How should espresso taste like?

bullet08

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All the espresso I drank in college were bitter. I drank them to stay awake during the final weeks. Taste wasn't what I was looking for.

Since the college, and grad school, I rarely had espresso. But I would still call them bitter.

My wife decided we will brew espresso at home and got a machine. So, I've been playing with it. First few days were interesting. Weak shot will be watery and sour. Over extracted shot will be noticably bitter. And there are a lot of in between.

After over a week, I'm getting something that's not noticably sour or bitter, and leaves sweetness as an aftertaste. First impression when I sip is taste of coffee. But I still taste bitterness as the sip goes down. Finer grind only gives strong bitterness, and less fine gives watery sourness. Ton of experiments were ran. First two pounds of beans were simply wasted. Didn't have a clue what I was doing. Last pound has been little more productive.

But I still don't know what espresso supposed to be taste like. All the espresso I had at coffee shops were just bitter. Nothing ever stood out. If bitterness is what espresso is, I can do that. I read good number of articles on the web, but they don't say much. Best I'm getting out is "a good espresso is balanced". I think my shots are balanced, but I'm still getting bitterness when the sip goes down.

So what does good espresso actually taste like? Don't be too cryptic. I read it's well balanced, does that mean there's no bitterness? Or acidity counters it, but it's there and can be picked up? And what about acidity? I know watery sourness, but not noticing acidity, is it the blend I'm using? Right now I'm at the end of second can of Illy Classico whole beans. Didn't like local roaster's blend. Let me know in a way 3rd grader can understand.
 

Jrodanapolis

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It's hard to pull a decent espresso shot - hence the name of the most complicated espresso machine out there, the Decent Espresso machine!
I'll first ask what your shot parameters are. How much coffee are you putting into the basket, how much espresso are you getting out, and how long does it take to perform the shot/extraction?
A good shot should be rich and flavorful, not too bitter and not too sour, but harmonious and balanced. I find that my favorite shots have fruity flavors, vanilla and almond extract scents, and sweetness to them. My first sip is almost always bitter, and the second sip really allows me to taste things.
I recommend you go to a nearby coffee shop with high ratings and ask to try a few of their favorite shots. That will give you a baseline of what to shoot for. I live near Sweet Bloom, by some lucky miracle, so I get to go there every once in awhile and taste the best of the best. That's what I strive for with my home roasts and shots.
 

bullet08

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It's hard to pull a decent espresso shot - hence the name of the most complicated espresso machine out there, the Decent Espresso machine!
I'll first ask what your shot parameters are. How much coffee are you putting into the basket, how much espresso are you getting out, and how long does it take to perform the shot/extraction?
A good shot should be rich and flavorful, not too bitter and not too sour, but harmonious and balanced. I find that my favorite shots have fruity flavors, vanilla and almond extract scents, and sweetness to them. My first sip is almost always bitter, and the second sip really allows me to taste things.
I recommend you go to a nearby coffee shop with high ratings and ask to try a few of their favorite shots. That will give you a baseline of what to shoot for. I live near Sweet Bloom, by some lucky miracle, so I get to go there every once in awhile and taste the best of the best. That's what I strive for with my home roasts and shots.
Using Breville Barista Pro. Built-in grinder at 8. Top burr at 6, default. 18.5 g input, 36 g output, extraction at around 28-30 sec. Going for 1:2. Temp on one notch higher

I actually enjoyed at grind setting 9, but today 9 was slightly sour. 8 got it right. Right to my taste with still a bit of bitterness at the end. But 9 gives better sweet aftertaste. Done with Illy Classico. Will be using Lavazza Gran Crema from today.
 

Jrodanapolis

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I think your parameters are spot on, but as you get a better understanding, you can grind a touch less fine and brew a faster shot for less bitterness, or you can grind a bit more fine and brew a longer shot for less sourness. Typically, as shot time increases, your extraction will be higher, and the bitter compounds will become more apparent as extraction increases. Temperature can have the same effect, i.e. higher temp=higher extraction. Most people use high temps for the lightest of roasts, and lower temps for the darker roasts.
I recommend trying beans with a roasted on date on the bag - most of your larger companies aren't going to have that. I find that espresso tastes the best and is easiest to pull when the beans are 1-3 weeks old. Any less than that and the bloom is hard to handle without a capable espresso machine, any more than that and you lose flavor/freshness.
The larger a roaster becomes, the more challenging it is for them to have their coffee taste the same from bag to bag. Imagine roasting 500,000 bags of beans that came from 5,000 different farms and making sure that every bag tastes the same - the only way to do so is to have the roast dominate the flavor, rather than the terroir/farm. Even Lavazzo's "light roast" Gran Crema is likely going to be on the dark end of the spectrum. Lighter coffees generally have less bitterness.
If traditional espresso is your thing, there's nothing wrong with that, but there is an entire world out there of farmers, roasters, and baristas that put a huge amount of effort into making the most flavorful coffees available. You'll pay more for that, but I think you'll find that, as with most things, you get what you pay for!
 

Musicphan

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It depends....

