Cascara experiments


I recently bought some Colombian EA decaf from S&W Craft Roasting, as well as their sampler pack and a bag of cascara tea. The order shipped immediately and got to me within just a few days, and I am pretty happy with the decaf.

But let’s talk about the cascara!

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My updated current espresso process


9 months ago I posted my then-current espresso process. As this is a constant experiment and processes change over time, I figure it’s time for an update:

  1. I have returned to single-dosing, and have 3D printed a single-dose hopper for that purpose. This makes it less convenient for me to rest/outgas my beans but it’s easy enough to just, y'know, open the bag while it waits in the refrigerator. Oh also I grind into the dosing cup, not direct into the portafilter, and I give the dosing cup a little shakey-shake before pouring it into the portafilter (with a dosing funnel).

  2. My dose is now 18g, and since I’m single-dosing there’s no time calibration necessary. Also, I give the beans a quick spritz with water (aka “RDT” in coffee nerd circles) to cut down on static and clumping.

  3. My leveling process is now to do a vertical tap, and then WDT, with no additional leveling. Also, for the WDT I ended up settling on a bit of cat6 Ethernet cable which I stripped down to the wires which I then straightened, forming a sort of whisk. It’s probably not food-safe, but it works.

  4. I still tamp as before, although as part of my tamping I also turn the tamper around a couple of times to ensure that the puck is flat and releases.

  5. I extract either a 1:2 ratio (i.e. 18g in, 36g out) or 30 seconds, whichever comes first, and use that as a guide for dialing in my grind.

My current espresso technique


Update: See the update to this post.

I’m still learning how to do good espresso, and my current technique seems to generate better, more repeatable results than before.

  1. Let your beans outgas before grinding them

    Inspired, as usual, by a James Hoffmann video, I’ve started doing this much more regularly after noticing that super-fresh-roasted beans keep on resulting in horrible channeling. So now when I get a new bag of beans I put it into my countertop storage and let it sit there while I finish off the previous bag.

    Relatedly, rather than keeping my current beans in an airtight container, I’m actually using the hopper on my grinder instead of single-dosing stuff.

  2. Target 15g of ground espresso

    I’ve settled on a 15-gram dose. Since I’m now using the hopper instead of single-dosing, I’m continuously adjusting my grind timer; I first tare my scale with the dosing cup, then put the dosing cup under the grinder, run it for my set time, then weigh the ground beans and then adjust the timer based on targeting 15 grams (for example, if my grind time is set to 4.5 seconds and I get 13 grams ground, I adjust the timer to \(4.5s \times 15g/13g = 5.19s\)), and then also grind a bit more until I get to 15 grams. If my initial grind was too much I just go ahead and use a larger dose.

  3. Sideways-tap level, then WDT, then sideways-tap again

    I’m no longer using the spinny-spinny leveler, unless I’m having a really difficult time getting the puck level before tamping. I am using a WDT for declumping. I’m still using the crappy WDT but I will someday get around to printing one of the acupuncture-needle ones that everyone’s in love with now.

  4. Calibrated tamper, but go extra

    Instead of trying to get a precise pressure-based tamp, I’m using the calibrated tamper by Decent to indicate the minimum force to pack it down by. Apparently it’s easy to undertamp a puck but pretty much impossible to overtamp, and the depth-based tamping I was doing before was way too inconsistent, especially when using lighter roasts (which tend to grind denser).

    (If you don’t want to pay the premium for the Decent tamper, this one on Amazon looks pretty okay.)

  5. Extract based on time, not ratio

    This is a thing that’s made a huge difference to the quality of my output. Instead of targeting a 1:2 in:out ratio and adjusting the grind to get it closer to 25 seconds, I brew for 25 seconds and then adjust the grind to get it closer to a 1:2 ratio. Extraction time is the primary driver of flavor profile, and a 25-second extraction seems to get pretty close to the peak. So if my grind is too fine I might get a 1:1 ristretto, or if it’s too coarse I might get a 1:3 lungo, but either way I’ll end up with some pretty good-tasting espresso (although a lungo will tend to be a bit more bitter than I like).

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My (current) coffee station


For the last few months (since mid-July) I’ve been going through a lot of upgrades and troubleshooting on my coffee setup, especially as far as espresso is involved. I’m finally at the point where I’m happy with both the equipment and technique I have… or at least I think I am.

Here are the products I currently use, and the techniques I’ve found to get the most out of them. As usual, I have affiliate links for many of the products on display, but feel free to search for the best deal or the vendors you prefer.

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ESE pod review: Caffe Pompeii Circe 100% Arabica


The Caffe Pompeii Circe (which is labeled as “Gusto” on the pod envelope) is one of the pods that Podhead sent me as a sample. Being fully-caffeinated I was hesitant to drink it (as caffeine hecks me up something fierce), so for the sake of this review I only did a single 16g shot.

