I hear you, knowing if your own hand produced the roaster's desired result isn't easy without a reference. Working with a local roaster or mimicking the results of a good cafe is helpful. Otherwise it falls on you to trust your own taste, since afterall, enjoying the journey is more important than the (perceived) destination.stevendouglas wrote:...I'll taste the result and like it or not like it. However, how will I know if it's as good as it can be? How do you develop your palate? Will it just come as I practice? Does it develop by evolution - "Wow! That was a great shot, what did I do differently?"
I don't claim to have a highly developed palate. If there's a way to measure, I assume it would confirm that I'm pretty average (my consolation is that the site's name is Home-barista.com, not Pro-Barista.com ). It doesn't keep me awake at night, and there is the comfort that my skills and discernment have improved over time. Shamefully I will admit that one indicator is the lowering of my "sink shot" threshold. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the espresso from "way back when." The bar moves up without you realizing it.
I do have a couple practical tips that worked for me: Focus on one aspect at a time. For example, focus on the mouthfeel, flavor, aroma, or finish, but not all at the same time. While concentrating on one aspect, I found my preference of blends gravitated toward those coffees that were particularly strong in that characteristic. No problem, in a few more weeks, I went to the next. After a few enjoyable months of appreciating these qualities individually, I start noting them in groups.
The best suggestion I can offer is learning from knowledgeable professionals. Some information you can glean online, other types of learning don't work remotely (e.g., learning to describe tasting experiences in cupping, a topic that I find daunting). Anytime this becomes more work than pleasure, it's time to pull back, drop the critic's stance, and return to what you enjoy: Savoring, sharing, socializing... whatever it is about espresso that drew you to this interest in the first place. (If you haven't guessed already, I've "burned myself out" on critical analysis a few times).
I will also disagree with the assertion that time spent on Silvia is well invested. Let's face facts: It's a fussy machine with a mountain of research behind it. But someone starting from scratch on the next level machine (essentially every machine reviewed to-date on this site except Silvia) would have better results in a shorter amount of time with less frustration. I don't know of anyone who has returned their upgrade from Silvia under a "no remorse" policy. Chris' recent comments about the GS3 describe the end game:Compass Coffee wrote:Surfing forces paying attention to shot flow and crema color and of course taste! Thermofilter measurements have mostly only confirmed what I'd already observed about Silvia, now quantified. If barista techniques on an unmodded Silvia can allow you to serve shots to the likes of Tom Owens without fear of disgrace, then the handle end of the PF skills easily transferable and adapted to other machines, even modded Silvia.
I'm not suggesting the solution is to drop five grand on a machine. Rather that there's a huge gain going from the next level above Silvia (usually in the $800-$1200 range). No doubt there is an added gain to upgrading to a GS3 or Synesso class machine, however the return relative to cost are dramatically reduced. It's unpopular to criticize Silvia. The machine is capable of very good espresso, in the right hands. It isn't however high on my recommended list, especially since the price difference between Silvia (~$500) and the next level up representing entry-level HXs has narrowed to ~$200.malachi wrote:One of the really nice things about the GS3 is that it allows the barista to focus on what truly matters... the coffee. In a sense, the machine becomes transparent. Over the last week I've started to notice that I spend less and less time paying attention to the machine. Everyone once and a while I get fixated on tweaking something or testing something... but this usually lasts for an hour or so at the most. What has been really interesting to me of late is the coffees that I've been tasting.
The GS3 really allows you to taste and evaluate and explore these coffees. My not creating additional tasks and challenges - by not demanding your attention - and by not imparting its own flavours and affects on the results in the cup it frees you up to really focus on the flavours and taste in the cup.
This, to me, is very cool.