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Espresso and acidity (is this how people drink it?)

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I've been drinking espresso for 8 years now, only really getting serious about bean origin and roasting etc in the last 6-9 months. My OH is Italian and she is used to drinking the lighter Italian roasts like Lavazza. That's what we've been drinking in fact, until recently when I started roasting my own beans. I generally have enjoyed coffee roasted to Full City or Full City+ levels, where there's some origin character there, but there's also a creamy, full bodied, roasty profile. I've enjoyed some central American and Brazilian beans done this way.

 

I recently bought some beans from a well known coffee roaster in Sussex (Horsham), from a shop in Brighton (Bond St). I'll name them as there's no complaint here whatsoever and I'd be interested if anybody else has a similar experience with them. I asked for a low acidity, espresso bean. They gave me a Costa Rican bean. Took it home, first impression was that the bean was very light in colour, like just out of first crack, city light. It smelt lovely but I thought, holy shit this is going to have some acidity in an espresso. No shit. I actually took it back today, I was going to ask for a darker bean. The guy was very helpful, and told me yep, no problem I can have another bag if I find something more suitable. He made me an espresso with Brasilian beans, which looked lighter roasted, and yep, it was a little gentler on the acidity, but still too much to drink in short form. Turns out all their beans are roasted around about the same levels. He said they're done this way to appeal to all coffee drinkers (milk-based, pourover etc). I actually tried the coffee with a V60, but found the acidity a little bracing there too.

 

TBH I've little experience in the world of single origin, third wave coffee. We don't have an awful lot of these places down in Brighton, so I'm picking up experience slowly.

 

My question is, is acidic espresso a "thing"? My impression from the guy was that he was saying, "it's not for everybody", but does that just mean they don't really sell much espresso and this acidity works with milky drinks, or is this a thing that some people drink? My impression is that espresso isn't really drunk in the UK, most people going for milk-based drinks in cafes.

 

Also, if anybody has any Brighton-based recommendations for the odd bag of beans, I'd be happy to hear.

 

Cheers, James

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Hi James, it’s a personal choice whether you like lighter roasted coffee with fruity notes or darker with chocolate notes. I only drink espresso and I like lighter roasted coffee. The problem is that it is harder to extract than the darker stuff and if it’s not done properly it will not be very nice. I also think darker roasts are more suited to milk based drinks than lighter roasts.

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Espresso, like filter coffee, with acidity (as in like ripe fruit - apricot, peach, mango, hibiscus, cherries, apple, etc) is something that can make it interesting. Even medium roasts can have acidity, like red Illy for example.

 

Tart, sour, sharp aggressively acidic espresso? Maybe someone likes it, who knows, but this is usually down to not grinding fine enough, or not pulling the shot to a long enough ratio, rather than the beans. Costa Ricans tend to be less soluble, so if you're not in the ball park with grind & ratio, yes, they can be tart/sharp.


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'lighter Italian roasts like Lavazza'?? That's a coffee oxymoron.

 

The trend for roasting light to reveal the flavour notes in the bean is well established. Some beans are more acidic that others - Kenyan vs Brazilian for example. The challenge for the roaster is, when roasting light, to ensure the roast is sufficiently developed to ensure that the soluble coffee elements can be extracted during espresso making. Pulling espresso with lighter roasts is always going to present more challenge than using medium plus roasts as darker roasts give up their coffee solubles more easily than lighter roasts.

 

The way to tame the acidity in espresso is to pull longer shots - 1:2 or longer. This helps pull out the sweeter notes to balance the acidity. The grinder also plays a key role - lighter roasts benefit from flat burr geometry.


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I enjoy espresso that has a balance of acidity and sweetness. Some do not .

Alot depends on how your pulling a shot and your own personal prefernce.


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To my palate, typical Brazilian espresso is low acidity, but then I've been drinking "light" roast coffee for some years now. I guess it is all relative to what we're used to.

 

One thing to bear in mind is your espresso recipe. You might want to try pushing more water through the puck as this should reduce the acidity somewhat, or at least add more sweetness to help balance it out. As a general rule, light roast espresso requires a longer brew ratio than dark roast.

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You could try Small Batch, I think they're a bit more developed than some third wave roasters and have plenty of places in Brighton so you could likely try their espresso before buying a bag.

 

Pharmacie in Hove are really good as well, in my opinion. They do espresso and filter roasts of beans - whereas Horsham (apart from a couple of espresso blends I think) are aiming for "Omni" roasts. They're only open on a Saturday morning to try drinks made by them.


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In addition to the above comments on the level of roast and more/less acidity, you may like to consider coffees that are naturally low in acidity.

Examples would be coffee grown at low altitude and also aged coffees like Monsooned Malabar and Old Brown Java. Both of which may qualify as a Speciality coffee and able to stand on their own, but are often blended with, say, a low altitude Brazilian for a traditional 'Italian Style' espresso.

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I recommend talking with Coffee Compass as they can provide some beans at the darker roast profiles you prefer. Give them a call and explain what you like. They are super helpful.

