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Should I really get to know espresso better?
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Discussions > Espresso > Q and A > Should I really...  
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rmongiovi
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Posted Tue Oct 17, 2006, 1:50pm
Subject: Should I really get to know espresso better?
 

I originally came to coffeegeek to improve my ability to make drip coffee, but of course having been here for a while my curiosity has been piqued about espresso.  After all, I'm told it's a tasty beverage and it involves cool mechanical devices and lots of pressure.  What's not to like?

But here's the rub.  I like coffee.  Nothing hits the spot like a great cup of joe.  But there's no way it's passing through my lips without a liberal addition of sugar.  My taste buds are much too eager to identify the flavor "bitter" for me to take my coffee straight.

I'm pretty sure that stirring four or so heaping teaspoons of sugar into a cup of espresso is pretty much going to kill any crema I might have been talented enough to produce, and it seems like producing crema is a major goal of the barista.

I've also heard that espresso is not the best extraction method for preserving all the flavor nuances in the coffee bean.  Of course, I'm also not sure that those same nuances survive my addition of sugar either.

So that leaves me with a quandry.  Although the "tool guy" in me wants to grunt at the thought of an espresso maker, I'm suspecting that this isn't the extraction method that is going to best fit my personal enjoyment of coffee.

I've tried espresso in some of the local shops, but I have no idea if what I experienced is indicative of what I might be able to achieve at home.  From reading here, I'd think I could do better.  But that still doesn't mean I'll ever be able to learn to like espresso.  Is there anyone out there with taste buds like mine who might have an opinion he/she would share?
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EddieDove
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EddieDove
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Posted Tue Oct 17, 2006, 4:54pm
Subject: Re: Should I really get to know espresso better?
 

Roy,

In my opinion, if you are not already doing so, start homeroasting and see if you like the coffee a whole lot more without the sugar.  Then, you just may LOVE the espresso and won't worry about the sugar.  You certainly already have the grinder and brewer for it!

 
Respectfully,

Eddie Dove (a.k.a. eodove)
Vita non est vivere sed valere vita est
Home Coffee Roasting Blog and Reference
http://www.southcoastcoffeeroaster.blogspot.com/
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DarkMajestic
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Posted Tue Oct 17, 2006, 7:47pm
Subject: Re: Should I really get to know espresso better?
 

Honestly .. I can't see how the idea that espresso must be consumed straight has become some kinda law or sign of an espresso guru.

In the drip world I never added anything to my coffee .. when I entered the espresso world I at first kept old dogma .. "straight espresso only .. please" ... but now I mix espresso with sugar and all kinds of ingredients.

In fact if any coffee beverage can be combined with other ingredients it is espresso that tops the list. Sweetening espresso is a task all in itself.

Ofcourse .. strange things happen when you start drinking espresso ... you may find yourself eating your own words and drinking only straight espresso  !!!

Good Day ...
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rmongiovi
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Posted Tue Oct 17, 2006, 8:48pm
Subject: Re: Should I really get to know espresso better?
 

Alas, my "bitter" taste buds work overtime, and that's not a flavor characteristic I prefer.  Things that other people identify as sweet I think taste bitter.  Perhaps it's like beer - an acquired taste - but I don't really want to acquire it.

So what about the idea that the espresso extraction method masks the subtler flavors of the coffee?
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RapidCoffee
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Posted Tue Oct 17, 2006, 10:46pm
Subject: Re: Should I really get to know espresso better?
 

rmongiovi Said:

Alas, my "bitter" taste buds work overtime, and that's not a flavor characteristic I prefer.  Things that other people identify as sweet I think taste bitter.

Posted October 17, 2006 link

Hi Roy. Like you, I find straight coffee (and espresso) bitter - but it's terrific when sweetened. My favorite coffee beverage by far is a lightly sweetened double cappuccino (2oz espresso, 3-4 oz foamed milk, 1/2t sugar).

Regardless of what some may say, there are bitter flavors in coffee. In fact, that's part of the appeal. Bittersweet chocolate is another spectacularly delicious food, but unsweetened: yuck! Only you know how your taste buds respond to flavors. So drink your coffee the way you enjoy it, and ignore the barbarians who try to convince you otherwise.

rmongiovi Said:

So what about the idea that the espresso extraction method masks the subtler flavors of the coffee?

