The Italian coffee tradition over the centuries has become a system of rituals and behaviors about coffee and its most famous preparations: moka coffee, espresso and cappuccino.
– From taster’s evaluations to the cup at the coffee shop, here are tips and helpful advice to recognize and make the perfect espresso! Taste-testing and sensory analysis, plus a checklist for maintaining the quality control of your coffee. –
Although the coffee plant grows in an equatorial climate and is not native to Italy, the Bel Paese has maximized the beverage’s potential by introducing preparation methods that enhance the aroma of coffee beans.
Espresso is the best method for brewing and bringing out the flavor and aroma of coffee beans, as well as understanding the real value of the coffee.
For this reason, authentic espresso is recognized throughout the world as the quintessential Italian coffee (and the coffee of Italians).
In everyday reality, coffee is very often a personal decision based on likes and dislikes.
Recognizing the quality of an espresso and learning to differentiate its individual characteristics is a learned skill that takes years to hone through tasting and taking classes tailored for expert coffee tasters.
It’s not something you can figure out simply by drinking your regular daily brew!
Taste-testing, savoring or sensory analysis?
The term “taste” underlines the technical value (of a food or beverage) and stands apart from the more hedonistic, pleasure-filled savoring.
The difference between the art of savoring and the science of tasting is made on foundations of sensory analysis: psychology (and cognitive neuroscience), statistics and methodology.
Sensory analysis is a scientific discipline
By definition, sensory analysis is a series of techniques and methods that enable us to describe and measure the outside stimuli, of any origin, reaching our brains through a given sensory system.
Therefore, sensory analysis can be applied to any event able to produce a sensation or a perception. The human sensory system is the one most often involved.
Thus far, the difference between savoring and tasting is not so important.
What makes the difference is the concept of describing, and above all measuring. To do so, we need to meet the three key parameters of any test: it must be sound (soundness), reliable (reliability) and comprehensive (comprehensiveness).
The meaning of degustation (a form of tasting) has this simple, clear-cut definition in the Devoto Oli Dictionary of the Italian Language
to taste, savor, particularly to convince oneself as to the quality of a product.
One savors for many reasons, not just for hedonistic experience, but also for very precise purposes.
The method involved in professional tasting is used by “professionals” to: determine the product’s assets or defects; compare the profiles of two coffees of different origins; study and assess the best composition and the best degree of roasting of the beans. The utmost expression of this component is the professional barista competition where a panel of judges scores their work and rewards the best.
Those wishing to focus on professional tasting must acquire broad sensory horizons. It is essential to learn and memorize stimuli and sensations, differentiating their intensity and quality, and then be able to use coded terminology to verbalize and describe the rich, variegated range of sensations evoked by the coffee, both when tasted pure and blended with milk.
For tasting to take place in the best possible manner, some fundamental references must always be kept in mind.
The taster’s psycho-physical condition is of utmost importance (a common cold can throw the evaluation off)
The ideal time for the sensory tasting of a series of coffees is the late morning. Since no big meal has yet been consumed, the senses are geared toward analysis.
Besides being careful not to eat a heavy meal, one must avoid consuming foods and beverages with strong flavors that could alter the organoleptic assessment. Additionally, avoid excessive use of perfumes and cosmetics as they too can interfere with the senses.
Another basic rule is to always follow the tasting sequence very carefully. Start out with the visual examination followed by the olfactory examination (smell). Next is the gusto-tactile, retronasal assessment. Finally, conclude with an overall evaluation.
During tasting, the oral cavity should be cleaned out with water or puffed rice to absorb any persistent flavors.
Equally important are the indications regarding how the evaluation form is to be filled out, adding notes on individual samples, and sharing opinions with other tasters. The overall judgment must be as objective and independent as possible
The place where tasting is performed also has its importance. It must be well lit and have adequate ventilation. It must facilitate concentration and be devoid of disturbances and distractions.
From taster’s evaluations to the cup at the coffee shop…
how do you recognize the perfect espresso?
The espresso is the alchemy between four basic brewing elements: water, temperature, pressure and coffee.
It’s an aromatic magical wonder of physical and chemical engineering that’s covered with a dense, dark striped hazelnut colored crema. The body is full, aromatic and pairs with a perfect balance between acidity and bitterness.
There is no other drink in the world that can give the same taste and olfactory sensations at the time of consumption and over the next few minutes.
“Espresso” means “made at the time”, with the typical speed of preparation of our concentrated coffee.
The perfect espresso must have:
1. CREMA (visual evaluation)
- Crema with a hazelnut almost dark brown color with reddish nuances and light veins
- Thin and thick crema, with a very fine texture (with absence of large mesh and larger or smaller bubbles)
- The coffee underneath should not not be seen
- The crema should never be frothy, too light or too dark, nor should it disappear quickly
- The absence of foam can be due to a number of factors: use of old coffee, failure to apply the correct technical parameters, condition of the machine or grinder, dosing, cleaning and purification
The crema contains hundreds of highly volatile, aromatic substances and is the heart of the Italian espresso.
