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full color espresso crema

The secret of perfect espresso coffee (Part 2): Coffee Recipes

An endless number of combinations and still the same drink. Several factors enter the preparation of the flavor-tuned espresso coffee, which, however, can significantly shuffle the cards.

There’s only one espresso. Unless, of course, it wouldn’t…

Small, big, medium? No, no. There is only one espresso and it meets certain standards. Espresso is prepared from 7 to 9 grams of ground coffee, which is extracted for 25 to 30 seconds, resulting in a drink of approximately 25 to 30 ml.

Hold on! If there is only one espresso, what do the variations in weight, extraction length and volume do there? The truth is that while there is only one espresso, there are countless recipes for its preparation, and the creation of these recipes directly depends on these variables. Playing with these parameters can make an entertaining experiment of preparing espresso coffee, resulting in an endless variety of flavors.

extraction of espresso from lever

Basics of Coffee Recipe Creation

Each coffee has at least one recipe in which it really stands out. A barista who gets his hands on already roasted coffee beans cannot change their origin, processing or roasting, but can significantly influence how the natural characteristics of coffee are transformed into the resulting taste of espresso.

In order to prepare an espresso that is balanced in all directions, a barista needs quality coffee, good water and be in the mood for experimenting.

Depending on what espresso the barista wants to prepare, he/she must also choose a suitable coffee. Each coffee contains a unique taste secret, which the barista must be able to detect and extract into the cup. For example, while Brasil Santos has a soft chocolate body with sweet notes of berries, Kenya Tekangu Tegu hides a complex body full of raspberries, flowers and dark chocolate. So the barista needs to know coffee to be able to work with it.

our barista Majo while preparing cappuccino

The second, equally important ingredient is water. Its composition and quality can significantly affect the resulting taste of espresso. The primary aids to extraction are minerals and carbon components, which must be in balance so that the water is neither too hard nor soft. At the same time, water should not contain other chemicals, such as chlorine, which could interfere with its taste. As it is difficult to ensure a suitable water composition at home, it is ideal to use filter kettles or try experimenting with still bottled water.

The last input factor is the barista’s desire to experiment. Coffee can also be prepared automatically, without involvement or curiosity. In this case, however, we cannot talk about a real barista. The true one directly searches for discovery of hidden flavors and tones in coffee and creating ideal recipes is their mission and driving force.

How do you actually make coffee recipes?

The basis for creating an espresso recipe is monitoring three basic variables that enter the final taste of the espresso: the dose of coffee, the resulting weight of the espresso coffee and the time of extraction. These variables should be changed in a targeted and one-by-one manner so that the difference in the resulting taste is easily “measurable”. The prerequisite for creating recipes is a high-quality lever coffee machine that guarantees pressure and temperature stability, and of course a grinder with precise and consistent grinding.

coffee packets with lever and tamper on the table

Dose – adequate dose of coffee

It all starts with a dose of coffee. Why is choosing the right dose so important? Let’s say you are going to make a Cuba Libre cocktail, which is made from rum and Coca cola. Instead of 50 ml of rum, however, you mix up to 100 ml with cola. The resulting drink will be clearly stronger, right? Same goes for coffee.

From our point of view, it is best to stabilize the dose of coffee according to the size of the bowl, which is currently in the lever. We most often work with a double outlet lever, specifically with 20 g bowls, so the amount of coffee is usually 20 g. However, there are also, for example, 14-, 18- and 22-gram bowls. Regardless of the size of the bowl, however, you can experiment with different doses of coffee, in our particular case we can play around with a weight of 15.5 to 22 grams of coffee.

coffee grinding with a professional grinder

We can say based on the experience that a smaller dose of coffee usually results in a lighter body in a cup and a sweeter, more fruity and acidic taste. However, if this is overstepped and too little ground coffee is put in the bowl, the result can be an extracted espresso with an unpleasant sharp acidity that is miles away from the desired fruity acidity.

