A Note on Calculating Espresso Brew Ratios - Page 3

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.

#21: Post by MWJB »

another_jim wrote:These appear to be the claims made by VST and its fans.

Good coffee is about getting several dozen things roughly right. This is something that cannot easily be described or put in a recipe; instead, it is attained by practice and experience. So, for as long as I have been doing this, there have been cults to the single variable: "do this drill with completely monomaniacal precision, get this one thing 100% absolutely right; and god shots will inevitably follow." I've seen it maybe a half dozen times already, and I've occasionally been guilty of it myself. I think the refractometer drill is just the latest go round of this mindset.
VST are not saying this, there is no single variable/one size fits all protocol for every method -they are actually saying, "Follow these guidelines (in the same spirit as people have regarding CBI/SCAA/SCAE/NCA & numerous on-line recipes/brew ratio suggestions), taste & measure what you get, adjust accordingly to optimise & make repeatable". Nothing is written in stone, you can adapt the software to reflect your brew modes & temperatures, target TDS and extraction yield, you are not locked into a single, inevitable path. They are saying that yield is the major driver of flavour, this is not news - note that TDS preferences vary from place to place, but for most protocols, everyone largely concurred on the 18-22% ideal range before VST came out with their products (you can actually select targets from 15% to 25% on the software I have, which should cover most eventualities & tastes, results plotted will show up a little beyond these points).
another_jim wrote:I suppose at some point, someone might really come up with a simple, ultra-precise procedure for perfect cups and shots. But simple, ultra-precise procedures are the province of machines; so it would be the end of specialty coffee. Moreover, until that happens, hobbyists are sabotaging their own acquisition of experience by obsessing about each latest and greatest master variable.
It's a tool to measure your result, you're still free to incorporate clumsy human error (Damn my puny human attributes! Oh why do precision & technology mock me so...oh, well human attributes & senses are all I've got, so let's crack on... :wink:). Like any tool, you have to know how to use it. I don't know how Slayer, LM, Bunn, FETCO, Marco & Curtis etc., etc., would feel about the assertion that machinery spells the end for specialty coffee? Isn't espresso itself a brew method that relies specifically on design, precision engineering & technology to deliver parameters unavailable in the manual brewing world? Specialty coffee is what goes into & hopefully comes out of a machine, whether that "machine" is simple, or not.

You want to throw out the machines, go rustic on us & brew all your specialty coffee with a log fire, pestle & mortar, clay pot...go ahead, you may get great results, but I can't help feeling the novelty will soon wear off... :wink:

Specialty coffee is the quality grade of the bean, we expect those beans to be skillfully roasted & extracted to a nominal target range for them to be most enjoyable & representative of their origin...if you (not you specifically Jim) are unwittingly underextracting your coffee every time you are brewing it, for instance, is your cup reflecting "terroir", or merely your shortcomings in brewing that coffee/using that brewer? I hate to see people glibly recommending "change your beans" (unless they are obviously way out of the realms of what we might recognise as a recently roasted, quality product) because nominally extracted, good quality coffee, usually tastes good.

Can we perhaps get back to understanding/defining brew ratios now as this is really something that relates to, but does not require specific, brew by brew, TDS/ext. yield analysis (of which your personal thoughts have been aired many, many times now), it just requires scales (....another machine :wink: ).

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#22: Post by another_jim »

It's a tool to measure your result, you're still free to incorporate clumsy human error (Damn my puny human attributes! Oh why do precision & technology mock me so...oh, well human attributes & senses are all I've got, so let's crack on... :wink:).
Spoken like a true believer. Why bother drinking coffee if you can measure it instead?

Let me put this simply: people who do not trust their taste will never make good coffee.
Jim Schulman

Alan Frew

#23: Post by Alan Frew » replying to another_jim »

Agree 100%. I still can't get my head around the need to measure extraction parameters, or why you'd want to buy an expensive bit of kit to do it. If it tastes right, it is right.



#24: Post by MWJB »

another_jim wrote:Spoken like a true believer. Why bother drinking coffee if you can measure it instead?

