at home. Even square mile has taste descriptions that already prompts me to target those tastes. So are you saying we should give some type of expectation to the people buying our coffee? Though I wouldn’t know half of my customers espresso prep techniques at home. Should we see more espresso coffees offered with brew techniques and why we like it that way? It seems that people are really experiencing the flavour of their espresso prep technique rather than the coffee flavour. What advice or tips do you recommend for wanting to make great espresso without becoming locked into expectations? Obviously my knowledge of roasting and preparation of espresso is limited.

  31. thanks for a great video, it’s nice to have something to think about on a very typical monday.

    I would say that I began to fall into the catigory of only wanting to drink espressos that were heavy bodied, dark, chocolaty etc. But as I go on working as a barista and especally after the wbc in London I really love it when people surprise me wth new flavors of espressos, new roasting and more. So I would say that I look at an espressomachine as another way of brewing.

  32. This is interesting! I’ve been lucky enough to work my first barista job in a rather prestigious (locally that is) venue with a great reputation…that serves crappy coffee…Lucky is the right word right?

    I use the word lucky because it only took a few weeks, perhaps months to realize what coffee/espresso isn’t. Our espresso was terrible, coffee brewed by airpot (low quality), our pour overs tasted no better than an over-extracted cup, and our beans over or under roasted.

    This has let me realize that coffee is so extensive and has many…MANY flavors, styles, and feels, and I feel that this video helps us realize that. We may all be aficionados, but we can’t judge a bean before we try it. Is a simple concept we’re taught as children, not to judge a book by it’s cover.

    I don’t know where I fall in your category. I expect the finished product, yet I always order single origin because I know it’s more likely to be unique, and pop the way I want, yet as a surprise. I avoid espresso blends/roasts because I don’t entirely believe that they reflect the true characteristic of the bean.

    Maybe I’m wrong…but when all is said and done with this little rant, I love this video and it’s insight.

    ¡Viva solo origen!

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