Some thoughts about coffee

· coffee · mumblings ·

Coffee is an amazing drink, isn’t it? I can think of few other drinks that can take on such a spectacular range of flavours and change so dramatically in character with tiny changes in preparation method. And that’s before you think about changing the way in which the beans are roasted.

I have been steadily learning how to get good espresso from my Rancilio Silvia, but while the coffee has become much more consistent and pretty good, I knew it could be better. The fruity, acidic, winey flavours of the beans were too dominating, so that the coffee tasted a bit unbalanced. It wasn’t unpleasant at all, but I personally like the more earthy, chocolate, caramel and spicy kinds of flavours to be a bit more prominent. I had got to the point where I could produce the same quality of coffee pretty consistently, which when you consider all the variables involved (grind, dose, distribution of grounds in the basket, tamping pressure, water temperature, extraction time and so on), is something I view as quite an achievement in itself. How could I get more of the rich and sweet flavours in the coffee?

After reading what felt like every article ever written on the internet about coffee1, I stumbled on a suggestion that higher brewing temperatures can bring out the ‘darker’ flavours, while lower temperatures emphasise the more delicate, fruity ones. I had to try it out. Keeping all the other variables as constant as I possibly could, I changed the set point of my PID to 3°C higher than its previous setting. I did this in the evening before going to bed, so that I wouldn’t forget to make the change in the morning. It’s an indication of how sadly nerdy, I mean, deeply fascinated I have become with the whole process that I fell asleep thinking about what the coffee was going to be like, and bounded downstairs the next day like a child on Christmas morning.

Well. It was like night and day. I could tell it was going to be good from the way it was rolling languidly from the spouts of the portafilter and by the heavenly smell, but the first sip confirmed it. It was rich and spicy with lovely bitter chocolate notes, but that was balanced by the fruity tang I had before. It was even a different texture, with much more body and viscosity. All that transformation from a change of 3°C. This morning I even managed to produce the kind of crema on the top that you see in all the coffee pr0n photos and videos: a deep, caramel or hazelnut coloured gloopy liquid, spotted with paler colours. I was so excited that I yelled at Mr. Bsag, “COME AND LOOK AT MY CREMA! LOOK AT IT!”. He humoured me with a ‘yes it’s a lovely crema darling’ look, but I could tell that he just wanted to drink some coffee. He does agree that it’s dramatically better than before though, so I know that it’s not just my wishful thinking.

Next, I will conquer microfoam!

Oh dear. I think I may be hooked. On the positive side, it does make getting up at a stupidly early hour much more interesting.

Edited to correct the temperature difference, because apparently I can’t do arithmetic when highly-caffeinated.

  1. A number that seems to tend towards infinity. ↩︎