Digital espresso or a way to consistency

Postby tekomino on Sat Dec 11, 2010 7:28 pm

This is collection of information and learning pulled into single post that I digested through lot of reading on this site and then tested it and put into practice every single day. I pulled and tasted over 3,000 shots this year most of them using this technique or variation of it. I take no credit for it since credit goes to all smart people that obsessed over espresso on this site long before me.

I believe that this method is very useful for beginners and others that would like to improve consistency of their espresso making. I know that doing it this way provided huge consistency improvement for me so I am sure someone else will benefit as well.

Basically this is what I wish I read and tried when I was just starting so here it is.

What is this Digital in title of the post? I mean that as a hint to being precise and measuring what you are making instead of guessing. You can't control what you don't measure so there you go...

This method, process if you will, involves measuring dose, the amount of coffee you use to make espresso, and measuring the resulting beverage weight. Why do it this way?

Traditionally people eyeball dose into basket by filling the basket to the top and level. That result in warring dose and your espresso will be moving target. Also different blends work best at different doses and this method does not even get you close to specific dose.

The amount of espresso made is traditionally defined in fluid ounces, so it is said that double espresso is 2 oz. This again is not precise enough since some coffees froth a lot and you get lot of crema which obscures the true shot volume. Additionally if you use 20 grams of coffee to make 2 oz of espresso, it is completely different taste profile than when you use 14 grams to make 2 oz so shooting for that 2 oz is imprecise.

There is also blonding, a term you must be familiar with by reading here. It is said to cut extraction when you see espresso stream go blond. I spent lot of time trying to learn how blonding exactly looks like, but it's like looking for Loch Ness. Using this method you can completely forget about that. If you have good distribution of coffee in coffee basket and simply even tamp you are good to go.

For this method you will be using 0.1 gram scale to precisely weigh dose of coffee and then weigh espresso you extract. The ratio between dose and espresso weight then gives you brew ratio and better idea about the shot you made. You simply divide your dose weight with your espresso weight and presto! Andy Schecter proposed this back in 2006 as better way of communicating parameters between barista. Here is his post: Brewing ratios for espresso beverages

I think people should be using this all the time. It simply makes sense to know how much coffee you put in and how much you get out so you can repeat and most importantly tune up your espresso experience.

So how do you do it? Preferably, if your grinder allows single dosing, like Baratza Vario, Compak K10, Versalab M3 and others, you weigh the beans you want to use on 0.1 gram scale and grind them and hopefully you get out what you put in. You can experiment and see how much coffee your grinder retains. If you grinder cannot single dose then tare the basket and grind into it. Start with 14 grams for sake of experimentation.

Image

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Second step is to distribute and tamp. I will not go into this, but this is also important. I recommend using bottomless portafilter to be aware of channeling and uneven distribution. My experience is that good grinder helps a lot.

Then you lock-in your portafilter to pull the shot. You put your 0.1 gram scale under portafilter and your espresso cup on the scale. Don't forget to tare the scale to zero so you weigh only the espresso that is extracted.

Image

You start the extraction on your machine and watch the scale. I find that for lot of coffees, I like about 70%-90% brew ratio. If you are shooting for 70% brew ratio that means that for 14 grams of coffee you extract 20 grams of espresso by weight in 25 seconds from the moment first drop of espresso hits the cup.

If you are over or under you adjust your grinder to grind finer or coarser until you can hit these numbers.

Final note, please don't get stuck on exact brew ratio or even exact 25 seconds of time. Rather use the measurement of input and output to find what you like the best. Once you have your espresso to your taste you might not even weigh your output. I use doses from 14-20 grams depending on coffee and my espresso weighs from 16-35 grams... I find that just 1-2 grams of espresso beverage weight makes difference you can taste.

This is just a tool so use it as such but don't get hang up with particular number rather explore and see what you like. Try using 16 gram dose and make 16 gram of espresso with it. Then make 30 gram espresso with same dose and see how you like that... I see this as speedometer on a car. Instead of guessing how fast you are going you look down and know exactly.

Here is Andy's brew ratio table that provides nice guidance:
Image

But professional baristas don't do it this way you might say. True, but they also make hundreds of shots every single day. The muscle memory and visual memory for volume dosing is very developed so they don't have to and don't have time to do this in busy café. But you can bet that good ones know exact dose they are using and how much espresso they make with it. It's just that they work that out ahead of time for blend they are making and then use their muscle and visual memory to repeat it hundreds of times a day.

