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Espresso in restaurants: old concerns, new products.

Expresso in restaurants: old concerns, new products

I have developed a love/hate relationship with restaurant espresso; I love to order it, but hate to drink it. I always order espresso when it's on the menu, but I'm usually disappointed in the quality and can't drink it. No matter how many times this happens, I keep with my usual routine just in case I'm pleasantly surprised.

Espresso is a complex beverage and many factors must work together to produce the perfect cup. Too many times, restaurant personnel are called upon to prepare espresso when they have little or no idea of how the beverage is supposed to taste of the machine is supposed to work. The grind is rarely checked in the rush to fill orders, and unless the customer complains, the espresso is considered palatable.

Espresso machines are becoming more and more sophisticated and mistake-proof, and I think that's great. What does worry me is restaurant personnel's lack of knowledge about the proper grind for espresso, and that's what this column is all about.

Grinding Coffee for Espresso

To prepare a cup of espresso, coffee beans are ground to expose the bean's maximum surface area to extraction. If ground properly, the coffee granuals will be fine and within a specific size range, allowing coffee solids and volatile compounds to be extracted by the espresso machine's precisely heated wate. The granuals should be of various sizes within a specific range because each will extract differently, contributing a different taste. Care must be taken to avoid grinding the coffee too fine or too coarse as either can affect the taste of the brewed product.

A properly maintained grinder is critical to good espresso, but too often it is neglected, the internal blades get dull and wear out because they are not replaced regularly. In many cases, grinders go months, even years without proper maintenance. If you grind 2-3 pounds of coffee a day, the blades should be replaced yearly; 4-8 pounds a day, every 6 months; 9-15 pounds a day, switch to a conical grinder.

A conical grinder requires less frequent adjustments, it grinds the coffee at a slower rate, provides a more consistent grind at lower temperatures, and the blades do not dull as fast. These grinders are expensive though, costing much more than a regular espresso grinder.

The degree of fineness affects the speed at which water can pass through coffee granuals. Fine, powdery granuals expose more of the bean's surface area to extraction and absorb and hold water, thus overextracting the coffee flavor. Coarse granuals have less bean surface exposed and allow water to pass through quickly, extracting little coffee flavor.

The ideal espresso grind contains granuals of several sizes within a certain size range. To standardize resistance, the coffee granuals should not be just loosely filled into the strainer inside the group. Instead, they should be volumetrically measured and firmly pressed into the strainer by means of a special tamper.

The Espresso Tamper Is an Important Tool

The correct amount of pressure applied with the tamper is approximately 50 pounds and the shape of the tamper should be flat rather than round. A rounded tamper presses the coffee into a concave shape, making it thinner in the center and thicker on the outer edges. The varying thicknesses of the coffee pressed into this shape will result in overextraction in the thinner center area and underextraction in the thicker outer areas.

Under-extracted espresso has a light colored, thin layer of foam with large bubbles that tend to dissipate rapidly - it has no body, little aroma, and a flat taste. It can be caused by too small an amount of coffee, too coarse a grind, or by being too lightly tamped. It can also be caused by too low a water temperature or pump pressure.

Overextracted espresso has a dark brown foam with white spots or with a black hole in the center. It has a thin layer of foam which tends to move to the sides and form a black ring. The taste is strong, bitter, astringent, woody, and with little aroma. It can be caused by too much coffee, too fine a grind, or by being too tightly tamped. It can also be caused by too high a water temperature or pump pressure.

Perfect espresso has a long-lasting foam, 3-4 mm high. It has dense body, a lingering aftertaste and is aromatic, full, and sweet. A good test is to put sugar on top of the foam, it should hold on top just slightly before it goes through.

Espresso is the result of a system with many different factors working in combination to produce the perfect cup. The blend must be correct and comprised of a variety of beans to allow for the formation of espresso's characteristic "creme," the roast must be dark enough to bring out the body and flavor of the beans without being burnt, and the beans must be stored properly so that the delicate oils are not exposed to oxygen.

The grind must be correct, exposing the right amount of surface area to extraction and the boiler pressure and water temperature of the machine must be maintained at the proper levels. Finally, the person preparing the espresso must pay attention to the taste and appearance of the finished product so adjustments can be made to any component of the system as needed.

Restaurants are perfect for espresso; perfect in the opportunity for sales, but a nightmare in the delivery of the product. In most restaurants, the process for preparing espresso can go wrong at any stage. Espresso products are now appearing on the market that seem relatively mistake-proof and ideally suited to the high-turnover environment of a restaurant.

Pre-Measured Espresso Pods

I saw my first espresso pod in Billings, Montana. I went into a shop, ordered an espresso, and was amazed when the server pulled out a pod wrapped in white filter paper and popped it into a small espresso machine. Even more amazing was the espresso itself because it was topped by a wonderfully thick and aromatic creme and tasted great. I craned over the counter to get a closer look and saw that I was watching an Illy espresso-system at work.

Intrigued with the pod and high quality of espresso it produced, I called and spoke with Mark Romano, Technical Manager, Illycaffe Espresso USA, Inc. He was kind enough to send me literature that included information on the pods and from what I read, and what I tasted, I think the little Illycaffe L'Espresso pods are something that should make a difference in the quality of espresso served in restaurants.

Espresso is a relatively new phenomenon in American restaurants. Too often a harried waiter, bartender, or busboy is called upon to prepare it and they don't have any idea how an espresso machine works or how to operate a coffee grinder, and they don't really have any incentive to learn. Enter the Illycaffe L'Espresso System, individual espresso servings, plus a simple adaptor that fits most espresso machines.

The pods are made of filter paper and contain 6.8 grams of "Illycaffee", pre-packed to exactly the proper consistency - no grinding, no tamping, no dirty espresso dregs, no inconvenience, that restaurants normally associate with conventional espresso-making. You just put the pod in, make the espresso, throw the pod away as soon as the espressois ready and L'Espresso comes in regular or decaffeinated.

I would also like to comment that Illycaffe provides the most comprehensive eduational material that I have ever seen. It's interesting, concise, complete and an absolute pleasure to read. (Illycaffe Espresso USA, Inc., 15455 Greenway-Hayden Loop, Scottsdale, AZ 85260, 602/951-0468.

Loretta C. Forquer, Vice-President, Piacere International, wrote about Piacere Prebrewed Espresso, targeted at restaurants and major institutional food suppliers. According to Fourquer, Piacere International has a patented process that brews espresso under controleld conditions, packages it and ships it to the end user, leaving them only to reheat the chilled espresso. She says that the brew is not bitter and the "creme de cafe" appears once the chilled prebrewed espresso is steamed. Piacere also produces and espresso staming system, made entirely with parts from American manufacturers.

While I have not actually seen or tasted this product, the concept is interesting. I doubt that a product such as this could ever take the place of traditionally extracted espresso, or that its inventors would want it to, but if it would help the food service industry overcome a deserved reputation for bad espresso, I applaud Piacere International's efforts (Piacere International, 1101 Air Way, Glendale, CA 91201, 818/240-7335.

I have been hearing inklings of even more products designed to make espresso convenient and delicious. I've even heard about the machine that is so complete, all you do is pour in beans. The machine grinds the coffee, measures and pours it in the group, and then prepares a perfect cup of espresso ... but that's another column.

Shea Sturdivant is president of Coffee Roasters of New Orleans, Inc., a roasting firm specializing in flavored coffees. She provides consulting and educational services in sales and marketing to the coffee industry. She would welcome any and all input. Please direct inquiries to her c/o Coffee Roasters of New Orleans, Inc., 811 Fulton Street, New Orleans, LA 70130.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:quality assurance
Author:Sturdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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