On the other hand, a larger dose of coffee in the cup manifests itself in a fuller taste, a more dense and complex body, higher bitterness, but lower fruitiness and sweetness. Again, however, there is no need to overdo it with the amount of coffee. If you leverage the coffee too much and do not at least adjust the grinding thickness, the resulting coffee will be bitter and its taste profile very unbalanced.

However, for each coffee, the change in the dose is reflected in the resulting espresso taste completely differently, so: experiment, experiment, experiment.

Yield – final weight of espresso coffee

The second variable in the creation of espresso recipes is the so-called Brew Ratio, i.e. the ratio between the weight of ground coffee and the weight of the resulting espresso. Yield refers to the amount of extracted oils and flavors from a given portion of coffee. But how can this variable affect the taste of espresso in a cup?

Our Guatemala Acatenango organic coffee is very well suited to illustrate the importance of proper Brew Ratio, which thanks to Medium Light roasting has a full body with sweet tones of caramel and mandarins.

determination of correct Brew Ratio

When determining Brew Ratio, we usually start with its standard value of 1:2, i.e. 1 part of the weight of ground coffee per 2 parts of the resulting weight of espresso. In practice, this means making 40 g of espresso from 20 g of ground coffee. This ratio is a kind of balance compromise – the resulting coffee has distinctive bitter tones and a medium body, but for our taste quite uninteresting and flat acidity. The cup also lacks any sweetness that is characteristic for this coffee. Therefore, we adjust the Brew Ratio to 1:2.3, i.e. 20 g of coffee for 46 g of espresso. As a result, although the coffee is lighter, the consistency is thinner, but there is only a hint of cocoa in the taste and the distinct sweetness of the mandarins has come to the fore.

Generally speaking, the smaller the ratio we choose, the more creamy and oily the resulting espresso taste will be, but it will lack the so-called mouthfeel – the complexity of the taste profile, because the entire range of flavor tones was not extracted into the espresso. Conversely, if we choose a larger ratio, e.g. 1:2.5 or 1:3, we get an espresso with lesser cream, a lighter body and a softer taste, but with pleasant sweetness and fruitiness.

Time – ideal extraction length

The last but equally important variable is the extraction time of the resulting espresso weight, which is directly influenced by the coffee grinding thickness. The resulting extraction time should be somewhere between 26 and 34 seconds, so the correct setting of the grinder and grinding thickness is crucial.

making espresso coffee using an open lever

The finer the coffee ground, the more resistance the coffee puck will give when extracted, causing slower extraction. On the contrary, rougher grinding will shorten the extraction time, which means that the espresso will leak into the cup much earlier. It should not be forgotten, however, that the change in extraction duration may affect each coffee differently, but in general, the substances responsible for espresso flavor still need time to extract.

If we chose too short an extraction, let’s say 23 seconds, for 20 grams of ground coffee and brew ratio 1:3, the resulting espresso would be watery, pale and taste of unpleasant bitterness and acidity. If we chose too fine grinding again and the coffee was extracted for 40 seconds, the coffee in the cup would be bitter and too sour. With our recipe – 20 grams of ground coffee and brew ratio 1:2.3 – we achieved the best result in 33 seconds extraction time. The result was an incredibly sweet coffee with pleasant notes of bitter chocolate and fruity tones of tangerine.

freshly prepared espresso in a cup

A few final tips

Apart from the three basic variables, the temperature should certainly not be forgotten. Although most machines set it automatically around 91 to 95 degrees, if the temperature can be set manually, we recommend using a lower temperature for darker roasted coffees, and a higher temperature for lighter roasted coffees.

Often neglected tamping or pressing coffee is also very important. We should tamp the coffee appropriately, evenly around the entire perimeter of the portafilter. There must be no cracks on the surface of the puck, otherwise there could be so-called channeling – water flow through the crack, and thus uneven extraction.

However, as is already the case in the coffee world, each coffee has unique taste properties and each coffee maker has different taste preferences and expectations. What unites us all, however, is the desire to experiment and the joy of newly discovered flavors and aromas. And that is the most important thing.