Making the perfect espresso is a fine art that takes practice. An impeccable espresso shot has a warm-honey viscosity, a dark-brown body at the bottom, lighter brown in the middle, and a “tiger-skin” crema on top – it is a sight to behold, not to mention the aroma and flavor.
Unfortunately, espresso shots die when the temperature of the shot cools down, the heart, body, and crema blend, altering the taste and texture of the brew. It takes less than three minutes for espresso to die. When this happens, your espresso won’t look or taste as nice.
You must drink espresso quickly to appreciate its’ freshness, but not so quickly that you miss out on its texture and flavors. Unfortunately, there are many reasons your espresso may not taste right. Let’s explore why shots die and what you can do to prevent a bad espresso.
Why Do Espresso Shots Die?
Espresso shots die when left to sit out for too long. You should drink espresso quickly; the clue is in the name. You drink it quickly to get that hit of caffeine to get you out of your slump in the afternoon.
Espresso shots die as they cool down. This is when the center, the body, and the crema blend to alter your brew’s taste and texture; this process takes two to three minutes.
Some big coffee chains claim it takes ten seconds for espresso to tank, but that isn’t the case – it takes approximately 24 seconds to make espresso, so the ten-second rule is false.
Time is the enemy of a dense crema, and the tiny arrangement of bubbles will break down when the water evaporates and the opaque lipids engage with the foam.
The oils and lipids that give the shot its full body and rich flavor will oxidize. Chlorogenic acids will degrade into bitter quinic acids, giving the brew a rancid, musty flavor.
Bear in mind this chemical breakdown happens quickly but not that quickly. So do not think you need to gulp down a piping hot espresso to get the best out of it.
Yes, drink it quickly, but take it in sips. While dead espresso tastes bland and lifeless, the caffeine content remains the same.
An espresso tastes best at room temperature. If the drink is too hot, it isn’t easy to taste the individual flavor notes fully.
In this case, it’s better to allow the espresso to cool to room temperature and the best baristas know this.
Many baristas ask the judges to wait to drink their espresso or stir to bring the temperature down in barista competitions.
What Factors Produce A Bad Espresso?
There is a time limit for flavor. However, a poorly-executed espresso cannot hide behind its temperature and body. Consider the following ten factors that impact the flavor of an espresso:
1. The Coffee Beans
Coffee beans taste their best after five days from the roasting date as the beans still have some trapped carbon dioxide.
It’s never a good idea to brew with beans immediately after roasting as it results in an undesirable flavor.
The beans must not be exposed to heat, oxygen, light, and moisture – this will reduce the quality and longevity of the beans.
Beans must be vacuum-packed with a special air valve so the beans can release carbon dioxide.
Once the packaging is opened, press the bag to release air and reseal it. You may also freeze your coffee beans once you have removed all the air.
2. The Coffee Grounds
Never grind more coffee than you need for your espresso, as pre-ground coffee loses its aroma and flavors if left exposed for long periods. Instead, the best practice is to grind coffee on a need-to-use basis.
3. Grind Size
Espresso needs a fine grind as small particles increase the surface area to extract the most flavors. Your coffee grinder setting determines how fine or coarse your grinds will be.
If your grounds are too fine, this will result in over-extraction, leaving a very bitter espresso. On the other hand, an extra-fine size may block water from properly flowing through the puck and lead to spillage.
If your grinds are too coarse, this results in under-extracted coffee, and your espresso will taste watery and sour, lacking in sweetness.
A single espresso requires 7 to 10 grams to make 1 to 1.5 ounces of coffee. A double shot requires 14 to 20 grams to make 2 to 2.5 ounces of coffee. The ratio of grinds to coffee is always 1:2.
Under-dosing lessens contact time between the water and coffee grinds leading to watery, under-extracted coffee.
Over-dosing slows down the rate at which the water flows through the puck. This extends extraction time resulting in a bitter and dry espresso.
You can avoid dosage errors by using a single-shot scoop or a weighing scale.
The grounds do not fall evenly when adding them to the portafilter. Therefore, you must level the grounds to distribute the beans before you tamp; otherwise, this will lead to uneven extraction.
Excessive tamping results in over-compression of the grinds, causing over-extraction – under-tamping causes under-extraction.
6. Not Preheating Your Coffee Machine
After turning it on, It takes time for your espresso machine to build up pressure and heat. Some machines take as long as thirty minutes to be ready to brew.
Make sure your machine has warmed up, is at the right temperature, and 9 bars. Preheat your cups and portafilters to ensure that espressos stay hot for longer.
7. Incorrect insertion Of The Portafilter Into The Machine
Be careful not to knock the portafilter into the group head as you risk loosening or cracking the puck resulting in espresso channeling. Instead, be sure to insert the puck into the group head correctly.
8. Water Quality
The chemical compounds in water do affect extraction. Hard water results in poor extraction, but you can install a filter and softening system for better water quality if you live in a hard-water area.
On the other hand, distilled water lacks the necessary minerals and chemicals, resulting in bitter and flat coffee.
9. Calibration Of The Espresso Machine
Poor calibration is when the espresso cycle is too long or too fast. The ideal cycle for a single shot is approximately 20 to 25 seconds. At the same time, the cycle for a double shot should be between 25 to 35 seconds.
10. Equipment Care
You must properly clean and sanitize your coffee machine and equipment as a build-up of coffee grounds and oils can compromise the quality and taste of your brew.
After you brew espresso, remove the portafilter and run water through the group head to clean it. Next, clean the shower screen and rubber inside the group head with a nylon brush.
Should You Stir Espresso?
Espresso has three profiles, a dark-brown bottom, a brown caramel middle layer, and a blonde, foamy crema that is bitter.
Crema sits on the espresso and is comprised of bitter roasting flavors. Therefore, mix the three espresso layers to incorporate the bitter crema into the brew for a balanced overall flavor.
Stirring with a spoon is the best way to blend these layers, as long as you do so carefully. Nobody wants coffee spilling on themselves or their computer.
Coffee tastes better when it cools down. It’s similar to a white wine that tastes better when removed from the fridge to warm up.
The espresso brewing temperature is between 93 to 95 degrees, and stirring cools the beverage down to allow you to pick up on the beautiful flavors in the shot. Stirring also cools down the espresso, enhancing the flavors.
Both smell and taste are linked, influencing each other. For example, stirring releases gases and aromas for experiencing your first sip. Likewise, a delicious aroma lays the foundation for tasting espresso.
Does Espresso Go Bad In The Fridge?
If you plan to use espresso to make a cold beverage, it’s fine to leave it in the fridge for about half a day. Do not store a shot of espresso in the fridge to enjoy later,
Many cafes make batches of espresso in the morning to use throughout the day for milk-based coffee beverages, especially if it’s a bustling establishment.
However, they never warm it up from the fridge to pass off as fresh coffee. If they did, they would be lynched by a passionate coffee-loving community, and rightly so!
Espresso shots die, even the best ones. However, no matter how hot espresso is, it can’t hide its flaws if it’s not well made.
Bear in mind that it takes two to three minutes for espresso to turn and not ten seconds, according to the claims of some coffee establishments.
Therefore, you should drink espresso quickly but not swallow it in one gulp. It’s best to take a few sips to appreciate the complexities in flavor and aroma. If your espresso is too hot, you may want to allow it to cool down, and room temperature is best.