What coffee are you using? Each coffee blend will taste different, with different flavors, body, aftertaste, and acidity. So any answer someone can give is based on the profiles of the coffee itself. That comes across as a loaded answer, but the taste is subjective and based on the blend.

For example, if you pull my espresso blend, I want my customers to have a nice chocolatey taste, smooth with little bitterness, bold body, and good amounts of creme. My blend is specifically designed to be used with milk which is roasted a tad darker so it balances well.

My single-origin Ethiopians are great as a straight shot but thinner in mouthfeel and brighter in acidity. Great in milk as well but better by itself. My new El Salvador is a fruit bomb, darker fruits/blackberry... great as a single origin shot but I do not like super sweet shots in milk.

You really have to explore on your own and find what you think tastes great... I've been rockin an espresso machine for 20+ years and still find some I love, some I hate.

Selfish plug... if you are looking for a northern Italian (aka lighter than Starbucks) espresso blend which goes great with milk take a look at Crescendo on my website www.encorecoffeeco.com

If you're looking for a technical evaluation of how to pull shots, others have given you a good idea, and it sounds like you are well on your way.
 

shadow745

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Spot on as I simply tell people espresso should taste like an amplified version of the coffee used to create it. No way to describe good, bad, etc. Good in my book is when I want another and another then hit 7-8 ristrettos before I know it. Have created some that was like a melted chocolate bar and others that came across like lemon juice and everywhere in between.
 

bullet08

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Started using Lavazza Gran Crema. First cup out of it was amazing. Ton of honey and coffee note. But taste didn't match. Too much sourness and watery. Grind setting was 8 out of 30 at default top burr at 6. Lower it to 6. Strong, and intense with touch of honey. I think I can tweak it further. Maybe 7 with higher temp. Lower the intensity a little and bring out the honey more. One thing that was way off was output and time. 18.1 g grinded taking 27 sec. Output was 39.8 g. Output time was something like 38. That's with pushing stop at 31 g. Maybe I should stop at 27 g.
 

shadow745

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Started using Lavazza Gran Crema. First cup out of it was amazing. Ton of honey and coffee note. But taste didn't match. Too much sourness and watery. Grind setting was 8 out of 30 at default top burr at 6. Lower it to 6. Strong, and intense with touch of honey. I think I can tweak it further. Maybe 7 with higher temp. Lower the intensity a little and bring out the honey more. One thing that was way off was output and time. 18.1 g grinded taking 27 sec. Output was 39.8 g. Output time was something like 38. That's with pushing stop at 31 g. Maybe I should stop at 27 g.
Don't get too caught up in time/volume/ratios as that's bare bones minimum just to get you close, then dial in by taste, texture, etc. Every single coffee you try will require slight tweaks to really come to life and you'll be chasing your tail if you try measuring every possible variable. Numbers will never tell you how something should taste.
 

bullet08

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Got it as close as I can to noted taste for the blend, Lavazza Gran Crema. I picked out definite honey note. Not overpoweringly bitter, balanced with sweetness. No sourness, but just a touch of crisp acidity. Good crema that doesn't go away. 18.2 g in, 35.2 g out, 23 sec.
 

shadow745

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Got it as close as I can to noted taste for the blend, Lavazza Gran Crema. I picked out definite honey note. Not overpoweringly bitter, balanced with sweetness. No sourness, but just a touch of crisp acidity. Good crema that doesn't go away. 18.2 g in, 35.2 g out, 23 sec.
I dial in some coffees to not see the 1st drop until 20 seconds or so. Once I install a heavier duty pump I plan to push to the 75-90 second extraction range and less than a 1 oz yield.
 

bullet08

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I dial in some coffees to not see the 1st drop until 20 seconds or so. Once I install a heavier duty pump I plan to push to the 75-90 second extraction range and less than a 1 oz yield.
Did that by a pure accident with Illy Classico. It was good, but now I don't remember what I did. I think the machine timed out after 72 sec. That was the first espresso that I noticed sweet note. Sweetness linger in the mouth for sometime. I thought I was going to overstress the machine and break it.
 

baristaraimo

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As someone who enjoys espresso, I can say a good espresso shot should be intense, sweet, and smooth, with a creamy mouthfeel. The flavor can stay for up to an hour after consumption. The beverage generally has a strong, concentrated flavor similar to coffee, but the taste can vary depending on the blend, roast, and extraction method.
 

bullet08

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As someone who enjoys espresso, I can say a good espresso shot should be intense, sweet, and smooth, with a creamy mouthfeel. The flavor can stay for up to an hour after consumption. The beverage generally has a strong, concentrated flavor similar to coffee, but the taste can vary depending on the blend, roast, and extraction method.
I figured out, sorta. The bitterness is there, but unnoticed. Sweetness balanced out bitterness. But if you look for it, it's there. Sweetness isn't overwhelming. But it lingers after the espresso is finished. Now the problem is, it's too round for the taste. Nothing really pops out. It's balanced, not bitter, not sour, touch of acidity and sweet is noticeable. Just too plain Jane. Then again it might be just Lavazza Gran Crema. Super Crema is waiting. I'll try Third Wave Roasters such as Stumptown and Counter Culture and others.
 
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