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Sugar + Espresso = Sour
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Discussions > Espresso > General > Sugar + Espresso...  
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TheRealScubaSteve
Senior Member
TheRealScubaSteve
Joined: 22 Feb 2014
Posts: 97
Location: Massachusetts
Expertise: Just starting

Espresso: Delonghi EC155
Grinder: Baratza Encore
Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 2:00pm
Subject: Sugar + Espresso = Sour
 

Hi All,

Apologies in advance - I know there is a topic somewhere on this forum about the same subject, but I am having difficulty using the search bar. For some reason I get an error when I search for certain things (such as this topic) regardless of time, day, etc.

I'm new (since Christmas) to making my own espresso and realize the shortcomings of my skill and equipment to achieve a really good espresso - I'm ok with just being better than Starbucks for now.

At any rate, I've only managed to get what I'd consider a pretty decent shot of espresso worth drinking solo once (with Redbird Espresso Blend). That said, I've tried adding sugar to a shot to make it more palatable - less bitter or sour, depending on the shot my EC155 decided to give me on any given day. It makes it so sour and disgusting that you'd think you were drinking poison. The other thread I tried to find, if memory serves, said that perhaps the sugar off-set another balancing flavor note in the espresso, thereby making it seem more sour.

The question of the day is if this is still how much sugar does everyone put in with good results? I'm a 1 sugar with a regular cup of coffee guy - not very sweet, but enough to offer subtle sweetness. I've tried anywhere from 1/4 and 1/2 packet of sugar to a full packet (which made it so sweet it was also undrinkable) but all were no dice. In the meantime, I continue to taste the straight shot first and then make a latte if it is not to my liking.

Steve

 
"But it is not a perfect world and none of us are god-shots.  As for me, I am a little over extracted and therefore slightly bitter and my crema is thin..." -Buckley
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SamTonin
Senior Member
SamTonin
Joined: 4 Feb 2009
Posts: 29
Location: Sydney, Australia
Expertise: Professional
Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 4:49pm
Subject: Re: Sugar + Espresso = Sour
 

Sour espresso is the mark of under extraction.

If the sugar doesn't cover it, then it's extremely under extracted.

Raise the temperature if you're able to and grind finer, ensuring that the extraction time target is 28-32 seconds and the volume target is around 40-50mL, depending on your basket size.

There is a very small possibility that lime scale is covering the elements, limiting the heating potential of the boiler. If you think this is the case, the safest method for home machines is to use apple cider vinigar as a descaler.

If the time is correct and the water temperature is also correct, it could be that the grinder is producing an uneven grind, check that the blades are properly aligned and are relatively undamaged. You could sharpen the blades by grinding half a cup of white uncooked rice.

If, after all this, the espresso is still sour, try grinding finer and targeting a reduced volume, eg. 30mL in 35 seconds.

 
My micro-roastery is up and running, be sure to check it out! www.beanofatree.com.au
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TheRealScubaSteve
Senior Member
TheRealScubaSteve
Joined: 22 Feb 2014
Posts: 97
Location: Massachusetts
Expertise: Just starting

Espresso: Delonghi EC155
Grinder: Baratza Encore
Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 7:35pm
Subject: Re: Sugar + Espresso = Sour
 

Thanks for the reply. I should also add a caveat that prior to adding sugar, I tasted the plain espresso. Sometimes just the first layer, sometimes mixed to ensure an even flavor. The shots that I've tried to add sugar to weren't totally undrinkable to start, but the sugar for sure made them horrid, to say the least.

I've only got a cheap machine so I can't fine-tune temperature, which I'm sure is a big part of my problem. Despite meh feelings about the Encore, after calibrating, it seems to be pretty consistent. I haven't descaled yet (started using somewhere around January 1) so I can try that to rule it out.

I do think that my grind is too course for "real" espresso - after calibrating the Encore to the finest setting, I grind at the 9-10 mark, otherwise it clogs my machine with even a light tamp. To counter this, I tamp with medium pressure, then dose another 1-2 grams and tamp again. If I don't do it this way, I can't fit more than 13-14g in the basket. I do notice, though, that sometimes it likes to start blonding prematurely even with a higher dose. Hopefully a new basket will solve this issue, at least partially.

Steve

 
"But it is not a perfect world and none of us are god-shots.  As for me, I am a little over extracted and therefore slightly bitter and my crema is thin..." -Buckley
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SamTonin
Senior Member
SamTonin
Joined: 4 Feb 2009
Posts: 29
Location: Sydney, Australia
Expertise: Professional
Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 8:29pm
Subject: Re: Sugar + Espresso = Sour
 

It's the grinder then.

