Today I got an email asking for my thoughts on roasting for espresso and I thought that readers here might be interested in my approach to that. This is most of my reply in which I largely don’t answer the question.
It’s very rare that I will roast anything specifically for use as espresso. That isn’t to say that you might not want to do something different when roasting for espresso compared with other extraction methods or that there isn’t a benefit to having a different approach for espresso. Rather, it’s an honest admission that it tends not to be required to get what I’m looking for in an espresso blend (I’ve had a few good single origin shots but that’s not what I’m interested in selling at the moment) from the sorts of product mix I tend to have available to work with. YMMV. Instead, I’m looking at how the coffee performs on the cupping table and following up with verification by drip brewing when I develop my roast profiles. Then when I need to update my espresso blend I will try the coffees that I have to work with individually as espresso and then start mixing things and again trying as espresso until I have something that matches the flavor profile that I’m looking for. Rarely that doesn’t work and I need to think about either custom roasting some component of the blend just for use in espresso (which is annoying since I also like to use fresh coffee as espresso) or blending before roasting (which solves the freshness issue but has its own limitations) or sometimes a combination of the two (which gives the worst of both worlds from a management perspective but taste trumps ease of production).
When I think about espresso, it is something that I can enjoy drinking every day. I want something that is intensely flavorful, something with a complex flavor profile, something that is slightly sweet without being astringent, and something that is well balanced. The only thing that’s a bit vague there is complexity. Properly prepared espresso has a very low surface tension which means that it will get deep into the tongue as you drink it and unless you wash your mouth out you can still taste the espresso up to two hours after drinking it. I’m looking for something that continues to be interesting throughout that time. It seems that this sort of flavor profile also always does well in milk drinks. I’ve tasted some espresso blends that were designed with a milder flavor to appeal to a broader audience where my feedback has been that even in an 8 ounce double cappuccino I could no longer taste the coffee. Similarly, there are some who eschew balance with mixed results in the presence of milk. There are markets for both approaches but neither is what I’m interested in selling.
To achieve this I tend to use a blend consisting of coffees that range in degree of roast from just into the second crack through a French roast and using coffees from the Americas and the Pacific islands. Rarely an African. Never any robusta. Almost always 10-20% coffee from Papua New Guinea. Nothing in a proportion of less than 10%, usually 4 or 5 ingredients, but sometimes 3 or 6. At present it’s 50% Guatemalan, 20% East Timor, 20% Java, 10% Papua New Guinea, which is a bit atypical for the lack of a Brazilian coffee. All of those are washed coffees, but I’ve used non-washed coffees in the past. There again, espresso was not something that I was thinking about when deciding how to roast those.
If there is any advice that I would give on roasting for espresso, it is to evaluate your roasts as espresso (I would suggest that cupping has no place in espresso development) to build up experience that you can call on when you’re having trouble getting what you want out of the coffee you have. Beyond that, you may get some very different answers if you know any roasters in coffee producing areas that are developing markets for specialty coffee consumption. Almost all of these seem to be focusing primarily on espresso at the moment and have unique constraints in that they are not able to import coffees from other countries. So, for example, if you meet a roaster from Brazil you may want to ask them the same question.
I recently noticed that the Modbus RTU support in Typica had a bug. The nature of the bug is that under configurations where no setup data is requested from the device (that is, fixed decimal position, fixed unit, fixed limits for SV output) no measurements would be collected at all. The problem was that new measurements were only requested when the system noticed that there were no messages left to send to the device, which it could only do if at least one message had already been sent. Easy fix, one line to explicitly request the first measurement no matter what.
If you look in the currently released code you can see that there are plans to greatly generalize Modbus RTU support as that support is currently quite limited. One device per bus, only temperature measurements, only one set value. It makes a lot of sense to get rid of the limitations: allow as many devices per bus as the spec allows, allow monitoring unlimited addresses, support non-temperature data, and so on. That opens it up to being usable for things like motor control which would be useful for people running with variable speed drum/exhaust motors, especially if it’s scriptable enough to automate commonly needed control sequences.
