Frustrated Newbie - Espresso is either too sour or too bitter

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
Kaanemec

#1: Post by Kaanemec »

Hi All,

I am a newbie home espresso maker. I watched and read quite a lot before getting into this and I can verify that theory and practice are quite different and I am living that reality since a couple of weeks :)

I am using Breville 920XL (Dual Boiler) machine coupled with Breville Smart Grinder Pro.

Let me state my problem in a short sentence: I cannot get a well balanced shot no matter what I've tried.

Beans: I am using medium roasted beans around 2-2.5 weeks old bought from a local roastery/coffee shop. I tried 3 different blends with no luck of reproducing similar taste to what I have been tasting in the coffee shop.

Brew Time: This is a problem, I am using 18-20gr of coffee and trying to get 38-40gr of espresso (1:2 ratio) but the brew time is barely around 20-21 secs. I tried going finer with the grind but it gets too bitter. The grind level where I reach 25secs brewing time is painfully bitter to drink. For the shots that are "drinkable" it takes 20-21secs to reach 1:2 ratio. The thing is I am able to reach the peak pressure of 9.5-10 bars for these shots (see the slow creamy honey looking flow) at the beginning. But in 4-5 secs after the first drip, the flow gets quite fast and pressure goes down to 7 bars.

PreInfusion: I played with preinfusion time (changing the PI pressure, getting rid of it altogether etc.) with no luck of getting the right timeframe of 25-30secs whithout getting too bitter coffee.

Coffee Amount: I tried changing the coffee amount from 16-20grams with different parameters above with no luck.

5 Secs Salami Shots: I tried the "5 seconds salami shot" of chris beca (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aD33p4_fJo) where I can easily produce the right chocolaty smooth taste in the first 5 seconds shot. So I realized I need to change the grind size if I like the first 5 secs portion of the shot. I went coarser it became too sour, I went finer it became bitter...

I am using filtered water and tried 93C to 91C.

I started to think I am doing wrong something very basic like tamping or maybe there is a problem with my grinder's consistency?

Happy to get any suggestions or quiestions...

Best,
Kaan

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slipchuck

#2: Post by slipchuck »

In my opinion your beans would be better a week old instead of 2 1/2 weeks


Randy
“There is nobody you can’t learn to like once you’ve heard their story.”

ojt

#3: Post by ojt »

My guess would be the grinder. What roast level are the beans? Even a slightly lighter bean will just be more demanding by way of grind quality. And of course distribution. Try WDT with a needle or some fine resistance wire (in case you're a vaper or electrician :) ) for that 20+ sec brew grind and see what happens. It might help but still I would consider grinder upgrade to match your capable machine.
Osku

tbone53
Supporter ♡

#4: Post by tbone53 »

Here are a couple ideas:

1. I have had more success preparing smaller shots (14 gm in/28-30 gm out). My larger shots are always too strong/bitter (for me). I've learned to accept this and just enjoy the little bit smaller shots.

2. If you can't grind fine enough to choke your machine, then my guess is you may need another grinder, and/or you could be getting chronic channeling. You ought to be able to grind fine enough that it takes at least 40 seconds without extreme blonding to get a 34 gm shot from 16 gm of coffee. Not that you will like what that tastes like, but if all your shots go very blond and thin by 20 - 25 seconds no matter how fine you grind, it sounds like the grinder is not doing its job or the puck preparer is not doing his job.

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Jake_G
Team HB

#5: Post by Jake_G »

Kaanemec wrote:For the shots that are "drinkable" it takes 20-21secs to reach 1:2 ratio. The thing is I am able to reach the peak pressure of 9.5-10 bars for these shots (see the slow creamy honey looking flow) at the beginning. But in 4-5 secs after the first drip, the flow gets quite fast and pressure goes down to 7 bars.
What does your puck prep/distribution look like/entail?

The sudden break up of the puck and increase in flow/drop in pressure is a sure fire sign of channeling. Try WDT and report back. Your grinder is adequate, at absolute best, so you'll need to help it along.

