I made the rounds of the Australian coffee scene and discovered that commercial baristas around the world are making their espressos all wrong. Forget time-based shots (which is how most of your espressos are made); the ‘new’ espresso is all about weight. This is my little story about why non-espresso drinkers can now finally start drinking this black gold and actually understand what’s going on in their cup.
Working in the industry you come across a lot of trends and schools of thought. It has become very clear to me that right now the espresso is making drastic changes. My little story begins in Melbourne – at the Melbourne International Coffee Exhibition in May 2014, to be precise, where I realised how the espresso literally is being pushed further than it has even been pushed before. In fact, the new espresso is being served so light and delicate that you – yes, even you! – can enjoy it fully
What’s the new espresso?
When I began making and drinking espressos a few years back, lots and lots of freshly ground coffee was packed tightly into the basket but little quality coffee being extracted. The result was short, sour and salty espressos. Double ristretto’s were extremely common, served from naked (bottomless) portafilters. There is still a lot of this around, but now that the ‘market’ is moving towards filter coffees and lighter roasts I think coffee drinkers are beginning to ask why they cannot get similar qualities from an espresso machine. A handful of baristas are responding by creating lighter roasts for espressos. What they are precisely doing is packing less coffee into their baskets but extracting more quality with longer shots. This is what I’m talking about when I say the ‘new’ espresso.
It’s so exciting to see something happen which doesn’t follow any of the rules. In evolutionary terms, the espresso may be evolving into a sort of lungo, but I still think it’s an espresso, just brewed differently.
Roasting coffee beans is like toasting bread: when you toast stale bread you hide all of its inequalities. The same can be said for old green coffee beans. Big Coffee – as Moyee likes to refer to large multinationals – commonly do this: they buy large quantities of machine-picked cherries with conflicting levels of ripeness. They store it in enormous warehouses and ship it to the west where they roast it darkkkkkk to hide these inequalities.
But to roast lighter you need fresher and better quality green beans. Light roasts generally allow for all those beautiful acidic notes to shine. They also highlight the more subtle flavours. So okay, that’s a light roast, now what?
Without getting to geeky on you, I’m going to explain simply what happens behind the machine while you standing their plugging away on your iPhone. Generally, baristas pack a 22-gram espresso basket with about 24 grams of coffee (in other words, they fill it to the tip-top). The more commercial grinders load it into a machine that times the shots (called volumetrics), which means the machines stops extracting coffee after 30 seconds. This is a shame, because 30 seconds isn’t usually long enough to extract all the flavours. The result is a dark, strong espresso with a thick crema. And oh the crema! My advice to everyone: forget the crema! It looks nice, but if you were wondering where all the bitterness comes from in coffee – it’s the crema! (Tip: If you do have crema I suggest stirring it with a spoon and also letting the espresso cool down a bit, allowing for more flavours to develop).
The result is a dark, strong espresso with a thick crema. And oh the crema! My advice to everyone: forget the crema! It looks nice, but if you were wondering where all the bitterness comes from in coffee – it’s the crema!
The specialty industry has begun creating espressos based not on time but on weight. They actually weigh the coffee before they extract and after they extract. This is more important than you think. With a time-based espresso, you end up drinking about 30% of the coffee that went into the machine (And of this 30%, many coffee geeks say only 18-22% is actually good).
But my friends, there is a better way. Assembly, one of the many coffee shops I visited in Melbourne, is on the forefront of the weight-based espresso. To make a 25-gram espresso shot, most baristas pack 12 grams of coffee (or, when making two espressos at a time, 24 grams of coffee). When I visited Assembly, however, they were packing just 17.5 grams into a basket to extract 60 grams of espresso. And the result was amazing! Instead of the dark, dark espresso you are familiar with, the espresso was dancing blond. In the cup it was cloudy, looked almost like an aeropress, and it had hardly any crema.
Ladies and gentleman, introducing the new espresso: lighter, fluffier, better!
The specialty industry has begun creating espressos based not on time but on weight. They actually weigh the coffee before they extract and after they extract.
It’s so exciting to see something happen which doesn’t follow any of the rules. In evolutionary terms, the espresso may be evolving into a sort of lungo, but I still think it’s an espresso, just brewed differently. Curious? You should be! Just head to your local coffee house and ask them to put away their timer for a second and weigh your next espresso. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be amazed by the results.
Text by Danielle Rueb
All images ‘borrowed’ from Assembly’s Facebook page.