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Best ways to tell sour from bitter?

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You'd think it might be easy to tell sour from bitter when trying to find the perfect extraction? 

I'm one of those who have problems telling one from the other.

So who can help by suggesting ways of knowing which is which?

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You'd think it might be easy to tell sour from bitter when trying to find the perfect extraction? 
I'm one of those who have problems telling one from the other.
So who can help by suggesting ways of knowing which is which?


IMO:

Sour: vinegar, raw lemon, sauerkraut: Try extracting your coffee at a lower temperature, grinding coarser.
Bitter: overcooked Brussels sprouts, Underberg, lemon peel. Try extracting your coffee at a very high temperature, grinding finer.
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Thanks - I've looked up a few online sites but find them confusing, like sour = grapefruit, bitter = grapefruit. And "bitter" beer.... is that sour or bitter really?

What I relate to best is sour = sauerkraut. That's pretty obvious

Bitter = overkooked brussel sprouts. That's quite helpful. 

I'm specially having trouble with an Aeropress using some not-so-good coffee, like older M&S ground House decaf. I'm getting what I think is sour, but it could also be the coffee itself? Coffee can be sweeter or more sour can't it?  I have a Mazzer Major so no problems getting a good grind. Next step looks like some really good coffee (must be decaf). Just changed from milk based coffee to americanos, so don't have the milk to sweeten the final result. Intend to try Kalita Wave or Melitta style dripper next. Need to figure all this out.  


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2 hours ago, les24preludes said:

You'd think it might be easy to tell sour from bitter when trying to find the perfect extraction? 

I'm one of those who have problems telling one from the other.

So who can help by suggesting ways of knowing which is which?

It doesn't really matter.

Bitterness has causes other than over-extraction, the most common mistake when making coffee is to grind coarser at the first signs of bitterness, this pretty much guarantees that you will mostly under-extract. Maybe never hitting normal extractions ("perfect" isn't a realistic target, or rather it makes it sound like a rare occurrence, most shots should be normal, decent levels of extraction for your grinder).

If the coffee is so intense that you can't make anything out, it's just an impenetrable wall of flavour, go longer on brew ratio. Settle on  a ratio that allows you to taste aspects of the coffee & works for most of the beans you use.

Sharp, tart sourness (unsweetened citrus juice, rhubarb, gooseberry - that are not in the tasting notes, as these types of sourness can be got from many coffees if you try hard enough) is usually a sign of under-extraction. Where you have aggressive sourness & bitterness you are likely under-extracting with too fine  a grind.

If you get sourness grind finer.

If you get sourness & bitterness together, grind coarser & pull to a longer ratio.

If you get silty, charred, powdery bitterness, grind coarser, but again don't be afraid to push more water through the puck, the coarser grind may prevent less silt in the cup, but also allow more water pushed through the puck before things start to go wrong.

The bitterness of over-extraction is a very distinct, sickly, smoky, type of bitterness. At common brew ratios (1:2 to 1:3) you're mostly likely to get this with very old beans, with recently roasted beans you'll often have to pull much longer, if it is possible at all.

 

 

Edited by MWJB
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Dark chocolate is a good one for bitter, I agree.

IMO, a grapefruit, to me, is bitter, like a pomelo. But I hate both of them, so I don’t eat them, ever! (Sometimes my wife have them around, I give them a try and renew my vowels not to eat them again ever hahahaha).

Off milk is sour, same as cheap, low quality red wine!

Some medicine, like antibiotic is extremely bitter. An uncoated paracetamol tablet is bitter, in my opinion.

The crema of an espresso is bitter.

Is the coffee you are talking about dark roasted? If so, it’s likely to be bitter, if you are using water straight off the kettle. If your water is not as hot, and you are not steeping long enough, it’s likely to be sour.









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Thanks, but I don't get dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a lot of sugar and is really pleasant!!

I think gooseberry and bad red wine are good analogies for sour. 

I suspect I'm under-extracting - I started using the Aeropress with 80° and with the old M&S ground decaf I was getting much better results at 97°. I'll use freshly ground beans from my Mazzer from today on. Competition winners with the Aeropress are using 30-35g course ground for 220g water at around 80°, with 1m30 total time, so it's clearly one way of doing it. 35g per cup isn't exactly economical!

Edited by les24preludes

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Thanks, but I don't get dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a lot of sugar and is really pleasant!!


Get an 85% or even a 100% cocoa. You’ll notice bitterness then.
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2 minutes ago, les24preludes said:

Thanks, but I don't get dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a lot of sugar and is really pleasant!!

Dark chocolate isn't a good guide to a fault, Bolivians often have this as a flavour note & as you say, can be as pleasant as dark chocolate itself.

I even find Montezuma 100% tasty and wouldn't mind coffee tasting like this.

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Dark chocolate isn't a good guide to a fault, Bolivians often have this as a flavour note & as you say, can be as pleasant as dark chocolate itself.
I even find Montezuma 100% tasty and wouldn't mind coffee tasting like this.

IMO, bitterness or sourness do not mean unpleasantness.
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5 minutes ago, MediumRoastSteam said:


IMO, bitterness or sourness do not mean unpleasantness.

Sure, the lines between what is acidity as a pleasing attribute and what is tart, objectionable sourness will vary person to person, but if someone is complaining & using these phrases, as if they are at unusual levels given their typical experiences & preferences, then we have to look at them as faults/unpleasant artefacts.

You're supposed to enjoy the result of your labours after all.

 

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26 minutes ago, les24preludes said:

Thanks, but I don't get dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a lot of sugar and is really pleasant!!

I think gooseberry and bad red wine are good analogies for sour. 