So this is all. I would love to read your comments on this and thoughts on what can be written clearer and better to explain this method, how we can improve it and most importantly I would love to hear your experiences.

Enjoy!

***********************
Here is a video I created that shows my routine and weighing of input/output:



I used 18 grams of coffee to brew 30 grams of espresso by weight.
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Postby Marshall on Sat Dec 11, 2010 8:17 pm

tekomino wrote:What is this Digital in title of the post? I mean that as a hint to being precise and measuring what you are making instead of guessing. You can't control what you don't measure so there you go...

This method, process if you will, involves measuring dose, the amount of coffee you use to make espresso, and measuring the resulting beverage weight.

[Edit:]
tekomino wrote:I think people should be using this all the time. [Emphasis added by Marshall] It simply makes sense to know how much coffee you put in and how much you get out so you can repeat and most importantly tune up your espresso experience.


The web (and old Usenet) coffee forums are top heavy with engineers and scientists. For the 10 years or so that I have participated, this has meant a relentless push to move laboratory methods and equipment into the home. To me it means draining a lot of the pleasure out of the process of making espresso and turning it into work. With good beans, a good grinder and machine, making terrific espresso just isn't that hard. With a little experience and guidance, it's actually easy. (It must be. Even I can do it.)

Obviously some good has come out of the engineer/scientist approach, and I think it may be useful on occasion for intermediate baristas to try while they perfect their technique and for old hands who are recalibrating. I pull out a gram scale myself once in a blue moon to double check my dosing.

But, as a "way of life," I think it is unnecessary, and I think presenting it as good every-day technique would scare most newbies into buying a superauto.

[As an aside, I'm not anti-science. My wife is a chemist, and my best friend is a molecular biologist. But they both have boundaries between the home and the lab.]
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Postby Bluecold on Sat Dec 11, 2010 8:40 pm

If you don't have a single dosing capable grinder, measuring only the output works just as well.
I do measure my baskets. Most of my prep time is sweeping the grinder chute anyway, the scant 2 secs of weighing the basket isn't a significant time waster to me.
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Postby another_jim on Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:10 pm

Marshall wrote:But they both have boundaries between the home and the lab.


How scientific do you need to get?

First point, measuring everything will not get you good espresso, that is, the same shot will taste the same whether you measured all its properties or not. But it will get you consistent espresso -- more importantly, it will get you the precise changes you want when you need to tweak the shot.

Second point, Italian bar practice unlike even the 3rd wave cafes here, is based on making these measurements as a matter of course: the doser measures the dose weight, and the volumetric control measures the shot weight. While these controls are not as precise as using a 1/10 gram scale, they are a lot more precise than the all over the map "by my highly trained eyeballs" shot making of even the best cafes here. This is the main reason why Italian espresso is consistent, while even the best 3rd wave cafes are not.

It's not about introducing laboratory levels of precision; it's about overcoming the complete absence of precision that is the norm for US espresso. This lack of precision is based on the delusion that grinder timers and training can substitute for proper measurements. Would you pay for gas based on the time you spent pumping it? Would you trust your deli man's eyeballing of 1/2 pound wedge when paying for the Parmesan?

Nobody would put up with the measuring practices used by US 3rd wavers or hobbyists in any setting where it actually mattered. What does that say about how much they care about espresso? Quite simply, the lack of precision, not of lab precision, but of regular commercial precision, even in the best US espresso, is a disgrace.
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Postby benm5678 on Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:41 pm

I'm mixed -

I use 'digital espresso' for input (weigh beans before single dose grinding... i know exactly from hundreds of tests how many grams are going to be tamped in basket...) - and definitely found each .2g matter!

But for output... it's 'art' ;) i'd 100% recommend to any beginner to get a naked PF and they'll quickly learn how hard it is to perfect distribution... but once figure that out, the flow is easy to judge and see if it's in the taste range you're looking for (does it really matter if it's 70% or 75%) and stopping by the color seems like will lead to best decision for maximizing flavor.
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Postby mini on Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:00 am

Marshall, I really agree with your general sentiment about leaving the art in espresso, but I think we need to cut Dennis a break here. He did expressly say that this was "just a tool" and "a way." I got the sense that this is a simple data point or a quality control technique.

