Espresso Secrets, Part 1

October 20, 2008 at 12:19 pm | Posted in Thoughts By Barista Ben | 3 Comments
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I am in constant pursuit of the perfect demitasse of espresso.  My daily espressos at Urban Grounds don’t stop me from a wandering eye all about town, seeing if anyone else is putting in the effort to pull shots worth writing about.  Sipho, at Urban Grounds, has been extracting some amazing caramel sweet shots lately, but today Peleka’s dark and tiger-striped elixir could rival any I’ve seen from the Cape to Durban to the USA!

What I have discovered is that the more I know about espresso, the more I realize how little I actually do know about it! The biggest obstacle to a great espresso in Durban is the humidity.  This fickle and constantly changing weather on sea-side Durbs has given me headaches as I watch perfectly good shots go south with the change of the wind.  These irritating events have lead my recent research of espresso to David C. Schomer.  You might call him the coffee guru, or perhaps just an espresso fanatic.  Either way, it makes him worth a read for us coffee zealots!  So, here is a little something from his book “Espresso Coffee:  Professional Techniques” that has helped us out at Urban Grounds.

Humidity intimately affects your operation on a moment-to-moment basis, because ground coffee is very hygroscopic, meaning it exchanges water molecules freely from its surrounding environment.  As you grind coffee, it absorbs water molecules or gives them up to the atmosphere, depending on relative humidity surrounding the grinders.  In very humid conditions, the espresso packs tighter, like matted dog hair, producing a slower extraction rate.

In espresso, we are very concerned with how much water passes per second through the ground, packed coffee.  There is a golden rate of water flow, corresponding to about a 25-second extraction for the total shot, that maximizes flavor release and minimizes the amount of bitter flavors and excessive caffeine that pours into the final cup…. but more on that next time.

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3 Comments »

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  1. Good Job Barista Ben!!! As they say in Africa ‘Oomp there it is’

  2. Oh and you are teaching me alot. I was coffee stupid before you. Now I can’t drink just anything. So how many times a day do we check the grind to make sure we compensate for the humidity?

  3. We check the grind all the time… ie every shot we look at to see if we need to adjust the grind! pretentious to some important to us. And the terrible experience of the weekend was in the Midlands where I had an Illy espresso that was pre-ground a couple of hours early and coarse enough for a french press.


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