I would firstly like to thank you all for your great support so far. I did not expect to get more than ten views per day, so seeing our views continue to increase is the best gift I could get – thank you!
In the last five weeks, we have learnt a bit about the role of the barista, how to treat your customers, and what to do if you are looking to pursue a career in specialty coffee. We have also learnt from the interview with Peter Giuliano about different varieties and hybrids of coffee, and how climate change affects these. I asked you all to send me some suggestions on what you would like to read and learn about and, unsurprisingly, most of the responses related to espresso.
The timing couldn’t be better… Personally, I am not ‘all about espresso’. I do enjoy good espresso, but I will be much keener to go for a filter coffee over the espresso when I visit a new coffeehouse. Why? Because most of the espressos I have tried over the past few years have been disappointing in my opinion. So what is good espresso for me? It has a lasting and pleasant aftertaste — that’s the most important aspect to me. I want to feel good after drinking espresso rather than feeling the need to eat chocolate cake to take away an unpleasant aftertaste. The second thing is sweetness. I want it. I need it in espresso. When I have those two, it’s always a good experience. I don’t mind if it’s full or medium-bodied, but I am over old-fashioned, thick espressos. In Prufrock, I have learnt to appreciate espresso and realise what is essential in the process and what isn’t. Of course, nowadays it is easier to make espresso. We have temperature-stable grinders, scales, refractometers, protocols. We know how to make espresso theoretically, but still, how often do you get a good espresso and how often do you get a bad one? Maybe it isn’t about the technicalities. Maybe it is. Back in the days of yesteryear, baristas didn’t have the equipment or knowledge that we have now, so one espresso shot was different to the next, the ‘God Shot’ being stumbled upon every once in a blue moon. They were left wondering, ‘how did this happen?’ On average, I’ll make roughly three hundred espressos a day, most on the Black Eagle, sometimes on the lever machine. I use Mythos1 and Clima Pro grinders. I use scales, create recipes every day, and make decisions on when I think I’ve found the sweet spot for that espresso. I am consistent, clean my machine every thirty minutes, and am very strict with my standards. If, for example, my recipe dose is 10.0g and see I have 10.6g grams, I’ll groom some off until I’m within 0.2g of the recipe. If my shot is running too long, I won’t serve it. All these factors make me think that this is the way espresso should be made — but is it? To answer that question, I have invited who I think is the most perfect person in the world. He is my personal coffee hero, a great gentleman who is also obsessed with cleaning — it’s Mr Gwilym Davies!
Gwilym has been a barista since 1997. He has made coffee behind the bars of 36 different countries, and has trained people in over forty. He is the 2009 World Barista Champion, current Head Judge for World Coffee Events, Co-Owner of Prufrock Coffee and the owner of a training centre just outside of Prague in the Czech Republic.
Hello Gwilym! Thank you for agreeing to talk to me about espresso. My first question: What makes good espresso?
– This is a good question and I get asked it by many baristas. The worst answer is “the one you like” as this does not help anyone making coffee for other people. Something can be good but you do not have to like it. I find using the WBC sensory score sheet a useful guide to stay objective. I look for a harmonious taste balance of acid, sweet, bitter with a nice texture and good finish. What that means is this: Taste balance – low bitterness, a medium to high acidity that is complex, well-defined and supported by sweetness. Without sweetness the espresso would be without balance. Tactile – a good quality texture with a clean, smooth, long–lasting and pleasant finish. I have never had what I would call a good espresso that does not have sweetness and a pleasant finish. If there are two things you focus on, make it sweetness and finish.
What is essential to brew a good espresso?
– In order: good quality fresh beans, sharp blades on a clean grinder, filtered water from a filter you monitor and replace when needed. What can damage espresso? – There are many stages from starting to grind to the finish of the pour time where an espresso can be ‘damaged’.
– The most common are:
– A dirty machine or grinder
– Uneven distribution in the filter basket.
Fingering the top of the coffee does not count as good distribution: you must have evenly distributed coffee from the bottom of the basket up to that flat even surface. I stopped touching my coffee a long time ago and replaced it with a vertical and horizontal tap to ensure that the coffee bed is flat and level before tamping. The WBC technical score sheet is a good training guide but I do not feel it is tough enough on distribution. There are many people that score very good (and above) in barista competitions for dosing/distributing/tamping that would not be allowed to make coffee at Prufrock.