On the one hand, my friends laugh and shake their heads when I whip out my digital scale sometimes. Maybe some newbies would be scared away. On the other, some people would really appreciate a concrete starting point. What do we tell someone (via an online forum) who says "I just can't figure this stuff out, and I'm tired of bad shots" ?

I still don't know what blonding really is. I've had a lot of fun trying out different "organic" techniques and going with my gut, but I've probably wasted a lot of coffee too. Frankly, I don't think that I will ever weigh my shots or compute extraction ratios. (No offense, I hope, Dennis.) I think the frustration of taking so many measurements would outweigh my small frustrations with "guess and check." I like my way.

Still, I think 50% of espresso has always been about the engineering. Is this fickle, complex, mechanically intensive form of brewing that much better than other forms of coffee extraction? You bet it is! when everything aligns the right way. Just like the bliss downshifting an Italian sports car, or the awe of a live space shuttle launch. Complex things are beautiful when they approach perfection. I choose to place "my 50%" on the back end of the espresso experience - I ultimately want forgiving, consistent, enjoyable equipment that will let me relax and flow through my routine, as long as I perform well enough. Others may want to maximize the potential of every shot and move their 50% more to the forefront.

And Dan, I'd much rather buy 1/2 lb block of cheese from an honest, knowledgeable, cheery guy than someone who's a pro with a digital scale. A little under this week, a little over the next. My favorite cafe maintains acceptable quality and a great experience. I'm sure I could ask the baristas for another drink if the one I got wasn't satisfactory - we chat about a lot of stuff anyways. And I think it's way more fun to watch them twirl a portafilter than be even more precise.
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Postby Bob_McBob on Sun Dec 12, 2010 3:02 am

It seems like most people are either in the "measuring equals consistency" or "measuring ruins the enjoyment or art of espresso" camps. If weighing a basket ruins your day, then by all means carry on. If you are a company at the forefront of selling a purportedly high-end product, then you are doing your customers a disservice by not investigating ways to improve quality and consistency because it disturbs your "art".

mini wrote:And Dan, I'd much rather buy 1/2 lb block of cheese from an honest, knowledgeable, cheery guy than someone who's a pro with a digital scale.


This statement is pretty out of touch with reality.
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Postby tekomino on Sun Dec 12, 2010 11:50 am

If you make good espresso already then by all means don't change. There is no reason to.

But if you are looking to be more consistent and step up your craft then this is something you should try.

I know at first blush this might look like bit much, perhaps geeky, but really, is asking for lousy 2 measurements too much? In average food recipe you have more measuring than this. And I feel it does not add more time to the routine.

I agree with Jim, this will not get you great espresso, but it will allow you to explore deliberately. The biggest improvement in my technique I felt, was achieved when I started weighing amount of coffee I use. Second big improvement was when I combined that with weighing the espresso I made.

Again this all assumes that your distribution is good, tamp even and most importantly coffee fresh and of good quality.

I use this technique to make espresso every single morning, half a wake. It is amazingly consistent every single morning even though I am half sleeping.
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Postby JimG on Sun Dec 12, 2010 1:15 pm

I've been dosing by weight for over a year now. I weigh whole beans using a 0.1g scale before grinding. I'm OK with the variations created by the grinding process, which I estimate to be less than +/- 0.5g.

Periodically, I also will weigh a shot for recalibrating myself, but I don't think the benefits of weighing every shot outweigh the PITA factor. My target shot weight is 26g, which works out to a brewing ratio between 55% and 60% with my typical 15g dose.

My procedure doesn't quite attain tekomino's digital standard :lol: , but for me it is a nice compromise. It takes very little extra time to first put the beans into a ramekin sitting on the tared scale, and then pour the measured dose into the open throat of the SJ grinder.

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Postby cafeIKE on Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:11 pm

another_jim wrote:How scientific do you need to get?
...
Nobody would put up with the measuring practices used by US 3rd wavers or hobbyists in any setting where it actually mattered. What does that say about how much they care about espresso? Quite simply, the lack of precision, not of lab precision, but of regular commercial precision, even in the best US espresso, is a disgrace.

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