Falling in love with espresso, 1.55 times over again.

Perhaps one of the most exciting thing about specialty coffee is the enormous leaps and bounds we seem to be taking year after year. Even looking back at past WBC’s is a timely reminder of how far the industry moves forward. I often look back at how I myself would have approached a given task only months before and have a little cringe. I hope to shudder at the thought of what I’m doing today when I look back next February. Its moving that fast.

It seems of late that filter coffee has been the main focus of most baristas attention, and in truth there was good reason for that. Filter coffee, at least in the context of the UK and Ireland, was in dire need of some attention and I feel that we’re well on the way to achieving a long-term impact on how filter coffee is perceived, made and consumed in these parts.

Coupled with this new-found appreciation for filter however has come unfortunately, a disenchantment with espresso.  Advancements in filter brewing, albeit with age-old techniques, and the appearance of the extract mojo on the market meant that focus was shifted, certainly online, towards the perfection of filter.

Part of me feels however, that the coffee community just became tired of talking about espresso and needed to make new headway else where. It became quite difficult to make advancements in espresso, but if you take a method that you know nothing about and nobody appreciates it’s a lot easier to make progress.

Despite competing in espresso based competitions I feel myself that I took my eye off the ball with regards to espresso and its only recently that I’ve really began to go back and finish my homework on espresso brewing.

Ironically what really elevated my interest and capability with regard to filter coffee was in fact the extract mojo and the very same tool has now pushed me back from whence I came, towards espresso. The lessons it has taught me in the last few months (once I’d downloaded the espresso app) have really helped me push my understanding of espresso and make me excited about the amount of work we still have to do.

A recent argument on Twitter, amongst some of my most respected peers, surrounded the definition and validity of the “ristretto”, yet we all seem to be disagreeing on what it actually means. This is not only shocking but embarrassing for us all as an industry that we can disagree on something so fundamental.

The more common interpretation of a ristretto is undoubtedly an espresso knocked off early. I would be of the mind that we should probably standardise its meaning in terms of extraction yield/TDS as ultimately the latter can ensure we can still achieve a balanced flavour profile albeit with a higher TDS (see Filter to Clover to Syphon to Aeropress to espresso). The real message in this argument however is that we should really start trying to improve our espresso rather than slag it off, because we can all agree that when it is good, its amazing.

Once I had worked away at the espresso mojo I began to understand the error of my ways and a few home truths began to ring clear. A familiar thought process for me would be; “Espresso’s running too fast. Add a tad more coffee”. This is something I would never consider with filter coffee, so was I applying this pocket logic to espresso?

I also found myself nodding at the screen on reading James Hoffmanns post about a 65% brewing ratio (i.e. your dose should be 65% of your espressos weight) as it was completely in line with our own espresso recipes we had been accruing over the previous few weeks.

Lately, however, we have been approaching it from a different angle with some great results. We take that same 65% ratio and invert it to achieve a target weight. Therefore, if you invert 65% you get a ratio of 1.55. Then, if you have a dose of 20g and multiply that by 1.55 then you are presented with a target weight of 31g. If you can achieve this within an acceptable time limit then more often than not you will find a very tasty outcome. The advantage of this is that you can’t retrospectively change your dose, but you can control your extraction weight.

(Different machines and baskets suit different doses so take a dose, multiply by 1.55 and let me know how you get on)

Training new staff lately, this method has become a real revelation for us. Lesson one in any baristas training these days is weighing dose and extraction and adjusting the grind to suit. Once you have the dose and yield as a constant it becomes enormously easier to understand the other variables involved in achieving this.

With this new approach I have also found that the more I look into it, the more I feel that the traditional approach for espresso that I often derided is now popping up with smug little winks. A recent training day I did with Illy in Dundalk had us pulling 14g shots, as is their want. I’m not a massive fan of Italian coffees but once I applied the 1.55 ratio and changed the grind to suit we were achieving perhaps the tastiest shots of the day on 14g doses. Regardless of what your coffee choice is, there is a scientific logic to getting the best from it and I’m now finding my old approach of a “slight updose” quite laughable.

I do love filter and will continue to love it and learn as much about its brewing as I can. However, I do feel that I would love to see more analysis, documentation and discussion on espresso and how we can improve it. As rewarding as these last few months have been for me and my espresso, I look forward to reading back over this post in 6 months time with an espresso that sets a whole new standard.



17 thoughts on “Falling in love with espresso, 1.55 times over again.

  1. This is pretty much how I think about espresso – keeping ratios. I tend to work/talk/train, these days, at 1.5 because it makes the maths easy for doing stuff quickly and on the fly with new coffees and new doses. I tend to use the percentages for online discussion because most people who are thinking about coffee this way started using the percentages. For training the backwards maths is a bit confusing.

    What I find particularly interesting is that the mouthfeel at this ratio is great, lovely – full and creamy but enough space for clarity of flavour. I’ve had tasty shots at lower espresso weights (more ristretto), but I find the benefits in mouthfeel are counterbalanced by a loss of clarity due to the strength of the liquid.

    Timer modded grinders definitely encourage updosing to ‘fix’ flow rate issues. The change is immediate – no need to purge, and the next shot will flow better. The change is controlled and consistent allowing you to make accurate adjustments and feel confident in the resulting espresso.

    Sadly – many grinders seem to grind coarser the hotter they get resulting in doses increasing in many places way outside the capacity of the machine, basket and quantity of liquid used in the brew. Timer grinders tend to encourage, therefore, pushing espresso extractions towards underextraction.