Let me put this simply: people who do not trust their taste will never make good coffee.
Being an internet forum, a little benefit of the doubt is required for this format to work & be a meaningful exchange...or, we can simply refuse to believe, or accept anything that anybody says that we don't like the sound of, irrespective of tangible merit. I can taste my coffee, you can't...a little forum etiquette would be nice. You trust your arms? You can tell if a sack of potatoes is "light" or "heavy"? A set of scales will tell you how light/heavy in a meaningful scale that you can communicate to others who may not be in your presence...no different to using a refractometer.

You seem to be playing both ends against the middle (and are still deviating from the OP, whilst forgetting that brew ratios themselves are a guide to achieving nominal extraction) - We agree, there's no panacea/one protocol that works, so following one single formula/protocol won't achieve a comparable result in all instances.

So taste, from protocol to protocol, and if it doesn't taste right where do you go from there (what would "work" for one method can't work for every method)? Stab in the dark & pour several shots/brews down the sink? Or, measure & identify where on the map you are & where you would like to get to. The refractometer doesn't make you infallible, it does cut down significantly on wasted time & coffee.

Maybe I'm a true believer, maybe you're King Canute fighting the inevitable tide...whatever, it wont be settled here today, or tomorrow...we'll just have to wait & see on that score. Maybe someone will let you borrow a refractometer & app., test it out...make an informed evaluation.

Any more thoughts on how we express brew ratios? When you can establish water added, but not necessarily beverage yielded (urn brewer, even a Chemex in normal use), use the CBI method (dose/water added) & cup ratio is implied assuming your retention formula. When you can't measure water added, divide dose by beverage (if you are reasonably confident that retention is 2g/1g, then water added is implied). If you can do both (say V60, a stand and 2 sets of scales), do both.

Your opening post suggested that espresso ratios could be based on water added, rather than beverage yielded...this does not seem to be typical. The difference between Italian definitions and what we see typically in specialty circles today is more likely due to the fact that the Italians pushed more water through the puck (maybe 20% to 33% ratios for a normale?).


#25: Post by MWJB »

A moka pot is an interesting example, you add water but a proportion of that water is the motor that drives extraction and never passes through the bed, nor ends up in the top chamber, or cup, so (like espresso) dose/beverage is the most accessible way of establishing a ratio?

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#26: Post by endlesscycles »

endlesscycles wrote:The same as we should discuss coffee. dose(g), yield(g), strength(%).
How can one add to the above and achieve more? How can one mention less and communicate the idea?
I'm just a fan of elegant solutions.

I'm similarly a fan of speaking only about what coffee you end up with rather than water used. For immersion, they are one in the same. For percolation, they aren't.

Having a number for the beverage strength isn't some weird culty thing any more than brewing on scales is. Not including TDS (or extraction) in describing the result is akin to: "Put just the right amount of coffee in the basket".

20g dose, 40g yield, 10% TDS is complete.
-Marshall Hance
Asheville, NC

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#27: Post by another_jim »

endlesscycles wrote:I'm just a fan of elegant solutions. ... 20g dose, 40g yield, 10% TDS is complete.
Formal, final, material and efficient causes are an elegant and complete description of the universe; but we no longer do Aristotelian physics. The closer people looked, the more these simple and elegant causes got lost in a morass of detail.

My point in the OP is simple. The concentration and extraction numbers may only be repeatable when using one measuring procedure, one coffee, one roast, one grinder, one piece of gear, and one prep method. Change any of these things, and the numbers seem to become incommensurate.


This leads to the wider point; my strong and perhaps trollish hostility to the substitution of procedures and measurements for close and detailed tasting.

Think about cooking. Good cooks use scales and thermometers; but they also know what the dish is supposed to taste like. They frequently taste while cooking, and make improvised corrections whenever necessary. Would you rather eat a dish produced by chemists and technicians in a fully equipped lab following a recipe, but never actually checking the ingredients or tasting them; or by an experienced cook at a simple camp fire just winging it?

We are being force fed the food from the lab, which is called McDonald's, among other names. Since people who can actually interact with food while preparing it need to be trained, and because the interaction takes time; commercial cafes are always on the look out for the cheaper technical solutions. I have no problem with them trying to make refractometers work as a way of standardizing brewing; being in a competitive market, they have no choice.

But I do have a problem with this forum reaching the state of maximum hi-fi blather.

