Is espresso not supposed to taste bitter? - Page 5

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

HB wrote:It's true that the average Joe Coffee drinker doesn't make this distinction and simply uses 'bitter' as a shorthand for "I don't like it". That's certainly a valid way of describing their taste experience, but I don't find such broad descriptions useful.
Fair enough, and I certainly don't claim to have a particularly discriminatory palate. I can, however, attest to the overwhelmingly bitter espresso served at dodgy places down here and not much else gets through... If you can taste stuff that I can't, all the more power to ya! :)

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#42: Post by Howdy Mr »

HB wrote:It's true that the average Joe Coffee drinker ...
Hey, who ya calling average?


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#43: Post by Peppersass »

Interesting thread. I mostly agree that straight espresso is an acquired taste, and people who are not accustomed to it will often say that a properly pulled shot is too bitter. But even home baristas who have pulled and/or consumed straight espresso every day for years have struggled with bitter shots. It's probably the most common flaw.

As HB suggested, bitterness is often a symptom of overextraction. Assuming that this has not been caused by errors in the preparation (e.g., poor distribution causing channeling) or machine problems (e.g., inaccurate/fluctuating temperature, excessive pressure, etc.), you can sometimes compensate with a "dodge" shot or an early cut-off. Other ways to deal with overextraction are to grind finer or increase the dose.

Although it's generally true that American espresso blends are designed to be updosed, I think part of the reason updosing is popular in America is because it makes it a lot easier to pull a shot that's not excessively bitter. In other words, updosing can to some extent compensate for less-than-perfect technique.

The other side of the coin, of course, is underextraction, typically caused by grinding too fine, updosing too much or cutting off the flow too soon.

IMHO, both flaws can be avoided or minimized by doing the following:

1. Using fresh, properly roasted beans.
2. Using a quality grinder.
3. Using a scale to weigh the grounds and extracted liquid so you know the extraction ratio.
4. Taking the time to optimize the dose, grind and temperature during the dialing-in process.
5. Carefully distributing the coffee in the basket.
6. Keeping the machine and basket clean.

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#44: Post by Peppersass »

HB wrote:Indeed, sweetness/sourness/saltiness can mask the impact of bitterness; that's why the first and second round of the SCAA sensory skills test are easy for most while the last "mixed" round is significantly harder.
Thanks for the link. It gave me a lot to think about.. and I bought the book!

Oh, and it's "shoo-in", not "shoe in" :D


#45: Post by mb514 »

Very interesting thread, and I think representative of the coffee drinking world.

Espresso is bitter. Good espresso is bitter to some extent. With learning, I think people come to appreciate the bitter and understand its components and what surrounds it. When I drink espresso, I focus on the parts of the tongue that are most activated at various stages of the tasting (Jim would say appreciation). Maybe that is why I don't focus on the bitterness, to whatever extent it exists; I sense it, but it is part of a bigger equation.

What has not been considered is that different people perceive taste differently based to some extent on experience and to some extent on physiological makeup. My wife cannot tolerate the espressos or even sugarless cappucinos that I push on her from time to time. Can ... Not ... Tolerate. But she loves (capital L) the lattes she gets, and especially now since a change of machine and technique. I believe that a part of this is that her sense of taste is stronger than mine. She will identify the various berries or woods or other subtleties in a beverage (dare not say wine) that I can vaguely perceive only after I have been told it is there...and yes, sometimes I fail at that. What I consider a pleasant bitterness, based on a preference for such beers and a genetic predisposition (a part of the genetic component being my mother's love of pepper), she apparently finds horrifying.

OP: if you like coffee, you may come to eventually appreciate good and bad espressos for what they are. If you do not, then your appreciation of the form you prefer is fine. There are those here that cannot stomach a latte.


#46: Post by kkillebrew »

In my mind the best espresso is from Northern Italian blends and it should never be bitter. Strong and thick, yes, but not bitter. Many people who consider espresso bitter have only experienced over-roasted Starbucks style espresso, not correctly roasted, ground and pulled Northern Italian style beans.

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#47: Post by Benjammer »

I found (for dark roasted coffees at least) filtering espresso (placing a small round cut piece of regular drip coffee filter and putting it in the bottom of the metal basket) takes out the fine particles which are over extracted and makes an otherwise bitter coffee, more fruity/flavorful (in a pleasant way), less ashy and harsh. I've tried with two types of coffees so far with good results and compared to regular unfiltered espresso. I haven't tried lighter specialty espresso blends yet though. I have a feeling it will be more beneficial for darker roasted beans.

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#48: Post by the_trystero »

Not sure I understand, the fine particles are still being extracted, the resulting liquid is still going to have those flavors after passing through a paper filter.
"A screaming comes across the sky..." - Thomas Pynchon

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#49: Post by Benjammer »

Not sure I understand, the fine particles are still being extracted, the resulting liquid is still going to have those flavors after passing through a paper filter.
Hmm, true. Not sure how it works or why then, maybe just not having as many of those particles in the cup makes a difference though. Try it if you don't believe :)


#50: Post by entropyembrace »

I was thinking that perhaps why this thread (and others like it) are so conflicting is that in english we have only a word for one kind of bitter. In the tea world people often use Chinese words for different types of bitterness. One, gan, is considered a positive quality, this kind of bitterness is a pleasant one that we find in good dark chocolate, coffee and coats your mouth and has a kind of hidden sweetness. This kind of bitterness is a highly desirable trait in tea for tea drinkers. There's also rough bitter...I think Se (I don't actually know Chinese) that is the kind of bitterness which feels bad in your throat or makes you want to gag...obviously not desirable.

A properly prepared espresso shot should have lots of the pleasant bitterness but none of the rough bitterness. Overextracted shots have rough bitterness and don't feel good to swallow.

The pleasant bitterness can still get negative reactions from people who are not used to it...especially if they associate it with the rough bitterness because we don't have separate words for them.