The Big Shot
Espresso culture is a funny thing. It’s heavily rooted in tradition while at the same time being loosely defined and constantly redefined by the industry. Even as late as the time of Mozart, Yemeni royalty was drinking a beverage made of the dried fruit of the coffee plant—what we now refer to as cascara—instead of the roasted seeds or “beans” from inside the cherry which we do today. Even the ritual of standing in the corner and slamming a ristretto back like a RedBull has evolved into slowly sipping and waxing poetic over the nuances of the coffee served with elaborate presentations.
Those of you who have been making espresso for a while like me have probably noticed a significant change in the espresso recipe meta in the last couple of years. When the craft coffee industry found me, I was taught to stick to this one recipe: 19 gram dry dose, 29 gram yield, in about 27 seconds. It’s a fairly classic recipe for espresso, but the coffee being used in my cafe for espresso was not exactly classic or traditional. It was a bright juicy blend of Latin American and Ethiopian coffees by Counter Culture Coffee Roasters. The above recipe was designed to work well with darker roasted coffees. That ratio of dose to yield accentuates acidity (which dark roasts have very little of) and maximizes body so you get a syrupy bittersweet espresso.
Apply that same above recipe to modern coffees that are much higher in acidity and have more flavor notes like “citrus and flowers” rather than “nuts and dark chocolate” and you’re going to get something so dreadfully under-extracted and sour that you’ll wonder if you took a sip of espresso or if part of your breakfast just came back up. The reason for this is that lighter modern roasted coffees are less broken down and water soluble so it’s harder to extract all the sweet flavors with the same amount of water(or yield) than with a darker roast.
For this reason, we in the industry began greatly increasing the amount of espresso we brew from the same amount of dry grounds and found that we started achieving delicate, sweet, nuanced and vibrant flavors from the coffees rather than a rip-your-face-off intensity of acidity. When I began at Corvus in 2014 our starting point for espresso looked something like a 23 gram dose and a 29 gram yield. The espresso was…assertive. Today, our starting point is an 18 gram dose to around a 45 gram yield. Sound crazy to any of you? But with that ratio you can get sweet juicy candied berry flavors out of an Ethiopian coffee like our Kayon Mountain for example rather than just a generic sourness. If you had told me in 2012 that I would be pulling 50 or more grams out of 18 grams of coffee I would have probably laughed at you.
If you’re that person who tried to pull shots of a single origin coffee you were sold by an enthusiastic barista and it didn’t turn out too well, try something similar to the 18-45 recipe above and see the difference! And who knows, if we find new ways to make bright modern coffees more soluble somehow, the espresso recipe meta could shift right back to ristretto style. So as always, keep an open mind and taste everything!