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Espresso vs. Coffee


hillbill
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While researching coffee online I've learned that espresso refers to a method of making coffee and that it has nothing to do with the coffee itself, whereas I'd previously always thought that espresso referred to a type of coffee or coffee bean.

However, I repeatedly see comments that imply that there is a difference in the coffee itself when comparing espresso vs. "regular" coffee (i.e. in the thread about Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts.)

So my question is:

Shouldn't good coffee be good coffee, regardless of whether it is made by the espresso method or the "regular" method?

And likewise, bad coffee would be bad coffee regardless?

Why else does it matter which brewing method is used?

Gustatory illiterati in an illuminati land.
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Your point is well made that only good coffee beans can make good coffee of any type. After that, it comes down to what one likes in a cup of coffee. Many would argue, and I would agree, that the espresso method is one which extracts the purest essence of the coffee bean and therefore produces the "best" coffee. In my own view there is a clear heirarchy of coffee making techniques that goes something like this: espresso is better than presspot is better than drip. I even prefer caffè Americano (espresso diluted to drip coffee strength with hot water) to drip coffee. Certain coffee making techniques, like percolation, are guaranteed to make a bad cup of coffee out of even the best beans.

So... I would contend that a good cup of espresso is better than a good cup of drip coffee. But, at some point, one has to allow for matters of taste. Some people may simply not like the intensity and small volume of espresso. That doesn't make them Philistines, it just makes them people whose tastes have evolved in a different direction. That said, it also seems an inescapable fact that some people prefer bad coffee over good coffee -- not eGulleters, of course. :wink:

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There are many of us who really enjoy both "regular" coffee and espresso but find different contexts appropriate for each. I'll decline to declare either to be the "best" but will nearly always opt for drip coffee over espresso if the espresso is of questionable quality (which is the case in many cafes and nearly all the restaurants in which I've ever sampled espresso).

Now that I have the proper equipment and a functional enough knowledge of espresso preparation to prepare really good espresso shots at home, I find myself drinking espresso based drinks almost exclusively. This past weekend I visited non-coffee drinking friends out of town. Knowing that my options would be limited, I took some fresh Guatemala Antigua Los Volcanoes that I had just ground and ziploc'd and brought along my Melitta one cup drip cone. Wow. I had nearly forgotten how satisfying a really good cup of drip coffee can be.

I suppose it's not really fair to compare the coffee/espresso relationship to other beverages but..... is good Cognac actually a more distilled essence of the grape and therefore more representative of the finest qualities of those grapes or is it just different? I doubt it and think it's not a fair comparison.

Coffee beans have certain essential flavor components and oils whose essence is best extracted at certain temperatures and for certain lengths of time. The espresso method of preparation refers to nearly every aspect of this and yes... there are coffee labeled as "espresso" but they are typically those which are blended, roasted and subsequently ground in such a way that they yield the most desirable results. The process used has been arrived at after many years of both careful scientific analysis and also real world practical usage.

Oddly enough, there are some varietals that are fantastic when consumed as drip or press pot coffee but don't exhibit their best qualities when prepared by the espresso method.

One of the specific factors that I find most enjoyable in truly good espresso is the rich undertones of fruit and chocolate flavors. I have yet to find a specific bean or blend of beans that delivers this in other preparation methods.

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I'll decline to declare either to be the "best" but will nearly always opt for drip coffee over espresso if the espresso is of questionable quality (which is the case in many cafes and nearly all the restaurants in which I've ever sampled espresso).

Crucial point here! Mediocre espresso can be horrible -- much worse that drip coffee prepared with a similar lack of skill.

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I always thought I did not like espresso. I always found it way too bitter. It could be that I have just not had good espresso.

Msk

I think that this is a widespread phenomenon and for exactly the reasons mentioned. Most people assume they don't like espresso when in fact they don't liek the espresso that's generally available to them. There are also many people who pooh-pooh milk based espresso drinks because they've only experienced lattes or cappuccinos made with average or mediocre espresso and an inapproproate espresso to milk ratio.

We can only hope that independent cafes, dedicated and talented baristas and talented microroasters continue to grow and develop. There's a place in the world for Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and other chains but appreciation of espresso as a culinary aesthetic and more widespread acceptance will come from the independent sector. If you can find a cafe or microroaster in your area who's "getting it done" - please support them. I can make fantastic espresso at home and I do so but I also spend about $12 - $15 per week in a local cafe because I believe in what they're doing and want to show my support.

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Owen,

I appreciate that you support the local coffeehouses.

The coffeehouse industry has made tremendous progress over the past 10 years, not to slight the overall growth in the past 25 years.

