December 3, 2014

Keep it seriously simple

A really common theme on the Coffee Snobs forums are people frustrated trying to get the best from their coffee making equipment. CafÉ owners and domestic baristas can find themselves chasing their tail in ever decreasing circles trying to find the perfect coffee.

Take this scenario:
We just changed to a new single origin coffee of the week and the roaster told us that it’s best pulled as a doppio ristretto, with a 18.2 gram dose at 92.4 degrees.

Let’s break that sentence down.

While the coffee might be at its very best using those settings, it’s unlikely that you will be able to produce those exact settings anywhere except in a lab or a competition stage. If you have to change too far from your standard “house blend”, you are quickly going to be producing a majority of bad shots. Far better to find a compromise with the new coffee. KISS – Don’t break something that isn’t broken!

Doppio Ristretto – it’s amazing at just how much variation you see in the volume of a double ristretto order. Most espresso cups are around 70 ml full to the brim, but a standard espresso shot is generally 25 – 30 ml. A ristretto is roughly half the volume of water, so a double will be the same volume 25 – 30ml (half the amount of water doubled equals the same volume).  KISS – using a double basket, aim for half the volume of the espresso cup.

18.2 grams is a very specific dose weight; I’m pretty sure that it would be far easier to get your staff to dose an 18 gram basket level and  tamp well. They will be able to do this with far more consistency and do it within the normal work flow of a busy café. If you really feel the need, get a few staff together in a quiet period and weigh half a dozen doses to see how much variation you have and what that variation looks like in the basket. KISS – Level basket, don’t collapse, tamp well once.

92.4 degrees is a reasonably specific temperature at the group.  Most of the higher-end espresso machines have digital temperature control that displays in tenths of a degree. More often than not, the accuracy of the thermocouple that takes the measurement is plus or minus at least half a degree so while you can set a specific value, it might not be an accurate temperature. What it will show you is what temperature number your machine is set to, which is nothing more than a good reference point, but understand it only really relates to your machine. The amount of time that your machine has been sitting idle or the amount it’s been overworked will have far more effect on the temperature of the water hitting the coffee puck than a digital display setting. KISS – Mid to low 90s should be a good starting point, taste both the house blend and the single origin to ensure you didn’t hurt the flavours of one of them.

One of the most common frustrations is caused by making too many changes all at once and then losing your known good reference point. A couple of changes on the grinder, a fiddle with the water temperature, a change in dosing height and a variation in tamping weight all made at the same time will surely end in tears.  KISS – Make one change at a time and TASTE the results before making another change.

Commercial coffee making is always going to be a fine balance that is dictated mostly by the amount of available time to perfect a shot.  Most businesses are so insanely busy during the morning rush, you can easily get driven by the length of the queue.  In a quiet part of the day, pull the staff together and have a play with changing some on the processes. See if you can find the high and low dosage tolerances, see what effect temperature has on the taste and what role light or heavy handed tamping makes.  Knowing the tolerance range will help ensure that you are within those tolerances during the crazier peak times. KISS – Play and learn during the quiet time to improve your peak time output.

Most of all, enjoy your coffee journey!

About the author
Andy Freeman owns and runs
Fresh roasted coffee, green beans and Australia’s biggest coffee forum



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