Italian vs. American dosing

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
Oddaball

Postby Oddaball » May 07, 2018, 11:21 am

Hello, do italians make their coffee different? Like a triple basket is marked 16g of coffee, but yet we fill it to around 21g. Do italians use finer and less grinds? and in the US people like overfill? Or are the standard basket sizes 7g,11g, and 16g just old, and everybody fills them more, including italians? Hoping for some good answers, cause im really wondering about this.

JFDUP

Postby JFDUP » May 07, 2018, 11:45 am

My understanding is that Italian style espresso is typically at a lower dose (around the 10-14 g mark).

User avatar
another_jim
Team HB

Postby another_jim » May 07, 2018, 11:53 am

Italians fill single baskets with 7 grams, doubles with 14, and do not use triples. Double baskets are used to make two singles. People in Italy overwhelmingly drink straight single espresso, ordered as "un cafe." Cafes rarely make milk drinks, since most people have them at home, in the morning. This is the custom in the rest of the Mediterranean as well, where Italian prep norms hold.

Properly made, an Italian espresso has a soft, smooth taste due to the high extraction.

Espresso became fashionable in Northern Europe and the US in the late 1950s, when it was drunk Italian style; but in the 1980s, coffee shops used espresso machines to make milk drinks or cafe crema. In these, coarser grinds and higher doses work better, especially as roasts got darker. The Italian style of soft, highly extracted coffee gets lost in milk or very long shots; while the sharper tastes in higher doses of less extracted coffee are perceptible.

Since the mid 2000s, the emphasis at the high end has returned to straight espresso. Also roasts have gotten lighter. Therefore, finer grinding has become mandatory in order to get highly extracted shots in the soft Italian style. The simplest solution would be to return to the lower doses used in Italy. However this has not happened. Instead people are going through hi tech contortions to get ultra fine grind shots in huge doses. One way to do this is special baskets with larger holes. But this has limits. Another way is to go to Turkish grinders that produce fewer fines. It is the fines that control the flow through the puck; so with fewer fines, you can have a larger doses of very fine ground coffee that don't jam the machine.

(Caveat: I went back to Italianate 14 gram doses. Since then I've stopped being an espresso authority, since I no longer understand the mysteries of extraction and grinding. So take this explanation with a grain of salt -- its physics is correct, but it does not comprehend the mysterious paraphysics of modern espresso.)
Jim Schulman
★★ Quite Helpful

Nunas

Postby Nunas » May 07, 2018, 12:21 pm

Oddaball wrote:Hello, do italians make their coffee different?

I'm far from an expert, but I did pose similar questions some years ago. I spent five weeks in the northern Mediterranean area (not just Italy) and observed that their espresso is much different than ours in several ways. First, here it has become a kind of art form where each cup takes some time, while over there it is a routine repeated thousands of times a day in even modest coffee shops; they crank out espressos in less than a minute with no pretension. They use more robusta in their beans (at least back then), although I had a hard time getting a straight answer on this one; frankly, most of the baristas simply did not know what sort of beans they had! They tamp much lighter than we do, maybe about 10#; it was explained to me that the coffee had to 'breath' (translation)...I think they said respiro. They serve much stronger brews, closer to what I'd serve as a ristretto, and they serve smaller portions, maybe a bit more than an ounce. Two sips and they're gone. Here, we use a double as a 'standard' espresso, often with more than a 2:1 extraction ratio. Over there, with a double basket they pull two servings. I never once saw a water filter, although it is possible there were some behind walls (my Italian isn't nearly good enough to really get into this). Things may have changed over there...this was in 1992. I think it all boils down to taste preference and custom. We've developed what we call 'espresso' and they have too. We've moved to lighter roasts, bigger servings, much more use of milk. Of course, those of us who haunt this and similar fora are often rather extreme...I suspect if I told my Italian friends that we have 'water recipes' over here they simply wouldn't understand.

BillBurrGrinder

Postby BillBurrGrinder » May 09, 2018, 9:57 pm

another_jim wrote:Italians fill single baskets with 7 grams, doubles with 14, and do not use triples. Double baskets are used to make two singles. People in Italy overwhelmingly drink straight single espresso, ordered as "un cafe." Cafes rarely make milk drinks, since most people have them at home, in the morning. This is the custom in the rest of the Mediterranean as well, where Italian prep norms hold.

Properly made, an Italian espresso has a soft, smooth taste due to the high extraction.

Espresso became fashionable in Northern Europe and the US in the late 1950s, when it was drunk Italian style; but in the 1980s, coffee shops used espresso machines to make milk drinks or cafe crema. In these, coarser grinds and higher doses work better, especially as roasts got darker. The Italian style of soft, highly extracted coffee gets lost in milk or very long shots; while the sharper tastes in higher doses of less extracted coffee are perceptible.

