There are several misconceptions when it comes to the coffee beans used to create an espresso.
The first misconception is that espresso is a particular type of bean grown in a particular country. In fact, espresso can be made using virtually any type of coffee bean from any country – Sumatra, Kona, Kenya, or a blend of beans from different countries like our own Classic Italian Blend, which is composed of Arabica beans from Brazil and Ethiopia. Coffee beans can be roasted in a variety of ways to create different tastes, so beans from any country can be roasted to suit the strong and intense espresso style.
The second misconception is that espresso is a type of roast. Bags of beans labelled “Espresso Roast” only means that the beans are more than likely a dark roast. Dark roasted coffees can make great espresso and might bring out flavours of chocolate, burnt sugar, and tobacco which are commonly associated with espresso. Coffee producers will often call these “Dark”, “French” or “Espresso” roasts.
The term “Espresso” is actually a specific process for making a strong coffee. Espresso is made by forcing hot water through a compact puck of finely ground coffee that creates an intense tasting shot. These shots will contain up to 12% of actual dissolved coffee solids, whereas a cup of brewed coffee through a filtered method will contain less than 2% of these dissolved coffee solids. Since our taste buds detect extremely small changes in the strength of coffee, it’s not surprising that the perceived flavour of an espresso is 10x stronger than a drip coffee.
What coffee roasters are looking for when they create a roast for an espresso is the perfect balance between high levels of sweetness and low levels of acidity. Too much acidity in a drip coffee can leave your mouth bursting with fruit, flavour, and brightness, but too much acidity in espresso can turn the taste sour.
To find the right kind of roast for your espresso, follow these tips:
- Whether a blend or a single origin coffee, look at the tasting notes to decide if it will work as an espresso. Beans that are described as balanced and creamy, or have tasting notes of chocolate, caramel, burnt sugar, nuttiness, or even dark cherry or dried fruits, will all be tasty by themselves or a pleasant addition to milk.
- Any roast can be used in your espresso machine. If you enjoy espresso without any added milk or sugar, don’t be afraid to try a medium or light roast with brighter tasting notes as opposed to your regular dark roast.
- “Natural” processed coffees (versus washed coffees) are favourable for espresso because they tend to hold on to their natural sweetness.
- Any coffee labelled as “espresso” was roasted with the intention of creating a flavour profile that pairs well with milk. So if you love your at-home lattes, try some of these safe-bet roasts.
- And finally, whether grinding beans yourself or buying pre-ground coffee, make sure the grind is as fine as possible. The finer the grind, the more likely the maximum amount of flavour will be extracted in the short time that the water is in contact with the coffee in the espresso making process.
We are delighted to be among the Great Taste winners of 2017 with not one, but two awards! 1 star for our Signature Blend Coffee and a prestigious 3 star rating for our Matcha Tea, the highest award given by the Guild of Fine Food.
The Great Taste awards are the Oscars of the food world so we couldn’t be happier that the two products we entered in 2017 both received awards. This recognition confirms what our customers tell us every day, which is that our best-selling coffee and tea really does taste great. According to the eminent panel of Great Taste judges, our 1-star Signature Blend Coffee was dubbed as “simply delicious” and 3-star Organic Matcha tea was described as “exquisite and wow!”
After a Taste of the West Silver award in 2014, this Great Taste award is a second accolade for our Signature Blend coffee, which is now one of the best-selling coffees on-line in the UK. We were confident this coffee would do well, it’s a favourite with customers and judges alike because of its sweet nutty flavour and smoothness, with only a hint of bitterness. These are taste qualities we know are popular with UK coffee drinkers.
While the success of our Match Tea has been a delightful surprise. As novices to the world of Matcha Tea our founders, Simon and David, spent months tasting numerous samples from across Japan. They chose a tea with the highest quality organic grade with a very appealing flavour. The soil and climate at the farm in Japan where our tea is grown offers perfect growing conditions. This helps produce a tea which is nutrient rich, vivid green in colour, smooth in texture and with a sweet umami flavour which also lacks bitterness. The award of 3-stars is a major coup for us and it makes our Matcha one of only two available in the UK to ever achieve this highest accolade!
