Espresso Ratios


(leer en español)

Water/coffee ratios is a never ending story and always provokes lots of questions.

I had my doubts if I am the best person to write about it, basically because I stick to the 2 rules in all my coffee activities.

First rule is “Measure everything”. And second is “Experiment, even if what you pretend to do looks weird”. That is, actually, one of the reasons while working with V60, I stir, and I use boiling water. No shame. Or maybe actually this makes me a good person to try to reflect about the ratios… Who knows. But I will try.

I confess, for a second I considered being a smartass and write many letters, show you many graphs, and make it a long and, for sure, very informative article (or even a series of articles) with many definitions and numbers, and brewing chart of course  – but I prefered to be honest with you instead, and share with you a small secret which is not a secret at all 🙂

Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) written after June 21 2015 that talks about extraction, yield, strength and espresso recipes for the beginners to medium level of the baristas, is or will be inspired by these posts of Matt Perger in the Barista Hustle (Dose, Strength, Yield, Time, Altogether).

The information is there for 2 years now, is eye-opening, is organizing everything you want to know about espresso recipes, and leaves you with the clear head and eager to go out and be throwing these espressos like a boss. I tend to give the last video, about putting it all together, to the new baristas that I train, when they are ready to enter the world of ratios.

I would like to talk about the ratios here, about my choices, but cause I am using some tactics that I learned from Barista Hustle in adjusting my espresso – first I’ll put it shortly here, for us to be at the same page.

The important detail here – this system works for you even if you don’t have a refractometer.  Yes, better to have it, yes, numbers are much more reliable than your tastebuds – but, what can I say, time to train our tastebuds nevertheless. It is necessary to be able to taste an espresso, and say what’s wrong with it, and how you could change it. Some sort of understanding of the reasons, and what I call “sensory imagination”. How could it be better, and what can I do to make it better? Do it need more body? Do I want more clarity? More complexity?

You start in this order:

  • First you adjust dose (dry coffee), then yield (espresso in the cup), and only then – time of the shot.
  • You “lock”, means you choose and don’t change, the dose of dry coffee, according to the amount of liquid coffee you pretend to make and the baskets you are using in your portafilters
  • You use weight, not volume, to measure your espresso.
  • You decide, what style of espresso you prefer – or, in other words, what are you more eager to compromise, extraction or strength, and this way choose the yield you want.
  • And that’s it. Hurray! (later, of course, you make all the possible and impossible adjustments to improve the evenness of your extraction)

So… Why am I the wrong person to talk about the ratios… Because everything is good for me 🙂 You like your espresso short, intense and with the big body, something around 11-12% TDS? Fine by me. You like it long, sweet and delicate, and don’t mind losing some texture while gaining extra flavour? 8-9% is your option? Sounds great!

As long as you know what you are doing, and why, and who is your customer, what he wants – and you get what you want, having the total control of it, you’ll be on top of your espresso game.

And if it is 8% or 12%, or even 7% is your choice – the truth is, we are in the world of flavour, and your coffee extracted short might taste good, and also in the shape of lungo can gain some complexity and be different – study your customer, and study your coffee, and then choose what’s best for you. There is no right or wrong, there are your informed choices, and your performance after. Right and wrong can be in the barista technique or approach. What can be wrong in the barista technique?

What I am not a fan of at all is overdosing to underextract the espresso, to mask some defects in roasting or barista technique, and eventually all those triple-ristrettos. When you get to know, by your own experience or by somebody elses, how much work goes into collecting those coffee cherries, into processing, transporting, roasting – it feels kinda nasty to put 21 grams into the basket, to extract 21.

That’s why I am on the side of extracting the best tasting maximum from the minimal dry dose. And that idea of manipulation of the flow of the espresso that we learned before, that to extract less you should grind coarser OR put more coffee in the basket should change. We should stop using the dose to manipulate the flow, because we end up wasting more coffee, and actually understanding less about it. So, you want to extract less – grind coarser.

About the ratio. The track of though I am suggesting is this one.

  • First take in consideration the style of the espresso your clients are looking for. What is the espresso for them? What are they used for? Bitter short substance drank like medicine? Or they allow a bit more taste?
  • Then check out how your coffee works with that ratio. Does it taste good short? Is it interesting and sweet enough to be extracted long?
  • Think about the amount of milk drinks you are making, and if it is a significant one, figure out the milk/espresso ratio that you are using. If your drinks are long, makes much more sense to use long espressos as well. Otherwise the coffee will “suffocate” in all that milk. If you serve mostly cortados and small cappuccinos – you can use a short espresso as a base, to maintain the balance between milk and coffee.

As I told you in the beginning, for me working with coffee is a beautiful combination of being free to experiment and measuring everything at the same time. And it is applied to espresso ratios in the same way.

Yes, you should know the rules, measure the extraction, the TDS, use the flat tamper, the right baskets, tamp consistently – basically, seek for all the ways to be constantly improving your technique with the goal to improve the consistency and the extraction.  But what comes after – is also your job, as a barista. To find at which ratio your coffee tastes better, and then repeatedly serve it.

The truth is, there are no rules that will tell you “do it always this way”. And if somebody tells you that the ratio should always be 2,2 or 1,5, don’t believe them.

There are too many factors in the game (roast level, how well the coffee extracts, the roast date, the variety and processing, the style of the espresso you would like to get, cultural factors of the country of consumption etc) to be able to give such a strict rule and insist on it. So, I think makes no sense to seek for it.

Instead, take a deep breath and dive into the espresso tasting and experimenting. And measure everything! 🙂

Published by liza maksimova

Q Grader. Roast Master. SCAE certified.

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