Since the mid 2000s, the emphasis at the high end has returned to straight espresso. Also roasts have gotten lighter. Therefore, finer grinding has become mandatory in order to get highly extracted shots in the soft Italian style. The simplest solution would be to return to the lower doses used in Italy. However this has not happened. Instead people are going through hi tech contortions to get ultra fine grind shots in huge doses. One way to do this is special baskets with larger holes. But this has limits. Another way is to go to Turkish grinders that produce fewer fines. It is the fines that control the flow through the puck; so with fewer fines, you can have a larger doses of very fine ground coffee that don't jam the machine.

(Caveat: I went back to Italianate 14 gram doses. Since then I've stopped being an espresso authority, since I no longer understand the mysteries of extraction and grinding. So take this explanation with a grain of salt -- its physics is correct, but it does not comprehend the mysterious paraphysics of modern espresso.)


Best post I've seen on this forum. Thank you Jim

ceoloide

Postby ceoloide » May 31, 2018, 12:11 pm

Hello All,

I'm new to the forum and this is my first post, couldn't resist chiming in on an Italian vs American coffee discussion!

I'm Italian and have been raised in northern Italy by a southern Italian family. I have been living in the USA for 2 years now, and have visited my local NJ family plenty of times before, so I have a good view of the differences between American and Italian coffee. Finally, I had basic training as a barista, so I can speak with some professional knowledge.

another_jim basically nailed it: Italian coffee standard (i.e. certified Italian coffee) uses an average of 7 grams (+/- 0.5g) per dose. The overwhelming standard in Italian coffee shops (we call them "bar", as opposed to "pub" and "cocktail bar"), is to use a ~14g dose and pull two shots, even if the order was for just one.

Coffee shops can easily serve 500 shots per hour at peak times, so the second shots is quickly used or just discarded. The reason is that the single shot basket is perceived to be more difficult to use given that calibration is done for the double basket, plus it is usually reserved for decaf as it is less commonly requested.

Practically nobody uses larger baskets, the 15g basket is the de-facto standard. Consider that ordering a "doppio" (double) costs exactly double the price, people usually don't do that :D

Cappuccino and macchiato are very common choices in the morning, while in the afternoon it's rare to drink a cappuccino, while a macchiato is somewhat common. Italians tend not to drink milk after lunch, it's sort of an unwritten societal rule.

From a taste profile, there is no "Italian" coffee. Anyone who traveled Italy extensively would have noticed that every city is a country on its own, and so is coffee. I was raised close to Milan, and the local preference appears to be for sweet 100% arabica blends, while travelling south would shift the preference to robusta / arabica blends.

When compared to American coffee, the "Italian" coffee is always less bitter and astringent, even when drinking robusta / arabica blends. An Italian is almost never satisfied by foreign coffee, as the roast is usually darker abroad, and the blends tend to be a bit more woody or strong. I must say, from personal experience and preference, that Amsterdam was the only place I visited where local coffee blends were very good for my taste.

Nuna was also mostly right: Italians do drink coffee fast most of times, because the majority would drink it before going to work (while already late :D) or during a break. Coffee shops that can serve an espresso within 2 minutes from order would naturally attract more people. The only time when you can relax a bit more is on the weekend, while strolling in the city center and taking the time to sip.

When it comes to brew ratios, a barista is typically pulling 1ml/s. A certified Italian coffee is 25ml, a ristretto is usually cut short so it ends up being 20-25ml (altering the flavor profile) and a lungo is kept going for longer ending up being 25-30ml (altering the flavor profile). You should note that the preparation in terms of coffee quantity wouldn't change, it's always ~14g.

Water filters are practically always used, but there might be variations. I know Naples takes pride in their water, so some bars might opt for the local tap water, but in practice when you open a bar and select a blend, you would always test the water and most of times you would be recommended to use a water filter. Without it, machine maintenance is much more expensive, so it is a question of economics, not really taste profile.

I also need to dispel a myth about the fact that Italian coffee is always good wherever you have it in Italy. Unfortunately, an Italian knows that most coffee shops can't make good coffee and most restaurants can't as well. There are simply so many coffee shops that finding a decent / good one is easy. The reason behind this comes from the business: coffee shops usually cater to the business crowd, serving breakfast in the form of croissant and pastry, together with coffee, then serving a simple lunch and possibly aperitivo / happy hour (food + drink). Coffee is not the sole focus of a coffee shop, as strange as it sounds. Training for the staff is simple and focuses on maintenance and operation of the machine, rather than taste. Tamping lightly is definitively common, but not the rule and I would argue that most times that's an indication of bad preparation (exceptions apply!).