Most if the Encore grinders don't grind fine enough for espresso, you'll have to modify it to grind that fine.

Single tamp, dose higher as a temporary solution, also release some steam just prior to brewing, to attempt to get the machine to activate the boiler to give a higher temperature. Target 30 seconds or more at 50mL.

Good espresso doesn't need sugar!

 
My micro-roastery is up and running, be sure to check it out! www.beanofatree.com.au
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IMAWriter
Senior Member
IMAWriter
Joined: 4 Jul 2002
Posts: 5,927
Location: Brentwood, TN
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Bezzera Strega
Grinder: Forte, OE Pharos,...
Vac Pot: Adcraft SS, Yama 8 cup
Drip: Brazen, Kalita, Chemex,...
Roaster: Behmor 1600+, CO/UFO combo
Posted Sat Feb 22, 2014, 10:42pm
Subject: Re: Sugar + Espresso = Sour
 

Question...does your machine employ the dreaded "Crema enhancer?" If so, have you removed it?
If not, you're not really getting true espresso. Truthfully, I'm not sure your machine is up to the task of what you seek. It is at best a learning machine.
Im many cases folks have good machines, sub standard grinders. In your case, it's the opposite. While the Encore is not quite the grinder as Baratza's Preciso, and Vario (I own a Forte and Preciso) you're fine for now.

IMO, to get a sweeter espresso, you need to step up your game machine-wise. As Sam said, adding excessive sugar shouldn't be necessary for a properly prepared espresso. True, in other countries, sugar is often added, perhaps due to the fact they use old, robusta laden blends.

A nice used manual lever like a La Pavoni Millennium Europicola can be had pre-owned for about $400.
If you want a pump style machine, there are new machines starting at $500 that will do the job. A pre-owned NS Oscar is a hereat machine for the price, with much of the internals commercial quality.
The advice thou received from Sam is excellent, though I'm not sure I'd go with the apple cider vinegar! And a little Olive oil? LOL
Dezcal is a commercial cleaner which will leave much less residue taste wise, so less rinsing cycles. Be careful, as your pump is NOT meant to be run for more than maybe 40 seconds continuously.

Perhaps peruse CG's BST Forum. You might find a gently pre-owned machine from a member close enough you could go try it.

I'm not telling you this other than in the spirit of fellowship.
Best of luck and keeps us in the loop!

 
Rob J (LMWDP #187)
My Music Production web site:
www.robertjason.com
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TheRealScubaSteve
Senior Member
TheRealScubaSteve
Joined: 22 Feb 2014
Posts: 97
Location: Massachusetts
Expertise: Just starting

Espresso: Delonghi EC155
Grinder: Baratza Encore
Posted Sun Feb 23, 2014, 10:02am
Subject: Re: Sugar + Espresso = Sour
 

It did have the crema enhancer, but it was the first thing I removed after reading CG forums. As others said in the EC155 thread, I expected to see a decline in taste until I developed a little consistency with technique. There was no comparison in taste - the crema enhancer is most assuredly a crema (and taste) killer.

That's fair enough to say that I won't get a sweeter espresso with my machine. My biggest problem now is that I don't think I've ever had a "proper" espresso so I'm not even sure what I'm shooting for. I'm also still trying to adjust to the much stronger flavors in espresso as compared to a cup of coffee or a latte. I do make my own lattes with 4-6 oz of milk so they are much truer than a Starbucks one.

I'm content with my machine and learning on it for now, as I've only been making espresso for 2 months or so. I'm curious to see what will change with a new basket when I can finally make the PF bottomless. When I and funds are ready to upgrade the machine, I'll look more into the Oscar (as it sparked my eye previously) and other options.

I'm going to get some Dezcal to try and see if that makes a difference. I do have hard water (softened), but am not sure that two months is long enough to really cause issues - I make about 20 espressos on the machine a week.

Thanks for the advice.

Steve

 
"But it is not a perfect world and none of us are god-shots.  As for me, I am a little over extracted and therefore slightly bitter and my crema is thin..." -Buckley
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IMAWriter
Senior Member
IMAWriter
Joined: 4 Jul 2002
Posts: 5,927
Location: Brentwood, TN
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Bezzera Strega
Grinder: Forte, OE Pharos,...
Vac Pot: Adcraft SS, Yama 8 cup
Drip: Brazen, Kalita, Chemex,...
Roaster: Behmor 1600+, CO/UFO combo
Posted Sun Feb 23, 2014, 1:05pm
Subject: Re: Sugar + Espresso = Sour
 

2 months with softened water should mean that scale is not necessarily a problem. But if you're not getting a 200f shot...hmmm.
When the machine "says" it's heated up, it's really not. You need to bleed your steam wand for 2-4 seconds, to relieve false pressure (if this machine doesn't have a 3 way pressure relief valve).
Bleeding the wand will allow the machine to reach actual proper brew temperature.

