"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
2011/12/00- As the initial excitement wears off I am becoming more scientific in my approach. I am still forced to use the plastic tamper as it will be a week or so before my metal one shows up. I did bring the bathroom scale into the kitchen this morning and found that it does make it easier to be consistent.
Acidic vs. Bitter
Learning the Difference
The Rocky grinder is excellent. It's range of adjustment makes it easy to vary the brew length. I verified this morning that different blends and roasts need different grinds for correct pulls. A 13 or 14 grinds works ell with the Monkey but the Illy blend takes about an 11. Having a permanent marker and some stick-on labels handy is a good way to keep track of what works and what doesn't.
My greatest discovery this morning was learning the difference between the tastes of acidic and bitter in brewed coffee. Although it was by accident the difference between these two tastes became instantly clear. I had some Donkey decaf and some Monkey that was both roasted to about 5 ½. We pulled and tasted the espresso from these. The Donkey was quite strong on the bitter side. I had to pull about three times to get the grind adjusted for a 20-25 second pull. The first pull was short at about 12 seconds and was 'thin' in its taste and bitter. On the third pull I got to about 20 seconds and although it had a richer tastes and was not quite so bitter, the bitter taste was still apparent. From the start I felt that these beans were a bit over-roasted from the smell of the beans as they rested in the jar. The over-roasting was verified by the taste of the espresso.
Next we did the same test with the Monkey. I got an excellent pull with amazing crema from the Monkey and tasted. It was clear that this had an acidic taste, and this was when we made that discovery of the differences between acidic and bitter. I had suspected that the Monkey was a bit under-roasted from the color. It was close, and the beans smelled wonderful, but the color was a bit light and there was only a hint of oily sheen to the beans.
I learned that the smell of roasted beans doesn't tell you much (maybe if you are an expert, but that I am not). Under-roasted or correctly roasted beans smell like good coffee. Over roasted beans smell more burnt, but by that point it is too late. Also, as I mentioned before, the smell of roasting beans does not smell like coffee. It has its own aroma. Once the roast is completed it takes a minute or so for the out-gassing aromas to build in the container and then the roasted beans begin to emit that wonderful coffee aroma. It is also difficult to roast to a color. The differences between an under-roasted color and the correctly roasted color are subtle. It is difficult to see this even in a clear-glass roaster. Additionally, the beans continue to roast as they cool down. It is best to roast in a roaster that either monitors temperature or to add a thermometer to your current roaster.
Back to my roasts- to modify the bitter and acidic tastes I experienced this morning and bring them more to the middle, showing a balance between the bitter and the acidic, I lowered the roast of the Donkey from 5 ½ to 4 ½, and I raised the roast of the Monkey from 5 ½ to between around 6 1/4 and 6 ½. The Monkey looked much better- The color was a bit darker and the surface of the beans had a better sheen with a hit of oily spots on a few of the beans. The Donkey, originally roasted at 5 ½ that was very dark and had an aroma towards burnt now had a beautiful brown color and smelled quite good- like coffee!
If you are starting out, I would suggest roasting to test your senses. To learn the difference between acidic and bitter purposely under-roast one batch and over-roast another of the same beans. Grind and brew for a 20-25 second pull from each and taste test each espresso straight from the portafilter. You will quickly learn the difference between bitter and acidic tasting espresso. The sensations on your tongue will speak volumes that would be difficult to put in words.
The Silvia is proving herself. When my pulls are anywhere near close to 20 seconds the crema is beautiful. The crema on the short pulls is a bit light, but when it is close the crema is thick and rich. When all is right the crema nearly fills the shot. It takes a number of seconds after the pull is completed before the crema separates from the espresso and this process is a beautiful one to watch. I wish I had the capability to place video here so you could see it.