Balance in Espresso is Intense Bitter and Sour Cancelling Each Other Out - Page 2

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
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another_jim (original poster)
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#11: Post by another_jim (original poster) »

Good question(s)

I used to say balance when I was just maing shots. But after experimenting not with coffee, but with the simple bitter and sour flavor, I think it's definitely cancellation. You are mixing two liquids that are undrinkably bitter and sour and getting something vaguely pleasant and nondescript even with no sugar added. It may be semantics; but to me this seems better described by cancellation than by balance.

However, I do not think either noise cancellation or color are a good model. Noise cancellation is by out of phase waves that really do cancel each other. Taste and color work by information from separate receptors being colligated by the brain. However, in color, the colligation recovers the real spectrum of the input light; whereas the taste doesn't refer to anything objectve.

If you allow for a concept liek 'quasi-objective," then it is more like light. Unbalanced bitter and sour flavors are the defense mechanism of plants for bits that they do not want you to eat. For the bits they do want you to eat, they offer predominantly sweet, with a balance of bitter and sour. So balanced bitter and sour may be interpreted by the brain as stuff we can eat, and therefore is presented to us as pleasant tasting, whereas pure bitter and sour is interpreted as stuff we shouldn't eat and is presented as bad tasting.

But this is just a wild guess.
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Martin

#12: Post by Martin »

Communicating via HB is a necessarily a quasi-objective, language-based exercise: we are mostly limited to triangulating many descriptions applied to many coffee experiences that are reasonably well shared. That's a messy process taking lots of iterations, assumptions, and rough familiarity with the sources.

Regarding the concepts at hand, I'll propose what I find useful: "blend," "balance," and "movement." Let's modify each with a weasel word, "optimal," to account for the fact that each can occur to good advantage or be something unpleasant.

Blend: Multiple potential flavors in the beans. Some flavors are abundant, some absent, and some are hiding and realized with difficulty. "Blend" is more useful to describe coffee before the shot than the flavors of a shot. Probably a more objective term, as I've defined it, than the two following.
Balance: Somewhat homogeneous incorporation of the several prized coffee flavors that are present. Thus, a shot of an optimal blend offers a single taste experience that may gradually shift with cooling, but may not alter significantly a singular, fundamental taste. Blending to get just the right sweet/sour balance produces the target flavor.
Movement: The multiplicity of flavors that come and go and maybe return, depending on the taster's taste focus, physical tasting mechanisms, or whatever intrudes on the taster's consciousness. Food examples here might include lemon drop or sweet-skin/sour-body fruits like kumquat or plum. Enjoyment of these flavor-combo's seems to require active engagement of the taster--with the tongue being a partner of the coffee chemistry rather than a passive collection of receptors.

Reading HB posts and reviews, it seems that some coffees and reviewers land more heavily on balance, preferring an orchestral approach -- sitting back and taking in the total sound/flavor as a whole; for example, the singer and the strings (and other instruments) are experienced as a single, coherent sound. I'm a movement guy: I tend to follow a voice or instrument or section; find a motif; etc., and let the components accumulate--experiencing each shot differently; catching surprises and discoveries because I'm especially susceptible to changes (or undisciplined,) and I'm easily distracted.

YMMV

Bob_M
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#13: Post by Bob_M »

I was taught that sour compounds are acids and bitter compounds are bases (alkaline). When combined they react to form water and in the case of organic substances a compound called an ester. I have been told that Esters often have a sweet fruity taste. I have assumed that this is what's going on in coffee balance so to me the compounds that make coffee sour and bitter are transformed.

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another_jim (original poster)
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#14: Post by another_jim (original poster) »

Most bitter compounds used in the kitchen, e.g. quinine, gentian root, bay leaf, chocolate, vanilla, etc are not alkaline and don't react chemically with the acids
Jim Schulman

Bob_M
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#15: Post by Bob_M »

Thanks Jim. It was naive of me to assume that the answer to this mystery could be so simple.

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Martin

#16: Post by Martin »

Bob_M wrote: naive of me to assume that the answer to this mystery could be so simple.
Seriously, though - - -
1) For clarity (mine) please state the mystery, and 2) what's the answer?
(naively yours, :D)
M

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Randy G.

#17: Post by Randy G. »

The point is that all espresso shots are overwhelmingly bitter or sour. But when they balance, the bitter and sour tastes cancel each other out, and create a sort of generic soft drink flavor.
That confused me. Did you men in this that they all contain overhelmingly bitter and sour elements? As in, "The point is that all espresso shots have the potential to be overwhelmingly bitter or sour. But when they balance, the bitter and sour tastes cancel each other out..."?
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another_jim (original poster)
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#18: Post by another_jim (original poster) »

The logic is overwhelmingly simple: Espresso is roughly 10 times as concentrated as regular coffee. All of the sour and bitter components of coffee are in there, and at ten times the concentration. So why isn't every shot a sink shot. If we get the grind, temperature, shot time just right, do the acids and bitters magically vanish? It seems more likely that property balanced, the flavors balance in the brain, i.e. organoleptically.

I confirmed this with a room full pf people by serving them mixes of intense bitter (gentian) and intense sour (lemon juice strength citic acid). There were a few people who had an intense dislike of bitterness and of acidity respectively. They needed to add a lot more sugar to balance their preferred mix. Most people liked a roughly equal blend of the bitter and sour I concocted (based on my preference); and they used far less sugar to get something they thought was a pleasing but neutral background flavor.

The bitter and sour flavors extract fast, the caramels that add sweetness and body more slowly. Proper temperature control can balance bitter and sour at coarser grinds and lower extractions; for inherently unbalanced roasts or imprecise temperatures, finer grinds are needed.
Jim Schulman

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TomC
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#19: Post by TomC »

The gentian root darn near put me on the floor gagging. But I found the whole experiment rather interesting in that even I, in my sweet adapted state (I consume way more sweet junk food than salty or anything else) that I didn't even need to reach for the sugar water that Jim had on hand, I just needed to add the sour acid to quickly neutralize the insanely bitter and found the taste very similar to a light Italian soda, not sugary sweet, but bright and interesting (for as interesting as the two components could be).

What I've also found is when I clean up my diet and cut simple sugars in general, my taste perception seems to sharpen and I enjoy things that might not taste as inherently sweet more.

Bob_M
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#20: Post by Bob_M »

Martin wrote:Seriously, though - - -
1) For clarity (mine) please state the mystery, and 2) what's the answer?
(naively yours, :D)
M
The mystery is that mixing sour and bitter food substances results in a mixture that is neither sour nor bitter, and that although an identical result can be seen in classical chemistry when mixing an acidic (sour) substance and an alkaline (bitter) substance, the two phenomena are different and unrelated. As a fly's wings differ phylogenically from those of a bird.
The answer is not for us to understand, although I suspect that in the case of what's going on in coffee there is indeed an acid base reaction but it us too weak to measure.