Brew Ratios in Espresso

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

Brew ratio

With a blog that’s been around as long as this one, we’ve managed to cover a lot of topics. However, given how quickly the world of coffee changes, we figured it was time to revisit one of the most basic (and important) concepts in espresso: the brew ratio.

Simply put, the brew ratio is the relationship between the amount of dry coffee used (the dose) and the amount of coffee extracted (the yield). This relationship is usually expressed in a dose:yield fashion, so a ratio of 1:2 means that for every gram of dry coffee, we will extract two grams of espresso. Another, less common, way to express a brew ratio is the dose as a percentage of the yield. So, a 1:2 ratio can also be called a 50% ratio. If it’s not obvious already, you’ll need a scale to follow along with this article! The good news is a 0.1g scale can be fairly cheap and will lead to a big improvement in your espresso and brewed coffee. It’s one of those low investment - big reward type situations, so just get one!

Ok, so why is the brew ratio so important? You can probably guess that the amount of water used to brew the coffee is going to have a big impact on the strength of the coffee. A shorter shot, or lower ratio, is going to have a more intense taste. But the brew ratio is also going to have an impact on the amount of extraction, as well as the nature of the flavours extracted. To see for yourself, just brew up three different coffees: a 1:1 shot, a 1:2 shot and a 1:3 shot. To keep this a bit more “scientific,” you’ll want to keep the brew times the same by adjusting the grind setting. So, what do you think? How does the brew ratio affect the balance of flavours? What about the body? Do you have a favourite? Do you want to try a ratio in between two of them?

Now, I didn’t come up with those three ratios off the top of my head. They correspond roughly to the words Ristretto, Normale and Lungo; with Ristretto being the shortest and Lungo being the longest. The specific usage of these words is (of course) debatable, but we don’t need to get bogged down in that. To my mind, these terms have become a useful shorthand, whilst the specificity of the brew ratio gives us more understanding, and allows us to learn more about how espresso production really works.

You might have noticed that I haven’t said anything specific about how you should make a coffee. That’s because I want you to discover it for yourself! There are many ways to brew a good cup of coffee, not just one, and the parameters should be changed to suit the needs of the coffee, equipment, water and the tastes of the consumer. That said, here are some general guidelines. If in doubt, start with a 1:2 ratio. I won’t use the words “industry standard” as I don’t want an inbox full of angry emails, but it is a good, simple, starting point. From feeding hundreds of espressos to students at the academy, I’ve found the majority of them prefer coffee in the 1:1.5 - 1:2.5 range, although this is far from scientific. A really short shot is going to give you a lot of body and intensity. However, with more water you’ll tend to get more clarity of flavour, as well as finding it easier to “fully” extract the coffee. For most people, it’s about finding a balance between these two. You can also ask the barista at your favourite café how they brew their coffee. Most of them will chat forever once you get them started!

For Newbies
If all of this is totally new to you, here’s what you should do. Firstly, buy an Acaia scale. Then go to your machine and brew a coffee the exact way you have always done, except this time weigh your dose and yield, and time the shot from the moment you switch it on. Now write these numbers down. This is your first brew recipe! If you pull a shot of the same coffee, to these parameters, it should taste roughly the same. Now you can start playing around with different ratios and shot times, safe in the knowledge that you can always come back to your original recipe if you need to. The best way to go about it is to change one thing at a time, and then compare the results. I’ve found that by simply paying attention to these numbers and their effects, people’s coffee will start getting better.

This article was originally published on the Five Senses Coffee website: Brew Ratios in Espresso.

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Results from the Singapore Aeropress Champs

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

Singapore Aeropress Championships

The second Singaporean Aeropress championships went down with a bang on Thursday night at Common Man Coffee Roasters, as 18 competitors went head to head for the top spot. I was honoured to be invited back to act as head judge for the second year running, and was once again impressed by the amount of interest shown in the Aeropress competition and the high standard of competitors.

