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.