life is better with a cup of coffee

In Pursuit of the Perfect Coffee

image

I love coffee. It’s bliss in a cup. It hugs better than people. The aroma and the ambiance it brings to the room is irresistible. My love for the perfect cup of coffee started when my other half bought me a De’Longhi EC330S Machine years ago. It was my first coffee machine. I started to read up and watch videos on YouTube about coffee-making. It opened a new world to me. This was the beginning of my search for the perfect cup of coffee.

In pursuit of the perfect coffee, I began to understand how important each component is. There isn’t just one component but a multitude of it. I upgraded to a modified Gaggia Classic and Iberital MC2 Grinder. Now, I own Sage Dual Boiler paired with a Eureka Mignon grinder. I’m not an expert nor a professional barista. I’m just a coffee lover and enthusiast. I will be sharing with you what I have learnt over the past few years. In order to understand, we must start at the beginning– the bean.

For this article, I will be focusing on espresso. Espresso is the base for most coffee drinks such as Cafe Au Lait, Latte, Mocha to name a few. Flat White and Cappuccino are 2 of the most popular drinks.

What makes a good quality espresso? Espresso is visually appealing. It should sit nicely on an espresso cup and a have thick texture. Crema (not CREAM or CREME but CREMA as in kreh-mah) which is the thick foam sitting on top. It is usually dark or tan in colour. The more crema there is, the fresher the beans are. To examine this, take a small spoon and move it from front to back. Do not stir. You should be able to see a nice layer. The taste of a well extracted espresso shouldn’t be sour or bitter. There should be a balanced taste. If it is sour, the espresso is underextracted. If bitter, it is overextracted. Extraction is how much of the grounds are being dissolved or extracted with water. Espresso should feel smooth in your mouth. Almost like butter.  We will explore coffee extraction further.

image

BEANS

You must use fresh beans. It’s a must and the most commonly overlooked factor. In order to enjoy the full flavour of coffee, you must look at its origin. Supermarket beans have expiration dates of up to 5 years and if you try to grind and extract them, you do not get a good quality espresso.They are usually stale and it’s just ruins the whole experience. There are so many roasters who would roast your beans on the day you order and they deliver it straight to your house. You can also visit artisan coffee shops and usually they sell fresh roasted beans. Store your beans in an airtight or vacuum container. Do not put beans in the freezer or fridge!

There are three types of coffee beans: Arabica, Robusta and Liberica. In a nutshell, Arabica is usually known as a gourmet coffee but have less caffeine than Robusta. Arabica is usually grown at 3,000ft above sea level. Robusta has low grade quality but have strong caffeine. Robusta can be grown at any elevation level. Robusta is most commonly used in instant coffees. Liberica beans are another type but is not as popular as the other two. According to an article from www.coffee4dummies.com, liberica has very limited supply and therefore expensive.

Single Origins vs. Blends

Single Origins are coffee grown within the same farm. The name of the coffee reflects the name of the place where it’s grown which also gives you an idea of elevation, humidity and other information about the region.

Blends are self-explanatory.

Processing Method

When shopping for fresh roasted beans, you’ll also notice the words washed, pulped and natural. These are the processing methods. Dry Process (also known as natural) means that after they’ve picked and sorted the beans they dry them under the sun.  Washed or pulped usually means washing the pulp off to reveal the beans.

Roasting Process

Green beans are what we call unroasted beans. The roasting types are light, medium and dark/full roast. The flavour profiles are accentuated during the roasting process. The flavour of beans are not just about where it was grown but also how it was roasted.