One of the plans for Modbus support was to get people (such as the people who requested the feature) to send how they had configured communications for the devices that they had and I could compile these reports into a set of device presets so that people who would be buying hardware would have a list of known working models and they wouldn’t need to wade through a thick communications manual to figure out what the right settings are for those particular devices. I had put out a program for testing such communications settings but nobody ever got back to me with data so I left that out rather than have only a single device preset for the controller I had access to. I’ll soon have access to a second device. I was expecting it today, but it’s been delayed. One of my espresso machines is coming back from refurbishment with a Modbus capable PID controller and this is going to be hooked up to a RS485-USB adapter so that I can more easily monitor and reprogram the controller from my computer (and eventually from an Android 3.1+ device I hope). The particular controller is very different from what I had to test with previously. For example, my test device has an address that I can query for the decimal position. If there are no digits after the decimal point it returns 0. If there’s one digit, it returns 1, and so on. Similarly, there’s an address that I can query to determine the measurement unit. This new device has a single address that returns a bit field representing three different configurable properties. There’s no reason that can’t work, but the current code can’t handle that at all.
The solution here is pretty much going to have to be to make device initialization highly scriptable. Make it easy to construct an arbitrary sequence of commands with callbacks (probably inline lambda expressions) to script functions that can interpret the response and set things up properly. Done right I don’t think there’s any Modbus device it wouldn’t work for but it’s entirely too much burden to put on someone who doesn’t have some systems integration experience so once that’s ready to go having some device presets will pretty much be mandatory. The controller also has a peculiarity that I’m pretty sure makes it non-compliant with the protocol specs but it’s an easy option to make sure that it still works.
At least the measured values are still scaled integers so the most basic functionality is usable with Typica (not that Typica is really designed for use monitoring an espresso machine, but at least for the initial programming it’s better than nothing) with the bug fix described previously.
Unknown espresso at Seattle’s Best. It took three people to figure out how to ring this up because no one has ever ordered an espresso here before. In the end they only charged me $.54. Then the fire alarm went off.
You might detect some excitement in the previous post. That’s real, but it’s also tempered with depression from the fact that the vast majority of coffee houses just don’t understand espresso in any meaningful sense. The owners and management don’t drink it, the staff doesn’t drink it, or if they do they aren’t leveraged to produce a product worth drinking. They’re using stale coffee, poor preparation techniques, and they think they’re doing everything right, so many people believe that they don’t like espresso unless it’s masked by ten times as much milk and additional flavorings. They’ve never had a really good espresso and they’re missing out.
Yes, I went home early because I was basically struggling to take portafilters out of the grouphead and tamping was exhausting. I was not well.
But what I wanted to talk about before I brushed over a half sick day at work is the single-origin espresso I dialed in yesterday. It may have been the best shot of espresso I’ve had in my life to date.
Well, Charles Babinski pulled me a shot of Takesi, Bolivia I would have sold my cat’s fur for, but the Santuario, Colombia Bourbón Micro-lot has to be one of my favourite coffees of all time ever. It’s just a very special, very tasty coffee I can’t say enough great things about.
My specs were simple: 18.5 gram dose, 26 seconds (3 second preinfusion), 31 grams out, 201ºF. My tastes were complex: upfront were the florals dancing with lavender followed closely by grapefruit and blood orange, finishing with a clean and sparkling bergamot and orange peel.
This is basically why I get so excited about coffee: flavours. I like to explain them to people, I like to create them, I like to experience them. I have had other people’s shots of the same coffee and while they are great, they are so different. I think specifically in espresso it’s almost magical and signature-like how someone dials the coffee in to be in tune with the way they are. And every one dials in coffee differently and every one is so different. And I love that.
I sipped it and immediately wanted to share my experience with all my coworkers and curious customers alike. I guess it basically doesn’t really even matter if you’re a “coffee person” or not, in the end, who doesn’t want something tasty?