Hif-fi blather is produced when people who would rather die than precisely describe the taste of coffee post endlessly about the trivial and meaningless details of ever more absurd and expensive gear. For them, the taste of coffee is not something to be enjoyed, tested, and interacted with; instead, it has morphed into the indescribable numinosity of a quasi-religious experience. Every new expensive acquisition, and every added step of ritual, enhances the afflatus of this experience. But whatever this experience might be; it has no relation to the taste of the actual coffee; just as the hi-fi junkie's experience is unrelated to the actual music being played.

Perhaps, I should be laughing instead of playing the scold. After all, if the extraction measuring that is attracting all this hi-fi blather actually did work, it would mark the beginning of McThirdWave coffee, and be nothing special at all.
Jim Schulman


#28: Post by chang00 »


Well said. Thank you.


#29: Post by MWJB »

I'm not sure what your point is? No one is now, or has ever suggested substituting critical tasting for measurement, the idea is the two compliment each other.

You started this post by referencing and giving merit to the CBI - a body who established/refined a measurement protocol, then told us to brew at a single, specific ratio in every manual brew method (doing so will give variation in results just like any other when changing roast, bean, brewer ...what's the difference to that and your, flawed, perception of VST?). You yourself talk in terms of over & underextraction...these are terms with a measurable, but not a fixed, definition. If you just like/don't like/can identify flavours then call it that, rather than over & under (I am not so churlish to suggest that you are not able to determine by palate significantly over & under coffee, I am sure you can, but if you don't like the game opt out, don't have one foot in & one foot out).

Your titan grinder shoot outs read just like a hi fi shoot out, you are complicit in the very thing you claim to dislike...if you have reached a level of coffee enlightenment, achievable only through one-ness with the universe & have thrown out your gear for a Mr Coffee Grinder & De Longhi espresso machine which you can bend to your will, then I'll stand corrected...What's the deal? People should only spend money on & endorse expensive gear that you like, buying something else is somehow wrong? Come on that's the first call of the forum blow hard, "You have the wrong coffee/grinder/machine, buy what I buy..."...don't whatever you do attempt to evaluate what you can do to make better coffee. In honesty, I think we both are of the opinion that it's the indian & not the bow that has the greatest impact, just differing viewpoints on what bow we use?

If anything, meaningful measurement allows you to get better results with any gear...in your chef analogy, I'd prefer the dish that tasted best...I'd be less bothered about how it got that way, either situation could yield a good result, neither is infallible. They can also be employed in unison, they don't have to be mutually exclusive. In all honesty, I'd rather have a nominally extracted, reasonable quality coffee (the apparent focus of the much quoted CBI's endeavors) than a massacred 'cup of excellence' winner. Specialty coffee badly presented, isn't special anymore.

You don't brew with a refractometer, you evaluate the result of your brewing with it...same coffee, same method, same result with, or without, it's just what you do next that the refractometer (or TDS meter, or dehydration result, or hydrometer) AND palate influences. I agree that a given result may only hold true for one scenario, then will need adjustment to maintain as beans, roast and other variables change...this is the whole point of the VST coffee tools and any measurement and evaluation. You use tools every time you make coffee, this is just another one that you are free to use, or not.

This thread started out with an interesting hypothesis and question, it was about brew ratios which anyone with a set of scales can observe. You don't need a refractometer or calculators & software to establish brew ratios, you can do many of them in your head. Yet again, an unrelated thread has become a dais from which you launch yet another attack on one specific company...such a persistent & focused barrage is pretty unusual on any forum. It does not strike me as in keeping with the forum ethos, even if it does not specifically break forum creed.

Another_Jim wrote: "Perhaps, I should be laughing instead of playing the scold." Laugh and I'll laugh with you...it certainly wouldn't do your standpoint any harm to inject some humour and may even encourage further, good natured discussion, rather than these see-sawing, adversarial threads, where we just repeat the same old sentiments, until they get locked. It's getting a bit "Groundhog day"...and yes, I do recognise the irony when I indulge in propagating these exchanges, but you will see that I do so in response (but, as my mum used to tell us when we were kids, "I don't care who started it, just stop!" so, not a great defence, I grant you).

So, back to brew ratios? Please?


#30: Post by MWJB »

chang00 wrote:Jim,

Well said. Thank you.
Your own attempts to quantify TDS & yield, encouragement & support for others to do so, are apparent for everyone to see Henry. How soon we forget eh? :roll: