Consistency versus Experimentation: The Quest for Better Results

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
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Jake_G

Postby Jake_G » Nov 29, 2018, 12:13 pm

Hey all,

Lately with the release of a handful of very flexible machines and some new modifications being made to some of the stalwarts of brewing consistently excellent espresso, there seems to be some renewed discussion regarding brew ratios, grind levels, preinfusion, brew pressure and pretty much every other brew variable under the sun. One of the recurring strands of conversation seems to be the dichotomy of exact replicable sub-gram dose and yield with precise shot timing against the counter-strategy of changing these same variables enough to achieve a noticeable change in the resulting beverage.

Far too often, we see the similar request for help worded one way or another:
Random Frustrated Home Barista wrote:HELP!!!
I keep doing the exact same thing with extreme accuracy and precision and my espresso isn't getting any better!


There have been a few useful guides for specific types of coffee with specific machines, which are helpful in specific cases, but don't help the overall strategy of how to get the results folks might be after with a slightly different coffee on a slightly different machine. I'm hoping to strike a conversation that expands on Espresso 101: How to Adjust Dose and Grind Setting by Taste, by including some of the nuances that are added to the process by the inherent capabilities of profiling machines.

I don't have too much to add at this moment regarding first insights, but there are a handful of good posts floating around right now that I will link to this topic and hopefully get some of our current batch of power users with profiling machines to chime in on the methodology used to arrive at a given brew ratio, shot time, grind level, preinfusion time, pressure, etc... for a given coffee based off of their early attempts at pulling shots. Obviously, consistency plays into this as making wild changes of every aspect of a shot leaves one confused and unsure of what changes made what impact to the shot...

Any interest in this topic?

Cheers!

- Jake

DaveC

Postby DaveC » Nov 29, 2018, 12:17 pm

It's an interesting topic and yes modern machines do drive a change in the "rules". The first trick to deciding what to do is deciding which rules should/could change and why.

I'll start the ball rolling for you.

1. Pressure, what's the best extraction pressure, is it an invariant or is that because it's what the machines were capable of, or is a changing pressure profile better. If it is, what should that profile be and is it the same for all coffees and roast levels. does temperature or any other factors affect it and how.

Should this rule change, what should the new guidance be, how to we test it.

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bluesman

Postby bluesman » Nov 29, 2018, 4:05 pm

Jake_G wrote: One of the recurring strands of conversation seems to be the dichotomy of exact replicable sub-gram dose and yield with precise shot timing against the counter-strategy of changing these same variables enough to achieve a noticeable change in the resulting beverage.

I agree, Jake - it's a fascinating topic. I love to experiment and have been doing so for the 60 or so years I've been making and drinking espresso (yes, my older sister started me down the path to perdition when I was about 12 - I had a "Moka on my back" in high school!).

But I'm a bit concerned that so many posts on the topic start with unhappiness over the current state of the author's brew. It often seems that only a minority of HBers are actually happy with the espresso they're making. This makes me wonder if they know good espresso from bad and if they actually like it or are feverishly trying to make it something it's not :? I'm also amazed at the meticulous attention to microdosing, brew temp, tamping pressure etc that is paid to the process by people for whom attention to basic cleanliness, maintenance, etc might yield a greater improvement in the cup. A glance at the PFs, baskets, wands and even the machines themselves often makes me say "no thanks".

There's certainly a big difference between being happy and being satisfied, and neither one precludes or excludes the other. I'm more than thrilled with my shots and my milk management - if I had to drink only what I can make for the rest of my life, I'd be ecstatic. That doesn't stop me from altering every parameter of the process from time to time in a controlled effort to both learn more about the entire process and perhaps increase my enjoyment even a bit more. But dramatic improvement from where I am now is either not possible or undetectable to my simple palate.

I just hope that those pursuing a perpetual quest for improvement are enjoying their coffee while they do so :D

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LBIespresso

Postby LBIespresso » Nov 29, 2018, 6:39 pm

bluesman wrote:
I just hope that those pursuing a perpetual quest for improvement are enjoying their coffee while they do so :D


I know it's only Thursday but I am calling it: For me, that's the quote of the week!

Thanks Bluesman!
LMWDP #580
"Be nice to people, even the sh!tty ones." Jason Sudeikis

CwD

Postby CwD » Nov 29, 2018, 8:30 pm

Personally I quite love my espresso. I enjoy it and am happy with it in the sense it's some of the best I've had. But the "best I've had" or even if I could claim "best in the world" isn't enough, I won't be satisfied until there is literally no way operating within the laws of physics to wring even the slightest bit of extra quality out of it. And I know from experiments in other brewing methods that there is undoubtedly more good stuff in the coffee I'm leaving behind. That to me is completely unacceptable. It's not just a drink to me, but a scientific challenge to achieve perfection through any means necessary.

