I can't do it :-( Every shot of espresso tastes bitter - Page 2

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks for making espresso.
daggerNC (original poster)
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#11: Post by daggerNC (original poster) »

Oh, good point @Jeff, I forgot to mention my water: I am on a community well and I have a whole-house water softener and I use a counter-top water filter pitcher (NSF filter) for any H2O that goes into my Lelit. Interestingly, Lelit owner manual states I should NOT use de-scaling chemicals, and should only use "softened" water in their machines. @Jeff - if you didn't have access to espresso tomorrow and had to drink "regular" coffee, would it be black, or would you add a little milk/cream and/or sugar to it?

Just an observation from me with all the forum reads: I see a trend (?) that many here are moving towards/preferring "lighter" roasts, but I see a number of posts where they state that "darker" roasts are a bit easier to work with for espresso. Maybe we all tend to be a bit masochist? :) (masochist mano's!? give me a little bit more time, and I'll rewrite the "four M's" of Italian espresso..)


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#12: Post by spressomon »

I'm not a "coffee" drinker but 100% espresso and short cappas/flat whites. Like you daggerNC, I detest burnt bean flavor and anything showing giving off oil.

Interestingly, the absolute sweetest & chocolatey espresso has been pulled (actually "pushed" :lol: ) on my EspressoForge. I've been using it for 5+ years and it just delivers the goods. Its sweet-spot, pardon the pun, is darker roasts (FC, FC+) to medium-dark (City+)...its just so easy to press out insanely sweet, syrupy and delicious shots. So I tend to drink straight shots in the early afternoon using it.

That's not to say I can't get similar using my Slayer, rather I prefer not to make all the machine perimeter setting changes to optimize that type of espresso.

And, depending upon where you live/travel and the well educated & passionate barista pool...you should think about paying them for one-one training to hone on how to get what you want/expect. It isn't difficult but like most things knowledge takes time...
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#13: Post by Jeff »

It's not so much that your water might be "bad", but that water changes how espresso is extracted. As long as your water is "non-scaling", either from making it from a RO/distilled water and a recipe, or through softening (if needed) and checking the result, your machine should be much lower maintenance and hopefully never require descaling. Some waters have mineral content that highlights (or suppresses) flavors in certain coffees in subtle ways, but enough that people notice the difference. I think most people use what they've got and just end up with coffees that "work well" with their water and gear.

If I didn't have an espresso tomorrow, I'd probably make a pour-over of lightly roasted, well-developed, single-origin, "washed" coffee. It definitely would be without milk or sugar, as those raw ingredients should give me a well-balanced cup, with the inherent sensations of "sweetness" in it.

On lighter roasts, remember that those that are pulling more classic roasts have been using techniques that have been around for decades. There's not a lot to add on general technique there. There is a lot of talk around which roasts people enjoy. For classic roasts, The hunt for best Italian roasted coffee beans is one with a lot of opinions. There's also the series of "comfort espresso" suggestions and reviews, such as Favorite Espressos 2020 and the threads that lead up to it.

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#14: Post by cafeIKE »

This recent post in Channeling on new Ceado E37S - with and without WDT describes two very different shot parameters for ostensibly similar roasts.

My current coffee is a Light Med blend.

But at the end of 2020, I was pulling Highwater, which is about as black as they come.

Both are delicious. But they require vastly different parameters to pull tasty shots. It can take me a pound to dial in a coffee. If I don't like something about the shot, I don't try the same thing again!

Maybe my friends are overly polite [which would be a surprise because I am not], but I ask them to be brutally honest about the 'spro. More often than not, they want seconds.

If you want to get good at pulling espresso, move away from a good shot by changing
  • dose
  • grind
  • basket
  • pressure
  • temperature
  • time
to see how parameters are affected. Keep notes!

Don't be penny-wise on the coffee and pound foolish on the hardware. At today's prices, I've got 25-30 years worth of coffee in hardware, counting all the doodads.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.


