Monday, November 2, 2009
I love coffee.

Here's a thought I had on the matter.

I was cooking dinner the other night. Steak. I was using a cast-iron skillet. Rule number 1 for cast iron is, apparently, to season your skillet when you first purchase it. Basically, you give it one good wash and then rub some crisco on it. You rub it in good, into all the little iron-y nooks and crannies. Over the life of the skillet certain flavors and oils will get stuck in those nooks and crannies, trapped in with the cooking grease, providing an evolving flavor to all future foodstuffs you prepare with the skillet. In the case of the cast-iron skillet, its usually a good thing. You get a nice smoky flavor when you cook a steak, you get a grilled flavor when you throw in some veggies. It's pleasant.

Anyways, the next day I was pulling some shots at work and noticed that, out of habit, i tend to wipe out and rinse the portafilter with hot water between shots to get rid of all the espresso grounds and oils from the previous shot. Why do I do that? What would happen if I simply wiped out the previous shots' grounds but did not rinse, effectively leaving the espresso oils in tact for the next round of shots?

Thus the experiment began. For the next twenty shots I pulled out of that portafilter I wiped out the grounds, but I left the oils on the filter. After twenty shots I a shot from that filter and a shot from a freshly cleaned filter and compared taste.

Results - Aged oils very much ruin a shot of espresso. The natural brightness of the shots were masked by burnt, smoky overtones. The shots were ashy and overly bitter. The shots out of the clean filter remained balanced, bright and finished sweet and clean.

I was shocked with the results, but when I thought about it a minute it made sense. Espresso is delicate. The grind is fine enough that it burns easily and the oils tarnish quickly, souring shots as quickly as thirty seconds after being pulled. Coffee, in general, when exposed to water for too long, have a tendancy to become bitter. espresso, especially. If the preinfusion on a shot is too long, or if your grind is too find and water rests atop your puck for too long before pushing through the filter and out the pour spouts, it sours and embitters (word?). Thinking along these lines, it's easy to see why aging a portafilter doesn't have the same effect as aging a cast-iron.

Anyways, it was an interesting experiment and I urge everyone to give it a shot and let me know what you think.

Dan

Daniel Stewart Mueller at 10:48 AM |

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