How to tell the difference between brightness in coffee and a under-extracted "sour" espresso

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
Great Dane

#1: Post by Great Dane »

Hey all

I am finding that in the past couple months of me making espresso, I find it tricky sometimes to find the difference between sour tasting notes in my espresso, and a poorly extracted espresso. I know that sometimes coffees are bright in nature, but then I find it frustratingly hard to taste the difference between the two! My bed prep and everything is quite consistent, and my pucks show almost always no channeling. If someone could help out that would be most appreciated :D

forbiddenbeat

#2: Post by forbiddenbeat »

Great question, I struggle with this as well.

I may be wrong here, but sourness comes from acidity. Acidity in coffee can/is a good thing (if you want that flavor profile), but appears sour if it isn't balanced by sweetness. Sweetness comes later in the extraction process, so if you *only* have mouth-puckering sourness, you under-extracted. If you have brightness balanced with sweetness, that's likely the flavor of the bean coming through, and/or on-target with your extraction goals.

klee11mtl

#3: Post by klee11mtl »

Long time latte drinker but relatively new to home espresso myself thanks to COVID. I've found the best advice I've received is if it tastes good to you, then it's just fine.

When practical, I buy a fresh bag of beans from a roaster with a store front and order an espresso shot at the same time. I don't normally drink espresso without milk but it is interesting to see what their shot tastes like as a baseline vs what I then produce at home. I have found that I don't always enjoy the espresso from the coffee shop. Maybe I'm biased by the experience of dialing in, but I've often preferred what I make at home after having gone through the process.

Nate42

#4: Post by Nate42 »

The only difference is when it stops tasting good. In the context of coffee "sour" is used to refer to unpleasant levels of acidity and implies some sort of flaw, either in the coffee/roast itself or simply the extraction.

Acidity on the other hand (although the word carries negative connotation outside of the coffee nerd community) refers to pleasant characteristics, counteracting the bitterness and contributing to flavor descriptors like "bright" and "juicy".

But its all the same thing really, difference is a matter of degree. When the acidity becomes unpleasant, its sour, and there is of course a certain level of subjectiveness to exactly where the transition is.

User avatar
another_jim
Team HB

#5: Post by another_jim »

Great Dane wrote: ... I find it tricky sometimes to find the difference between sour tasting notes in my espresso, and a poorly extracted espresso.
If it keeps tasting sour no matter what you do; it's the coffee. If grinding finer and dosing lower gets you a more balanced shot, you were underextracting it.

At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it :wink:

The underlying thought here is that nirvana must be lurking just around the corner of a lighter roast. So roasters roast lighter and faster, and people keep getting bigger grinders and fancier gear, and despite their time and investment, still get sour and thin shots or brews. Personally, I don't know around which corner nirvana lies; but I do know there is definitely such a thing as too light and fast roasts.
Jim Schulman
★ Helpful

Great Dane

#6: Post by Great Dane »

forbiddenbeat wrote:Great question, I struggle with this as well.

I may be wrong here, but sourness comes from acidity. Acidity in coffee can/is a good thing (if you want that flavor profile), but appears sour if it isn't balanced by sweetness. Sweetness comes later in the extraction process, so if you *only* have mouth-puckering sourness, you under-extracted. If you have brightness balanced with sweetness, that's likely the flavor of the bean coming through, and/or on-target with your extraction goals.

Ahh okay this kinda makes sense, although for me as only being a home barista, I find it tricky to taste notes within the coffee to tell when it's the coffee or me haha

User avatar
espressotime

#7: Post by espressotime »

My intake. I always hated the lighter roasts.
But not anymore.
Just add a little( as little as needed ) sugar. It will take away any harshness or sourness but let added flavors come out.
For me these days as little as a third of a teaspoon is enough. Opened up a world of coffeeflavours to me.
Coffee. Don't let the tea drinkers fool you. Yes, it's supposed to taste bitter.

Great Dane

#8: Post by Great Dane »

espressotime wrote:My intake. I always hated the lighter roasts.
But not anymore.
Just add a little( as little as needed ) sugar. It will take away any harshness or sourness but let added flavors come out.
For me these days as little as a third of a teaspoon is enough. Opened as world of coffeeflavours to me.

Ah interesting I will try this thanks!

ojt

#9: Post by ojt »

I second what Jim said and also add (or rather repeat what was said) that if it also has sweetness there then you're good. If it is just sour it's either the beans or your brewing.
Osku

Don Task

#10: Post by Don Task »

Great Dane wrote: Ahh okay this kinda makes sense, although for me as only being a home barista, I find it tricky to taste notes within the coffee to tell when it's the coffee or me haha
Taste notes? Hmmmm. reminds me of my wife. She's a long time wine drinking connoisseur. She'll swirl, sniff and taste a glass of wine and follow up as to whether its enjoyable or not, identifying notes of chocolate, butter, peach etc.. I've tried... it all just tastes like wine to me and I certainly don't love it the way she does. When drinking espresso... can I personally detect all those wonderfully evasive notes that espresso lovers talk about? Not really, but after calibrating my grinder or starting a new batch of coffee... when I pull a great espresso it makes me smile, regardless if I can identify the individual taste notes or not.

Unfortunately not everybody loves the taste of straight espresso regardless of the coffee used or how well its extracted. Maybe its like Cilantro... and science has yet to discover the gene that makes some people dislike it. :?

Krups, then Silvia, then Livia 90, then a Techno! Does it ever end? [sigh]