Posted October 17, 2006 link

I'd be tempted to argue the opposite. Personally, I'd rather drink espresso than coffee prepared by any other brewing method. Nothing else really compares. But be warned: it's a slippery slope...
________
John

RapidCoffee: DoubleEspresso.jpg
(Click for larger image)
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MarkPrince
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Posted Wed Oct 18, 2006, 1:56am
Subject: Re: Should I really get to know espresso better?
 

DarkMajestic Said:

Honestly .. I can't see how the idea that espresso must be consumed straight has become some kinda law or sign of an espresso guru.

Posted October 17, 2006 link


Personally... I've never subscribed to the mantra that one must have coffee and/or espresso black. In fact, I regularly enjoy my morning americano with a demitasse spoon of this amazing cinnamon honey I've been able to find locally, and some 10% cream.

BUT.

Really, truly good espresso? IMO, about 75% of the population has the capability to enjoy it straight. That's because roughly 25% of the general population has a sensitivity to bitters that's higher, and perhaps high enough to diminish the quality of the taste of espresso...

I said also capability. The problem is, we're generally programmed to expect things to taste a certain way. In other words, straight espresso is an acquired taste... much like how the horrible instant coffees were eventually acquired tastes to WWII soldiers... to the point where they kept buying it when they got back stateside.

The bonus here is this - genuinely good espresso - the stuff with mixtures of bitters and sweets, of aromatic flavour oils that, when presented and prepped properly, just add such intense taste sensations to the basics of bitters and sweets - this stuff - it's much easier to acquire a taste for. ;)

So I will say this - if your espresso is "on" enough, and you're not one of the 1 in 4 overly sensitive to bitters, then yes, you should enjoy it just as much straight as you do sweetened up. In fact, both should be enjoyed for their own merits - sweetening espresso gives it brand new dimensions that I certainly don't scoff at. But by the same token, I truly appreciate how something with zero calories can have such amazing complexity, flavour nuances, sweetness, bitterness, the whole melange - all on it's own.

Mark

 
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TimEggers
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Posted Wed Oct 18, 2006, 9:50am
Subject: Re: Should I really get to know espresso better?
 

I too don't believe that coffee or espresso has to be drunk in any specific fashion, in fact that in my opinion would make coffee utterly boring.  While I do enjoy my coffee black I found my espresso to be very harsh and strong, however this is more likely due to my lack of experience and skill in its preparation.  Espresso is very different than coffee.

I do believe however that there are advantages to being able to at least sample brewed drinks to diagnose the quality of the drink and to troubleshoot the preparation process.  Especially with espresso, it seems to me some of the flaws can be best found with taste or rather off flavors and not just by timing shot time or visual appearance of finished product.  However the down side to that is that if your palate is only capable of detecting bitters then this approach is not practical.  Now does one absolutely have to be able to sample straight espresso to make amazing shots?  NO.  Taste is just one aspect of the diagnostic process.

Should you get to know espresso more?  I don't believe that anyone here is better qualified to answer that than you, it is something you must decide to do or not to do then make a decision on it's merits.  I do know however that you are in the best place to be a new espresso maker as this community is full of knowledgeable and very kind people many of which got there start here.  I know I did and I couldn't be happier.  So take a breath and take a shot at it, if it doesn't work out you can always sell the equipment and take satisfaction in the fact that you tried.  You'll be amazed at what you will learn and experience along the way.  That's what it's all about!

 
Tim Eggers
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Psyd
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Psyd
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Posted Wed Oct 18, 2006, 2:03pm
Subject: Re: Should I really get to know espresso better?
 

rmongiovi Said:

I originally came to coffeegeek to improve my ability to make drip coffee, but of course having been here for a while my curiosity has been piqued about espresso.  After all, I'm told it's a tasty beverage and it involves cool mechanical devices and lots of pressure.  What's not to like?

Posted October 17, 2006 link

Heroin is a very cool high, and, prepared properly, poses no danger.  On the other hand, it's highly addictive.  Like heroin, espresso can be a bit of a problem for those that are into it.  Especially a highly caffeinated toolguy.  The combination of caffeine and toys is almost irresistable, and you could end up like me; ten grand in the kitchen and two on the road.  ('Cause no one knows how to make coffee in a hotel...)

rmongiovi Said:

But here's the rub.  I like coffee...  ...But there's no way it's passing through my lips without a liberal addition of sugar.  My taste buds are much too eager to identify the flavor "bitter" for me to take my coffee straight.