  2. Paul Yates aka PaulCoffeeFreak says:

    Very fascinating post! Glad @jimseven pointed me this way. So if I understand what you were doing, in the Illy example, you would have pulled shots weighing 21.7g. I know of one shop where the barista weighed his portafilter prior to pulling the shot, but then stopped the shot around 20 sec. instead of 25. I asked him if they always pull ristrettos, and he said that was kinda standard for them.

    Based on your post, my thoughts are drawn to current technology. With all the focus on temperature profiling, and pressure profiling, when are we going to see programmable digital scales incorporated into drain trays? Seems like this would be a logical step. If it can be done on the Uberboiler, surely it could be done on an espresso machine.

  3. colinharmon says:

    I hope so Paul. I reckon design might favour a scale drawer that slides out to hold cups rather than in the drip tray. We don’t want to stop flushing 😉

  4. Tibor V. says:

    Ok, this is the final push for me to start weighing. Do you put little scales on the drip tray, or just weigh after the extraction?

  5. Sometimes all this stuff really makes me wonder why I go to work in the morning, I’ll be taking the scales in tomorrow to see how we match up, just a random side note, do you use pre infusion? does this have an effect on the ratio?

  6. Rob Smyth says:

    Interesting post Col and a nice succinct way of explaining dose to beverage weight ratios. There are obvious flaws in using volume as a yardstick, so weight certainly does make more sense. I’d only given this a passing thought until now, but as like Tibor Ill be giving a lot more attention to beverage weight from here on in.

    I noticed rather than say a specific time for the shot, you said an acceptable time. Just to clarify, are you still basing this on the conventional 25s shot?

  7. Michael mc laughlin says:

    Sometimes i wonder why I go to work in the morning, insightful and gAme raising yet again Colin, I’ll be bringing the scales in tomorrow to see how we match up. One thing though, does pre infusion make a difference? I always thought that the water in the preonfusion stage would evaporate and not be present in the cup, resulting in the more water running through the coffee to gain the correct weight, or am I totally wrong?

  8. Michael mc laughlin says:

    I know I know I posted the first draft by accident sorry!

  9. micks_tape says:

    Great article, however Im struggling to reconcile this for home use. I tend to aim for 20g +/-1g in a DOUBLE basket and pour two 25mL shots. If I should be aiming for the 1.55, am I better off pulling a shorter (15mL) pair (both for use in 4 Oz cups for capps) , OR, do 20g in the double basket for a single (30mL) shot?
    but I guess its down to taste….

  10. Friso says:

    Dear Collin,
    Excellent article!
    Thanks for giving us an insight in how u use your Extract Mojo in your shop.
    Great timing on Vince Vedele his post on caf. FiXX that came out today as well. http://vstapps.com/blog-2/extractmojo/beverage-strenght-and-the-fixx/

    The two combined will give me some extra experimenting time this week!

    I’ve been using the Extract mojo from June this year, the sience applied re-calibrated my pallet and gave room for better experimentation on brew parameters.

    From a guest’s point of view “volume” in the cup is still a big thing, It took a long time to convince/explain our guest’s that the amount extracted from the ground is optimum for balance on sweetness and acidity in the cup; they taste and usually are surprised it is not overly bitter and quite sweet….. quality versus quantity wins 🙂

    Although our espresso sales only cover aprox. 6% versus 60% milkbased and 34% lungo/cafecreme. I tend to calibrate for shorter shots (corrected shots).

    It would be lovely to exchange Email Mojo recipes.

    I’ll post the 1.55 ratio test in the comment’s this week!
    Thanks again for sharing!

    Greetings from the Netherlands.

  11. Tibor V. says:

    Micks_tape, check it out, a gramm of coffee is more than a mililiter.

  12. Sebastian says:

    Dear Colin,
    thanks a lot, great post!
    I tried to understand what you wrote and tested it today in my shop. I use an Astoria Plus4you. I normally pull shots with 17,5g and a target of 40 grams in my cups in about 25s (depending on the temperature of the grinder). I got very tasty shots. If I divide 40 grams through 17,5 grams, I get a ratio of around 2,29. I wanted to reproduce what you experienced, but my problem ist, that 17,5 grams is the maximum that fits in my basket. I’m going to try this at home tomorrow with a bottomless portafilter and a Faema E61 group.

  13. Glenn Harpur says:

    Helpful and fascinating, as always.

    Thank you.

  14. Mike White says:

    I love this post Colin.

  15. Ed Buston says:

    What an excellent post to give some real clarity to this new era of brewing ratios.

    2 things trouble me about this. The first hints I picked up on brewing ratios similar to this was an article I read a couple of years ago where an American coffee shop was brewing ‘triple ristrettos’ by using a 21g (before percentages and ration came along) dose to make a single espresso sized shot, this seemed logical and when replicated made very tasty shots. The 2 things that trouble me since that article are:

    What happened to the ristretto? – a 1.55 espresso would appear to many to be a ristretto!

    What happened to a double espresso? – a 1.55 ratio would seem to make most espresso machines only capable of making 1 shot per group, due to the amount of coffee you would need to fit in the handle to make a double.

    A 1.55 espresso would appear to me to have hijacked espresso and turned it in to something different, something new, something more expensive to produce, something tasty, perhaps this new drink should have a new name…

    Did you use this this brewing method to make your shots in the World Barista Championships?

  16. Aaron Gibbs says:

    I’m trying to learn this 1.55 ratio so I can start introducing it to some of the Belfast coffee scene. using a anfim scody and fb80 the 1.55 ratio espresso shots are perfect! however as 12oz cups are still pretty standard up here, what would I have to do to maintain this 1.55 ratio with a longer espresso shot to finish? say end result 40g espresso shot?

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