My top 6 Artisan Coffee Roasters

HOLY TRINITY – Grind, Dose and Tamp

Grind

Freshly ground beans are best so I advise that you buy whole beans. There are many grinders out in the market today but invest in a good quality ceramic burr grinder. Burr Grinder is best than blade grinders as you want uniform grounds. Grind size is very important. For turkish grind, it has to be very fine like powdered sugar. Fine for espresso (table salt consistency), Fine to medium (coarser than espresso grind) is best for cone shaped drip filter like V60, Aeropress and Moka Pot. Medium grind is best for flat bottomed drip coffee and coarse for Vacuum Pots, French Press and Toddy.

image

Grind Reference by https://www.batdorfcoffee.com

Dose

Precision is another important factor and can never be underestimated. Dose is the quantity of coffee that is placed in the portafilter coffee basket. Invest in a precision scale. Precision scales are digital scales with an increment of 0.1g or 0.01g. 5g is different from 5.1g even though it’s just 0.1g difference. We use precision scales so we can achieve consistency and enjoy the flavour. If your grinder is a doser grinder, you will still need a precision scale so you can measure the output weight. The input weight depends on your taste and the size of the basket. Do not overfill your basket as this will choke your machine and produce a horrid black tar coffee!

I use a 14g VST basket and fill it up with 18g of ground coffee. Use your finger or table knife to “sweep” the coffee back and forth to distribute it. Give the basket a tap on the table to distribute it evenly.

Tamp

Tamping locks in your distribution and polishes the surface. Ideal tamping pressure is up to 30 lbs but this depends on your grind size. Ideally, espresso extraction time should be between 25 to 30 seconds upon flipping the switch. Tamping pressure could affect the coffee flow rate. If tamped too hard, it will produce an over extracted coffee. If tamped lightly, it’s under extracted. When buying a tamper, the size is important. Know your basket size.

Do not tap your portafilter after tamping as you will ruin the even distribution of the coffee bed.

COFFEE RATIO

Brew or Coffee Ratio is defined as the ratio of dry coffee to liquid produced. Ristretto has a ratio of 1:1, espresso in normale range is 1:1.5 – 2 and Lungo is 1:3. Ratios are based on your personal taste and the given values are just a guide. Precision is a must in order to enjoy a good cup of coffee.

What does that mean? If you want to make an espresso (normale range), I would weigh my dry, freshly ground coffee and multiply it by 1.5 (depending on the strength, you can multiply up to 2 but always use the same ratio to be consistent). So, if my dry coffee grinds weigh 18g, I should have an output weight of 27g. Place a tared precision scale under the cup so you can stop when you achieve the output weight. Ideally, this should be extracted between 25-30 seconds. The reason for the time range is because some machines have pre-infusion.

image

Coffee Ratio Diagram by http://www.home-barista.com

I advise that you use a naked or bottomless portafilter so you can watch the extraction process. With a bottomless portafilter, you’ll be able to identify issues such as channeling (uneven distribution), blonding, tiger stripping, tamping issues or overfilling a coffee basket.

DIAGNOSING COFFEE EXTRACTION PROBLEMS

Under Extraction

Under extraction would be sour, watery, little to no crema and underdeveloped espresso. The extraction time would be less than 20 seconds. To diagnose this, you should grind finer, increase dosage or tamp harder. Use fresh beans too. Also, machine may not be hot enough. Make sure you give your machine ample time to warm up. Although roasters would specify acidity notes (i.e. strawberry acidity, white grape acidity). Lightly roasted beans can be slightly acidic so make sure you know the difference of acidity caused by under extraction and acidity notes.

Over Extraction

If extraction time is over 30 seconds, it is over extracted. Over extraction would mean the coffee is too bitter or astringent. You should coarsen the grind, decrease the dosage or tamp lighter.

If you are using bottomless portafilter and it sprays all over your cup (or walls), adjust grinds or tamp harder. If you find dead spots during extraction, it usually means that the grounds are not evenly distributed. Try tapping the portafilter lightly on the table (before tamping!!) or use a pin or needle and distribute the grinds by stirring. This technique is called the “Weiss Distribution Technique”

To Recap, here are the steps to making a good espresso:

When machine is all warmed up, flush the group head to clear any residue. Weigh your basket/portafilter and set scale to 0. Fill the basket with freshly ground coffee then weigh again. Tamp it down firmly Place warm cup under portafilter, ideally on a tared scale. If it doesn’t fit, weigh the empty cup first. Extract your coffee Enjoy on its own or with milk.

Coffee is personal. Customise it to your preference. The most important thing is that you enjoy your coffee.