Is There A New Espresso?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
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another_jim
Team HB

Postby another_jim » Oct 03, 2011, 5:51 pm

Imagine a shot of espresso so heavy bodied and sweet that it feels like molten chocolate. Now imagine it with the profoundly complex and beautiful flavors of the world's best coffees. And finally, imagine that in the top cafés, shots like this are routine, not rare. I believe the time may have come, and all the pieces may be in place, for this to be the new state of espresso.

I'll give the pieces first, in the usual Mano, Miscela, Macchina, Machinacafe order; then go on to a sort of recipe for the new espresso.

MANO: Espresso started out as a quick, cheap coffee in Italy. Then it morphed into a base for milk drinks in the Pacific Northwest. Now we have a group of baristas and other coffee professionals, of hobbyists and coffee lovers, who consider espresso as an experience in high end coffee. This expectation is what drives the current progress in espresso.

MISCELA: In Italy, espresso blends were budget coffees; in the Pacific Northwest, they were mostly specialty coffees, but roasted dark enough to flavor large amounts milk. The new audience for espresso has turned to the high end brewing coffees, with their exquisite tastes, and is asking how these can be translated from the brew to the shot. But that translation should not involve having to cope with jarring acidity or aggressive bitterness; the crowd pleasing heavy textures and mellow flavors of a sugared Italian shot or PNW latte are not to be lost in this transition.

MACCHINA: Italian manufacturers designed espresso grinders to extract fully at 7gram single and 14 gram double doses. These full extractions produced pleasant caramel laden shots, even when the coffees were flawed and had off tastes. In the past ten years, it has become clear that when making higher dose shots in the PNW style, the larger planar grinders and conicals do fairly well, while the smaller planar grinders often produce excessively bitter or sour shots. Higher dosed shots generally require coarser grinds; and the extraction levels on smaller grinders falls off more sharply than on larger grinders as the grind level is coarsened. Selecting more suitable grinders has allowed baristas trained in the PNW style to make consistently tasty straight shots while using higher doses and better coffees than their Italian counterparts. As the popularity of PNW style espresso drinks spread world wide, so did this new way of making straight shots

MACHINACAFE: Starbucks and other PNW cafés used double boiler machines in order to get more steam for more milk drinks. When making straight shots, it appeared that the double boiler shots were more consistent. This led to a lot of speculation; but the truth if it is that ristretto style shots don't overheat on double boilers, and frequently do on HX machines. Therefore, double boilers allowed baristas to explore using longer and slower flowing shots.

A second development was on the pressure front. Old style lever machine users were struck by the extra clarity of lever shots. When looking to create shots from better coffees, clarity is at a premium, so people asked themselves why levers had this effect. Attention was soon focused on the spring, and its property of dropping pressure over the course of a shot. In the last few years, several viable pressure profiling machines have come on the market, and it is indeed possible to get very clear and very palatable shots from coffees with roast and acidity levels that make them impossible for regular machines.

MAKING THE NEW ESPRESSO: This recipe is almost certainly wrong in its details; but it is probably a good picture of how the new espresso will be done overall.

Higher doses, but still finely ground: Better grinders, custom higher dose/fine grind baskets, like the VST or Strada, and longer slower shots (see below) make this possible.

Longer, slower flowing shots: The new generation of machines do not overheat, so longer shots don't get cooked. This allows one to do the higher dosed, more concentrated shots with complete extractions.

Some preinfusion: Higher doses are harder to tamp and distribute. The use of preinfusion reduces the possibility of channeling and makes the machine more fault tolerant.

Declining pressure as soon as the flow starts: As Tim Wendelboe, James Hoffman and other European baristas recently noted, the crema and mouthfeel of higher dosed shots can become unpleasantly harsh, even when everything else is perfect. This obscures the clarity of the shot and introduces an undesirable astringency. The use of declining pressure throughout the shot eliminates this. The mouthfeel becomes buttery and unctuous, as a matter of routine. Unctuous mouthfeel, in turn, allows for more concentrated flavors without them tasting aggressive.

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Much of this has already been shouted about as 3rd wave espresso. But to really hit the spot, all the pieces need to fit together. I think this is beginning to happen now, and that this will transform espresso.
Jim Schulman

Ian_G

Postby Ian_G » Oct 04, 2011, 8:30 am

Just a small point,but Macchina should, I think, be Macinadosatore, and if I'm being picky then macchinacafe should be Macchina da caffè. Otherwise very interesting. I get that what you describe is possible and is on the horizon, but even for someone like myself with mid-division equipment (relative to the best) it still seems a long way off.