The term "barista" is slowly getting to become common place, but only where it is a respected position in each particular coffeehouse. Finally, folks are able to spell espresso, yet drink it.

As a roaster, I appreciate your support. You have to admit, it's hard for us Americans to get a shot of espresso, when we can get a "Big Gulp" at the C-store!

I don't enjoy drinking espresso too much, but I'm devoted to my Americano's.

We rep LaCimbali machines, and I like to make them on a machine we have on the showroom floor.

What I'm getting around to saying, is that both the chains and indies have a ways to go to get better, though some have NAILED IT!. Some indie's have no clue what great coffee and espresso are, and never will. It's about the money. I say good riddance to them. Even some chains, have comprimised quality (product and service) in the name of volume, volume, volume.

Starbucks is growing like a weed, and the quality is still ok. We all know that they are becoming McDonald-ized, and have or will lose their "cache' " with most coffee drinkers. (I don't want to trash *-buck$s unnecessarily.)

Please continue (all of you) to support good coffee houses, regardless of the # of units they operate. Some big ones do *get it* and some little one's don't.

Java-Joe

You gonna eat that?

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As I discovered espresso, making them at home, the varying quality of espresso drinks became much clearer. If I don't know that a place makes good espresso, I order a machiato. Most places make espresso from too dark a roast for my taste, so the little bit of foam on the machiato can help.

A while ago I ordered a machiato and the waiter did not know what it was!

Went through a phase of ordering regular coffees a few months ago when a family member was visiting. She loves coffee but can't take too much espresso. The interesting thing was the really lousy quality of the coffee - stale, and cold, in most places. But it's fun to see the look on the staff's face when you ask how recently the pot was made, and if it's hot!

In coffee shops, if the espresso beans are listed as dark roasts I tend to leave - I like medium roast, and if their espresso is dark, most of the roasts will be on the dark side

Bottom line for me is when you taste a coffee you like, ask what it is. The beans, and the roast, make all the difference, for espresso and for brewed.

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Ok what questions do I need to ask my local coffee house to see if they get it or not? I have a boutique coffee house in my town, I will try the espresso there.

What should I ask them to know if this is representitive of good espresso.

Do you roast your own beans?

What beyond that question?

Msk

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I always thought I did not like espresso.  I always found it way too bitter.  It could be that I have just not had good espresso.

Msk

There are also many people who pooh-pooh milk based espresso drinks because they've only experienced lattes or cappuccinos made with average or mediocre espresso and an inapproproate espresso to milk ratio.

I poo-pooh milk based drinks generally--for me coffee means coffee and just the coffee. Actually I do like a nice cappucino once in a while but most places put way too much milk in. The other thing that you might get with bad espresso is a burnt taste from too dark roasting. No coffee should have this burnt taste. Maybe Java-Joe will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that the darker roast coffee is destroying some of the flavor elements of the coffee. No that dark is necessarily bad just that if it's not done carefully it can be ruined. There's a shop down the street from me here in Brooklyn that actually does a pretty good dark roast, one of the few that I've really liked.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Msk........I'm going to get some answers for you asap from some baristi - It will be good information.

Moopheus (what does that mean?)...I'll try to address a couple of points.

1) I agree, no coffee should have that "burnt" taste. But then again, there are regional and cultural preferences and roasters produce coffee to suit that need. But no, generally speaking, burnt is not good. not even for espresso in a Caffe Latte!!!!

2) Dark roasting will, in fact, destroy some of the flavor elements of the coffee. There should be some objective to dark roasting. (I'll spare you that discussion). But that's not always a bad thing. I love all the wonderful traits of an Ethiopian Yergacheffe. Lemony, floral, soft. I taste and smell things in coffee that most people don't pick up. It's just what I do! But then again our Yergacheffe Dark Roast is not real French (dark and oily). Yes, it loses some of the mentioned traits, but gains some WONDERFUL ones. It becomes smooth, with hints of chocolate. It's killer stuff!

3) There are regional differences in roasting. On the Left coast, French Roast is darker than Italian Roast. On the East coast, it is the opposite, typically. It can be either way up and down the middle of the country. You takes your chances.

Espresso in this country, East or West, is getting lighter as the roasters better understand what the coffeehouses want and their (world-traveling) customers want. I know our espresso has lightened up tremendously over the years. We've even added one that is.........not a medium roast, but real close. It's 1/3 of our sales.

Sorry so long winded

Joe

You gonna eat that?

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Ok what questions do I need to ask my local coffee house to see if they get it or not? I have a boutique coffee house in my town, I will try the espresso there.

What should I ask them to know if this is representitive of good espresso.

Do you roast your own beans?

What beyond that question?