This year, each competitor used a honey processed coffee from Panama (Lerida Estate, Lot 10). The coffee had plenty of fruit, milk chocolate, floral and jammy honey-processed goodness; the brews which won rounds had great body, high sweetness and balanced acidity while retaining some delicate floral and fruit elements in the cup.

The competition comprises 18 competitors who compete against each other in rounds of three. In each round, competitors had eight minutes to prep and brew an Aeropress with their chosen recipe. From the three brews, three judges evaluated the coffees and pointed to the winning cup on cue, sending the winning cup to the next round. We were lucky enough to have three excellent judges again this year  — Charlize Kang (Santino Coffee), Josh Willis (Jones the Grocer) and Isaac Loh (the Malaysian Aeropress champ, The Brew Orchestra). As head judge, I had the job of selecting the wining coffee in the event of a draw during a round, as well as steering calibration in the right direction.

This year the competition was tight, with a very high standard of brewing. After the initial six rounds, we had two rounds of semi-finals from which emerged our final two competitors — Marvyn Tan and Muhammad Fareez Bin Selim who are both home brewers. The four knockouts from the semis then threw down, which led to Cedric Tan (from Jewel Coffee) winning the trophy for 3rd place with his lighter, balanced style of brew

In the final round, home brewers Marvyn and Muhammed went head to head in a one-on-one battle. Muhammed put forward a great brew, but after much scrutiny from our three judges, the decision was unanimous – Marvyn's big bodied, juicy brew took him home to win 1st place and won him the big prize: a ticket to Seattle, USA for the Aeropress finals.

It was a pleasure to act as head judge again for this competition in the heart of the burgeoning specialty coffee scene in Singapore. The next Aeropress Championships is only a year away, so get brewing people! Hope to see you there next year.

Here are the winning recipes from the top three competitors:

1st place – Marvyn Tan (home brewer)
Recipe (inverted):

  • Dose – 20 grams
  • Grinder – 4.25 on a Marco Uber grinder
  • Technique – 50ml pre-infusion at 93.5 degrees for 2 minutes (no agitation). Followed by pouring 92C up to 200ml. Stir vigorously and press.


2nd place – Muhammad Fareez Bin Selim (home brewer)
Recipe (inverted):

  • Dose – 15.5 grams
  • Grinder – 4.5 on an EK 43
  • Technique – bloom for 30 secs at 94C. Then slowly pour up to 220mls followed by a 50 second press. Leave 10mls in the Aeropress.


3rd place – Cedric Tan (Jewel Coffee)
Recipe (inverted):

  • Dose – 18 grams
  • Grinder – 4.5 on an EK 43
  • Technique – Pre-infuse 40g of water at 90C for 30 seconds. Then pour water up to 200mls followed by one quick stir. Steep for 1min 45 seconds, stir 5 times and plunge.
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It's Called Cold Brew

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

Cold brewAt this time of year, you may start noticing a few changes at your local café. As the temperature begins to increase, so too does the number of gleaming little brown glass bottles and intricate glass devices on display – which look as if they came straight out of Breaking Bad. Yep, it’s ice coffee time! There are two main ways of cold brewing coffee: cold drip, where the water is dripped slowly through the coffee and cold brew, where the coffee is immersed in water for the entire brewing time. This is similar to the difference between a drip brewer (V60/Kalitta) and an immersion brewer (plunger/Clever Coffee Dripper) but much colder and much slower.

You may be more familiar with cold drip which is a common sight in Australian cafés these days. However, cold brew (which has its historical roots in New Orleans) is definitely on the rise. The coolest thing about cold brew is that it doesn’t require any specialised equipment to make it. It can be made in a plunger or a jar, although best results might be achieved using something like the Toddy Cold Brew System, which also makes it easier to prepare in bulk. Here at the Academy, we’ve really been loving cold brew for the ease of preparation and the consistency of the results. A cold drip will require monitoring to ensure the drip rate stays steady, whilst a cold brew is quite happy just chillin’ in the fridge. One big thing you lose though is the visual appeal of the device itself. Most cold drippers look great and can really help sell the coffee, while most immersion brewers look a bit more ‘practical’. For a closer look at how to make cold drip coffee, check out this sweet video: Cold Drip Step by Step video by our head trainer, Andy Easthope. However for this article, we’ll be focusing entirely on cold brew.