Third wave coffee is taking some roots in Milan, but it's definitively not very common. Historical coffee shops that care about flavor and preparation exist in every city, and the quality and taste you get from them is night and day compared to the business-crowd-focused coffee shop, so take this in consideration.

Finally, Italian coffee shops history is complex. While machines were certainly a work of art and craftsmanship, the coffee they produced for the first few decades wouldn't taste very good for current standards :D

Sorry for the long post, I am more than happy to answer any curiosity people might have. Remember: whatever I said above is anecdotal, Italy is a very diverse country with many local variations. What rings true to an Italian from Milan would sound alien to an Italian from Naples.

Marco
★★ Quite Helpful

User avatar
civ

Postby civ » May 31, 2018, 12:37 pm

Hello:
another_jim wrote:The simplest solution would be to return to the lower doses used in Italy.

Indeed ... +1

Having been brought up mostly on cotton filter and some Moka pot coffee, my trip into the use of a real espresso machine started here at HB.

And off I went...
Doubles, triples, etc. filled my espresso world (with varying degrees of success) till I read a post where you advocated the return to 14 g in a double basket.

It made a lot of sense to me so I decided to follow.
And I have never looked back ... 8^D

Cheers,

CIV

mathof

Postby mathof » May 31, 2018, 3:33 pm

ceoloide wrote: I am more than happy to answer any curiosity people might have. Remember: whatever I said above is anecdotal, Italy is a very diverse country with many local variations. What rings true to an Italian from Milan would sound alien to an Italian from Naples.


Ciao Marco. Just a couple of observations on your post, all of which matches my experience drinking espresso in Italy. (1) I find that the surest way to find a bar with good coffee is to ask local tradespeople where to find "un buon caffè vicino." The other (2) is that 25g of liquid from 7g of coffee is 3.5:1 brew ratio. Most of the coffees available from specialty roasters in England would taste watery and empty at that ratio. I wonder what it is about Italian roasts that allow them to taste rich and full at those ratios.

Matt

User avatar
civ

Postby civ » May 31, 2018, 4:21 pm

Hello:

mathof wrote:... 25g of liquid from 7g of coffee is 3.5:1 brew ratio.

But ...
ceoloide wrote:... a lungo is kept going for longer ending up being 25-30ml ...
... the preparation in terms of coffee quantity wouldn't change, it's always ~14g.


My guess is that they don't pull two in the case of a lungo.
Undoubtedly, it would be watery and without taste.

Cheers,

CIV

ceoloide

Postby ceoloide » May 31, 2018, 5:42 pm

civ wrote:My guess is that they don't pull two in the case of a lungo.


Let me clarify: most of times a barista uses a double dose (~14g) and pulls two shots (~25ml each, ~50ml total). The brew ratio is effectively 3.5:1 which is an average. You will find anything in between 3:1 (ristretto) and 4:1 (lungo) in Italian espresso.

I'm not a roasting expert, but my understanding of Italian roast is that it's usually lighter than the rest of Europe, but not a "green" roast. Blends from my region tend to use Ethiopian, Brazilian and Indian coffee to build their flavor profile, and they tend to be 100% arabica.

I've tried French, German, Irish and UK roasts and the lighter ones from those places would be considered Medium-Dark by Italian standards, while our roasts would be Medium. I've tried USA light roasts, and those would be considered too acidic and bitter, sometimes too astringent even when properly pulled.

Of course this doesn't tell you anything useful, it's just my personal taste and experience. You can always get your hands on a (fresh) Illy can (red label): that is a very average Italian roast, that can sit well with both southern Italian and northern Italian preferences. Alternatively, the local roaster from my hometown (www.carissimicaffe.com) is good and well established, and can be found abroad (USA, Asia, EU). So for those who want to try a northern Italian flavor profile from a local roaster, that could be an option.

mathof wrote:(1) I find that the surest way to find a bar with good coffee is to ask local tradespeople where to find "un buon caffè vicino."


Absolutely true: do always ask locals to point you to their favorite coffee shop!

mathof wrote:The other (2) is that 25g of liquid from 7g of coffee is 3.5:1 brew ratio. Most of the coffees available from specialty roasters in England would taste watery and empty at that ratio. I wonder what it is about Italian roasts that allow them to taste rich and full at those ratios.


I will ask Caffe' Carissimi when I go back to Italy, as I don't have enough experience with roasting to give an explanation.

Marco