Bitter not better

Talk about your favorite cafes, local barista events, or plan your own get-together.

#1: Post by Bar »

Hope this catchy title brings in the replies. I am a newbie and thought you were not supposed to have a bitter taste to your plain espresso. Most of the brews I have been making come up kind of bitter. I went to a local coffee shop today with a very good name and got a shot of espresso and it tasted bitter also. Is some bitterness is a straight espresso pull just par for the course or did the pros make a mistake?

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#2: Post by another_jim »

Coffee is both bitter and acidic. Lighter roasts are more acidic, darker ones more bitter. Good coffee, well made, is also sweet; poor coffee or poorly made coffee, not so much.

All this means that it takes experience to learn what a balanced taste in espresso is, and at what roast levels you will find your own preferred balance. Get a good grinder; try roasts from different roasters at different roast levels; and give yourself six months to a year to develop your taste and expectations.

Some idiosyncratic advice: Finely ground shots at lower doses, 14 gram doubles, or better yet 7 gram singles, are less intense and make it easier to spot the taste notes. Many espresso places in the States do the equivalent of 101 decibel disco shots, so it's often hard to tell what you are testing. Many beginners also feel they ought to use triple or 18 gram baskets, which will also create a lot of unnecessary sound, fury, and pain for them.
Jim Schulman

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#3: Post by dparrish »

To Jim's excellent advice, I will add just this little bit (not bit-ter haha):

Bitter can be a sign of over-extraction. Acid and sugars are dissolved earliest in the extraction process; as time, pressure, and temperature do their "thing" to the espresso puck, more of the cellulose from the coffee bean breaks down and enters the cup you drink. This part is the bitterest component. So it could mean you need to end your shots sooner, or grind a little finer so that you can end them before they become bitter. It could also mean the coffee is old/stale.


#4: Post by espressoren »

Yes, in my experience there is always a bit of both an acidic note and a bitter note. If you're expecting no hint of bitterness, well some coffees may provide that but it's not the usual. This confused me early on, but opposite you. I mistook the acid for sour shot, and wondered why I was still noticing acid. In a more balanced shot the early acidity is noticeable but not unpleasant or "pucker" level. Likewise, you may find it instructive to try a truly bitter shot.

Look up the "salami shot", you basically swap cups every few seconds to dissect the flavors at each stage. The last cup should be truly bitter, first cup very sour. Cup or cups in the middle will be more drinkable but also a bit more plain. This works best if you are confident your shot is dialed in to a reasonable level. The point is to equip you with a gauge, you can taste what over extracted means. Then you can decide if your bitter shots are 10% of the way (not bad) there or 80% of the way there.


#5: Post by Milligan »

Straight shots are very rarely served at cafes in the states. Most cafes use an espresso best served with a milk drink. This means they may be more pungent and lean to the bitter side so they punch through 2-8oz of milk poured on top of them. This isn't always the case, but the most likely scenario. I'm surprised when I get a good shot from a cafe. The bar is kind of low in most areas.

We can help a bit more if we know what coffee you are using, your equipment, and the shot parameters you've tried.