Is pre-infusion necessary?

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makspyat

#1: Post by makspyat »

I'd like to start with saying hello to everyone!

Now, I am seeing numerous posts here saying that espresso machines without preinfusion are incapable of producing a good shot from the light roast. - Is that so?

Below is my setup:
1. the "incapable" Profitec Pro 300. The pump pressure seems to peak in 5-6 seconds - so essentially, there is one flow profile along with the brew temperature adjustment.
2. the grinder is more peculiar: it is Ceado E5SD.
3. VST basket - a very simple "upgrade" that allowed me to grind noticeably finer.

The coffee: right now, I am enjoying Dragonfly's The Leam Hammer Blend (Nordic style espresso). I feel mild acidity, mouthful of sweetness and caramel. Well, this was one example, but it is also worth to mention a few fruity blends and single origins from Blue Bottle and Ceremony Roasters, that I tried.

Of course, I had my share of stubborn beans with strong acidity that could not be tamed. It may so happen that I did something wrong, or may be the coffee was too sour...

I guess I am trying to make a point, that it is not hard to find a fruity blend, or a single origin for those without a very fancy equipment. Perhaps preinfusion is nice to have, but it is certainly not necessary.

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VoidedTea

#2: Post by VoidedTea »

I only have experience with manual lever, Cafelat Robot, but what I learned from it is that finer grinds generally require more careful preinfusion. And I don't want to say that it should be much longer, as it may lead to unnecessary heat loss with manual lever, but it certainly requires more control to get through the fine grind without choking or channeling the puck. By control I mean starting slow to allow soaking the puck and then really paying attention to the flow, sometimes even pumping it a little bit by slightly changing the force in short bursts and only ramping up the pressure after the drops turn into a single steam of crema. From my experience, doing this kind of preinfusion leads to a much better taste in the cup comparing to a "blunt" extraction without any consideration for the flow. Especially with floral bean varieties. I assume the same would be true for automatic machines.

makspyat (original poster)

#3: Post by makspyat (original poster) »

By control I mean starting slow to allow soaking the puck and then really paying attention to the flow, sometimes even pumping it a little bit by slightly changing the force in short bursts and only ramping up the pressure after the drops turn into a single steam of crema.
Thanks for sharing your experience! This tells how the dynamic flow profiling is more important than the automatic preinfusion / the time time it takes to ramp up the pressure.

This also clearly explains why manual lever machines are so great. I might replace my PP300 with something like Robot or Pavoni at some point in time. I almost wish my wife liked her lattes not as much :)

jdrobison

#4: Post by jdrobison »

makspyat wrote:Of course, I had my share of stubborn beans with strong acidity that could not be tamed. It may so happen that I did something wrong, or may be the coffee was too sour...
Perhaps it comes down to origin. I'm planning to add pre-infusion to my LMLM because of this. Generally, as the coffee's origin goes up in altitude my extractions suffer. The lower altitude coffee of Central and South America, for example, extract beautifully on my machine but they aren't the taste profile that I prefer. I like the fruit forward coffees that you typically find in high elevations of Ethiopa, etc... but without pre-infusion they tend to channel and they don't extract well. Especially the most lightly roasted of them. Anaerobic processing helps quite a bit as it imparts a nice brightness to what might be an otherwise more earthy and nutty profile.

Jeff
Team HB

#5: Post by Jeff »

Luca, in a post I wish I could find, summarized things well with words along the lines of
People tend to find beans that work well for them and their machines and stick with them.
I agree, you don't need variable preinfusion and extraction profiling to be able to enjoy espresso with fruity notes. There are many great blends and SO roasts out there in the medium and darker range that can be extracted well enough on a typical E61 box or similar machine. When you've found ones that work well for you, take note of your perception of roast level (I've found roasters' descriptions to be more about marketing than actual level), which areas the beans come from, and, if evident, if the beans are "natural" or "washed". Natural processing refers to the beans being dried with the fruit still around them for some period of time. It typically adds "fruity" notes from the fermentation. Washed beans are just as "natural" in the wholesomeness sense. It is that the beans have been removed from fruit before they are dried, so that they have more of their own flavors, which can be more subtle than a natural-processed coffee. Neither is better than the other. Some have preferences one way or another, which can vary with the origin and cultivar of the bean itself.

I didn't have a roast-level meter when I was enjoying Leam Hammer, before they moved the roastery last year. However, I'd call it more of a medium or perhaps medium-light roast. It certainly pulls like a medium roast in my experience. There are several US-based roasters that tend to roast on the lighter side, which tends to be darker than light European or Nordic roasters.

I pulled shots on an E61 HX for close to a decade with tight temperature control and about once a month experimented with the drip-roast coffees from the better San Francisco area roasters. I was about 50/50 for getting a reliably good cup from that machine and my Compak K10 WBC grinder. I tried the games, raising the lever on a reservoir-fed E61 (worse than useless), flicking on the pump for X seconds (so unrepeatable as to be a net negative), but they didn't help. When I found a coffee that really shone, it was great. Blackberry, plum, dark cherry, those notes kept me going.