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I recommend talking with Coffee Compass as they can provide some beans at the darker roast profiles you prefer. Give them a call and explain what you like. They are super helpful.

 

and they are in Littlehampton, which ain't a million miles from Brighton

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Thanks for all your answers folks.

 

Just to qualify, although I'm sure there's ways I could be doing this better, I'm not running these beans on low quality kit - Niche grinder, ACS Vesuvius. I'm running them on a lever profile 18g coffee in, 36g out in around 25-30 seconds from flow start. The espresso they poured me in the shop was also quite tangy, but maybe a little sweeter than the espresso I made on my kit - though from a different bean. Pourover was also quite tangy. Bond have some pretty good kit there, EK43 grinders, pressure profiling machines etc, so I trust them to know what they're doing, and I don't trust myself to know enough about coffee to say what they're doing ain't right.

 

Lots to mull over. I'm totally welcome for my taste to change as it has over the years. Took me a while to get into sour beers, but now I brew them quite frequently, so it's not like I don't have a taste for acidity!

@Jollybean @dfk41 I've been in touch with and bought green beans from Coffee Compass - they'll still have to post though as LH is a little (hampton) too far from me. My favourites from them have been some Brazilians and Guatemalan beans, which I've really enjoyed, again, roasted so the acidity levels are quite low. I was thinking about getting some roasted beans from them to compare with my own roasts as a little taste experiment.

@jlarkin - I know small batch, but pharmacie I don't. Always welcome to try out new places.

 

@The-Systemic-Kid - Lavazza IMHO I'd place around full city to full city+ roast levels, whereas in my understanding, some of the darker Italian espresso beans are Vienna-light French roast levels.

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Try Indonesian Sumatran coffee, Java Blawan estate, East Timor etc...all low acidity coffees.


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I'm running them on a lever profile 18g coffee in, 36g out in around 25-30 seconds from flow start.

 

What's "from flow start"? If you get the same thing again try brewing it for longer as others have suggested. I'd grind a little finer and extract more if it was particularly acidic. Does a lever profile give you low pressure pre-infusion or is it straight up to 9 bar? Or is it even 9 bar with a lever, I seem to remember reading they start higher and slowly tail off.

 

Something I seem to remember doing with a Pavoni with acidic coffee was a really slow gentle pull up to high pressure about half way through the shot and slowly tailing off.


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Thanks for all your answers folks.

 

Just to qualify, although I'm sure there's ways I could be doing this better, I'm not running these beans on low quality kit - Niche grinder, ACS Vesuvius. I'm running them on a lever profile 18g coffee in, 36g out in around 25-30 seconds from flow start. The espresso they poured me in the shop was also quite tangy, but maybe a little sweeter than the espresso I made on my kit - though from a different bean. Pourover was also quite tangy. Bond have some pretty good kit there, EK43 grinders, pressure profiling machines etc, so I trust them to know what they're doing, and I don't trust myself to know enough about coffee to say what they're doing ain't right.

 

Lots to mull over. I'm totally welcome for my taste to change as it has over the years. Took me a while to get into sour beers, but now I brew them quite frequently, so it's not like I don't have a taste for acidity!

@Jollybean @dfk41 I've been in touch with and bought green beans from Coffee Compass - they'll still have to post though as LH is a little (hampton) too far from me. My favourites from them have been some Brazilians and Guatemalan beans, which I've really enjoyed, again, roasted so the acidity levels are quite low. I was thinking about getting some roasted beans from them to compare with my own roasts as a little taste experiment.

@jlarkin - I know small batch, but pharmacie I don't. Always welcome to try out new places.

 

@The-Systemic-Kid - Lavazza IMHO I'd place around full city to full city+ roast levels, whereas in my understanding, some of the darker Italian espresso beans are Vienna-light French roast levels.

+1 for Coffee Compass. They really know how to roast dark. If Littlehampton is a bit far, why not pop into a cafe in Brighton that uses their beans? A quick google has thrown up Mokshacaffe (never been there myself) & I'm sure there are others losal to you.

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Try Indonesian Sumatran coffee, Java Blawan estate, East Timor etc...all low acidity coffees.
+1 really enjoyed some Sumatran Mandhelling I had recently

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To the op.

1:2 over 30 seconds has no magic to it. If the acidity is imbalance try grinding finer and or putting more water through the puck, to increase sweetness .


I write a blog, it's nothing to do with coffee ...

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@Rob1 - just timing the shot from where the coffee starts coming out of the machine into the cup rather than from when the pump is switched on. I think it's used when there's a long preinfusion. My shot is 14s 2 bar, 5s 10 bar, 5s 9 bar, 5s 8 bar, 5s 7 bar, 5s 6 bar, 5s 5bar. The guy in the shop mentioned a longer pour as well, but his shot was quite acidic, as well as the pourover.