USUALLY, the first shot is meant as a "Spousal Americano" (I claim longtime ownership of that term LOL). That 2nd shot should be right on the money. Prior to the 2nd shot, if you can group/touch the brew head (group) for longer than a millisecond, it's not up to temperature. If it is, your 2nd shot should NOT be sour, unless your coffee is either under-roasted, under-extracted, old, or just not very good. I forgot, are you using freshly roasted (within 7 days of purchase) beans?

 
Rob J (LMWDP #187)
My Music Production web site:
www.robertjason.com
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TheRealScubaSteve
Senior Member
TheRealScubaSteve
Joined: 22 Feb 2014
Posts: 97
Location: Massachusetts
Expertise: Just starting

Espresso: Delonghi EC155
Grinder: Baratza Encore
Posted Sun Feb 23, 2014, 2:34pm
Subject: Re: Sugar + Espresso = Sour
 

IMAWriter Said:

You need to bleed your steam wand for 2-4 seconds, to relieve false pressure

Posted February 23, 2014 link

I usually let the machine heat up for at least 30 minutes. Anything less than that and I'll run empty shots through until I can't touch the grouphead. I'll try to bleed the steam wand - I've never done that before. Should that be done on the steam setting or warmup setting, which does nothing other than let some water/"steam" out?

Most of the time my shots are not sour (unless sugar is added), but more towards the bitter. I don't think they're truly as bitter as I think - I'm guessing that that is just my lack of developed palate.

IMAWriter Said:

USUALLY, the first shot is meant as a "Spousal Americano" (I claim longtime ownership of that term LOL). That 2nd shot should be right on the money.

Posted February 23, 2014 link

Does this mean that I should make two separate shots just to get one "good" one?


I do use freshly roasted beans. I started with Starbucks, but after seeing many-a-newbies scolded, I made the change. What a difference it made. I also started with a whirly-blade grinder. That made an even bigger difference upgrading to the Encore. I've just finished the last of the Redbird I first bought about a week ago. Just started using Fair Mountain a couple days ago. I did notice that Fair Trade's espresso blend is roasted much darker, which I am assuming accounts for more of a pungent taste.

I don't drink enough coffee to use the beans while super fresh, but it's still much better coffee than I can get around here so I'm ok with that. I bought two pounds of Fair Mountain to try so I'm going to try freezing them and using as needed to preserve freshness.

 
"But it is not a perfect world and none of us are god-shots.  As for me, I am a little over extracted and therefore slightly bitter and my crema is thin..." -Buckley
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IMAWriter
Senior Member
IMAWriter
Joined: 4 Jul 2002
Posts: 5,927
Location: Brentwood, TN
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Bezzera Strega
Grinder: Forte, OE Pharos,...
Vac Pot: Adcraft SS, Yama 8 cup
Drip: Brazen, Kalita, Chemex,...
Roaster: Behmor 1600+, CO/UFO combo
Posted Sun Feb 23, 2014, 3:54pm
Subject: Re: Sugar + Espresso = Sour
 

TheRealScubaSteve Said:

Does this mean that I should make two separate shots just to get one "good" one?

Posted February 23, 2014 link

No, just pull your first shot and make a cappa for later, or to gift your better half with. If the shot looks real good, DRINK IT. Bleed your wand from the steam setting  believe. Not sure it matters.
If your coffee is bitter, that means either your shots are pulled to hot, or your coffee is old. it's VERY hard to pull a bitter shot with Red bird, BTW. Congratulations! LOL
Sorry, what I mean is that coffee likes 199-200f range. If you think you're TOO hot, Try cooling your PF under cool water for 20 seconds, insert into the group, wait 30 seconds, then dry the PF, grind, and quickly pull your shot.

 
Rob J (LMWDP #187)
My Music Production web site:
www.robertjason.com
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SamTonin
Senior Member
SamTonin
Joined: 4 Feb 2009
Posts: 29
Location: Sydney, Australia
Expertise: Professional
Posted Sun Feb 23, 2014, 4:07pm
Subject: Re: Sugar + Espresso = Sour
 

Can you tell us your brew recipe please? It helps when diagnosing these things from a distance.

Dose weight:
Shot time:
Volume:
Final weight:

When were the beans roasted?
What kind and what brand of sugar?
Have you tried a different sugar? Raw?
Do you smoke cigaretts?

Could you not just purge some water to heat the group up? Around 200mL should be plenty to heat up that section.

 
My micro-roastery is up and running, be sure to check it out! www.beanofatree.com.au
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