How do you dial in? By taste, extraction, time, all of them?
– I dial in by brew ratio and taste then look at time and maybe extraction % if I am struggling. If I have a new coffee, I will chose my dose and pull three different brew ratios, usually either side of 50% EBF (1g ground coffee to 2g Beverage Weight). I choose the sweetest and alter the beverage weight to maximize the sweetness before the dry finish starts to appear. In the past, I would sometime struggle all day to make a coffee tasty, but now I know within three pulls whether the coffee will be good or if I should just use another one. Time is not a big worry for me. If you stay to the same recipe, there is usually a window of about four seconds when it tastes to the recipe. I know in my training center that the optimal time is somewhere between 19 and 24 seconds so I usually stay in that window. When I am travelling, I start around 27 seconds and figure it out from there – Prufrock are 36 – 40 seconds. If I want to clean up a shot, I pull it quicker. If I want more body, I pull it longer until the burnt bitterness throws it out of balance. My personal taste is to go more towards the clean taste than burnt bitterness with more body. I measure extraction if I am struggling but generally I do not need it. Like many who have used the refractometer, I can pretty much guess the extraction these days.
How can you maintain your morning recipe and flavour profile during a busy day in the coffeehouse?
– If your equipment and ingredients are stable then this is easy. I worked the London Coffee Festival in 2014 and had to change very little in three busy, hot and demanding days. To answer your question you must first know where the instability is coming from. Coffee – do the beans have similar solubility or are they an unstable blend of origins or varieties. Is it an even roast? Grinder – If you do not have sharp blades you will never have consistency. How temperature stable is your grinder? Fluctuations of hot and cold change the dose, grind distribution, temperature of extraction and the flow speed. Technique – are you consistently distributing correctly and tamping straight? Are you too heavy on your thumb? Do you check? Espresso Machine – is it temperature and pressure stable? When it gets hot, does the flow speed increase? Can you turn on two groupheads or the water spout without the pressure changing? Does the incoming pressure change during the day due to water usage in the building? Is the machine clean? Instability is due to your variables changing. Know which ones are changing and deal with them. You may find you have to gradually go finer on your grinder during the day and reset it the next morning, or you may even have to reduce the temperature of the machine in the afternoon.
How often do you clean your machine?
– All the time. If you do not clean your machine, I will always have better coffee than you.
What are three espressos you have drunk and you still remember their taste?
– In 2008 when Square Mile held their first ‘taste of’ evenings, Anette gave me an espresso from the Coffee Collective. It tasted like nothing I have ever tasted before. I did not like it but I also did not dislike it – I was confused. My coffee journey turned a corner and started all over again. March 2013 I visited Petra Veselá in her training centre near Prague and she put a Yirgacheffe filter roast into the grinder and pulled what looked like a 45%+ EBF in 22 seconds at 92°C. I had never used such a light roast to make espresso before, neither made a shot under 28 seconds nor ever gone as low as 92°C with arabica coffee. My concepts were broken because it was incredibly sweet and balanced. I rang up Jeremy at Prufrock and told him I could not come to work as I was staying here. Driving back to Prague from judging the 2014 German Aeropress competition, we stopped at Machhörndl Kaffee. I saw Luzia Taschler up dose her basket and run a slow dripping ristretto into my cup. My expectations were low as I was used to a higher beverage yield and not the salty, intense unbalanced experiences I get from ristretto. I did not actually want to drink it but I was polite, and it was amazing. It was really sweet and juicy with an incredibly smooth long-lasting finish; my concepts had been broken again. Gwilym, thank you very much and good luck with your training center.
As some of you might have heard, we had a latte art competition with Autosteam Sage Oracle machines. We had fun, competitors had fun, I was shaking, prizes were great and now we have a video to show it all! The link is below.
For those who don’t know, I also make music, inspired by all coffee related movies, and american football movie soundtracks, I composed the theme song for coffeepav project. Feel free to play it in your cafes on quiet, slow evenings.