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yosetl

Postby yosetl » Oct 04, 2011, 11:18 am

Bravo Jim, your post summaries the evolution of espresso.
From its origin in Italy to its development as third wave movement at present time.
You also have put the so call "tradition" on its historical perspective,
including the trends for the DB vs HX machines, the flat vs conical grinders, etc.

But I'm with Ian on the state of your vision for home barista.
As home barista, we still have to wait for the right & affordable gear that could reproduce your vision.
Unless you are hinting that your experiment with the Strega can fulfill that vision. :)
As with most things in life, espresso journey is better when it is simpler and sensible.

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Marshall

Postby Marshall » Oct 04, 2011, 12:17 pm

Based on my personal observations and discussions with several highly-regarded baristas and shop owners, I am highly skeptical of wide (or even narrow) adoption of pressure profiling, whether manual or automated, in normal shop operations. Baristas enjoy experimenting with it. But, when the line starts forming in front of the counter, that paddle inevitably becomes an on-off switch.

No one has time to adjust and readjust automated pressure profiles as the day goes by or the patience to meticulously manage a manual paddle.

I can say the VST/Strada baskets are picking up influential fans, which is leading to finer grinds.

As for pre-infusion, the good old gicleur continues to do the work, as it has on non-paddle machines for years.
Marshall
Los Angeles

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another_jim
Team HB

Postby another_jim » Oct 04, 2011, 12:44 pm

I'm not sure what you mean by wide adoption; but I expect all cafes competing on espresso quality to switch to them in the next few years.

While there's still bugs in the pressure profiling machines; the new LM Strada EP shows they can be fully viable. It uses a Fluid-O-Tech 12 volt gear pump per group that is vibe pump sized, easily manufactured, and easily controlled (a model train system speed dial will do it) -- It could be retrofitted to existing machines without much trouble (hell, I want one). The paddle on the group strikes me as an affectation, perhaps a silly one; but the group will imitate whatever profile you paddled in on subsequent shots. Finally, by my observation, it's the steaming that creates the jams in busy periods, while the three and four groupers run at 50% even then. As long as the profiling doesn't take up any barista time, the shots can flow longer without adding to the traffic jam.

IMO, even finely ground updosed shots can have an excessively astringent mouthfeel. There's no need for an elaborate pressure profile to eliminate this. Drop the pressure as soon as the coffee starts flowing, and the mouthfeel will be much more lush. For cafes that indeed do compete on shot quality, this will become a must do fairly quickly.

PS. I'm using the term preinfusion in a non-mystical way; so gicluers are fine. It's just a longer dwell time, by whatever means, that makes higher dosed shots more reliable.
Jim Schulman

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boar_d_laze

Postby boar_d_laze » Oct 04, 2011, 1:00 pm

Great post.

Without any disagreement, allow a quibble or two.

I don't usually want that ultra-heavy, ultra-sweet shot; preferring normales over ristrettos. So, I'd have to quibble with the importance of uber temp stability; and don't see the necessity of a double boiler for top-flight espresso -- at least, my kind of espresso.

Sure, if you allow intra-shot temperatures to vary too widely you're going to get a bum shot. But there are HX approaches like boiler orientation, the HX design, mass and material of the brewpath, thermo-syphoning etc., which allow sufficiently fine temperature control, and hold temps well enough to draw a good shot. IMO, as good a shot as from even the best DBPIDs.

In my opinion, a Casa (like mine) can do it, but I haven't had the opportunity to put one head to head with a really high-end double boiler... so that's a pretty damn soft prediction. Besides, home and commercial environments are different, and my desired taste-profile is something different than the cup Jim described. Apples and oranges?

What I do look for from the machines -- separately and in combination -- is enough clarity to taste and distinguish the nuances of the beans. Forgiveness is desirable, yes -- but only in terms of technique and not so much as to mask the beans' imperfections.

As far as I'm concerned, that power to "see" into the cup is where the new, "PNW" style really shines. It's not about chasing a particular, universally "best" taste and mouthfeel, but the ability to explore and enjoy lots of good possibilities.

Pre-infusion rocks.

BDL
Drop a nickel in the pot Joe. Takin' it slow. Waiter, waiter, percolator

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TrlstanC

Postby TrlstanC » Oct 04, 2011, 1:19 pm

another_jim wrote:While there's still bugs in the pressure profiling machines; the new LM Strada EP shows they can be fully viable. It uses a Fluid-O-Tech 12 volt gear pump per group that is vibe pump sized, easily manufactured, and easily controlled (a model train system speed dial will do it) -- It could be retrofitted to existing machines without much trouble (hell, I want one).