Join us in celebrating the attainment of these awards by ordering this coffee and tea for yourself via this website.
10% OFF WHEN YOU SPEND OVER £30 USE CODE: "GREATTASTEWINNERS2017" AT CHECKOUT
For many households a super-automatic bean to cup coffee machine is used to produce a consistent, great tasting espresso shot for that caffeine filled jolt to start the day. However just like a traditional semi -automatic and volumetric espresso machines, they require tweaking and dialling-in to ensure you get the most from your machine. By experimenting with the various settings you can learn about the variables that affect coffee taste and ensure you achieve the taste you enjoy the most. All of our coffee is great for bean to cup machines
Remember though that the freshness of the coffee beans and the water quality are two of the most important factors in making a good espresso. None of the guidelines below can compensate very much for stale coffee and chlorinated or hard water. It’s also important to clean your machine on a regular basis following the manufacturer’s specific instructions using the correct coffee machine cleaning products, we recommend at least once a week.
Here’s an overview of the variables you can adjust on most machines to control the final flavour and strength of your coffee.
Coffee Grinder Settings
Adjusting the grind is an often-neglected part of setting up super-automatic machines, but it has a huge effect on the espresso quality. Some experimentation is generally required as different beans react best with different grinds. In general, the darker the roast, the coarser the grind should be. You can tell when your grind setting is right if the espresso is coming out thick with plenty of crema and neither too fast or too slow. You are aiming for a 4oz shot in 25 seconds.
The grind is ultimately changing the length of time that the water is in contact with the ground coffee, called extraction time. A coarser grind is easier for the water to move through, so it will pour out faster. A finer grind will slow down the pour. The longer the water is in contact with the grounds, the more it will absorb out of them. The first things it absorbs are aroma and flavour, then caffeine and tannic acid (tannic acid is responsible for stomach problems some people experience and makes the coffee bitter). If you let the water absorb too much, it will run out of the good things to absorb (flavour and aroma) and then over extract the tannic acid or even burn the coffee. If you don't let it absorb enough, it will taste very weak and not have any crema. So, calibrate your grind to a balance where it absorbs the full flavours but less caffeine or tannic acid. This doesn't mean the centre setting on the grinder generally, but the perfect point is usually closer to the finest setting.
In summary, if the espresso is coming out very quickly, with little or no crema and little or no taste, the grind is quite likely too coarse. Try turning it a few notches finer. If the espresso is coming out very slowly, or barely coming out at all, and the taste is harsh and bitter, the grind is probably too fine. Try turning it a bit coarser.
Obviously, if you want to make a larger or smaller sized drink, you would adjust the water volume setting. This can also be used to change the strength of the drink. By keeping the amount of coffee that will be ground the same but adjusting the water, you can make a smaller, stronger drink or a larger, milder drink. But don't forget about extraction time!
If you have a lot of water going through a small amount of ground coffee, it will have the same effect as a smaller amount of water going too slowly through the coffee (as discussed above in the grinder section). Too much water will therefore extract not only the flavour and aroma but also the caffeine and tannic acid, resulting in a bitter drink. Making the grind coarser to speed up the flow of water can improve the result if you find it tastes bitter in a long drink. Or try making an Americano if you want a larger drink - brew a regular shot of espresso and then top it up with hot water. There are a couple of models that don't allow you to adjust the amount of coffee so if you need more in order to get a stronger taste, you might have to cut the water volume in half and brew twice.
Most machines allow you to adjust how much coffee gets ground per cup. Sometimes it is a dial, sometimes with markings to reflect the amount in grams, sometimes all you have is button options for mild, medium and strong without an actual amount in grams. Adding more coffee will make it harder for the water to flow through, so this will slow down the extraction time as well as increase the coffee to water ratio, thus making a stronger cup. Again, if you want to make a larger drink, like a mug of coffee, you will probably want to add more coffee and make the grind a bit coarser to reduce the bitterness from a too-long extraction.
Some customers have experienced a bitter taste from their Delonghi Magnifica machine, we have suggested to try our Signature Blend and the feedback we have received from using this coffee has been very positive.
Extraction time is the time hot water is in contact with ground coffee.
