You have an at home espresso machine, and you pull a shot. Then, like that beer commercial several years ago —- bitter espresso face! What do you do? There can be several reasons for bitter espresso, from beans to temperature to cleanliness. Let’s explore the different reasons for common bitterness and some easy solutions.
Is your espresso machine clean?
Start with the easy solution! Are you current on your cleanliness schedule? You can and will receive a bad, bitter taste from espresso machines that are dirty. Follow your manufacturer’s recommendations, and if you need a refill on espresso cleaning tablets take a look at these generic espresso cleaning options. Start with a clean machine, then go from there.
Over time, if you don’t properly clean your espresso maker you will get a buildup of burnt smelling and tasting oils from the beans clinging to the inner workings of the machine. Everything else can be in perfect working order, and your machine may simply be dirty. Eliminate this option first!!
Next, Look at your espresso to find the answer
A quick way to diagnose your bitterness is to look at the crema, which is the foam created through the dispersion of air and carbon dioxide gases from liquid at a high temperature. Does the crema look right?? Is it about 1/10th of the shot (good), or 1/2 the shot (bad)? Or, none at all? If the crema looks “off”… your problem may be in the machine.
So, now that you have a baseline of where your brew stands now, let’s start with the beans
Before you even get to the shot…you have to start with the beans. It seems obvious, but start with a high quality Arabica coffee bean. Robusta beans often have a more bitter feel, no matter what you do from that point forward. Use only fresh beans recently roasted.
The beans can also easily be over or under extracted. Extraction is a fancy way to say water running through the grind and pulling the oils and flavor out of the beans and into your delicious (hopefully) shot of espresso. A proper espresso shot takes approximately 25 seconds for the extraction process. Is yours shorter? Longer? If your grind is under extracted, you miss out on flavor. if it’s over extracted, this can often lead to bitterness. Adjust your grind as necessary to get the timing right.
So, if you’re satisfied you’ve got the beans and grind right, let’s check your temperature.
Espresso water temperature should be just under 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the ideal temperature, and will produce the best tasting shot, so there you have it. Ensure that your machine has warmed up, and is dispensing water at the proper temperature. This is easily accomplished by checking the temperature as the water passes out of the machine with a kitchen thermometer.
Pulling it all together
Now that you’ve cleaned your espresso machine, perfected your grind, and gotten the temperature and brew duration right, pull another shot. Take a look…how is the crema now? Better? Take a taste. Hopefully you’ve got a great big smile on your face from the fantastic tasting espresso shot you just pulled!