A simple espresso-tasting experiment
Ristretto & Lungo
You’re pulling shots with ease and enjoying waking up to the machine each morning. But the question remains: how is the espresso supposed to taste? Well, coffee tastes different to everyone. It takes time and lots of tasting to find a coffee that fits our style. Everyone’s taste preferences will be unique. The goal with making espresso at home is to pursue a taste and a style that suits you.
We find that the best way to really dive into the taste of espresso, the best thing to do is to taste two different espressos side-by-side one another. Here’s a simple tasting experiment you can do to lay the groundwork.
It takes time and lots of tasting to find a coffee that fits our style. Everyone’s taste preferences will be unique.
An Experiment in Shot Styles
Pull two shots of espresso as different styles – one ristretto (1:1 ratio) and a lungo (1:3 ratio) and taste the difference. Use time based markers for this tasting experiment as it is the most simple adjustment to change the taste.
(1:1 Ratio of Coffee to Water – Very concentrated)
A ristretto shot is viscous with a heavy body, but can be lacking in clarity. A smaller brew ratio plays to the strengths of a darker-roasted, low-grown coffee that has chocolate and caramel characteristics. What ristretto espresso lacks in clarity, it makes up for in body or mouthfeel.
Experiment Application: Stop the shot sooner
(1:3 Ratio of Coffee to Water – Very diluted)
Lungo shots are in the 1:3 range or even higher. By extending the brew ratio, clarity increases, body and viscosity decrease. Often, individual tasting notes more become evident and easier to pick out. This style of brew ratio begins to taste more like an Italiano, or even a cup of drip coffee.
Experiment Application: Stop the shot later
How to do the Experiment
Input & Output
We’ll use the same input for both shots, but we will extract a different output of volume. Both the 14g basket or the 17g basket can be used, just remember to put only plus or minus one gram of coffee into the basket. To be consistent, use a scale to help. Let one shot run for 20 seconds and the other for 30 seconds. For ristretto, we’re looking to double the weight of the coffee in. For lungo, we’ll more than triple it.
Taste each espresso and try to think of things like mouthfeel, consistency, acidity, sweetness, bitterness. More than likely, the ristretto will taste stronger and can be sour in comparison to the lungo, which can taste more subtle and sometimes even more bitter. The thickness (body) of the shots will also be opposite of each other. Every coffee has unique acidic and bitter notes, this tasting will show the full range of any coffee being used.
Building the Palate and Choosing a Style
Which do you like better? The taste can be adjusted, but choosing a style of espresso will help you know what recipe to go in with when you dial in a coffee. Maybe you like something in the middle or way outside of these two espressos. It’s all okay! Just notice the difference and think about which one you like a bit more in comparison to the other. We are looking for something that tastes well rounded and adjusting these volumes will have a great effect on what is being extracted from the coffee.
Anytime we get a new coffee we can come back to a tasting experiment like this. The roast level and origin of a coffee each bring their own unique changes and may taste good in surprising ways. Knowing our preferences tells us which direction to take our adjustments.