Slow it down

The first thing to know about cold brew is that it takes a long time to make. This is because without heat, the extraction rate is radically reduced. You know how sugar is harder to dissolve in cold water? Well, it’s the same thing with all the flavour elements of coffee, but inside the beans. The cold brewing process will also change the nature of the extracted flavours. Generally you’re going to see a reduction in acidity and bitterness – although with the right coffee and technique, some remarkably fruity brews can be achieved. We will also miss out on all that astringency and bitterness which can come with cooling down hot coffee, particularly espresso, meaning this drink can be enjoyed black without having to add milk and ice cream!

Getting ready

Ok, we’re almost ready to go; we just need a few things.

  • A receptacle: This can be anything from a big, 20l Toddy for commercial prep to an old jam jar or an Aeropress. I’ve been making cold brew in my trusty old plunger for years.
  • A filter: You need something to separate the coffee and the brew. This might be a part of your brewing device, but if you’re going the jar route you’ll need to sort out a filter of some kind, like a pourover or some cheesecloth. A metal mesh filter (plunger) will give you more body, whilst paper or cloth will result in a cleaner cup.
  • Coffee: Cold brew needs something delicious and freshly roasted! I tend to use filter roasted coffee, and enjoy it black. If you’re planning on adding milk later, you may want to stick with espresso roast as the milk will tend to mute the more delicate flavours.
  • Water: We need good quality water for any coffee we're making. As a general rule, tap water sucks and a filter jug is a minimum requirement. See this article Experimenting With The Effect on Water Quality for deeper nerdery.
  • A grinder: Freshly ground coffee is the way to go. A Baratza is a great option for cold brew or, if you are keen on something cheaper, then a hand grinder is probably the best cost/benefit investment you can make in coffee. Full range of grinders . You can use pre-ground coffee if you really have to, it just won’t be as delicious.

Ok, let’s brew this thing

  • The ratio (black): For coffee we’ll be drinking black, 80g/l is the ratio we love. This is slightly higher than for hot-brewed coffee as it is more difficult to get the desired flavour strength from cold brew. This ratio results in a fresh, delicious brew that is strong enough to be enjoyed straight from the fridge. Of course you can (and should) play with this ratio to find something that suits both your personal taste and the coffee you’re working with. Once you’ve settled on your ratio, work out the size of your brewer and weigh out an appropriate amount of coffee.
  • The ratio (white): If you’re planning on adding milk to your brew, you’ll want to make a stronger concentrate, and use an espresso roast: 120g/l will taste good when diluted with around 1/3 milk. Once you’ve settled on your ratio, work out the size of your brewer and weigh out an appropriate amount of coffee.
  • The grind: We’ll be going fairly coarse, a bit coarser than a normal filter grind. Grind size is difficult to communicate in words, but it should feel like coarse sand.
  • The pour: Now get your coffee in that brewer and pour the water in. You’ll want to weigh the water if it’s a small amount, but at larger volumes a jug with volume markers should be accurate enough. All the coffee should be wet, so make sure you pour around in circles and don’t leave any clumps. If you fail to get it all wet, you can give the slurry a gentle stir; however, excess agitation will lead to bitterness in the brew. Any agitation at all will lead to an increase in extraction rate and for cold brew, the slower the better! If you want to stir your coffee, you could consider reducing the contact time.
  • The wait: Now we wait. I normally leave it overnight, for 12 hours at least. Then strain your coffee, seal it up and keep it in the fridge. If it’s properly sealed and stored in glass, it should keep for 1-2 weeks. Now enjoy your coffee, you’ve earned it! It really is the best way to wake up from a hot, sleepless night.

