Learning to Love Espresso Again

In all honesty, I probably never really fell out of love with espresso — perhaps became a little disillusioned would be more accurate. Just over two years ago I even wrote a short piece on my gravitation towards longer forms of brewing in the ever so wittily(?) titled A Short Long Story1. Not an “espresso — I’m done with you” entirely, however certainly an indication of my feelings — or changing tastes as it were — at the time.

Why the sad face?

So what was it that went so wrong?

FullSizeRender 16Nothing specific really — espresso was just… what it was at the time. Perhaps my taste developed and I began to appreciate the more subtle flavours achieved when brewing lighter roasted coffee by filter methods. Maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever the cause, somewhere along the way espresso became a little underwhelming to me — both in what I was brewing at home, and in much of what I could buy in cafes.

Am I now suggesting some sort of renaissance is occurring in the world of espresso coffee? Yes, and no. Perhaps just in my own little corner of that world. Whatever your views on the “third-wave” philosophy as it exists in coffee, there is no doubt things have changed markedly in the last few years in terms of how espresso is served — depending of course on the type of establishment you may be in at the time.

A few short years ago, espresso was generally a short, thick, and overly bitter drink. Again, that was simply what espresso was. More recently, we have entered another phase in Brisbane’s coffee evolution — certainly in terms of how espresso is served, and for me personally — it is an exciting time.

The purpose of this post is not to analyse or enter the debate on what may constitute a perfect or even proper espresso, but merely to outline a few thoughts on why I am really enjoying this method of brewing coffee again — probably more so than I ever have. A key point here is my reference to the brewing component. Of course I enjoy the fact I get to consume a great tasting coffee, however my world has been opened up substantially of late by a greater attention to the process, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the output I am achieving at home as a result.

What Changed?

For me — it was more so an awakening of what espresso could be, which triggered a new-found quest to get better at brewing it — plain and simple. For this I have the hardworking professionals at some of Brisbane’s best cafes, along with the philosophies of some outstanding local roasters to thank for that. In short: greater variety in the coffee being served (seasonal blends and single origin offerings); different roast profiles; and the knowledge of how to get the best out of these coffees by those working the machine.2

Ironically, further impetus for my renewed enthusiasm for espresso also came from my filter brewing. In setting myself up with equipment to accurately weigh the coffeeIMG_4624 and water when brewing with my Hario V60, all of a sudden I had a set of scales to put to use when brewing espresso as well.

In addition, I’d also begun to take a little more notice of the way espresso is approached by quality cafes and baristas, along with reading a little more deeply into the key brewing variables for great espresso. One of the definitive resources in further developing my understanding of brewing great espresso has been Matt Perger’s The Barista Hustle newsletter. I highly recommend subscribing if you have even a passing interest in improving your coffee knowledge and brewing skills.

I should also mention a recent post on the blog of James Hoffmann, which outlines The Coffee Professional Beginners Guide to resources for reading and learning. When I read this post recently, I was pleased to know I had been looking for information in the right places, having ticked of most of the first two categories already in my quest for more knowledge.

My philosophy has always been to “read up” and “read widely” — that is, if you’re an amateur home coffee brewer like myself, what better resources to learn from than those suitable for an entry-level professional. Sure, some may not be relevant and/or over your head (and certainly mine), however you most certainly will gain knowledge you will apply at home — and a lot of it.

Without a doubt however, the single biggest driver in wanting to know more, and learn more, is inspiration. For some time now, I have made my daily visit to Strauss in Brisbane’s CBD, and watched, learned from, and absorbed everything I can (hopefully without getting in the way) from current QLD Barista Champion Adam Metelmann. To say this has been the single biggest factor in changing my way of thinking about espresso would be to understate things quite substantially, and I have been extremely fortunate in this regard.

Closing thoughts

Although there is much to be written on the how of my improved espresso brewing — this post was simply to outline why I have renewed enthusiasm for this form of coffee.

In simple terms, learning more about the process, what I can control, and how to control it, along with the fantastic espresso to be had these days in Brisbane, has opened up a whole new world for me when it comes to one of my favourite ways (again) to drink coffee.

This is espresso folks — truly great espresso — aint it grand?


 

  1. In going back and reading this post, I would hardly consider the Aeropress the most refined brewing device. ↩︎
  2. Please take this particular point for what it is: My amateur observations of some the changes I have seen in the local coffee scene. It is not a suggestion of how roasters should roast, nor how baristas should “work the machines”. ↩︎

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