The very first post on Barista Hustle was about understanding the taste of extraction. This week I’d like to share a simple experiment that will allow you to taste those differences in extractions side by side. All you’ll need is coffee, scales, a grinder and an espresso machine. Soon I’ll be detailing the same experiment for brewed or filter coffee.
An important part of a Coffee Professional’s development is the opportunity to regularly taste coffees side by side. Consumers rarely get to taste different coffees simultaneously, which makes it incredibly hard for them to develop their palate. Professionals often get to taste like this multiple times every day which can make the process of palate training incredibly swift. Unfortunately, the act of tasting coffees next to each other doesn’t necessarily make it useful. You need to know why they’re different, otherwise your brain won’t be able to match the proper variables with the effects they produce.
Extraction and strength are two variables that are inherently linked and difficult to separate. This experiment is designed to allow you to forget about strength and just taste the difference in extractions (I plan on writing a lot about strength soon).
You can run these experiments with any coffee and grinder. In fact, using your usual coffee and equipment – no matter the quality – makes it infinitely more relevant to you and your typical coffee-tasting situation.
Step 1 – Espresso
Start with your typical espresso recipe – it’s probably delicious and balanced so it will be the middle of the road for the experiment. If you’re familiar with espresso recipes, that’s great! If not, you’ll need to measure your dose and yield.
Dose = The weight of coffee in the portafilter in grams.
Yield = The weight of liquid espresso in grams.
Don’t worry about the shot times. As long as your grinder is calibrated to make your usual recipe taste great, grind size and time don’t matter for our purposes here.
Once you know these variables, you can type your typical espresso yield into the calculator. It will figure everything out for you. You can use this calculator right now and run the experiment, but I highly recommend understanding what’s going on first.
You’ll be making 7 espressos with the same dose and different yields. Those yields will sit above and below your usual recipe in intervals of 4 grams. For example my typical espresso yield is 40g, so the the 7 espressos will look like this:
If you’ve never made espresso to weight before, here’s a very quick guide:
– Grind, weigh, distribute and tamp your usual dose into the basket. Be as accurate as possible with the dose weight.
– Tare your cup on a small set of scales.
– Start the espresso shot and place the cup and scales beneath the spouts.
– As the espresso progresses, the weight will increase. Stop the shot when the scale reads 2-6g less than your target yield to allow for some drips to exit the portafilter.
– Once again, don’t worry about changing grind size, dose, or monitoring shot times. They’re not important right this minute.
Follow this process for all 7 espressos, aiming to be within 1-2 grams of the target yield (weight) each time.
At this point, you have 7 espressos with different extractions and strengths. The next step will dilute those espressos so that they all have a very similar strength.
Step 2 – Dilution
The longest espresso shot will also be the weakest, so we need to dilute all of the other espressos down to the same concentration. Unfortunately we can’t make espresso any stronger, so this is the only way to achieve parity.
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The shortest shot will be the strongest, so it will need the most water. The amount of water needed will reduce as the yield of each espresso increases. The calculator below will tell you exactly how much water to add. Here’s the amount of water needed with my example recipe.
Now you have 7 espressos with very similar strengths, and very different extractions.
Step 3 – Tasting
You now have a neat flight of espressos with different extractions and similar strengths. It’s time to taste.
Firstly, divide your espressos into 5 sections:
1 & 2: Aggressively Under-extracted
3: Mildly under-extracted
4: Correctly Extracted
5: Mildly over-extracted
6 & 7: Aggressively over-extracted.
Taste the coffees, and record anything that comes to mind. There’s no such thing as an incorrect descriptor. Whatever your mind and palate recognises as a flavour is perfect. The more honest you are about a flavour the easier it will be to recognise it upon the next encounter.
Write down your thoughts in the form on the experiment page.
I don’t want to influence your results too much, but feel free to use my original post on extraction and flavour as a reference. The espressos will be weaker than you normally drink, so try to disregard mouthfeel and body. Instead, focus on flavour, sweetness, acidity and balance.
Step 4 – Pattern Match
Hopefully after this experiment you’ll be much more in tune with the tastes of your espresso extractions. Experiments like this are extremely valuable for palate development and speed up the pattern matching process like nothing else. The more readily you can identify faults in a coffee, the faster you can fix them!
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