#15: Post by SAllen »

FWIW, I find that any untoward bitter (or sour) taste pretty much evaporates when making cappuccinos.

The key for my wife and me is that I use non-fat milk. Even one percent milk tastes too rich for us. But the milk itself adds a sweetness which, for instance, makes my afternoon iced cap tastes like coffee ice cream (without adding sugar.)

I don't know how you make latte art with non-fat milk but the frothing sure is easy.

daggerNC (original poster)
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#16: Post by daggerNC (original poster) »

@spressomon - "..its just so easy to press out insanely sweet, syrupy and delicious shots" You doing this on purpose? :lol: That is my goal to be able to say this one day... Yup - been thinking about doing/paying for a day of hands-on training, but need to find a place nearby that is at that level. Hey - what are you doing this weekend? NC to Nevada isn't that far is it? Man, don't get me thinking about manual level machines....it's all too easy for me to fall into the "it can't be me that's doing something wrong, so it must be the machine...time to upgrade!"

@Jeff - I find it really interesting to hear that subtle water mineral levels will make a noticeable difference! (Not talking about chlorinated water or very high TDS waters). Thanks for the roasts links.

@cafeIKE - I just read thru that Ceado E37S thread this morning! And looking at the Agtron roast spectrum pics, the "light-medium" is where I am liking for my morning drip coffee, though I've had some really good single origins with the light roast too. I have resigned myself to having to budget a good amount on "fresh" coffee beans...not so sure my wife totally agrees with all of these trips/shipments, and then she reminds me she is still waiting on being served so really good latte's...

@SAllen - I'm with you with the bitterness goes away when I do a milk based drink. But, I'm seeking to get to getting the foundation really good first, as it will certainly help with my mental expectations as well as the taste buds. I'm a 2% guy right now. Did the skim milk for years until more recent data on milk fat and what's bad for you and what's not, and I have to say the 2% tastes like milkshakes now!

Thanks all!

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#17: Post by cafeIKE »

Tuppence for newbie on milk:

It varies considerably. Try several locally available as they are unlikely all the same. Don't use after it's been open a couple of days. IMO, exposure to air 'sours' it and makes steaming just a bit more difficult. Make a gauge or use a scale to get within ±3g for maximum repeatability

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#18: Post by crwper »

I don't think it has been suggested yet, but it might be really helpful to try a "salami shot":


When I tried this, I dialed a shot in to about 25 seconds, then split the shot into 6 cups of 5 seconds each. This means the last cup comes at the end of the usual 20-30 second window.

For me, this really helped to get an idea of (a) what different parts of the shot taste like; and (b) which parts I enjoy the most. This is different for everyone. I did this with a couple of friends, and we all decided slightly different parts were our favourite.

The other thing it helped me with was to distinguish between different flavours. Most likely, the first part of the shot will taste sour, the middle sweet, and the end bitter. This could help confirm exactly what flavours you have in mind when you say every shot tastes bitter.


#19: Post by tennisman03110 »

I struggled (am still learning for sure) with espresso tasting to start. One thread I started last year that's got some good advice.

Becoming a Better Taster

I'm in Raleigh, NC. So, I'd recommend Black and White (not surprisingly) but also Full Bloom Coffee in Garner. My latest bag, Counter Culture Gradient (bought at Weaver Street Market) also is a good overall medium blend.

daggerNC (original poster)
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#20: Post by daggerNC (original poster) »

@crwper - I have looked at a number of "salami shot" videos. I understand the strong/sour to sweeter to bitter transition phases, but doing that for building tasting skills is a good technique. @tennisman - thanks, I had not found/read that thread on Becoming a Better Taster, and it has been very informative/helpful.

Have a local bag of Yirgacheffe that I'm going to experiment with this afternoon (I know, this is a lighter roast and will be challenging to get sweeter shots, but I have some darker roast coming in soon).