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How long do you allow your espresso to sit before adding milk?

Postby RegalPlatypus on Thu Apr 17, 2008 7:06 pm

As much as I hate to admit it, I work at Starbucks. We're given a strict 10 second limit as to how long a shot can sit without being mixed with milk before it goes bad from temperature loss and oxidation. A number of coffee shops I've been to don't seem to follow this though... In fact, at the coffee shop I went to today the shot had turned black before they added the milk.

How long do you allow your shots to sit?
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Postby Beezer on Thu Apr 17, 2008 7:35 pm

Good question.

I'm ashamed to say that my shots probably sit close to a minute before I pour the milk. I have an HX machine, so I could theoretically steam and pull shots at the same time, which would reduce the delay between pulling the shot and pouring the milk to a minimum. However, I like to watch the shot as it pours and cut it off when it goes blonde, so I wait until after the shot finishes before steaming. By the time I'm done steaming, 30 seconds to minute have gone by. Still, since I'm using good, fresh beans, the crema lingers long enough to give good results.
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Postby fredfal on Fri Apr 18, 2008 1:55 am

I'm limited by my steam power and my routine. I've got the Brewtus II with the stock steam tip and while it makes it easy to make microfoam, if I'm making a latte, it usually takes about 40 seconds to steam the milk.

I steam and pull the shot at the same time, but usually I'll start the shot brewing, then start steaming a few seconds later (also keeps the steam boiler from kicking in during the shot). I end up with the shot sitting 15-20 seconds when making a latte, just a couple seconds when making a capp, and usually not at all when making a macchiato.

For me, because of steam power, it's dependent on the volume of milk.
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Postby HB on Fri Apr 18, 2008 7:14 am

RegalPlatypus wrote:How long do you allow your shots to sit?

I start the steaming about midway through the extraction once I'm certain it's progressing smoothly. With the time for swirling and thunking, it's probably approaching a full minute from the time the extraction started. I've tried steaming before the extraction a few times, but the result was an undesirable drop in the drink temperature.
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Postby APalmer on Fri Apr 18, 2008 9:53 am

By saying that the "shot turned black," do you mean the crema had fully dissipated? That's not good. What was going on in the meantime while it sat? I think, however, to say that the shot is bad within 10 seconds is a bit overboard. Certainly, the integrity of the crema and the temperature diminish with time, but it's still drinkable after 10 seconds. It sounds more like Starbucks is simply pushing you to get the drinks made as fast as possible. Time is money. If I am wrong, then most of the espresso in barista competitions is bad. Watch a video and count how many seconds pass from the introduction of milk. Zacharyzachary.com has videos of the 2007 World Championships. Shots sit while the other shots are being pulled. Shots sit while milk is being steamed. Shots sit. My point: time kills espresso, but it doesn't work that fast. Not saying to ignore what you're being told to do, but no need to worry if a shot happens to sit for longer than 10 seconds.
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Postby cannonfodder on Fri Apr 18, 2008 9:56 am

I usually start my steaming around midpoint of the pull. It only takes 15 seconds to steam 4-5 ounces of milk so the shot and frothing are finished around the same time. I give the pitcher a swirl, thump, swirl and pour.

On another note, if your shot goes completely black (full crema dissipation) in 60 seconds, chances are the coffee is old or the shot was no good to begin with.
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Postby RegalPlatypus on Fri Apr 18, 2008 1:47 pm

APalmer wrote:By saying that the "shot turned black," do you mean the crema had fully dissipated?


No no, the crema was still present. You'll notice when you pull shots though (if you pull them into a transparent glass) that there's a very rapid color change in the espresso beneath the crema from a dark honey brown to black within a matter of seconds. It's this color change that Starbucks aims to avoid and of which I'm talking about above. It's my understanding that that color change from the honey brown to black represents chemical degradation with decreasing temperature and exposure to air.

I don't think it's simply *Bux trying to get us to push drinks out quicker because if we miss that 10 second mark, they want us to take the time to make it again. Actually, despite the quality of their espresso machines and most of their baristas, they do try pretty hard to put out a good product all things considered.
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Postby PaulM on Fri Apr 18, 2008 2:01 pm

Sometimes I try to risk pulling a second shot and then pour the milk in both but I have found that the crema on the first pull suffers a bit as it's standing. Most often, I pull a shot into a warmed cup and top it off w/ foam/milk almost immediately.
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Postby Beezer on Fri Apr 18, 2008 2:10 pm

"On another note, if your shot goes completely black (full crema dissipation) in 60 seconds, chances are the coffee is old or the shot was no good to begin with."

Exactly. Good espresso should have long-lasting crema. If it dissipates that much in 10 seconds, there's something else wrong. Of course, I've never seen really good, thick crema on a shot in Starbucks (or most other cafes for that matter), so maybe the 10 second rule makes sense for them. When your crema is thin and blonde to begin with, you need to make sure it doesn't sit any longer than it absolutely has to. But then again, no matter how fast you steam your milk, it's not going to fix the problem with the shot.
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Postby zin1953 on Fri Apr 18, 2008 8:48 pm

I grind the coffee, fill the baskets, start the cooling flush as I steam the milk, start one double as I'm finishing the milk, start the second double as I'm pouring the first milk, and . . . voila!

OK, heresy I know, but . . . in the case of the first drink (my wife's latté), the Bodum glass is filled with milk first, and I pour the coffee through the foam -- it creates a "layered" effect one can see through the glass. The second drink (my cap) is espresso in the cup first, steamed milk on top.

Always tastes g-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-e-a-t!

Cheers,
Jason
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