Creating espresso recipes

Mocopan Coffee’s Babin Gurung shares how to set your own espresso recipe and the critical variables to manage for consistent results and maximum flavour, every time.  

Espresso recipes are a guide to producing consistent coffees in your café. Much like cooking or baking, having a recipe to go by helps set the variables to achieve the desired outcome every time. Often, your coffee roaster will provide you the recipe or brew guide to suit the coffee. While this is a great starting point, further adjustments may be required due to variations in equipment on hand, style of coffee you serve, customer-base, and even the location of your café. 

Babin Gurung
Babin Gurung is the New South Wales Barista Trainer of Suntory Coffee Australia.

Having the knowledge and confidence to adjust your espresso recipe is key to getting the best out of your coffee and not wasting precious grounds in the process. Today, we’ll look at how to create your own espresso recipe. But first, here are a few things to consider before we dial in.

  • Coffee origin: In the October issue of BeanScene, we talked about single origin coffees and how flavours can vary based on their origin. When creating a recipe, whether it’s for a single origin or blend, your goal should  be to highlight the characteristics of the region. The other thing to keep in mind, is that coffees grown in higher elevation are denser and can be more difficult to extract compared to lower elevation coffee. A finer grind setting may be required to achieve maximum extraction.  
  • Coffee style: The two main styles of coffee served at cafés are black and milk-based. For milk-based, your espresso needs to cut through and complement the richness of the milk, while black coffee should highlight some of its origin characteristics. If you are planning on serving the same coffee for both styles, you need to find a good balance.
  • Roast profile: Roasting has a big impact not only on the flavour of coffee but also how it extracts. Darker roasted coffees are easier to extract compared to lighter roasted coffees. This will impact the size of dose you use, extraction time to water temperature. A higher dose works well with darker roasts while a smaller dose may be required to extract full flavours from a lighter roast. 
  • Coffee age: As discussed in the February 2021 edition of BeanScene, ‘How to adjust and calibrate your coffee grinder’, coffee degasses over time, making it easier to extract. When using freshly roasted coffee, it is important to adjust the recipe to encourage higher extraction, while coffee that has spent more time on the shelf may require lower yield and extraction time. It is ideal to have a recipe that can be adjusted according to the age of the beans and changing weather conditions. 

Equipment: Depending on the capacity of your coffee machine and grinder, adjustments may be required to the recipe. Water temperature and pressure plays a big role in extraction. Extracting finer ground coffee on a machine with pressure below nine bars can cause uneven saturation and slower extraction.

Lighter roasted coffee works better in higher water temperature (90°C+) but darker roasted coffee may need a lower temperature to avoid over-extraction. Similarly, baskets in a portafilter are designed to hold different amounts of coffee. Your coffee dose needs to match the basket size as you do not want to overfill or underfill the basket. Ground coffee expands as the water passes through it, so you need to factor that in before choosing the right dose. 

Now that we understand these variables, let’s look at the steps needed to create an espresso recipe. 

Step 1: Choose a brew ratio. Here are some common ratios.

Ristretto: This has approximately 1:1 ratio of ground coffee and liquid. This ratio gives you a smaller shot, producing intense flavour, which works for some coffees, but ristrettos can sometimes lack clarity of flavours and therefore are not suitable for all coffee types. 

Espresso: This has a ratio of 1:2 – one gram coffee to two grams liquid. Compared to ristrettos, espresso has more water flowing through the coffee which allows more flavours to extract. Along with body, you also get more clarity of flavours, making it a popular choice in cafés around the world. 

Lungo: Lungo has a higher ratio of approximately 1:3 coffee to liquid. The coffee is more diluted in this ratio which can result in the decrease of intensity. But what you’ll find is that the individual flavour notes are more pronounced. Any coffee with delicate flavour notes will benefit from a lungo ratio but it may not work for milk-based coffees. Picking the ratio will help you determine your dose and volume (yield). 

Step 2: Choose dose size. Dose will depend on the above mentioned factors such as style of coffee, roast profile, and basket size. Traditional Italian style coffee has between 14 to 18 grams of coffee while modern espressos use around 20 to 24 grams. If unsure, use the amount of coffee that your portafilter basket can hold. Dose will help you control the body and mouthfeel of coffee. Once you pick the dose, you are ready to test your shot. It is important that you make manual adjustments and not auto-set the machine for any variables at this stage.

Step 3: Run a shot to check extraction time. Extraction time dictates what flavours you extract. Quicker extraction time can often lead to under-extraction making your shot taste sour with lack of balance while longer extraction time can make your coffee taste bitter, astringent, and hollow. Somewhere in the middle is your sweet spot. Taste the coffee  and record the time. Around 25 to 30 seconds is generally a good place to start. You can achieve a slower extraction time by making your grind finer and faster extraction by going coarser. 

Here’s what to look for while tasting:

Balance: Regardless of what type of coffee you are using, you are looking for balance between bitterness, sourness, and sweetness.  

Mouthfeel: This refers to the body of coffee. Bigger body and texture can work really well for some coffees while some fruitier coffees may need a more subtle and light mouthfeel. Brew ratios often dictate the body and mouthfeel of coffee. 

Sweetness: Sweetness is a big part of enjoying coffee. The goal should always be to find maximum sweetness from the coffee. Extraction time can help you chase the sweetness and minimise bitterness.

After taste: How the coffee sits in your palate after the sip is important. Coffee with the right body and sweetness will add to the experience of enjoying your coffee. Flavour dissipating quickly or lingering bitterness is often a sign that coffee isn’t extracted properly or that further diagnostics is required to improve the flavour. 

Once you taste the coffee, it is time to see if you’ve achieved the desired flavour. If further adjustment is needed, always change one variable at a time. 

Start with dose to find the right body and mouthfeel then chase the sweet spot by changing extraction time. Where possible, push the limit of extraction, and stop just before you start seeing negative or diminishing returns. 

Where you find your flavour peak is when you need to lock in the variables and record the numbers in the order of dose, extraction time, and volume (yield). This is now your coffee recipe or brew guide. This can now be set in any automatic grinder and coffee machine which allows you to replicate the same flavour every single time.

It is also important to frequently check these variables to ensure no changes have occurred due to factors such as weather change, equipment or human error. 

With these principles in place, you can dial in any coffee and create your own espresso recipe to get the best out of your coffee. 

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This article appears in the February 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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