Room temperature espresso

Some days Gwilym drops by for a chat and coffee, and now and then breaks my head a bit: Now, the ‘rules’ say that you are supposed to drink your espresso quickly. Everyone knows this. You stand at the bar, you drink it down as fresh as you can for maximum delicousness.

I never really liked hot espresso (well – espresso that was too hot because either the cup was unpleasantly hot or the shot had run too quickly), and I liked it a little cooler but I still tend to drink it pretty soon after brewing. Gwilym was just sat there, letting the tasty shot I had pulled go cold….

We began talking about it and he said that lately he’s really been enjoying his espresso a lot more when it has gone pretty much cold. In my head I struggled to rationalise this. Apparently he’s not alone – he said he’d been talking to Jason at Market Lane about it, and they both agreed that while a slightly underextracted shot was ok when hot – truth was revealed in a cold espresso and proper brews tasted really good, while poor extractions became undrinkable.

I let my next shot go cold. It was seriously, shockingly tasty. Acres of sweetness, lovely clarity of flavour, the acidity hadn’t crashed and turned on me – it was juicy in a good way. It looked awful – the crema had dissipated, it looked flat and unloved. But it tasted good.

Chatting to Tim Styles later about the same thing we replicated the little experiment and it really was delicious. I strongly suggest people try this – but if it does turn nasty on cooling I’d suggest it might be a little underextracted (those who can also measure please check as well – I’d be interested on your views on this too).

This might not be earth shattering to many people, but it was certainly surprising to me.   I’d learned early on the importance of never letting espresso sit, but had never questioned it because (from my limited early experiences) it seemed to be the case.  So, another assumption destroyed and something new learned!  I quite like how often this happens in this industry – it feels like you are getting somewhere….

26 Comments

  1. It is pretty crazy how many things we just accept and don’t think about. For some time now, I’ve been of the same opinion and wondering if I was missing something. Why shouldn’t espresso change and improve as it cools? Why shouldn’t it be good all the way through? Every other method is (or should be).

    I’m assuming it just comes from the old Italian tradition of poor quality, stale coffee used in low doses. It isn’t “proper procedure” to drink those shots right away, it’s a necessity. A sad necessity.

  2. Clearly, the most important tidbit there is that the espresso or filter coffee must be made well to taste great cool. “Hotness” can confuse the palate sometimes, as can “coldness.”

    Question: What’s “cool?” Room temperature? Body-temperature? White-wine-temperature?

  3. It’s not something I have ever tried with espresso before, but it follows good logic as the same normally occurs on the cupping table as well. The thought would follow questioning is it our ability to taste better, or some component of the espresso/ coffees structure that changes as it cools to reveal it’s quality?

  4. I wait at least a couple minutes usually and whirl my espresso since i use large glasses. It’s pretty cool. I don’t taste most coffee in cupping for 15-18 minutes from the pour. I am not advocating this or any way particular way to taste, but it is what works for me. As you can see in this video (comment #1) mr has bean takes issue with delayed drinking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dsnlu6l74Jk

  5. Good question, Nick.

    I guess I would tend to say room temp, but given that different wines have different optimal temps, I’m wondering if different coffees would be the same. Which sort of begs several more questions:
    why do we serve coffee hot to begin with
    is it for the same reasons we think we must drink espresso rapidly?
    is it a default left over from the days when we had to mask flavor with heat?
    granted, many people find the heat comforting, but is there perhaps a missing niche between hot and iced coffee?
    at what temperature must coffee be stored to prevent degradation?

  6. James-
    I don’t think it’s unusual for people to enjoy an espresso after it cools, I actually am surprised that more people are surprised to “discover” that it’s “okay” to do so!

    Much of what we taste hot is inhibited by the heat. Allowing the coffee to cool allows our taste buds to accurately taste whatever it is that we’re consuming.

    As to those asking what’s “cool” and the ideal temp for the coffee? Whatever temp the coffee tastes best! I’ve experienced many things served outside of their supposed “ideal” temperature range that was delicious. Chilled reds, warm whites, cold coffees.

    Seems to me that our community suffers from too much dogma and forgets that what we’re producing is meant to be delicious on the palate and not some sort of number on a computer analysis.

  7. James I don’t know what to believe anymore!! Every so often you come up with something that makes me challenge everything that I “know” to be true. Keep up the good work posting about your journey through coffee, it makes me realise how much further I have to travel along the path!!

  8. Why not? I often let espresso go cool… not quite room temperature, but down to abot 40C. Same with brewed coffee (filter, aeropress, cafetiere, Trifecta etc) It seems normal to me to cup coffee as it cools, as things change during the cooling process. I would agree that under extracted coffee does not hold up as well when it cools.