Then I got a machine with controllable preinfusion and extraction profiling. Within weeks, with the same grinder, I was close to 100% on those medium roasts. With COVID limiting me to mail order, I started ordering from across the country, then across the globe. Now I look at a roaster's offerings and wonder if they're light enough for my tastes. I don't worry about if it is "suitable for espresso" or not. I primarily order what end up being truly medium-light or light roasts. When you see a cinnamon roast ground in the portafilter, the redness is striking if you're used to the medium and medium-dark roasts that are more common. A finer grind and extended PI seems to be a necessity to reliably extract these lighter roasts with good balance.

It could be that my skills increased dramatically. This wasn't a scientific test. But the end result is that I find that having better control over the extraction process means that my options for coffee are much broader.

There's a world of coffee, processing techniques, and roasters out there to enjoy.

If I'm spending $1,500 -$2,500 or more on a machine not having those options for the most flavorful ingredient would now be frustrating for me.

makspyat (original poster)

#6: Post by makspyat (original poster) »

Thank you, Jeff, for taking your time to respond. This was a treasure trove for me.

cskorton

#7: Post by cskorton »

Jeff wrote:Luca, in a post I wish I could find, summarized things well with words along the lines of



I agree, you don't need variable preinfusion and extraction profiling to be able to enjoy espresso with fruity notes. There are many great blends and SO roasts out there in the medium and darker range that can be extracted well enough on a typical E61 box or similar machine. When you've found ones that work well for you, take note of your perception of roast level (I've found roasters' descriptions to be more about marketing than actual level), which areas the beans come from, and, if evident, if the beans are "natural" or "washed". Natural processing refers to the beans being dried with the fruit still around them for some period of time. It typically adds "fruity" notes from the fermentation. Washed beans are just as "natural" in the wholesomeness sense. It is that the beans have been removed from fruit before they are dried, so that they have more of their own flavors, which can be more subtle than a natural-processed coffee. Neither is better than the other. Some have preferences one way or another, which can vary with the origin and cultivar of the bean itself.

I didn't have a roast-level meter when I was enjoying Leam Hammer, before they moved the roastery last year. However, I'd call it more of a medium or perhaps medium-light roast. It certainly pulls like a medium roast in my experience. There are several US-based roasters that tend to roast on the lighter side, which tends to be darker than light European or Nordic roasters.

I pulled shots on an E61 HX for close to a decade with tight temperature control and about once a month experimented with the drip-roast coffees from the better San Francisco area roasters. I was about 50/50 for getting a reliably good cup from that machine and my Compak K10 WBC grinder. I tried the games, raising the lever on a reservoir-fed E61 (worse than useless), flicking on the pump for X seconds (so unrepeatable as to be a net negative), but they didn't help. When I found a coffee that really shone, it was great. Blackberry, plum, dark cherry, those notes kept me going.

Then I got a machine with controllable preinfusion and extraction profiling. Within weeks, with the same grinder, I was close to 100% on those medium roasts. With COVID limiting me to mail order, I started ordering from across the country, then across the globe. Now I look at a roaster's offerings and wonder if they're light enough for my tastes. I don't worry about if it is "suitable for espresso" or not. I primarily order what end up being truly medium-light or light roasts. When you see a cinnamon roast ground in the portafilter, the redness is striking if you're used to the medium and medium-dark roasts that are more common. A finer grind and extended PI seems to be a necessity to reliably extract these lighter roasts with good balance.

It could be that my skills increased dramatically. This wasn't a scientific test. But the end result is that I find that having better control over the extraction process means that my options for coffee are much broader.

There's a world of coffee, processing techniques, and roasters out there to enjoy.

If I'm spending $1,500 -$2,500 or more on a machine not having those options for the most flavorful ingredient would now be frustrating for me.
+1 this is an incredible post that should be shared. If you read enough posts on this forum, it easy to be convinced you need a $3k and profiling machine to get a decent shot. In practice, and in my experience, that simply is not the case.

As Jeff said, it's all about knowing your tastes. Do you like being on the bleeding edge of espresso? Pulling highly extracted lungos, light roasts to super light roasts? Or do you prefer medium to dark comfort shots; the classic espresso profile? Truth be told, if you don't like light roasts, you don't necessarily need preinfusion, and actually, it can be detrimental to easy to extract beans like dark roasted Italian blends.

In my own experience, I purchased a Londinium R that can preinfuse at any pressure for any length of time. As fate would have it, I don't like my espresso to taste like lemon water (ha!), so I almost never preinfuse past 10 seconds. Most of the time I find shots to be better at 3-5 seconds preinfusion. As always, your ymmv, but preinfusion in my experience only makes a difference if your brewing with light roasts. And even then, some of my favorite light roast shots I've ever had were pulled on a La Marzocco Linea with no preinfusion.

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Plinyyounger
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#8: Post by Plinyyounger »

No, pre infusion is not necessary. You can make espresso taste different with pre infusion, temp, amount, time, water, along with other variables. But preinfusion is not necessary to make good tasting light roast. Don't buy into the hype.
Bought a Max, used a Max, then sold the Max. We are splitting hairs.