I’ve kept this guide intentionally open as this is such an easy, flexible brew method for cafés and home baristas alike. We had a lot of fun experimenting with grind, brew time, temperature, agitation and different coffees and I encourage you to do the same! However for clarity and ease of reference, I’ve included a simple, step-by-step recipe below.

Ingredients

  • 40g filter roasted coffee beans or 60g espresso roast
  • 500ml water
  • Plunger (or any receptacle that’s food safe and sealable)

Recipe

  1. Grind the coffee at a coarse grind setting and place it in the plunger
  2. Pour the water into the plunger, making sure to wet all the grounds
  3. Place the lid on the plunger and leave it in the fridge for 12 hours
  4. Plunge the coffee and decant it into a bottle or jar
  5. (optional) Pour the coffee through a paper filter to clean up the body
  6. Enjoy your coffee! Remember it can be stored (sealed and in the fridge) for 1-2 weeks.

This article was originally published on the Five Senses Coffee website: It’s called cold brew.

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The Truth about the Flat White

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

Flat WhiteFlat (no foam) and white (milk) — Aussies sure do like to keep it simple. The fact that this coffee is an absolute staple on any Australian/New Zealand café menu, as well as one of the most ordered coffees in our part of the world, makes it surprising that it hasn't really taken off anywhere else. I think I know why, but being a foreigner myself I thought it might be best to show some due diligence and do a bit of research. (Enter Google)

Was I surprised to not find many hardened 'facts' about the flat white on the internet? Not at all! And, in an era in which we rely so much on Google to give us the 'all the facts', it's no wonder customers are easily confused. One titbit of info that was news to me was that a food historian gave Sydney coffee drinkers in the 1980's the credit for coming up with the term 'flat white.' He says it was as simple as the coffee being 'flat and white' in contrast to a 'long black' and a 'short black.' To that claim, I say that it sounds like a very logical Australian thing to do. End of naming story.

There were, of course, a couple sentences which started with statements such as, 'A true flat white ought to have...' There were also some claims that it 'should' be served in a 150ml-160ml cup. One internet writer even went as far as to say that it 'must' be served over a 'single or double ristretto' which kind of surprised me. Regardless of what I think to be true, the reality is that there is no 'original recipe' for a flat white. It started as a trend and doesn't fit perfectly into any box. (But isn't that what we all like about coffee?) However, it isn't all intangible and elusive; there are some 'realistic expectations' for customers when ordering a flat white. These expectations are based on current trends (i.e. what cafés are now serving) which then help define the drink. It really is no use saying, 'It should be served in a 150ml cup' if that means that 90% of cafés are serving it in the 'wrong' way.

The neat thing about trends is that they are always changing — and I actually think we are on the cusp of another shift. The truth is that speciality coffee people start most of the café trends which have anything to do with amplifying and differentiating the coffee experience. They push the boundaries and take the time to educate their customers (for which they are often criticised) but in the end, because their ideas are sound and based on taste, eventually other cafés follow suit — all the way down the chain. And when finally the whole industry is on board, it's time for another change: enter the next trend here.

Here is where I think the flat white is now, and where it is going in the future.

Name: That's easy! It's not changing and it's probably the only thing you can be certain of.

Flavour expectation: It's currently one of the milkiest drinks on the menu, equal to or slightly stronger than a latte. I do think this will change in the future. I predict that speciality cafés will slowly ditch the latte glass and replace it with a similar or slightly larger bowl, more like the American-style latte. This would mean that we may also see flat whites really live up to their 'wiki definition' of being different to lattes by being served in a 150ml cup. Then they would become a stronger tasting drink. (Smaller cup = less milk = same coffee = more flavour.)