For Espresso or short coffee, try to adjust all the previously mentioned variables while keeping the extraction time between 20 and 25 seconds. Keep an eye on the crema. Once white dots start building, over-extraction occurs.
To make regular pressure brewed long coffee, we recommend to brew no longer than 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, unwanted solids will start extracting. Again, keep an eye on the white dots on the crema. Stop the brewing at 30 seconds and add hot water.
By using these few key tips to calibrate your machine you will be confident in the knowledge that your machine is producing the best coffee it can. If you have attempted all of this and the brew is still mediocre, it may be time to experiment with different coffee beans to ensure they are fresh and suited to this style of brewing.
How to Check Your Coffee Beans are Fresh infographic
Five Tips for Testing Coffee Bean Freshness
Like most products of living organisms, coffee beans are highly susceptible to aging. The moment a roasted bean is exposed to air, it immediately begins to grow stale and lose flavour. Even worse, some shop bought blends may even be stale before you buy them.
There are a few easy ways to tell whether your coffee beans are fresh based on appearance, smell and feel.
# 1. Look For A Glossy Appearance
When coffee beans are roasted they are exposed to intense heat that extracts moisture from the heart of the bean while simultaneously drawing out oil-like substances that, then, coat the outside of the bean.
# 2. Check For Oil Residue
If you pick-up a handful of beans and they leave a residue on your hands, or you see a lining of residue on the inside of the bag, these beans are fresh for brewing.
# 3. Smell The Beans
Fresh beans are known for their intense aroma. If you can’t easily smell your beans, then they are likely to be well past their prime.
# 4. Check For A Valve
Freshly roasted beans give off a considerable quantity of CO2. If your bag of coffee does not include a valve, then your coffee beans are not actively releasing CO2 and are not fresh.
# 5. Use the Ziploc Bag Test
Place a handful of whole coffee beans in a ziploc bag. Press out the remaining air before sealing, let it sit overnight, and check in the morning. If the bag appears to be inflated due to the release of CO2, then your beans are fresh. If the bag remains flat, then your beans are past their prime.
So you’ve spent hundreds, or thousands, of pounds on a home espresso coffee maker, but how confident are you in your home barista skills? Our co-founder David has been wholesaling fresh coffee for almost 20 years and in this capacity he has trained hundreds of Baristas to make a perfect espresso shot. Here he shares his top tips for making the perfect espresso at home.
- Use fresh whole beans – buy fresh beans from a specialist supplier who knows how old the beans are and when they were processed or roasted. Fresh beans produce a better espresso, which should be viscous and full of flavour with a rich crema. David’s rule of thumb is beans should be used four days to three weeks after roasting for optimal flavour.
- Finely grind your beans – the fineness of your grind is one parameter that determines the rate of extraction, which in turn affects flavour. If the grind is too fine, over extraction is likely as the water passes too slowly through the dense coffee and a burnt or ashy flavour may result. If ground too coarse, the espresso will taste watery and thin, as the water will pass through too quickly without extracting all the oils and flavour in the coffee.
David suggests the perfect texture for an espresso grind is “like flour with a little bit of gritty salt or sand through it.” The ground coffee should clump readily when it’s squeezed between your fingers.
- Clean and dry - make sure there is no moisture, or old coffee grinds, in your porter filter and basket. If fresh coffee comes in contact with moisture, it starts extracting too early. Use a clean cloth to dry and clean these parts.
- Don’t forget to tamp – David insists home baristas should invest in a tamper to compact their coffee evenly into the basket. Fill the basket about three-quarters full with ground coffee (usually 7 grams for single shot & 14 grams for double shot). Tap the basket on your counter to collapse the coffee and ensure the basket is filling evenly. To tamp, grab the tamper like a door knob and leans into it from above with a straight arm. If you turn the basket upside down after tamping, the coffee should stay put.
After tamping, the basket should be no more than four-fifths full. If coffee sits too hard-up against the machine's shower screen, you may get an uneven extraction; too far away and the espresso may taste muddy. David uses the analogy of a watering can; water poured from too great a height will hit the soil (coffee) too forcefully and churn it up, resulting in mud.
- Purge your machine - run some water through it just before making your espresso to ensure it’s as clean as possible.