Also, if your shots are bitter at reasonable shot times after getting the puck to hold together, try decreasing the temperature a few degrees. +1 on keeping your beans fresh, as well. This may mean buying less, more often.

Cheers!

- Jake

Kaanemec

#6: Post by Kaanemec »

Hi All!

Thanks a lot for the suggestions. Based on your inputs here is my current situation (not bad I would say).

It seems like there was indeed a channeling issue like you all pointed out. I tried WDT and it helped with the consistency of the pressure during the brewing process. The pressure still gets lower but it is much smoother now (guess that's normal?).

I was then able to get shots with 1:2 ratio between 25-30 secs. The problem though was that the shots became too intense and sour (even noticeably salty I would say following the intense sourness). The beans were medium-light roasted. I increased the yield with no luck. Have modified the grind setting to coarser and then finer but the sourness was still there.

Then I kept everything same and tried to change the temperature (decreased first but then increased it to 94C). That worked perfectly to get the sourness out of the way.

Although, I would say that 1:3 ratio worked much better for my taste.

So basically for medium-light roasted beans that I get from my local coffee shop; 18gr in, 46gr to 50gr out with a slightly higher temp (94-95) adjusted depending on the bean turned out to be my sweet spot. I can still taste the sweetness of the espresso while getting the acidity and sourness out of the way.

Now I'll work on my consistency game.

Also, it seems like I would also upgrade my grinder at the first opportunity I get.

Happy to get your thoughts futhermore!

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Peppersass
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#7: Post by Peppersass »

The taste you report sounds like under-extraction unless you pull Lungo (1:3), which is typical with light roasts. Sometimes even medium-light can be hard to fully extract.

If you feel the 1:3 shots are too thin/watery and would prefer a thicker shot with more mouthfeel, and If you have a 15g basket, try reducing the dose to 15g and adjust the grind finer to get 1:2 in 25-35 seconds. If that doesn't work, you can try grinding even finer and extend the shot time to 40-50 seconds for a 1:2 ratio. The so-called "rules" of espresso (e.g., 7g producing 14g in 25 seconds) went out the window when roasters bean shifting to the light side.

Kaanemec

#8: Post by Kaanemec »

Peppersass wrote:If you feel the 1:3 shots are too thin/watery and would prefer a thicker shot with more mouthfeel, and If you have a 15g basket, try reducing the dose to 15g and adjust the grind finer to get 1:2 in 25-35 seconds. If that doesn't work, you can try grinding even finer and extend the shot time to 40-50 seconds for a 1:2 ratio.
I'll try that today and report back.

My basket takes 18gr to 20gr with no problem (58mm Breville Basket). That is why I settled with 18 grams. But based on your suggestion I'll reduce the amount while getting a finer grind to adjust the shot time. I hope the grinder will be able to grind fine enough.

Dom_P

#9: Post by Dom_P »

I'd recommend you try lowering the dose and grind finer. If your grinder can pull it off say 13 to 15g in and shoot for 1:2 (26 to 30g) in the cup in 30ish sec.

Kaanemec

#10: Post by Kaanemec »

Hi again to all,

I went and bought Medium Roasted Starbucks Guatemala beans (it was just for experimenting) and have been able to get the right shot time with right amount of coffee 1:2 - 28secs (which tasted like... well, boring and burnt Starbucks espresso).

But still,with this experiment I have realized two things:
- It seems like my grinder is struggling with fresher and higher quality roasts (same or even much finer grind settings would not let me have the same brewing pressure and time)
- The grinder cannot do a consistent job even with starbucks beans. Even tough I do not change the parameters and grind setting I get quite different results.

Now I am considering to get a Eureka Mignon Specialita that is being sold in a local coffee appliances shop (I am in Istanbul so I do not have a wide selection of prosumer grinders to buy).

In the meantime, I am able to get "at least drinkable" chocolaty espressos with a good mouthfeel using the medium-dark roasts (brewing them at 90C-91C).

Any thoughts?