Cup Size: Let's be honest here — the average flat white (I would like to highlight the word 'average' here) is served in a 180ml-210ml wide-brimmed bowl. It's a milky drink and very much a replica of the rest of the world's lattes, hence why I think it hasn't really taken off anywhere else. It's a bona-fide 'double-up'! As I mentioned above, as lattes move to cups, flat whites may move to smaller cups. Let's wait and see, hey?

Coffee: This is a tricky one as there are now so many different styles of coffee service. One shot is not necessary equal in value from café to café, not to mention the fact that some use a double shot and some use a single as a standard base. Is it a short and tight pour (ristretto), longer and faster pour (espresso) or somewhere in between (add in your own ideas)? The style of shot, combined with the style of coffee and the style of roast, means there is potential for a wide range of results. I guess this is where your own subjectivity comes in. Cafés create what they think is best, and you buy what you think is best. They will never get it 100% right, but nor will you, so don't expect every single coffee experience to wow you. Take some time to find the local café that suits you best.

Milk: We always say 'no foam' but it's actually better described as a thin layer of foam. Just enough to give it a slightly creamy texture when you bring it to your lips, but not enough to feel like a babychino! An easy visual cue of good FW milk is when the top layer is glossy, with a nice layer of wet foam consisting of tight bubbles which you can barely see immediately after it's poured.

Temperature: Same as for all your other coffees, the temperature should be 70 degrees Celsius max. Not scalding hot! If you want to burn your lips, order a long black and skull it the moment it hits your table. I mean, I just don't understand the milk burning argument. I just get these vague memories of burnt milk and oatmeal as a kid and I can't relate to people wanting that flavour. I know it's a sore spot for some, but that's my two cents worth and I'm sticking to it.

In summary, you can expect a single/double shot ristretto/espresso base in a ceramic cup anywhere from 150ml-220ml, with a thin layer of foam (if your barista is good) and, potentially, a pretty piece of latte art on the top at a very reasonable 65 - 70 degrees Celsius.

So you'd better think twice before you throw your hands up in horror, and understand that there are no RULES. Just enjoy it!

This article was originally published on the Five Senses Coffee website: The Truth about the Flat White.

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The Espresso Menu Explained

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

© Image provided with permission by Matt O'Donohue from Abstract Gourmet. All rights reserved by photographer

It is easy to forget, for a native speaker, that the lingo of coffee can be complex and confusing. Try explaining to a freshly arrived tourist that they can’t just order “a coffee”, before leading them through the Byzantine laws and sub-clauses of the modern coffee menu, if you need to be reminded. Furthermore, each café is free to make their own decisions about what these different coffee words mean, and the common definitions shift over time and from place to place. In this article I won’t be diving into the history of these drinks, or attempting to explain how we got where we are now. Instead, I’ll aim to provide a practical guide to the state of the specialty menu as it is now, and what it might look like in the future.

Black Coffees

Espresso/Short Black
The simplest drink to prepare, an espresso is a single shot of coffee, usually served in a small demitasse cup. The term short black is used interchangeably with espresso, although I have heard of people adding extra hot water when a short black is ordered. Recently, cafes have started to experiment with the cups the espresso is served in. An espresso served in a wider cup or glass allows more aroma to reach the drinker, whilst serving the espresso in a room-temperature, or even chilled, cup will drop the temperature of the coffee faster and create a different sensory experience.

Long Black/Americano
The long black is usually a double espresso, poured over hot water. The espresso is traditionally poured directly on to the water, although this is primarily for aesthetic reasons (to keep the crema intact,) and you could make an argument that it tastes better all mixed in. The ratio of coffee to water varies, but I think somewhere in the 1:1 to 1:2 range tastes delicious. It is really important to get the temperature of the water right. Just like your milk coffees, long blacks should be at a drinkable temperature when first prepared, I don’t want to burn my tongue anymore!