Msk

This is an excellent question. Maybe it is because I don't want the confrontation, or maybe because I haven't figured out how to ask yet, but I tend to answer this question for myself by observation, not questioning.

To me, the technique in brewing is as important as the roasting in whether the coffee house prepares good espresso based drinks or not. It is usually pretty easy to watch them pull a shot of espresso, and I just time them in my head (because I don't wear a watch)--it should take 20-30 seconds for the espresso shot to appear, from when they push the button to start it to when they stop the machine. This should also produce 1.5-2 ounces of espresso for a double shot.

Unfortunately, almost all baristas in my neck of the woods fail this simple test, and I don't have to go much further in exploring whether they handle the roasting and grinding properly. Conversely, when they brew a shot for the right amount of time and it produces the right amount of espresso, then further investigation usually shows that they know what they are doing all the way through the process.

Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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I believe that the darker roast coffee is destroying some of the flavor elements of the coffee. No that dark is necessarily bad just that if it's not done carefully it can be ruined.

Some beans do better with a relatively dark roast than others and espresso blends often tend to be in this group but some of my favorite espressos have been from beands best described as medium-dark (full city plus). Perhaps just a hint of oil on the surface at most. Really oily beans have either been very overroasted or worse - wer e a drak roast but have now been sitting around for more than a week. The oils in darker roasts will begin migrating to the surface as the beans go beyond the optimal shelf life. It is true that overroasting destroys some of the more subtle flavors.

It's a real PITA to roast this way for the home roaster but some of my favorite blends are "binary" blends. The faster roasting beans are roasted separately from the slower roasting ones. Typically, about 4 to 5 bean types are used in the blend. Those that result in chocolatey undertones when roasted a bit on the dark side can be done that way and the beans that have delightful floral and fruit notes in the flavor profile can be roasted lighter to preserve this characteristic. The blending is then done after the roasting. The chocolate and fruit undertones can then both be present in the espresso.

There are some preparation styles that lend themselves to using very dark roasted beans but these tend to be very specific - e.g. cafe con leche - the half milk and half strong dark coffee drink that is common in Cuba and throughout the Caribbean.

There's a shop down the street from me here in Brooklyn that actually does a pretty good dark roast

I've already mentioned it here previously but if you have not yet tried Gimme! Coffee in Williamsburg Brooklyn - get over there and do so. These folks really do it right and their standard espresso blend (called Leftist Blend) is a medium-dark roast level.

I'm going to start a separate thread on what to look for when in search of good espresso and what questions to ask.

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it should take 20-30 seconds for the espresso shot to appear, from when they push the button to start it to when they stop the machine. This should also produce 1.5-2 ounces of espresso for a double shot.

You think it's 20-30 seconds from pressing the button to 1.5-2 ounces? I have heard that one "starts the clock" once the first bit of coffee comes out the spout. On my machine (Rancilio) it can sometimes take 7 seconds or so for anything at all to come out. That doesn't leave much time for extraction.

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some of my favorite espressos have been from beands best described as medium-dark (full city plus). Perhaps just a hint of oil on the surface at most.

This is, in my experience, the Central-to-Northern roast in Italy. The coffee can get pretty carbonized in the South, but still often not as dark as some of the so-called "Italian espresso roasts" one finds in the US.

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it should take 20-30 seconds for the espresso shot to appear, from when they push the button to start it to when they stop the machine. This should also produce 1.5-2 ounces of espresso for a double shot.

You think it's 20-30 seconds from pressing the button to 1.5-2 ounces? I have heard that one "starts the clock" once the first bit of coffee comes out the spout. On my machine (Rancilio) it can sometimes take 7 seconds or so for anything at all to come out. That doesn't leave much time for extraction.

I am going to wait and let someone with more experience chime in. From when the button is pressed is what I have been going by and it seems to work for me, but I am interested in confirmation from others. Owen?

Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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Ok what questions do I need to ask my local coffee house to see if they get it or not?  I have a boutique coffee house in my town, I will try the espresso there. 

What should I ask them to know if this is representitive of good espresso.

Do you roast your own beans?

What beyond that question?

Msk

More important than whether they roast their own beans is how recently the beans were roasted. If they don't know, or if it's more than a week, the coffee is going to be fair at best.

Some shops use pods that are ancient. On the other hand, I interviewed at a coffee roaster that delivered twice-weekly to its clients, and the coffee was always roasted the day before delivery.

In my coffee-roasting mode, I tried numerous blends and roasts for variety in my regular and espresso-style drinks.

In Venezuela, everybody drinks a very light roasted coffee that seems to be brewed like espresso. The ground coffee is really cheap there, but I couldn't find anything like it in this country, only upscale varietal imports. At that time I was not yet a coffee buff, nor was great coffee so easily available to seekers, so I never followed up.