- Measure the shot – there are many different rules baristas favour to ensure consistent and well-balanced espressos. David advocates, 7-10grams of coffee, for a 4oz/9cl shot of espresso with an extraction time of 21-25 seconds.
- Make your shot – initially your machine should deliver drips before a steady stream of espresso. Fresh coffee will be slightly viscous and will almost look like its springing back up because of the oils in the beans. The shot should have a nice crema on top. This is the lighter, fluffier substance that sits on the surface. Crema looks like tiny bubbles and is reddish-brown or hazelnut in colour. The colour should be consistent from the middle outwards. An inconsistent colour usually indicates over extraction, whilst a dull colour indicates under extraction. A Lack of crema is a sign your coffee beans are past their best.
For tops tips on making great tasting coffee with a bean to cup machine and other popular brewing devises, visit our Brew Guides.
How coffee is roasted
Roasting the coffee beans is one of the biggest influences on the flavour of your coffee. Roasting takes the green coffee seed, which has almost no flavour beyond a quite unpleasant vegetable taste, and transforms it into an incredibly aromatic and complex coffee bean.
Methodology of roasting coffee
The application of heat to roast beans generally follows two methods. In slow roasting low heat is used to drive moisture from the beans until pyrolysis, or first crack, which normally occurs at from 400°F to 420°F (204°C to 216°C). Then the bean is finished to the desired roast level by increasing the heat. In fast roasting, high heat is applied early, searing the beans like a steak, then low heat after the first crack, as the beans should have a high enough internal temperature to finish by themselves.
A host of chemical reactions occur during roasting and several of them reduce the weight of the coffee, not least of them the evaporation of water. Slow roasting (14 – 20 minute) will result in a greater loss of weight than faster roasting, which can be achieved in as little as 90 seconds. Slow roasting is generally considered to achieve a better tasting coffee, allowing more scope for the complex aromatic compounds to develop to give coffee its flavour.
However, the speed and temperature of a roast is used by skilled roasters to determine three key aspects of how the coffee will taste: acidity, sweetness and bitterness. It is generally agreed that the longer coffee is roasted, the less acidity it will contain. Conversely, bitterness will slowly increase the longer the coffee is roasted, and will definitely increase the darker a coffee is roasted.
Commercial coffee roasting commonly uses two types of machine, drum roasters and hot-air or fluid bed roasters. Drum roasters are most popular with speciality roasters since they roast at slower speeds. A metal drum rotates above a flame, moving the beans constantly during the process to aid an even roast. Fluid-bed roasters tumble and heat the beans by pumping jets of hot air through the machine. Roast times are significantly shorter than a drum roaster.
All Spiller & Tait coffee is roasted in small batches (60kg or less) in a drum roaster. Roasting times vary between 14 to 16 minutes. Very few of our coffees are roasted dark, avoiding bitterness and protecting the inherent flavours in our coffee.
Once a favoured coffee making device, coffee percolators are now more likely to be found gathering dust at the back of a kitchen cabinet rather than bubbling away on an oven hot plate or gas hob.
Percolators consist of a water boiling chamber and a tubed filtering device that holds ground coffee, this works best when the coffee is ground from fresh coffee beans. In this method boiling water rises up through the tube and sprays over the grounds. The water travels down through the grounds and through a bottom screen to drop back down to the bottom chamber again. It is boiled again and travels the same path. This repeats for six to eight minutes and normally produces a very strong tasting coffee.
However, in recent years our appetite for strong, tarry and bitter coffee has been replaced by a desire for the intensity of espresso, or the subtle and balanced flavours of drip and filter coffee. As a consequence the percolator, which is deemed to break one of the cardinal rules of coffee making i.e. avoid using boiling water so as not to burn the coffee, has fallen out of favour and has been replaced by various domestic drip, filter, vacuum and espresso devices.
Automatic percolators, with temperature and timing control, did offer a glimmer of hope for a prolonged life, but even in these automatic versions the coffee is inevitably boiled several times over, leading to the over extraction and bitterness which boiling produces.
If you have to use a percolator, or choose to use one because you like a very strong taste and bitterness in your cup, choose a coffee which is low in acidity and very smooth, and grind it even coarser than for a French press. Allow it to perk for no more than 3 minutes.