© Image provided with permission by Emily Bartlett. All rights reserved by photographer

Milk Coffees

Flat Whites/Lattes/Cappuccinos
Let’s get this out of the way: they’re basically all the same. While that might hurt to hear, it’s the truth. We’ll talk about why soon, but first let’s look at the “differences.” flat whites, lattes and capps are generally comprised of a single shot of espresso, topped up with steamed milk, served in a cup 150ml-200ml in size, although your mileage may vary. In most cases, lattes will be served in a slightly larger glass, while the capp and flat white are in the same ceramic cup. The cappuccino (usually) gets a dusting of chocolate powder too. The last difference is in the foam level, with the flat white sitting at around 1/2cm of foam, the latte at 1cm and the capp at 1.5cm, but again, this will vary wildly between cafes and baristas.

So, all three of these drinks boil down to espresso mixed with about the same amount of milk. Granted, the amount of foam will affect both the textural experience and strength of the drink (more foam equals less milk equals more strength.)The difference is often minimal, however and anyway, is there a “best” amount of foam? What amount of foam is the most delicious? I want that one.

Macchiato
You’ve probably heard that Macchiato means “stained” in Italian, and this is true. At its simplest, a macchiato is a single espresso with a small amount of milk and a “stain” or “spot” of foam on top of the coffee. Of course, it’s not really so simple, there are actually many variations on this drink, which seems to fluctuate wildly according to location. Some common varieties are the “short macc topped up,” which is a single espresso in a demitasse topped up with milk; the “long macc traditional,” which is a double espresso in a latte glass with a dash of milk and foam; and the “long macc topped up,” which is the same drink, topped up.

Piccolo Latte
Piccolos are lattes made with less milk. They’re either identical to a short macc topped up, or in their own, slightly larger than an espresso cup but smaller than a latte glass, cup.

Babycinos
A babyccino order can be an irritation to many baristas, however a perfectly made babyccino can be a thing of beauty, and bring a lot of joy to our smallest customers. The babycino should be almost entirely foam because babies get enough milk in their day to day. The foam should be dense and at a cool temperature, with a light dusting of chocolate. Syrup in the bottom is cheating and can lead to sugar-related meltdowns later in the day.

The Future

The problem with modern menus is that they provide lots of drink options, with little in the way of meaningful choice. Drinks that may have been historically different (big, milky lattes; cappuccinos with mountains of foam; small, dense flat whites) have been homogenised into drinks that are more delicious, but fundamentally the same. I believe the coffee menu should be designed actively, not just by serving what everyone else serves, but with a focus on engaging your customers’ minds and palates. One approach is to pare the menu back to the basics, and offer a minimum of drinks that are all delicious and show your coffee at its best, for example just offering black and white coffee instead of an endless list. Although this is not a new idea, it’s one that hasn’t caught on as big as it could have. Another approach is to add drinks that are meaningfully different. Adding signature-drink/cocktail-type concoctions to the menu is something people are already playing with, and it’s a fun way to experiment with new flavour experiences. We’re already offering different coffees, could we extend this to offering different espresso styles on the same menu? And while I’m asking for stuff, can we get more espresso tonics please? They’re delicious.

The counter-argument to all this is that customers like having this arbitrary choice, that they enjoy the ritual of their morning cup of coffee and will be upset if some upstart barista tries to get in their way. People tend to project their personality onto their favourite drink and derive satisfaction from that. In fact, drink choices can help to define a person’s personality, both internally and externally. Maybe they like being a serious “long macc drinker,” or a happy-go-lucky “latte lover.” And that tradition is truly valuable and not something to be thrown away lightly. Not every café needs to be challenging the status quo, but every café owner should be thinking about it, and considering how they’d like to present their product. Change has to be made with a light touch, and excellent service is the only way to smooth out the bumps in the road. We can create new traditions, perhaps more meaningful ones, or maybe we’re ok with the old ones?

This article was originally published on the Five Senses Coffee website: The espresso menu explained.

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