I got to chatting with someone on Instagram about the Lucky Thirteen espresso blend from Ritual Coffee Roasters I recently received, and how their packaging is really great and that we both love that they include such detailed information and suggested brew parameters on the inside of the band. This kind of detailed information is super helpful in providing the home user a ballpark starting point or target to make this coffee taste good, especially when they only have 12 ounces of coffee to work with.
And I'm also of the thought that this is how they're intending it to taste, or what they decided was a great tasting shot considering they selected the coffees used in the blend and in what ratios, the roast level(s), etc. So, I always try and start dialing in the coffee by hitting their recipe first. But notice that I said, "start dialing in".
I've been trying to think of additional ways to expand past "Improving Espresso" posts, particularly this one about how I approach dialing in a coffee, and I realized that I do not necessarily follow a recommended brew recipe, but rather use it as a guide or approach. If a cafe (and barista) is not too crazy busy, and especially if I'm purchasing a bag of coffee, I always like to try and ask how they're pulling the shots. I don't visit a ton of cafes, and I would generally tend to do this in more off hours, but more often than not, the baristas are typically willing to share and excited that you actually geek out on that level and have home equipment. Assuming the espresso tastes good, that again serves as a starting point or general indicator of what they're going for.
I say "general indicator" or "starting point" because there are a lot of variables in play:
- the grinder (and burr type and size)
- the espresso machine (I tend to find the E61 group espresso machines produce a shot with a different body than most saturated group style commercial machines)
- if that machine is setup to do something yours cannot (preinfusion, pressure profiling, etc.)
- basket size (you'd be surprised by how many shops say yeah dose x grams, but don't know what baskets they're using or don't think about it)
- and maybe the most overlooked variable; the water (especially if you're visiting a different city or state).
With all those variables, it may be entirely possible that you won't be able to reproduce the amazing shot you just had at the cafe, but you can probably get close or still pull one that is complementary and in line with their brew parameters and intended flavor, body, etc., by thinking through what their brew recipe or parameters are telling you.
Thinking through this Lucky Thirteen "Birthday Blend" that is equal parts Ethiopia Yukro, Guatemala Hunapu, Costa Rica El Cipres, and Costa Rica El Alto with tasting notes of: stone fruits, honeycomb, and black forest birthday cake, Ritual uses descriptors like "exceptional body and syrupy sweet finish", "grape soda bubbly acidity and cakelike softness", "tealike balm", and "sparkling cherries". This indicates (to me) that this coffee is intended to be sweet, with depth and textured body, nuance, and bright (pleasant/fun) acidity. Looking at the suggested brew parameters, we can pick up the following:
They recommend resting the coffee for 7 days and:
- 17.5 gram dose in an 18g VST basket or 17g Strada basket (a slight down dose, but the coffee might be really fluffy)
- 198-200*F water (a touch on the cooler side to presumably bring out sweetness and acidity)
- 9 bar pressure (pretty standard)
- 30 second brew time (also pretty standard, but does indicate to me they're not pulling really fast shots to bring out acidity or bright flavors)
- 31 gram shot weight or yield (indicates they're pulling shots a bit on the tighter/shorter/ristretto side at a 1 : 1.78 ratio. This is presumably for texture, mouthfeel, and to create the syrupy sweetness, while also preserving strength of the shot.)
I start dialing in the coffee trying to recreate this recipe first. My first shots went into cappuccinos while adjusting the grind. I then start drinking straight shots when I pull one a touch shorter at 28g out, and touch longer at 36g out, both in about 30 seconds +2 seconds of preinfusion. Even though the 36g yield did not blonde before 30 seconds, and looked good, it was noticeably more drying in the finish, supporting a shorter yield in the same time to keep from getting any overextracted flavors.
Hitting the suggested brew recipe produces a damn good shot. And in hindsight, maybe this coffee wasn't the best example since my preferred recipe wasn't any different than their suggested parameters. But, I think you can see that thinking through what the recipe is telling you can allow you to adapt your recipe to keep in line with the suggested results. It also illustrates that sometimes the recipe or parameters give you a tighter target that starting blind and pulling to the blonding point alone, since I preferred this coffee stopped short of that point. In the case of this coffee, you can definitely manipulate it to suit your palate. Tightening the grind even further, extending the preinfusion, or ramping down the pressure may reduce the acidity of the shot, and skew it more syrupy sweet. This would bring out the loads of chocolate and honey sweetness in this coffee.
I like the presence of acidity, so I may even try follow the same recipe in say 27 seconds vs 30. I know the strength, texture, and body were all really good at the brew recipe proportions, so breaking down the various factors of the recipe can also help isolate the variables. *It's not quite as cut and dry as this, because adjusting one variable can often times influence multiple aspects of the shot.
Just as I strongly believe in not following the 2oz in 28-30 seconds rule, I hope this posts helps illustrate that you may not always want to or be able to follow a given recipe, and the variable involved in dictating why that is. But instead, looking at what the recipe is telling you about how the roaster or cafe finds this coffee to be very tasty, and working towards those principles or characteristics within your own operating parameters.
As always, thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, comments, or points that need clarification, please comment below!