This time I used my standard portafilter, so I don’t know whether there was channeling. However, the resulting coffee tasted smooth and well-balanced, and I definitely recommend this one wholeheartedly if you want an ESE pod to brew and don’t have any reason to avoid caffeine.

An hour later I had jitters and a panic attack, as expected. Oh well.

Gusto Decaf Polifemo


When I ordered a bunch of ESE pods for this ongoing ESE pod experiment, PODhead sent me a few samples of a few other pods. This is one of them. Oddly, I couldn’t find this particular one anywhere on their website, although a websearch turned it up, so it’s probably just something weird about their site navigation.

Also, given some of the extraneous slug text on the link, I worry about whether the links will remain active in the long term as their stock changes. If anyone from PODhead wants to let me know about what’s going on with that, it’d be greatly appreciated!

Anyway, they only gave me two pods, so I can only do a two-shot evaluation. For my first shot I went with a lungo, which I managed to get exactly 21g out. Yay me! The shot pulled cleanly and there was no channeling. Some slight bitter notes, maybe a little bit burned, but nothing unpleasant. Good texture. Left behind some sweet notes on my palate.

For my second shot I opted to go with a standard shot, and got 15g out. Just like with the Cremissimo arabica decaf I paradoxically got something more bitter and overextracted. So, this stuff definitely wants a shot on the longer side. It was still decently drinkable though.

This seems like a decent starter espresso for someone who just wants something simple and no-nonsense, and is somewhat forgiving to overextraction. Someone who doesn’t care about the fiddly details of espresso, or extraction ratios or channeling or texture, someone who has never heard of WDT or calibrated tamping or puck prep or any of the debates about 3 bar vs. 9 bar vs. 15 bar.

I used to be like that.

Sometimes I miss those days.

This coffee is fine.

Cremissimo arabica decaf


The fourth ESE pod up for review is the decaf arabica espresso by Cremissimo.

Upon opening, the pod smells like… pretty standard coffee, really. The puck is good and firm, and feels well-compacted. Pods are 7g.

For the first shot I did 24g out (3.4:1, for a longer-than-usual lungo). The resulting coffee was pretty smooth, with a slightly bitter finish and some sweet notes. There wasn’t anything about the flavor which particularly grabbed me; it tasted like a pretty ordinary espresso shot. Which, if we’re being honest, is a good thing. As usual I used the bottomless portafilter, and I didn’t see any channeling take place.

Shot 2 I only took to 14 grams, and paradoxically this was much more bitter than the first one. It tasted like the sort of espresso you’d get at a major coffee chain, or one of those mall kiosks.

And, finally, I did a 125g/4.4oz “shotover,” which took over 2 minutes to pull. It tasted like gas station coffee.

So, overall I would not recommend it. It seems to be good for lungo shots and nothing else, and even then, I’ve had better.

ESE pod review: Bristot decaffeinato


The next ESE pod on my agenda is Bristot decaffeinato.

Opening the packet released a pleasantly fruity aroma.

For my first shot, I opted to use the factory portafilter (which meant not being able to directly measure the shot output), and my resulting shot was around 20g. The shot pulled quite slowly and I was worried that it would be bitter and overextracted, but the flavor was actually rich and well-rounded, and a bit nutty and sweet. Really nice crema on it as well.

To get a better comparison against the other pods so far, I pulled a second shot using the bottomless portafilter, and measured it to a 20.5g extraction, for a ratio of just under 3:1. From this I saw a little bit of channeling, a little more than the Illy pod, way less than the Arabica Express. This time the shot tasted just a little bit more bitter.

I think the main practicality problem with ESE pods is that they’re all 7-8g, so if you want a standard 2:1 ratio you’re getting only a tiny amount of espresso out. This is especially troublesome when drinking decaf, which is all about the flavor, and regardless it’s much more satisfying to have a larger shot, but even a 3:1 lungo is ridiculously small. Maybe this is a mismatch between my American sensibilities and what Italians want out of their coffee.

Or maybe I should be a bit more daring and try brewing at a higher ratio to see what comes out.

So that’s what I did:

Espresso cup sitting on a scale showing a weight of 35.6g

I was pretty worried about how this might taste. The shot looked pretty darn watery towards the end, and the shot continued to pull quite slowly.

I don’t know if it’s just that my taste buds are no good because this was my third shot tasted in a row, but… it’s fine. Tastes almost just like the first two. The texture is a little thinner, there’s a little bit more bitterness, and a bit less sweetness, but… it’s fine.

Maybe this stuff is more forgiving than I thought.

Maybe it’s just coffee and I shouldn’t get so worked up about it.