Italian Espresso and American Espresso

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.

#1: Post by sbrussell »

I know this has been discussed both here and on Coffeegeek but I'm still puzzled. The official Italian definition holds that an espresso drink is 7 g of beans extracted to produce (if I remember correctly) 25 ml of coffee (presumably without crema). One of the comments which went unchallenged is that the same weight of espresso as water has only 2% less volume which calculates to 25.5 g or a brew ratio of 28%. And a cappuccino is this plus 3 times the amount of milk 75ml + foam. (Based on the comment that an Italian cappuccino was 1/6 espresso, 1/2 milk, and 1/3 foam.)
Most experienced posters seem to favor a brew ratio of 50% to 100%. Espresso shops I'm familiar with top the double basket of the portafilter and when I ask say they're using 20-22 g of coffee for a double which seems to be the normal and usually unmentioned size.
Bottom line these appear to be completely different drinks! I see a lot of discussion about the best shots of American espresso and the method of obtaining them but very little about the merits of Italian espresso and best techniques for making them. In the interest of cutting back on my caffeine consumption I'm making a lot os 7-8 g singles and unless I use a low brew ratio, there's almost nothing in the cup.
Finally, the temperature given in the Italian deviation is very low by American standards (I believe converted to F it is 186% +- about 4 F! Wouldn't this produce sour coffee?


#2: Post by ethiopie »

I think you miscalculated, that temperature for Italian espresso should be more like 202 F or so (95 °C).

Before you start concentrating on methods etc., I think you should look for coffee (perhaps a blend) that works with lower doses and lower brew ratios. It's my experience that some single varietals simply don't work with low doses/brew ratios and give a weak result.


#3: Post by sbrussell »

Thanks Ethiopie,
I did make a miscalculation, but on rechecking the temperature is still very low: 88 C +- 2 C = 190.4 F (186.8 F - 194 F). I don't think I misread the Italian. ... lq_ita.pdf
I am interested in 1) coffee suitable for these "solo"s 2. Grind (finer or coarser in general?) 3. Best basket 4. Tamping technique.
These things have been discussed in various threads but it is very scattered.


#4: Post by Jedi012 »

Regarding the change in temperature, one thing that I've heard (and that has made sense to me) is the mere fact that you are using more grounds. The higher quantity of grounds will absorb more heat from the water and in essence cool it down.

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#5: Post by another_jim »

sbrussell wrote: I'm making a lot os 7-8 g singles and unless I use a low brew ratio, there's almost nothing in the cup.
Typical Italian brew ratios are higher, i.e more ristetto, than most anything here, at least that's been true for every time I've been there.

First off, the INEI definitions are for volume, which is about twice the weight when crema is included. Second, most people in Italy would be horrified to get a shot with 25 mL volume unless it was made by somebody very skilled (all the machine sellers and roasters tell non-baristas pulling at restaurants, hotels, trains, etc, to grind real fine and pull ristretto).

The one really non-negotiable espresso expectation in Italy, as it should be everywhere, is for a mouth coating, oily-creamy shot. The way to make this easier is to pull more ristretto, and/or use Robusta. Therefore, the par is a shot that ranges from a few drops to a small pool at the bottom of the cup. It takes real skills to get oily, creamy and mouthcoating single shots that are a full 25 mL long and don't use Robusta.

Also, as a technical matter, the INEI temperature is taken by putting a TC up the PF spout and measuring the highest temperature attained, towards the end of the shot; it runs about 5C cooler than measuring at the top of the puck.
Jim Schulman


#6: Post by sbrussell »

Thanks for the clarification about the volume and temperature. I assumed the 25 ml was after the crema settled. Obviously the volume is difficult to convert to weight if crema is included. I am surprised it would drop in half, however, as I'm getting relatively little crema from these shots compared to a large double through a bottomless Pf. Any recommendations on a good blend for a 7-8 g single so I can see a better result? Also an optimal basket.

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#7: Post by another_jim »

The Rocky/Silvia makes for nice singles if you keep the shot volume low and the grind very tight. But the Rancilio stock single basket is a disaster, because it has a seam that makes it very hard to avoid channeling. The LM single is more suited for 10 grams shots. I would go with a Faema (aka E61) style single basket for classical 7 gram shots.

I would also use the 54mm, heavily curved tampers you see mounted on grinders. They suck for tamping doubles, since they are designed to tamp singles. The cheap plastic tampers supplied with Italian machines are all in this class, and I think they will work better on singles than the fancy 58mm tampers we use on double baskets.

My strategy would be to start with extreme ristrettos -- shots that are just puddles at the bottom of the glass -- and work your way up to higher volumes only after you get lush, gloppy shots at that reduced volume.
Jim Schulman


#8: Post by sbrussell »

Thanks Jim.
Can you recommend one or two blends that would be a good starting point? Also how long do you think it should take from pump on to produce a ristretto? I don't seem to get even to 20 seconds before the flow gets pretty light. I'm not sure if these small shots just go faster or it's a matter of a finer grind and better basket and tamp technique.

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#9: Post by mariobarba »

I would just like to commend you Jim on regularly helping those of us striving to achieve/preserve the traditional way of preparing espresso. (I think that's twice in one week that you've suggested robusta as a solution, heresy to most around here).

Thank you.

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#10: Post by another_jim »

sbrussell wrote:Thanks Jim.
Can you recommend one or two blends that would be a good starting point?
This is a good question -- many of the US favorites are designed for higher doses and coarser grinds, translating to about 10 to 12 grams in a single basket. Check the roaster's recommendations: if they are specifying 18 grams doubles or more, you won't get any joy using them for singles.

I'm not enthusiastic about imported Italian blends either -- the Robusta part does OK in the long delay from roast to use, but the Arabica parts usually get stale and one dimensional. It may be worth trying the very basic, high proportion Robusta bar blends made by Lavazza and Segafredo, since these survive the trip over best.

Paradise Roaster sells a 100% Indian Robusta called Sitara that may be worth ordering and using 50/50 with other blends (check the taste descriptions and pick one you like). This will move the blends to a heavier mouthfeel and finer grind.

Another alternative, if you like fruity coffees (which don't play well in blends with Robusta), is to order a 100% Ethiopian Sidamo or Yrgacheffe. These, unlike most Central American coffees, shine as espresso when used at fine grinds and low doses.

Maybe other people can chime in; but I don't know of any US roaster designing blends for singles.
Jim Schulman