June 16, 2016

Provoking Ratio – Part 1

Three topics you don’t want to bring up at the dinner table are politics, religion and coffee, it seems depending on who you ask in today’s world you will get a different answer on how to make a perfect espresso even when asking some of the world’s leading baristas.

Before we enter this very deep rabbit hole I would like to begin by stating that I am giving an overview and that there is a lot more information on this topic available. Personal taste is debatable, there is no right or wrong.

So what guidelines should stipulate an industry standard?  Well really the standards can be very vague. Espresso – Italian translation: to be fast. If you look up some old 80/90s training books, an espresso is usually described as a volume of 25 -30ml. Some baristas might contest that it’s based on a certain extraction percentage or Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) but this idea is ridiculous if you understand that this application of technology is quite recent and the espresso was introduced roughly 130 years ago.

What have we discovered over time? Some might protest that traditional espresso is the best and to suggest change or exploration is misguided, however if you are like me you can’t help but wonder or even explore other ideas of how this can taste better. Having worked with many coffees of varied agtron profiles, ingredients and development, in my personal opinion I find development and consistency the most interesting and under appreciated element. What I have come to learn is that whether you’re serving a traditional darker roast, smashing out some commercial roasts at high turn over or pulling that pre infused hipster juice, what we all seem to agree on is that a balanced, smooth, sweet, consistent and fast coffee is best.

As baristas we must offer a competitive product with great service at speed, consistently and lets face it, not every barista gets to choose the coffee or set up they have to work with. You will probably find that the baristas ratio and set up favours the coffee they work with in most successful cafes and that this is relevant to light, medium and dark roasts all of which are catering to particular markets that are world’s apart in expectations. There is no one glove fits all principle.  This is especially true when it comes to brewing ratios and the metaphysical set up including basket sizes, tampers and so on.

Darker Roasts:

The darker the roast the less fruity flavour and the more roasty, processed flavours will be obvious. This tends to be the most common expectation of coffee by the general public. The benefits of roasting this way is that the flavour is extremely consistent and it’s very easy to achieve the desired taste by staff of limited training, usually found in more mainstream and commercial stores.

Darker roasts offer the customer a hit of the very addictive carbon dioxide, induced by the roasting process. The coffee is usually heavier and described as rich and bold. It usually requires more milk or added flavourings to be palatable. This usually increasing the size of the sale item and delivers three very addictive components being carbon dioxide, caffeine and sugars, making for a pretty intense coffee.  As a roaster this allows room for negotiating cheaper green beans and possibly the ability to provide equipment, servicing, sales reps, trainers and marketing.

Ratios of darker roasts vary from mainstream stores to commercially supplied cafes. The TDS and extraction percentage however seem relatively the same.  A lot more emphasis is put on the physical appearance of the extraction looking for that tight syrupy start and finishing the shot just upon blonding.

See Part 2 here

About the author:
Timothy Sweet is a career barista with 12 years of cafe operations and coffee training. He is an accomplished latte artist, founder of the Gold Coast Coffee Project, Consigliere for Uncle Joe’s Coffee and manager of Base Espresso Broadbeach.


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