• Martyn Smith

My embarrassing espresso secret

In 2009, I had the opportunity to be coached by a World Barista Judge. I learnt something that day that was so controversial that I kept it secret for years.

If I asked you about the technical requirements for an espresso shot, what would you say?

We coffee obsessives can talk for hours about dosing, extraction, brew ratios and the list goes on. We'll talk about phases of the shot as it pours.

All too often we begin with assumptions, lose sight of the overall goal and go with things that feel right, in the absence of evidence.

For example, a Long Black is usually made with two shots of espresso poured into a cup that is three quarters full of hot water. It's done this way because of the belief that a single espresso shot must be less than about 40 mililitres.

That belief is correct...for many darker roasted lower grade coffees.

BUT...suppose you had a lighter roasted high grade bean, say a washed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Suppose you put 22-24 grams in your group basket and ran the shot reasonably fast. (If only so you're not waiting five minutes for your coffee!) Let's contemplate running it until a 180 mililitre cup is full.

Put it next to a conventional long black and measure three (or four) things;

1) Presentation - colour, consistency and life span of the crema

2) Taste - sweetness and strength (and body - how watery is it?)

3) Efficiency - time taken and the possibility of injury and error

I'm embarrassed to say that in 2009 the score was 3-0 in favour of the long poured coffee.

In terms of paradigms, I liken it to Galileo concluding that the Earth is not the centre of the universe. It is that big a deal. It should not, can not and will not work according to classic espresso theory.

As a result, I barely mentioned it outside of our coffeehouse. I cautiously starting telling the story around coffee professionals only about three years ago.

The reception has been mixed.

Only a couple of weeks ago, a seasoned coffee professional expressed contempt for the ignorance of those who would make a Long Black that way.

Perhaps I should keep my secret a little longer...

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