Becoming a Better Taster

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
tennisman03110

#1: Post by tennisman03110 »

Hello All,

I'm still new in my home espresso adventures. I have a Breville Duo Temp and Baratza 270, but use it off and on. V60 is my usual.

On this forum I see how to adjust espresso depending on taste. But how do you learn to taste espresso? I can tell if I like something, but just can't seem to understand the subtle differences of acidic, sour, slightly bitter, etc.

Sure, lemon juice is sour. 100% chocolate is bitter. Sugar is sweet, etc. But espresso.....I don't know how to learn.

Currently, I am using a freshly roasted (May 26th) bag of Blue Bottle Dandy Espresso. I brew 18g double about 36g out, total time about 30 seconds (12 seconds to first drop). It pours fast once it starts, not slow/thin/viscous like I see in videos. Freshly cleaned machine.

I'm down to a 4G setting on the 270. I'm making it finer each time. I will take a video next time I brew.

To the point, I don't love it. I think it's sour/acidic, but maybe it's bitter? Does have nice crema. I really can't tell. The last bag of coffee I went through, which was a month ago, was BW Classic which I liked more.

Any tips? Online videos to watch? Or anything you see in the process to improve.

Thanks

DamianWarS

#2: Post by DamianWarS »

Image

There is a notable dryness or astringency that is associated with over extracted coffee. Essentially keep going finer until you hit this dryness then go back a touch coarser to get optimal zone.

Keep control of other things as well like dose, shot time and yield all of which you can play with extraction but to start I would keep it simple. Use the dose that the basket is rated for, the shot time between 25s - 30s and the yield twice as much as your dose which is a 2:1 ratio. So if you put 20gr of coffee in aim for 40gr of coffee between 25s - 30s using the correct dose for your basket.

When you hit those marks what is the shot like? You can play with the dose ± 1 gram at a time, shot time ± 1 second at a time and volume ± 1 gram at a time to get a shot more desirable. Do small increments and if it has a negative effect go back. But as the pic states if it's dry extract less, if it's sour extract more.

tennisman03110

#3: Post by tennisman03110 »

Thanks for the chart and answer. One of my issues is what is "dryness" and astringency in coffee. What are everyday foods (non-foods?!) that exhibit these characteristics?

I've always heard grind finer until there's no flow, then just slightly increase grind size. But part of me wonders if I'm only making things worse by moving finer. Four shots so far and each one has been a finer grind, same 2:1 ratio, all taste slightly different, not better or worse (see, I'm bad).

dreadnatty08

#4: Post by dreadnatty08 »

When it's coming out quickly is it very gassy, lots of crema? It could be a bit too freshly roasted and may improve after another few days of degassing. I just got some coffee from Maquina and had a similar shot pull (slow to really fast and tons of crema). After emailing the roaster he recommended 5 more days of rest which would be close to 9 days total off roast.

tennisman03110

#5: Post by tennisman03110 »

Hmm....I never thought of the too fresh thing. It has been 6 days off roast now.

I would say it does have quite a bit of crema, especially to start. I've never had this coffee before.

Tomorrow morning I will take a video and see if I can't post it.

samuellaw178
Team HB

#6: Post by samuellaw178 »

From my own experience, one way you can learn to taste espresso better is start by not tasting espresso. :D What I meant by that is to start by diluting the shots a little or make more diluted shots with longer/larger volume.

I've been an espresso drinker for years and have grown accustomed to the strong flavours in espresso, this includes some of the taste defects are typically associated with espresso that you can grow accustomed to (you tend to overlook these when everything tastes so strong in the background).

I am not a great taster myself. But my greatest recent learning has come from trying to drink more brewed coffee (with effort to conciously learning to taste), and/or pulling lungos-style shots (higher brew ratio). Once you start diluting the espresso out, then the flavour notes and defects (if any) become more apparent and more discernable. When you're tasting, pay attention to what your tongue is tasting or feeling, how the flavour changes, as well as the aftertaste. It might take a while (like I said I am still learning myself even after being an espresso drinker for years). That way, when you're tasting espresso in its concentrated form again, it's easier to discern and apply what you've identified previously. Learning to taste is a journey itself and I highly recommend it. :D Might ruin your enjoyment to drink espresso you once enjoyed though (ignorance is bliss sometimes). :lol:

As for dryness, one common descriptor I've seen it explained is it's like drinking tea that has been steeped for too long.

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Randy G.

#7: Post by Randy G. »

Good points from samuellaw178. I learned to pay attention to the beginning, middle, then end of a tasting. Had a coffee that was quite delicious at the start, but was told to concentrate on the finish which I discovered was quite poor. The early taste psychologically muted my senses.
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tennisman03110

#8: Post by tennisman03110 »

I drink lots of pour over, and while I'm not an expert taster, I adjust parameters as needed. It's easier for me to tell if something is under-extracted, etc. It might not be easy, but pour over is much easier than espresso and more forgiving in small deviations.

Would you think making Americanos helps taste? I'm not against longer shots either, but have stuck to the standard 2:1 ratio as I learn.

tennisman03110

#9: Post by tennisman03110 »

Randy G. wrote:Good points from samuellaw178. I learned to pay attention to the beginning, middle, then end of a tasting. Had a coffee that was quite delicious at the start, but was told to concentrate on the finish which I discovered was quite poor. The early taste psychologically muted my senses.
Is there any benefit to using a new cup for each 10-12 grams? Or just brew one shot and notice the flavors as I go?

My usual approach is to pull a shot, empty portafilter/light cleaning, then gently stir espresso and drink. That's about 1-2 minutes after brewing.

samuellaw178
Team HB

#10: Post by samuellaw178 »

tennisman03110 wrote:I drink lots of pour over, and while I'm not an expert taster, I adjust parameters as needed. It's easier for me to tell if something is under-extracted, etc. It might not be easy, but pour over is much easier than espresso and more forgiving in small deviations.

Would you think making Americanos helps taste? I'm not against longer shots either, but have stuck to the standard 2:1 ratio as I learn.
Yes, that'd be helpful and it should help you evaluate/discern the shot better. But I would first taste the shot as it is, then dilute it a little and then taste. It's mainly an exercise to learn to identify and associate the flavours when they are in more concentrated form.

To learn how overextracted and underextracted espresso would taste like though, I would make them intentionally (or when you're dialing in coffee). For overextracted shot, a good reference would be 1:2 shot in 50 sec (sometimes they would be both under+over due to channeling when you grind that fine). For underextracted shot, I would make 1:2 shot in 15-20 sec.

If you're using lighter roasts, the coffee will taste acidic or 'sour' regardless of over or underextraction. In that case, it can be a little challenging to identify clearly which is which (hence why the above exercise is useful). For those, pay attention to how the acidity feels like (there are many ways acidity can present itself). To me, underextracted acidity can taste more 'raw', sharper and/or hollow (i.e. lacking some elements) as compared to the acidity in overextracted and well-extracted shots.