 

I think the confusing issue here is that there's a bunch of different factors that can contribute towards acidity: roast levels, bean type and underextraction. As the cafe poured a similar espresso to mine (albeit with a different bean, a similar level of roasting), my assumption was that this is more related to the roasting levels than the bean type or extraction. I've got some Costa Rican and Brazilian coffee I roasted myself which I really enjoyed but didn't have any acidity issues with.

@Mrboots2u - OK that's helpful. Those little tweaks I guess are the next level of espresso making! I'm guessing it works the other way if you want more acidity in your cup then you're putting less water in your cup or grinding coarser?

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Just as an indication, the Horsham Costa on the bottom, my Brazilian roast (Coffee Compass Fazenda Itaru) on top. 8f643135cdad56fc172e356aa5188b76.jpg

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Looks like it was dumped at around the start of first crack. I wouldn't think that would make good espresso unless it was naturally low acidity, even then it might be difficult to get it extracting properly.


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I'm guessing it works the other way if you want more acidity in your cup then you're putting less water in your cup or grinding coarser?

 

Well, yes, you could do this. But I think the majority of us have a threshold on how much acidity we can take, before we find things face puckeringly sour/tart (a malfunction). So, really, if I wanted coffee with "more acidity" (an attribute, that is normal for that coffee when brewed representatively) I'd buy one with more acidity, like a Kenyan & extract it well, rather than try and skew the taste by under-extracting. That said, I don't dislike darker roasts on the lower side of extraction, as the acidity can be tamed by roasting darker.


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To the op.

1:2 over 30 seconds has no magic to it. If the acidity is imbalance try grinding finer and or putting more water through the puck, to increase sweetness .

 

Not so sure about that as sometimes there is mileage in over extracting ie more water through making drinks bitter. ;) Only problem is that many sources say must be 1 to 2 which I find is rubbish but say some one has a bean that should show muted acidity probably as an aftertaste the way to balance it is more water or less through and in my experience usually more than 1 to 2. However it could be that I regularly suck lemons so my idea of bitterness could be entirely different to others ;) I don't but ....................

 

I regularly use a bean where the opposite is true. Reducing the water through produces a sweeter drink, best done by reducing time not grinding finer.

 

Grinding finer. Have tried that a few times with a time extension to say 40sec as it's a number that has been mentioned. I mostly drink origin beans and find it tends to reduce the taste profile to something I would call boring as it only has one. Time could be played with and even finer grinds etc but there is only so much time available in life.

 

Maybe the usual 25sec or 30sec numbers do have some basis in fact. Probably derived to suite espresso machines and decent drinks.

 

The OP seems to be switching from dark roast blends to origin. Another problem for him given the source. Origin beans tend to be exotic in that they may well have a completely unexpected taste compared with the "coffee" they have drunk before. There are fresh roasted blends about that wont as well. Maybe the OP needs to study the tasting notes carefully. Fruits in particular. They may be better of with a traditional fresh roast blend but if roasting themselves wont be able to compare easily.

 

The OP may have read of the degree of roasting debate. Some dismiss dark roasts completely. Perhaps a better view is that lighter suites some beans and darker others. There are inbetweens as well. It's a fact of life that darker roast levels usually result in less percieved acidity.

 

It can also be worth playing with quantity. Mandhelling springs to mind on that. I found that at usual quantities it produced what I would call a foul tasting pea soup in an americano. Taste herbal, chocolate, muted acidity, no chance as the taste is just too strong. Reduce to a single in a 300ml americano and get the brew right and that is exactly what it can taste like. :( Not quite managed it on a DB yet but did on a BE by accident. Ok it's a weak drink but so is Jamaican Blue Mountain even if brewed "normally".

 

John

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@Rob1 yeah that was my impression as well. The other bean they had there was like that too. I've done a bit of roasting now and this does look a little on the extreme side of the low roasting scale, perhaps I should have posted that pic to begin with.

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. There can be some sweetness in shorter shots but in general if you find a coffee overly acidic or sour then my advice holds true.

 

Yes you can go to far and over extract bit it's unlikely at even 1:3 or going a couple notches finer.


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Not so sure about that as sometimes there is mileage in over extracting ie more water through making drinks bitter. ;)

 

I regularly use a bean where the opposite is true. Reducing the water through produces a sweeter drink, best done by reducing time not grinding finer.

 

 

John

-

 

There will usually be fair margin between sour, under-extraction & bitterness specifically from over-extraction. It's not like one notch on the grinder from one to the other, or another 5g in the cup.

 

There is an area of under-extraction that can produce sweet, but simple tasting drinks (12-14%EY), before sourness sets in. This might be easier for some people to hit than 18%+EY. Tends to give me a bit of acid reflux after, but can taste fine going down.


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I think it's hard to make a guesstimate on the roast based on how it looks, though maybe you guys are right. I do recall that I think Horsham now have a Lohring roaster and that some other roasters have said the beans sometimes develop a little slower after roaster than other types. So just out of interest, when were they roasted? Is it the Daniela Gutierrez San Pedro?


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