Espresso Myths - Part 2

August 03, '21

In the second part of our Espresso Myths series we deal with some common questions we get from both enthusiasts and professionals alike. One of the most important things to know about coffee is that there is always more to learn. The coffee industry is simultaneously intellectual and creative and we are always searching for new and exciting ways to prepare our favourite drink.

How hard should I Tamp?

Tamping is the method used to compress ground coffee into an espresso basket; this is done with a tool called a Tamp (not a tamper). “How hard should I tamp?” is a common question asked in foundation classes as it seems to be the easiest variable for a beginner to identify. Often, self-taught new baristas will attempt to change the espresso’s flow rate by varying their tamp pressure. The key is consistency!

Coffee will change based on its environment – the particles will expand and shrink based on a few factors, mainly temperature and humidity. Because of this your espresso shot is ever-changing and requires a keen eye to diagnose what is causing the shot to run too fast or too slow.

To keep things simple, the only variable that should be adjusted is the grind. We change the grind to counteract the environmental changes affecting the bean and in turn the extraction. If we vary our tamp pressure (or anything else aside from grind size for that matter) then we make it much harder to determine where we are going wrong.

The answer: Your tamp pressure should be consistent. You will find muscle memory is surprisingly accurate. The only variable that should be adjusted is your grind.

How much coffee should I use in my basket?

Some say 18g, others 21g….so which one is it!? First, maybe we should talk about where these numbers come from. Most cafés will have espresso basket sizes varying from 18 – 21g; there is no golden number.

A good starting recipe for espresso is a 1:2 ratio: one being the grind, two being the beverage weight (not volume) of the resulting espresso. The recipe can then be adjusted to achieve the desired taste.

What’s the deal with double espresso baskets vs single baskets?

Single filter baskets are usually rated for 7g whereas doubles start at 18g. From a consistency perspective this doesn’t quite line up (as 7 x 2 = 14 not 18) however you can still pull a 1:2 ratio, you just need to reduce the size of your espresso. Unfortunately, in a busy café setting, consistency would be out the window.

A small flat white made from half of a double shot would taste completely different from one made from a single basket shot (assuming the espresso volume is equal). Another aspect worth mentioning is the basket’s shape. The basic shapes (below) can vary the flavour profile dramatically.

Pressure from the smaller environment can affect the extraction to a small degree; but the real issue is the increased contact time due to fewer holes at the bottom. The longer water stays in contact with the ground coffee, the more flavour compounds are extracted. Extract coffee too long and you will get undesirable flavours coming through (bitterness); this is called over-extraction.

The uneven shape of the single basket will mean that flow will be restricted (as only a small amount can fit through at any given time) and the particles at the bottom of the basket will over-extract.

For home baristas, this may not be that important; however, in a café environment where consistency is key, you can clearly see the potential issues. TASTE for yourself and decide.

Fresh is best...?

One of the most common requests we receive is for the freshest roasted beans possible. But is fresh coffee always best? To answer this, think about if everything is best when it is fresh? Blue cheese is definitely not fresh but is regarded to be at its best when riddled with mould.

How about dry aged beef? Or perhaps a curry you’ve made the night before that tastes better the following night. I’m sure you can see where we are going with this. Freshest isn’t always best; ‘best’ is best, and ‘best’ is subjective. When it comes to coffee, immediately after the roasting process, the flavours within the bean have not had enough time to develop, this only happens with age.

What’s the deal with ristrettos?

Ristrettos are a polarising drink. People either love them or hate them. So what’s the deal with ristrettos and how did we get here anyway? Let’s take a look at coffee fashion. Like any industry, trends tend to ebb and flow.

Popular beverages, roasting style and attitude toward service have seen so many changes over the last decade, even varying between different states. To narrow down this broad topic let’s just focus on Perth and understanding our scene. Ristrettos first became ‘cool’ in the mid-2000’s in Perth because of some noteworthy pioneers of 3rd wave coffee.

Acidity in coffee was fast becoming popular, in part because it was unusual, and the easiest way to bring it out was to pull a ristretto shot. Simply put, a ristretto is a very concentrated form of espresso; it’s a bit like putting too much cordial in your water, it’s strong. Most people tend to find ristrettos too intense, but a decade ago they were all the rage both as straight espresso style or as a base for milk coffees; many cafes began serving ristretto shots as standard for all their coffees.

Nowadays the industry is at a point where cafes have a great deal more control over the coffee they use and are more able to source coffee that has natural acidity, negating (to a certain extent) the demand for ristretto style coffee.