  9. Why don’t you just not preheat the cups, then it could cool quicker?

  10. This is something I have wondered about…

    From a coffee point of view, I’ve found that the closer it gets to your body temperature, the easier it becomes to taste the flavors. There’s no hotness or coldness to obscure anything. Although ideally I lock on about 130 F (54 C), to me it makes sense if the liquid is “in tune” with your body.

    I enjoyed a really nice tasting menu at a dinner a couple of weeks ago, and the one thing we noticed is that all the food was served warm/room temperature, but in terms of flavor, everything was perfect.

    I like the balance and mouthfeel the crema gives you. I think it’s important to maintain for espresso. I wonder if you can preserve the crema, yet alter the serving temperature?

    What happens if you brew espresso in a vacuum?

    When you tackle that experiment, I look forward to your post!

  11. The colder an espresso gets, the more you perceive bitterness. This depends on our physiology. Underextracted espresso are perceived more bitter because they are lower in fats which usually limit bitterness by covering our tongue.

  12. This is EARTH SHATTERING or at least surprising to me. I will definitely be giving this a try. I was even taught this to the point of pulling one shot and letting it go “bad”/cold and then pulling a fresh shot and doing a taste test. The cold shot tasted horrible and the fresh one tasted good. I guess we weren’t pulling very good espresso shots. Either that or I was just so new I had zero experience of how to do it properly. Either way this is pretty mind blowing.

  13. Thanks for writing this. I have always wondered why this industry is obsessed with pre-heated cups. While it may be appropriate for milk-based espresso drinks, straight coffee of any sort will always be much tastier, much faster, when a “cooler” cup is used. At times, I pre-chill my cup so I can enjoy my coffee sooner.

  14. Problem being that in american and australian specialty coffee, espresso is _so rarely_ extracted to the point where it would not be intensely sour when it cooled. Not that most of those shots are really any good hot either, but thats a different problem.

  15. I’ve been wondering about the pre-heated-cup-mantra for a while now.. If you just use a cold cup, you can drink your shot right away, taste it and not burn yourself.

  16. I will still always preheat my cup. If I’m going to allow my espresso to cool, I don’t think quickly is the way to go.

    This is the same reason why hot espresso pulled over ice is usually bitter. Let it cool, but let it cool slowly imo.

  17. A few folks here at the roastery prefer their espressos one minute or so after extraction, noting an increased sweetness. Does this have anything to do with the bitter Carbon Dioxide leaving the cup as the crema flattens, throwing the balance toward sweet/acidic?
    6 oz thin-rimmed glass is my preference for espresso. Like Thompson, I like those for the whirling capabilities.

  18. I like warm, longer brewing time espresso because to me it is more it is more flavorful.Hot once sometimes scald the espresso (depends that if your machine has a PID unit)
    Just like cold-brew iced coffee. A long brewing brewing method which gives me a very smooth and flavorful cup.
    My cafe has been brewing cold-brew Papua New Guinea Sigri and it’s so damn flavorful even it’s clean like drinking tea!

  19. For a long time i’ve let my brewed and cupping coffee cool, and like many, prefer the way the flavours emerge more (or rather become easier to perceive?) when its much cooler, even towards cold. But isnt half the beauty of espresso in its fragile and transient texture and body, which can quickly break down? Isnt a lot of the pleasurable aroma released in the crema? And even if you like coffee cooler, to taste it better, because espresso and its cups are so much smaller, this cooler temp can still be reached but much more quickly than with bigger volumes. All these reasons contribute i guess to the logic of drinking it quite promptly. A great, interesting test that i’ll try though – i too held the belief that cold espresso could ‘change flavour’ in a negative way which is clearly perhaps not the case – usual coffee logic should hold true i guess, in that if the brew is good, it should still be good (or better!) when cold …but espresso can be a little different and strange, with additional peculiarities..?!

  20. When does it stop being fresh? Why not pull all your espresso for the day in the morning to save time?

  21. I wonder if one reason the ‘don’t let it sit’ rule has persisted for so long has to do with latte art. I know we are talking about drinking straight shots here so this is kind of off topic, but humor me. If the majority of what you’re doing as a barista is pouring capuccinos and lattes with nice art on top, then our process might become subtly tuned to what works best for those type of drinks. And in my experience its incredibly hard to pour latte art once crema has dissipated. Thoughts?

  22. Does anyone have any real stats or info on espresso ph as it cools over time? I’m curious about rate of cooling. I’ve enjoyed 4ounce americanos (italianos) because you get to taste the espresso’s intensity, while experiencing the flavor arch as it cools off. Miki served an iced americano sig drink in finals of WBC this year. Totally took me by surprise.
    Thanks for the great blogs Jim!

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