Posted October 17, 2006 link

Nothing wrong with that.  My first visit to Italy had me imitating the locals in my espresso consumption.  Order the shot, stir in a heaping demitasse spoon of sugar, repeat, drink.  Most of those I saw drinking espresso did so with sugar.  Drink what you like...

rmongiovi Said:

I'm pretty sure that stirring four or so heaping teaspoons of sugar into a cup of espresso is pretty much going to kill any crema I might have been talented enough to produce, and it seems like producing crema is a major goal of the barista.

Posted October 17, 2006 link

As long as the crema is there when it's born, having it get lost in the stirring doens't change it's good qualities.  Producing crema is tantamount, having it survive the stirring in of sugar isn't really important.

rmongiovi Said:

I've tried espresso in some of the local shops

Posted October 17, 2006 link

Compare it to Starbucks.  One thing that they are pretty good at is representing mediocrity planet-wide.  They make a good comparison because the shot I get at the airport in Las Vegas is going to be fairly similar to the shot I get across the street from the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, or in the bottom of the Wyndaham (formerly the Adams) in Phoenix, around the corner from the Springhill in Seattle (although, why would you?) or in the lobby of the Hyatt in DC.  They're all using the same beans, and the same machines, and theyr'e all going to be decent but unremarkable coffee.  If the local shops aren't any better than the local starbucks, then they arent' getting close to what you can do at home.

Here's an experiment for espresso with sugar.  Get a bar of really good 70% cocoa chocolate.  Get some beans, less than a week out of the roaster.  Grind the beans while letting the chocolate melt on your tongue.  Once the chocolate has melted to a liquid, jam your nose into the container with the the freshly ground coffee in it and inhale deeply while you swallow the melted chocolate.
That can be you, with an espresso machine in your home.
I'll be like a second job, except the money will be going out instead of coming in, and can be a bit like a substance abuse problem.
You've been warned...

 
http://members.cox.net/gearsale/Astoria
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mrgnomer
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Posted Wed Oct 18, 2006, 4:03pm
Subject: Re: Should I really get to know espresso better?
 

rmongiovi Said:


I've also heard that espresso is not the best extraction method for preserving all the flavor nuances in the coffee bean.  Of course, I'm also not sure that those same nuances survive my addition of sugar either.

I've tried espresso in some of the local shops, but I have no idea if what I experienced is indicative of what I might be able to achieve at home.  From reading here, I'd think I could do better.  But that still doesn't mean I'll ever be able to learn to like espresso.  Is there anyone out there with taste buds like mine who might have an opinion he/she would share?

Posted October 17, 2006 link

I personally feel that espresso is currently the only method of extraction to bring out the best flavour a good roast has to offer.  A good cup of expresso is deeper in character with more pronounced and identifiable notes of ranging from vanilla, fig, hazelnut, brazil nut, almond, caramel, blueberry...depending on the roast, blend and varietal.  I've only brewed with vacuum press, drip and french press methods so I have only those extraction methods to compare with espresso but espresso leaves them all wanting.

Unfortunately I think in North America there are very few cafe's that offer good espresso.  I've had good espresso at an Italian restaurant but everywhere else from average restaurants to hole in the wall coffeeshops the espresso is not good at all even if the machine is capable.

I also didn't know if I'd like espresso before I got into it.  I took a chance and I really like espresso.  Prepared well with freshly roasted beans, a good grind and a capable machine espresso is smooth and tastes close to what the fresh grind smells like.  I add sugar and it doesn't take away from the crema.  The crema deteriorates quickly whether you add sugar or not, as far as I understand.  Time, a stale roast, bad grind and poor barista technique is crema's enemy, not sugar.
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LarryLaurel
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Posted Thu Oct 19, 2006, 11:10am
Subject: Re: Should I really get to know espresso better?
 

mrgnomer Said:

I personally feel that espresso is currently the only method of extraction to bring out the best flavour a good roast has to offer.

Posted October 18, 2006 link

If that's the case, then why isn't cupping done with espresso?  Not trying to be argumentative or confrontational, just curious.  I too find espresso to be the most wonderful thing that can be done with coffee, but it seems that the real pro tasters aren't using it

Larry
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