Only a few years ago espresso was the dominant focus amongst most coffee shops that were trying to produce delicious drinks. It’s now commonplace to walk into a neighbourhood coffee shop to find expensive espresso equipment and novelties like latte art, which seemed like magic to most customers in the not so distant past.
Dr. Illy refers to the ‘perception of quality’ in his book “Espresso Coffee” and how the perception of the public can change the standard of beverages for better or for worse. Latte art is a perfect example of a tool that is used to present a beautiful beverage that is assumed to be properly prepared. Consumers associate the beautiful presentation with a quality drink although the temperature and texture of the milk should be the foremost concern.
Currently I see a trend towards focused drip coffee programs that offer multiple choices of bean using brew-to-order drip coffee methods. The perception of quality through the use of hand drip programs is immediately increased because of the visual aspect of the presentation, but is the actual quality increased? Yes and No.
Single cup brewing is a great way to increase the freshness of the product that you serve through grinding whole bean to order and serving all of the coffee that you brew immediately. The downside however is the amount of error that usually takes place in having to brew a single cup every time. Proper temperature and saturation of the grounds are two of the most important factors in creating consistency amongst individual brews.
Another often-ignored variable in single cup brewing is the use of multiple coffees on the menu and the challenges that entail. Different coffees all have different density due to a number of different factors. It’s one of the reasons that single origin coffees have been popularized. Coffee from a single area helps to eliminate differences in density because smaller lots tend to consist of homogenous varietals, and are subjected to similar environmental factors including elevation and terroir.
Farms and a select number of upper echelon roasters hand sort their coffee into similar sized batches before they are roasted to avoid the problems that are presented by introducing different sized beans into the same reaction. This is because each bean has it’s own thermal mass and will react to the heat of the roaster differently. It’s the coffee equivalent of putting a chicken and a turkey into the oven and expecting them to cook at the same rate.
When grinder burrs impact coffee, the beans shatter in completely different ways depending on their density. The quality of the grind will affect the rate at which coffee solids dissolve into water. This is much more evident in espresso because the 9 atmospheres of pressure that are exerted onto the bed of coffee heighten the effect of placing different density coffees through the same grind setting. This dramatically changes the amount of liquid espresso that you yield.
We have a number of useful tools like the extract mojo that allow us to measure the amount of dissolved material that makes it into a finished brew, and yet most places that I know of use the mojo to set their grinders to one standard setting. I think to truly be making an excellent cup of single-serve hand drip that we should be mapping out each coffee individually and adjusting our grinders slightly to compensate for differences in grind quality amongst different beans.
It takes more effort from a retailing standpoint to have different grinds for every coffee on the menu, but having a hand drip program that serves multiple coffees demands more attention. A slight change of the grind can have a dramatic effect on the taste profile of a coffee. Let your taste buds be your guide.
~ Colter Jones