Should perfection ever come effortlessly, there's still lots to enjoy that is already the primary focus for me in coffee. Exploring regions, farms, varietals, processing, etc. (exploring roasters/blends very intentionally left off, imo the job of a roaster is strictly to make the coffee is as soluble as possible without imparting the slightest hint of their own flavor) Can't be quite as extreme with it as I am with brew where I usually only have about two brews worth of a coffee since espresso dial in is more intensive, but still very very very rarely like to have more than one bag of the same coffee.

happycat

Postby happycat » Nov 29, 2018, 10:56 pm

What I am seeing is a need for an integrative review of the HB literature. Lots of reports and knowledge here over many years but it remains disparate enough to not be established, challenged and revised.

An integrative review provides a thorough summary of the current state of knowledge on a set of key topics. That summary makes it clear what needs to be checked or fleshed out in the future.

The social media habit of simply appearing and asking for personal help on every repeating topic without researching, reading, setting context, etc. certainly doesn't help much.

That's what separates a community of practice from a hobby site I guess.
LMWDP #603

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another_jim
Team HB

Postby another_jim » Nov 30, 2018, 12:17 am

It's not a mistake; it's an experiment. :D

Going for consistency presupposes that 1) there is a best practice for whatever coffee and setup you have, 2) that you know it. I rarely believe the first and never believe the second, since I usually run out of the coffee I'm pulling before I have a handle on it. Now David Schomer and Andrew Barnett have been serving the same styles of coffee for 20 years each; if they tell me there's a best practice and they know it for their respective setups and coffees, I absolutely believe it.

Think about where you are on this spectrum; and the question answers itself.
Jim Schulman

alexno

Postby alexno » Nov 30, 2018, 12:52 am

another_jim wrote:I usually run out of the coffee I'm pulling before I have a handle on it.

^^^Story of my life.

walt_in_hawaii

Postby walt_in_hawaii » Nov 30, 2018, 1:05 am

With a topic so variegated I sincerely doubt there will be a strict concensus of opinion or methodology. I think the most obvious way to resolve this is what has already been going on in small scale here, meetings between small groups so that a greater segment of people can be exposed to the same flavours and have their tastes 'tuned' to provide some consistency or base across all the various levels of experience and exposure to equipment. Establishing a reference floor is important in what would otherwise be methodology descriptions floating around out on the aether. Unfortunately I'm in hawaii and there doesn't seem to be a very large user base here where such meetings can take place :( ....but I'm still hopeful. And convinced its one of the only ways to reconcile what people here talk about so fervently vs actually maximizing the flavours in your cup. Oh, and if anyone's interested then yes, I'm pretty happy with the modest results I get in my demitasse :)

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Jake_G

Postby Jake_G » Nov 30, 2018, 2:00 am

DaveC wrote:It's an interesting topic and yes modern machines do drive a change in the "rules". The first trick to deciding what to do is deciding which rules should/could change and why.

I'll start the ball rolling for you.

1. Pressure, what's the best extraction pressure, is it an invariant or is that because it's what the machines were capable of, or is a changing pressure profile better. If it is, what should that profile be and is it the same for all coffees and roast levels. does temperature or any other factors affect it and how.

Should this rule change, what should the new guidance be, how to we test it.


Thanks Dave!

This is a great one to start discussing because it's so relevant the current rage of new machines, modifications to my own 25 year old machine included. I have a methodology in place for now regarding the profile and it's pretty solid but I have the unfair advantage of a 2 group machine with one side a profiler with a restricted thermosyphon loop and the other and instant-on fire breathing dragon. If I flush water through a double spout portafilter on the right group, I get streams of superheated water on the wall. It's madness :twisted:

What indicators do you look for in a given shot that would suggest that you should increase the brew pressure? How about decrease? Or what makes you think to try a declining profile versus flat? I am still learning and I have some ground rules in place but I'm curious if there's method to the mayhem or if it's just intuition coupled with a bit of luck...

For instance, there's good consensus around brew temperature and roast level. Dark roast, cooler brew temp. Light roast, higher temp. Likewise with grind level and what used to be dose, but now can be preinfusion duration. Darker roasts have historically been coarsely ground and up-dosed, with lighter roasts initially ground fine and down-dosed, but now simply ground fine and softened with a either a long slow preinfusion or a soak phase or some combination of the two. This allows some of the classic rules to be bent if not broken. But what about peak brew pressure? Lets say you have a grind and dose that you like with a given brew temperature and profile. What makes you think "that was great at 9 bar for the peak, I bet the same shot would really shine at 7 bar."? What about 10 bar? This is something I really haven't thought much about, but am ready to dive into now that I have so much more control over the rest of the extraction. My machine has been set at 8.5 bar with my 8mm non-restrictor for the last 5 years. It's likely time for me to figure out what other pressures taste like, but I'm curious if there are some conventions that might guide the would-be traveler in their quest?

Cheers!

- Jake