How to improve coffee beyond "good enough"?

Want to talk espresso but not sure which forum? If so, this is the right one.
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#1: Post by mgrayson »

Greetings, fellow coffee lovers.

I've been pulling shots since 2007 when, due to a forced vacation, I wanted to answer the simple question "Why was the worst cup of coffee I had in Italy better than the best cup of coffee I'd had in the U.S.?" That quickly led me to this site, and I've been a VERY happy member ever since. I have never been limited by equipment or bean quality. The only thing that needs improvement is me.

I've never learned anything well without a teacher, colleagues, or fellow students who could listen, explain, critique - in short, help. The advice "go to a good coffee shop and see what it should taste like" - well, I've listened to a lot of Horowitz recordings, and it didn't make me a better pianist. Whereas a good piano teacher did wonders (that and 25 years of hard work...). Ditto Mathematics (my profession). Ditto photography. But coffee? Videos will only get you so far (and not very far at that!)

I make coffee for friends and family. The response is always positive. So that doesn't help. Is it good enough? Maybe.

How did y'all get to the point where you knew what you were doing - where the phrase "how does it taste" was actionable?

Thank you all very much for your time, both now and in the past,


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#2: Post by fruitfly »

The best advice I received about learning about wine was to write notes on every wine you taste. When I developed a coffee habit, I did the same thing, except I recorded bean origin, roast, what I tasted, grind setting, machine settings, and ratio. For me, just paying focused attention, plus going back and reading my notes made a big difference. It now takes far fewer shots to dial in a new coffee than it used to.
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#3: Post by mgrayson (original poster) replying to fruitfly »

This is excellent advice. Thank you. As the saying goes - The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

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#4: Post by LittleCoffee »

For me I see it like driving. When you're learning to drive, everything is new, your confidence is low. As you get better you feel more "in charge" and respond better to surprises.

Same with coffee - the espresso space is vast in terms of dimensions and places you can go on these dimensions. At some point I hope to be sufficiently versed in that space to be able to go to different places under control and at will - much like driving a car.

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#5: Post by doug »

I just wanted to express appreciation for your beautifully phrased question. Thank you for keeping home-barista great.
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#6: Post by bznelson91 »

I approach and "measure" the coffee consumption experience somewhat like sex: If you're not having at least some experiences that are so good, you can't even remember your name for a moment or two, you probably haven't reached the best experience yet :D I've got my filter workflow and experience to the level that I personally have really good cups every day, but then I'll have those ones where I just go "Wow, that is simply phenomenal", the world disappears for a minute or two, and then I can go back to measuring the TDS :)

I'll also give kudos to the other responders here as well as the OP, this is some really good stuff. Make me think, which is always a good thing.


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#7: Post by mgrayson (original poster) »

I've had a few God Shots. Some that taste EXACTLY like hot dark chocolate. Weirdly so. Some that are devoid of any sour or bitter tones but taste like nothing on earth.

That doesn't mean I know what I'm doing! Sometimes a shot will smell great. Taste great. And then 5 seconds later a bizarre bitter metallic aftertaste appears that milk won't hide. What did I do wrong? Roasting? Grind? Dose? Temperature? This is what I want to get better at.

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#8: Post by Capuchin Monk »

mgrayson wrote:What did I do wrong? Roasting? Grind? Dose? Temperature?
I like my espresso stirred, not shaken. Plus, I finish it within a minute.

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#9: Post by H2c4 »

Why don't you take a class on espresso/coffee making

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#10: Post by mgrayson (original poster) replying to H2c4 »

I did - from Intelligentsia. I learned the basics and - most importantly - how to steam milk (I'm not talking about latte art. Just what it should taste like.) But it wasn't long enough to try tasting each other's shots or getting critiques from someone knowledgable.

One week each on dialing-in and roasting would be a great start. I could attend a class at Ikawa headquarters in the UK, but I'd prefer something closer to home. And they're very Sample Roast focused.