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Hmmmmm... wouldn't a very light roast made in espresso style be quite sour? That has been my finding in experimenting with various roasts and my espresso machine. Until you get to the beginning of the second crack, the beans have too much acid in them for my tastes.

Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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20 to 30 seconds is generally the brewing time itself - not necessarily the time from when the button is first pushed. If the espresso starts to drip out of your Rancilio about seven seconds after you push the button - a 30 second total length of pull time is likely close to correct.

This is only a rough guideline - on some machines like the E61 style that do a pre-infusion of the grounds before brewing starts, there's about a 12 second pre-infusion time and then the espresso starts to drip. I leave my shot countdown timer set at 32 seconds. If I have significantly less than an ounce from a double shot basket when I hit 32 seconds - it means I need to grind coarser. If instead I have more than 2 ounces - I need to grind finer.

Actual brewing time (the length of time the water is in contact with the coffee while it is being forced through) is considered to be optimal if its in the 22 to 30 second range. Shorter or longer times may lead to over or underextraction and cause bitterness or sourness in the shot. Brew temps that are too hot or too cool can have a similar impact.

A better benchmark is the appearance of the crema. Good fresh beans that are properly ground and brewed should yield good reddish-brown crema. Look at the stream of espresso as it dribbles or pours slowly from the spout (if it it streams out rapidly you need a finer grind, a harder tamp or both). You should see "tiger-striping" occurring. This is the variegated striation effect where the reddish crema is interspersed with the light brown of the espresso fluid itself. The shot should be stopped when the tiger-striping begins to slow down and the liquid coming out begins to be mostly tan or blonde in color.

Run the shot for too long and the tan liquid that ends up in your cup will add lots of bitterness to the shot - it's the result of overextraction. I've actually read of A/B comparisons where people have pulled that last few seconds of blond liquid into a separate cup. Tasted like crap -very bitter. Some people who really pay attention to process actually wait until the first few seconds after the liquid starts dribbling before they put the cup or shot glass under the spout. There is reasonable evidence, both from the taste and the visual examination of the tiger-striping effect, that the first one or two seconds of a pour can have the blonde underextracted fluid present. It's far less significant than what can appear at the end of a shot.

I'm not fussy enough to bother waiting until just after the shot starts to put my cup under the spout but I do use the eppearance of the crema as a primary indicator for when to stop the shot. After the 12 second pre-infusion, my shots run anywhere from an additonal 18 to 30 seconds depending on how close I am on my grider settings. I have found that with the grinder dialed in correctly for the state fo the beans, I can standardize on about 32 seconds including pre-infusion for my total time and it yields a ristretto double shot that is about 1.5 to 1.75 oz in total not including the layer of crema.

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Could one of you knowledgable gents post a pic of a proper espresso? I am pretty dang sure I know what it looks like since I have access to Cafe Vivace, but I would love to see what a good example is supposed to look like for reference purposes.

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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Dave's photo is on the money - that's the deep rich reddish color you should look for in the crema.

Awhile back, Coffegeek did a review of the Isomac Zaffiro - the photos that accompanied the review on the first page of the article provide an excellent illustration of the apearance of crema as it is forming because the shot is bing pulled into a clear glass/crystal demitasse. Scroll to the center of the linked page and click on the photos one at a time to enlarge - look carefully and the tiger striping should be visible.

Zaffiro review with espresso shot and crema pics

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I've already mentioned it here previously but if you have not yet tried Gimme! Coffee in Williamsburg Brooklyn - get over there and do so. These folks really do it right and their standard espresso blend (called Leftist Blend) is a medium-dark roast level.

I've just returned from having two double espressos (wheee!) at Gorilla coffee, and they seemed to be doing everything right according to your checklist. They use a Faema E61 and Faema grinder/dosers, and hand tamping. The coffee is roasted right there in the shop. The counter guy made a point of mentioning that they'd just had the E61 completely cleaned right down to the piping. And indeed, there was no hint of bitterness, rancidity, or other unpleasant notes in the shots. The crema wasn't quite as dark as in that photo, but still pretty rich, and as I said, without any bitterness. Perhaps not the best I've ever had, but still pretty good. Williamsburg is actually kind of a long trip from here, and I usually have no reason to be going over there, but maybe someday.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Thanks guys!

I am just starting to dabble in espresso, but have a long history of latte consumption. I had a single espresso shot a few weekends ago from Vivace and was slightly turned off at first by the extreme concentration of the coffee, but by the end of the shot I was loving the complex sweet aftertaste.

More experimentation is necessary.

As soon as I get my new digital camera, I will take a few pics of the vivace shots.

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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