Has the pump in the machine been the limitation for home enthusiasts who want to do pressure profiling up to now? Or was it just figuring out the control and electronics? If one of the big roadblocks to widespread adoption of pressure profiling was just waiting on a new type of pump that responds linearly to a variable voltage, then we may indeed be seeing a lot of new espresso now. Once the price of retrofitting an existing machine drops low enough that the home enthusiast can afford it, I would expect that to positive influence on high-end cafes as well.

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Marshall

Postby Marshall » Oct 04, 2011, 1:31 pm

another_jim wrote:While there's still bugs in the pressure profiling machines; the new LM Strada EP shows they can be fully viable. It uses a Fluid-O-Tech 12 volt gear pump per group that is vibe pump sized, easily manufactured, and easily controlled (a model train system speed dial will do it) -- It could be retrofitted to existing machines without much trouble (hell, I want one). The paddle on the group strikes me as an affectation, perhaps a silly one; but the group will imitate whatever profile you paddled in on subsequent shots. Finally, by my observation, it's the steaming that creates the jams in busy periods, while the three and four groupers run at 50% even then. As long as the profiling doesn't take up any barista time, the shots can flow longer without adding to the traffic jam.


The problem is the profile you set at 8am may not be the profile that works at 11am or the following day. And if you are offering several different espressos, you have to dedicate one programmed brewhead to each, which further backs up the line, if two people order the same coffee.

I know the equipment is out there. My eyes light up when I see it. But, then I watch how they are used and, quite simply, they arent. I've heard of some shops going to town on their profile machines when they first get them, but I would really like to hear from anyone who frequents (or works at) a shop that has had a profiler for a month or more and makes profiling a normal part of their shot pulling routine.
Marshall

Los Angeles

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TrlstanC

Postby TrlstanC » Oct 04, 2011, 1:52 pm

but I would really like to hear from anyone who frequents (or works at) a shop that has had a profiler for a month or more and makes profiling a normal part of their shot pulling routine.


Here in the Boston area I'm still waiting for a shop to open up with a profiling machine, nevermind one that's already tried it and stopped playing with the pressure. Although there is good news that there's a new shop opening up soon with a Strada. I'm looking forward to trying out the guest coffees they have, and seeing what kinds of pressure profiles (if any) they end up using. They'll probably be opening up in a month or two, so we'll see in 3 or 4 months if there's enough of a market for "new espresso" in Boston :)

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another_jim
Team HB

Postby another_jim » Oct 04, 2011, 2:12 pm

It's a fair point. What made me a convert was drinking shots at RBC in New York and Streets here in Chicago; and then reviewing the Strega.

Neither cafe roasts their own, both buy espresso from a wide range of roasters. I've only been to RBC once. It is in a downtown business district, abandoned during weekends, and yet was quite full on the Saturday we went. Streets I've been to quite a few times, and it never has the same coffees on tap. Both routinely make unctuous shots from very light roasted coffees, drawing people who like straight shots.

Obviously, one cafe each in two very large cities does not make for a trend. But I know good espresso, and both these places have pushed out the envelope, not in some once a day shot, but for just about every shot they pull. Cafes that compete on espresso taste cannot afford to ignore a technology that makes obviously better shots.

I had a chance myself to play with a somewhat limited version of pressure profiling on the Strega, a pump-lever hybrid machine. My experience with this machine is that it is extremely easy to reproduce this shot quality. The elaborate PIDed time/pressure profilers on the current crop of machines are unnecessary, perhaps even misleading and therefore counterproductive. I just wait for the coffee to start flowing, than drop the pressure very fast, so the flow stays slow and steady, 3 to 5 bars as far as I can guess. This "profile" is not rocket science; to automate it, all that is required is to detect the start of the flow, and drop the pressure then. The timing of this event is very unstable, so time/pressure profiles, no matter how elaborately done, will not deliver consistent performance.

The people at RBC and Streets profile by eyeballing the flow, just as I do on the Strega. This does lower their milk steaming productivity. But once the flow onset can be detected, eyeballing and manual control will be unnecessary.

Finally, on the Strega, I don't bother with any pressure gyrations when making cappas; manual profiling is for straight shots only. That would work in commercial situations as well.
Jim Schulman