High Altitude Brewing

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
espressoquest

#1: Post by espressoquest »

Right now work has me in Quito, Ecuador - 9600 ft altitude. I've overnighted in Quito once and month for the last two years, never having found a decent espresso in that time. Now that I am in town for a longer period, I have looked more seriously for a decent cuppa. It is incredible to me that in this coffee-growing corner of the world, Nescafe is common and anything brewed is rare. I am spoiled at home with my Vetrano, but can usually find somewhere to have a cup when I am working. There is a place close to the hotel here which is trying, 2 group Elektra and a Mazzer. They don't flush the group at all, and were indifferent to the suggestion. I now order my Espresso Cortado after they have pulled a shot for someone else. I have tried straight shots, but they are burnt/sourish.

Seeing that water boils here around 193 F, am I wasting my time even looking here?

Cheers

Doug

Allegria

#2: Post by Allegria »

If I remember correctly, David Schomer speaks of espresso in Denver (5,280 feet above sea level) saying that he's not sure a Northern Italian roast can be made to taste sweet there. And now with his book in hand, I see that he also says that "espresso brewed at that altitude will appear the same as burnt espresso brewed at too high a temperature; dark, streaky with lots of big bubbles in the crema." It's probably an uphill battle for you, especially with indifferent baristas. Best of luck though.

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Ken Fox

#3: Post by Ken Fox » replying to Allegria »

This is 100% total nonsense, at least the quotes from David Schomer about altitude and its effect on espresso preparation.

I make pretty damn good espresso everyday out of coffee roasted to less than 2nd crack, at 5850 feet, the altitude of my house. Having had espresso a number of times at Mr. Schomer's cafes in Seattle, I would not trade his espressos for mine, either.

ken
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HB
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#4: Post by HB »

espressoquest wrote:Right now work has me in Quito, Ecuador - 9600 ft altitude.
Yikes, that's higher than private planes fly in these parts. :shock:
espressoquest wrote:Seeing that water boils here around 193 F, am I wasting my time even looking here?
I have no experience with high altitude espresso preparation, but Water boils at 195F broaches the subject, as does How does high altitude affect brewing? and The Denver Effect? (all from the site's FAQs and Favorites Digest). IIRC, the general consensus of these prior discussions was consistent with Ken's assertion and not David's.
Dan Kehn

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Psyd
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#5: Post by Psyd »

Allegria wrote:If I remember correctly, David Schomer.... ... says that "espresso brewed at that altitude will appear the same as burnt espresso brewed at too high a temperature; dark, streaky with lots of big bubbles in the crema."
Ken Fox wrote:This is 100% total nonsense, at least the quotes from David Schomer about altitude and its effect on Having had espresso a number of times at Mr. Schomer's cafes in Seattle, I would not trade his espressos for mine, either.
Could it be that the whole reason that Ken and some HB'ers and Ken disagree a lot is because Ken actually really likes his espresso "dark, streaky with lots of big bubbles in the crema"?!? ; >

Seriously, Espresso Smith are experts at high altitude machine adjustments, sell in the Denver area, and lurk here occasionally. I've heard good things.
Espresso Sniper
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Trisha

#6: Post by Trisha »

Very good espresso is to be had in Leadville, here in Colorado @ 10,200 ft; for me, home is about 9,200 ft.

You will have the best possible espresso if you roast the beans at the same altitude as you'll use them.

YMMV

Trisha
LMWDP# 95
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espressoquest (original poster)

#7: Post by espressoquest (original poster) »

I had the afternoon off today, so I went cafe-hopping. There are quite a few shops around and some of them seem to try hard to make a good product. They generally use a blend of beans from the region in their espresso.
At the two places that are the most consistent, one shop is a light-tamp on the grinder and go, while the other has a piston-style tamper mounted to the grinder, which they have a good go at. The pours are typically slower at the light-tamp joint, 20-30 seconds. It is pretty much the same story for many of the extractions that I have watched. Everything starts out looking good, but about 8-10 seconds into the pour, it blonds rapidly and the stream starts bubbling or foaming.

I tried my hand in the restaurant at the hotel tonight, and it was educational. They need new group gaskets.... I adjusted the grinder a bit finer and had a very slow pour that still went wonky about 18-20 seconds in, yielding just a bit over an oz out of a double basket. The crema is pretty light coloured here and I have noticed that it disappears after a minute or two. I cut my last try off as it went blond and it was OK, but still had that burnt overtone to it. It was a nice diversion for a while tonight and it was very nice of them to let me mess with their gear.

Maybe its the roasting or the beans - they are all fairly oily in the hopper in Quito. Could also be that the burrs in these grinders here are all worn out. Wouldn't surprise me as I have found my locally-purchased press pot coffee that they grind for me has a lot of fines in it.

I think I will stick to Cortados here, which seems to be 50/50 espresso/milk, about 3 oz total. They are a pretty good drink that does the trick for me.

IMHO - decent espresso is probably not impossible here, but the proper roasting and barista technique don't really exist here in Quito. In the good shops they are probably 75% there, and the shops are busy.

As an aside, I noticed that one of the busier shops here uses powdered milk for their milk drinks, it certainly has a different texture and mouth feel. There are two phases, the foam-which is almost whipping-cream thick, and the milk-which is pretty watery. Interesting. According to the mixing instructions that were posted on the freezer, they use a kilo of powder for 6 liters of water....

Cheers

Doug

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another_jim
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#8: Post by another_jim »

Again for the umpteenth time: The boiling point is pretty much irrelevant to the actual brewing process inside the puck, since the pump is pressurizing the water to 9 bar. Most of the pressure drop occurs at the bottom of the basket where the fines aggregate. The key is to have espresso emerge below the local boiling point as it comes out of the basket, otherwise the crema will be shot. This is not a problem early in the shot, when the espresso emerges fairly cool; but can become a problem late in the shot, as the exit temperature equalizes with the temperature of the water at the top of the puck. At 193F boiling point, this obviously can be a problem. One could restrict the starting water temperature and use very light or dark roasts, or alternatively, do more dribbling, ristretto pours, where the temperature differential from puck top to bottom will remain.
Jim Schulman

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aeroplane

#9: Post by aeroplane »

another_jim wrote:Again for the umpteenth time: The boiling point is pretty much irrelevant to the actual brewing process inside the puck, since the pump is pressurizing the water to 9 bar.
Jim is right - the boiling point of water at 9 bar is about 180c, or 365f.
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Matthew Brinski

#10: Post by Matthew Brinski »

I make espresso at 8,500' ... Although I had initial reservations about the impact of altitude back when I started, Jim is absolutely right about everything he mentioned. I base that on experience and not just factual data.