Baristador B70 Espresso Crema

Bitterness can begin with brewing

Have you ever had a cup of coffee that tasted bitter? Or wondered why your coffee tastes bitter?

Chances are that as long as you are buying quality coffee, the bitterness was ‘created’ by your coffee-making technique.

A lot of research has gone in to what is responsible for reports of bitterness among some coffee drinkers.

According to Thomas Hofmann, a professor of food chemistry and molecular sensory science at the Technical University of Munich, while many people blame caffeine for coffee’s bitterness it really only accounts for 15 percent of the experience.

His research has shown that there are two chemical compounds developed in coffee as a result of roasting that lead people to ascribe bitterness to this beverage but they are also the antioxidants; something that attracts people toward coffee.

A separate review of research, carried out by McCamey, D. A.; Thorpe, T. M.; and McCarthy, J. P., Coffee Bitterness, in “Developments in Food Science”, found that Robusta beans had higher levels of these compounds than Arabica beans (Baristador coffees are all Arabica).

This latter review also pointed the finger at brewing techniques for amplifying these natural qualities in roasted coffee.

So, what am I doing that’s makes coffee tastes bitter?

Coffee experts agree that the following three principles make coffee taste bitter:

  • Over-extracting your coffee
  • Using water that is too hot
  • Using the wrong grind size

Over-extracting your coffee

This is a trap for young players and I blame all the big name brands in coffee machines.

Over-extraction is when you pass (or ‘espress’) too much water through your coffee grounds.

Basically, once you have extracted your shot of coffee, you should STOP allowing your coffee machine to pass more water through those spent beans.

Once a shot has been extracted, water that follows draws numerous bitter compounds from deep within the grounds, compounds we should NOT be drinking.

So if you are lulled into a false sense of security by your machine which allows you to dial up a long black, you are prescribing yourself a cup of bitterness.

To get a long lack or a longer dose of coffee for a milk drink (latte, flat white, etc), simply let your machine deposit a shot of coffee into your cup and THEN add some hot water to achieve your desired length.

You will instantly notice a sweeter, milder, more rounded result.

Using water that is too hot

Just like over-extraction, water that is too hot reaches too deeply into our humble coffee grounds and leeches compounds we don’t want to leech.

This is why good cafes never serve scaldingly hot coffee.

It is also why better coffee machines give you control over water temperature.

If your machine wont allow you to dial between 92 and 96 degrees Celsius, you possibly need a new machine.

If you are plunging, allow the kettle to sit for a minute or two after boiling to allow the temperature to reduce before pouring over the coffee grounds.

Another form of over-extraction occurs when you scimp on the dose of coffee you put in your coffee device. This will become more temptiing as coffee prices rise later this year (2011).

However, short-changing your coffee device leads to your coffee extraction running thinner and more bitter much faster than expected. So always fill your coffee basket or use generous scoops when preparing plunger coffee to avoid self-sabotaging your coffee experience.

Using the wrong grind size

Baristador, like most other coffee houses, offers its blends in three different ‘grinds’:

  • Whole beans – You grind these yourself and must experiment for your optimal grind size to suit your coffee device
  • Espresso grind – This is a finer grind suitable for espresso machines and stovetop espresso makers (as a standby you can use this grind in a plunger)
  • Plunger grind – This is a coarse grind just perfect for plunging. You CANNOT substitute this grind for espresso because the water will pass through too quickly.

I hope these notes will help you give your coffee (Baristador or otherwise) a chance to display their unique flavour profiles without being tarred by some coffee-making missteps.

PS Cleaning your coffee equipment VERY regularly will also flush away bitter residues which build up quite quickly.

Yours in the spirit of espresso

Steve Davis