2. AROMA (olfactory evaluation)
- The aroma is intense, strong, full-bodied, expanded
- Elegant, noble, sensual, clean, true, refined
- You sense chocolate, flowers, fruit and toasted fragrances even after swallowing. This aroma lasts for seconds and even minutes
3. FLAVORS AND BODY (tactile and taste evaluation)
- The taste is based on four basic elements: bitterness, acidity, saltiness and sweetness
- Flavors are well mixed, bitter feeling, which is clear and clean
- Acid is poorly perceived
- Sour and bitter are balanced without any prevalence of one over the other with little to no sharpness
- Astringency must not be noticed
- Full-bodied round, mellow, firm, smooth and velvety
- The body is a matter of density, it results from the concentration of dissolved substances in the liquid
- The density, oiliness and viscosity of coffee can be distinguished and measured separately from the intensity of its flavors and aroma
4. AFTERTASTE (aftertaste evaluation)
- The aftertaste is full-bodied, fragrant, sweet and vivid
- The taste in the mouth is long lasting and consistent
- You sense spicy and floral notes
Hey barista, how do you choose the coffee blend for your perfect espresso?
It is essential to start with a suitable beans coffee blend, as Arabica d’OrFor espresso machines at the coffee bar, this is a blend of coffee beans with a sweet and aromatic taste. Made from a high percentage of fine Brazilian and Central American Arabica balanced by Robusta sourced from selected plantations growing the best Asian coffees.
But the coffee blend alone is not enough!
It also takes processing by a qualified and professional barista with a proper grinder (so that it increases the coffee contact surface with water during extraction) and a good coffee machine.
Without forgetting some important parameters:
- Dose of ground coffee: 7 grams +/-0,5
- Temperature of water (exit from the group): 90°C +/-2
- Pressure of water pump: 9 bar (atm)
- Pressure of the tamper: 25 kg
- Brewing time: 5 seconds of preinfusion + 25 seconds of brew
- Volume in the cup (crema included): 25 ml
- Temperature of coffee in the cup: 67°C +/-3
This checklist helps keep constant control of the perfect espresso’s quality.
And then there is the espresso cup…
The espresso cup must be chosen with care. Discover how to recognize the perfect espresso cup reading this post.
The perfect, authentic Italian espresso is served in a quality cup that is pre-heated to 35-40°C with a maximum capacity of 70ml. It should have a truncated-conical shape which helps achieve a more compact and long-lasting foam allowing a better way of bringing out the aromas
To make sure the espresso is perfect, the barista needs to pay particular attention to the speed at which the espresso is extracted.
A perfect espresso extraction removes only what is needed from the ground coffee in order to have a balanced and aromatic cup.
Neither too much nor too little and avoids under-extraction or over-extraction.
Under-extracted vs. over-extracted
In general, more the coffee is ground with fine granulometry, then greater is the contact surface between water and coffee.Instead of coarse grinding, the contact between the two elements will be smaller.
The main management of extraction time is due to coffee grinding.
For the espresso it takes an extraction time of around 25 seconds. Therefore, coffee beans must be ground so that an espresso can be obtained in around 25 seconds.
Under (espresso extraction) = extract less from the coffee grounds
If the extraction time is less than 20 seconds, it means that the grinding is too coarse and the espresso will go fast resulting under-extracted in an empty and acidic espresso with insufficient crema and light color.
- Light cream
- Strong acidity
- Weak aroma
- Weak body (watery consistency, full of bubbles)
- Extraction too fast
Over (espresso extraction) = Extract too much from coffee ground
Conversely, if the extraction time is more than 30 seconds, it means that the grinding is too fine and the espresso will be over-extracted with a sharp and unpleasant bitterness accompanied by dark-colored crema and whitish bubbles.
- Dark crema
- (too) hot
- Strong bitterness
- Strong body
- Extraction too slow
Obviously, to create the perfect espresso determining under-extraction and over-extraction requires analysis of all the parameters in play.
- Rancid espresso
- Salty espresso
- Irregular cup filling with double filter holder
- Differential extraction between filter holder
- Presence of solid or impalpable sediments at the bottom of the cup
But beware! Under-extraction and over-extraction do not always mean imperfections or malfunctions.
An espresso “ristretto” is an under-extracted coffee. The extraction time is much less than 20 seconds so the water has failed to extract 100% of the correct dose from the coffee.
A long espresso is over-extracted. The extraction time is much higher than 30 seconds so the water gets too much out of the coffee.