I think the fact coffee people share cups without a blink of an eye is symbolic of how we are as people, striving together as a unit to learn the most and help each other. We are a family, and we’re always looking to expand.
I’ll start off by saying that I’ve never been a fan of single origin espresso shots, though Bolivian coffees for the past few years are close to changing my mind. When developing a new espresso blend I start out by running the coffees I’m considering one at a time to see how these coffees behave as espresso (some people start at the cupping table, but espresso preparation is so fundamentally different, extracting at a lower temperature and a higher pressure, and with the crema helping to preserve more of the chemicals responsible for the flavor and aroma than any other brewing method [that lipophilic emulsion wraps around and protects chemicals that would normally be destroyed on contact with water and provides a barrier which traps other chemicals that would normally go off into the air], that I don’t see the point of that myself) so I do end up drinking a lot of SOS. I’ve just never found one that really works for me as an every day espresso. That’s entirely a matter of personal preference and there’s a lot out there that I can taste and determine that the coffee is really good, but at the same time that it’s not what I want. And there are a lot of opinions out there on what makes a good espresso. Lots of roasters are trying different things and talented baristi are taking different approaches to the preparation to come up with some really neat flavors. One of my favorite parts of traveling to industry events is going around and tasting what others are doing with espresso. It’s fun and interesting. I do, however, wish that the Roasters Guild retreat would stop hiding the espresso bar and go back to not staffing it. Everybody there ought to know how to pull shots (and if they don’t, it’s not hard to find someone there willing to teach) and I loved being able to jump on the machine in the morning and try 4-6 really different espressos in a row.
Bigger Espresso Machine or Another Espresso Machine?
As a good coffee shop gains traction and starts to serve more drinks, it’s not uncommon that what was once a nice commercial espresso machine starts turning into a bottleneck. The machine just can’t produce the drinks fast enough to keep up with demand. The common response to this situation is to put in a bigger espresso machine with more groups, but there’s another option that is often overlooked which I believe is often the better choice: putting in another espresso machine.
There are some key advantages to running with multiple espresso machines.
Reduced downtime. Espresso machines need periodic maintenance and sometimes they break unexpectedly. With two espresso machines, you can continue to operate at reduced capacity while one machine is down instead of being completely shut down.
More steaming wands. Four group espresso machines often only have two or three steaming wands. A pair of two group espresso machines will usually have a combined total of four, allowing you to steam more things at once.
More working space. With two machines, the working area can be spread out more than is reasonable with a single machine. If you have multiple people using the machines at once, a two machine setup provides a more comfortable working area where certain types of errors are less likely.
The disadvantage is that one person will not usually be able to effectively utilize both machines, so if you commonly get orders for eight shots of espresso in a single drink, this is not ideal. You might also be using some sort of command work flow where different people behind the bar have narrowly defined responsibilities for filling different parts of the order, and two espresso machines are a bit more difficult to manage in that case.
That last disadvantage might turn out to be a side benefit. One of the things that I do every so often (especially when I travel) is go around to various coffee shops, observe how the bar is being managed, how busy the establishment is, and measure how long it takes for orders to be filled. Some places have a single person who is responsible for an entire order from taking the order, to making the drinks, collecting the bakery, and charging the customer. There will usually be multiple people behind the bar who can each handle a customer. Other establishments have a more rigid structure where one person takes the order and charges the customer, another person provides instructions based on the order taken to other people, one responsible for making drinks, another responsible for bakery, and so on, perhaps with yet another person assembling the orders for the customer. It has been my observation that the former work flow is in practice more efficient except during exceptionally busy rushes (think line out the door and tables full all at once). If you have enough people to keep things running, a second espresso machine (and a second cash register/serving area) allows more customers to be handled in parallel, reducing waiting times, and making it less likely that a customer will see a long line and decide that a coffee is not worth the wait.