I suspect I'm under-extracting - I started using the Aeropress with 80° and with the old M&S ground decaf I was getting much better results at 97°. I'll use freshly ground beans from my Mazzer from today on. Competition winners with the Aeropress are using 30-35g course ground for 220g water at around 80°, with 1m30 total time, so it's clearly one way of doing it. 35g per cup isn't exactly economical!

You are definitely under-extracting, but that is the idea with this kind of recipe. There are areas of under-extraction that are tasty.


“Coffee evokes the most insane reactions in people”, Rene Redzepi.

 

https://markwjburness.wordpress.com/

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Thanks, but I don't get dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains a lot of sugar and is really pleasant!!


Try 100% dark chocolate and you may change that opinion

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I've been eating sugar free dark chocolate recently. 2 brands cocoa comes across more in one than the other but does in both. It's an Xmas thing I always get some chocolate at Xmas, wont eat milk, too sweet and say must be well under 40% sugar ideally 30% max. This brings out another aspect peoples preferences. Sour / bitter will vary according to a persons tastes and coffee tends to be a bitter substance.

@MWJB has hit the nail on the head really but there is another way of looking at it as well. Forget the terms and realise that a number of things can be changed. Grind, weight, ratio and time. Somewhere in those there may be something that suites. Time for me is a tricky one other than shortening due to how I brew but I usually find weight and ratio are sufficient. Net result for me is that having tried a fair number of different beans only one pack has gone in the bin - old brown java. Some I have regarded as boring. One I managed to open the flavours out - that meant obtaining a much weaker brew. I should try other but with these it's rather hard to know where to start. They all have rather dominant main flavours. This particular bean needed  a lot less coffee and then a longer ratio to bring out a little acidity. Then it matched it's cupping notes. Personally I don't think there is always a definite direction to shift any of the factors to cure a particular problem.

John

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I sometimes find it hard. I read once (maybe on BH) that some people associate saltiness with sourness, this helped a lot as I am certainly one of those people. 


Vesuvius + Niche Zero // V60 + MBK Aerspeed

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4 hours ago, CoolingFlush said:

Sour = third wave espresso

Bitter = second wave  espresso 

?

This made me chuckle


LR, ZM

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I don’t know if this checks out, but I seem to taste sour on the left and right  extreme sides of my Tongue and bitter flavours on the centre/back of the tongue. 


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In my case - getting used to the Aeropress - I was clearly under-extracting so what I was getting was sour. I'm fixing this with a longer brew time. Still using a medium coarse grind, though, rather than the usual finer grands recommended for the Aeropress. I noticed competition winners were using coarser grinds. 

So I'm starting to identify "sour" more effectively. 


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25 minutes ago, les24preludes said:

In my case - getting used to the Aeropress - I was clearly under-extracting so what I was getting was sour. I'm fixing this with a longer brew time. Still using a medium coarse grind, though, rather than the usual finer grands recommended for the Aeropress. I noticed competition winners were using coarser grinds. 

So I'm starting to identify "sour" more effectively. 

The thing is, if you extract less than the sour extraction (coarse, short steep), you might get sweeter (but simple, gooey) again.

Not all under-extraction is sour, only really 15-17%, 12-14% can be less so.

With a high brew ratio, even if you left the Aeropress until it was stone cold, with a fine grind, you would be very unlikely to over-extract. The result could still taste bad for plenty of other reasons, so I wouldn't worry too much about extraction, or what sourness means with respect to extraction. Pick your ratio (maybe around 1:11), your steep time & change grind to give you the nicest result.

 


“Coffee evokes the most insane reactions in people”, Rene Redzepi.

 

https://markwjburness.wordpress.com/

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I have this issue with espresso. It tastes so strong I often don't know where I am with flavor. I often get bitter (burnt) but can't really tell sour will. And I think I might confuse it with astringency quite often.

I find people giving me words doesn't help much as I don't really seem to be able to make associations that way. 

One day I'm going to try separating the shot into five parts and taste then one by one. I think that might help... 

And changing the brew temperature certainly helped.

 

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I have this issue with espresso. It tastes so strong I often don't know where I am with flavor. I often get bitter (burnt) but can't really tell sour will. And I think I might confuse it with astringency quite often.

I find people giving me words doesn't help much as I don't really seem to be able to make associations that way. 

One day I'm going to try separating the shot into five parts and taste then one by one. I think that might help... 

And changing the brew temperature certainly helped.

 

 

I can relate to this.

 

When I first started making espresso with my GC (only a couple of months ago) I couldn’t work out whether the shots were sour, bitter or I was just not used to the powerful flavours of an espresso. I ended up going to a local coffee roaster which had a cafe too and got an espresso made by them and bought the same beans so I could try and replicate it at home to some extent.

 

I concluded that what I thought the ‘sweet’ spot of an espresso would taste like was not really what I would call sweet.

 

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1 hour ago, Michael87 said:

I have this issue with espresso. It tastes so strong I often don't know where I am with flavor. I often get bitter (burnt) but can't really tell sour will. And I think I might confuse it with astringency quite often.

I find people giving me words doesn't help much as I don't really seem to be able to make associations that way. 

One day I'm going to try separating the shot into five parts and taste then one by one. I think that might help... 

And changing the brew temperature certainly helped.

 

What did you do to it?

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1 hour ago, TomHughes said:

What did you do to it?

Sorry, that wasn't clear. I mean it helped to give me clearer examples of over and under extraction. 

I dropped the temperature and got something really sour. Then increased it and got something very bitter. 

So now I kind of have a reasonable benchmark.

I think Jason11 might be onto something in saying a sweet shot is " not really what I would call sweet.

 

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Anyone tried adding a touch of bicarbonate to their espresso ala James Hoffman? 
just caught the video tonight but tempted to test it with a light roast I’m finding slightly too sour tomorrow, I think I underdeveloped the roast a tad so it has an enduring sourness 

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