In Pursuit of Lazy & Repeatable EK43 Gloop

I have nothing new to add to this conversation, if you read @strivefortone’s blog entries on this matter and Mat North’s blog entries on this matter and you “get it” then don’t be expecting new insights here, this is merely my own “EKsperience report” into experimenting with the freeze/tighten/drop world and the EK43.

This is on request as my Instagram has had quite a few messages asking “what is going on with those weird shots…?”

I’ve had a hard time explaining because what I’m currently doing is the intersection of trying to sate two completely independent desires and it’s not easy to separate the results.

Anyway, the last year or so…

Just over a year ago now I was still in Japan, I ended up spending half a year there without my EK43 and mostly drinking filter coffee at the excellent PNB Coffee. When I did venture out of this pattern I’d be found drinking more “traditional” third-wave espresso as that was what was available in Tokyo – medium comfort roasts and tighter gloopy ratios than what I was used to.

Going even further down that path I also in a moment of crazy experimentation tried one of these bad-boys from Streamer Coffee.

Ooft.

When I finally returned from Japan I found myself craving more sweetness, more body, less acidity; all those things that if we’re honest with ourselves – most of the run of the mill customers swinging by and just “picking up a coffee” will find easier to consume without having to interrupt their morning with flavour notes/warnings.

I at this point then experimented with dropping temperature/pressure and tightening up my shots but returned to the classic EKSpresso ala my original blog entry fairly quickly because I wasn’t able to get the experience I wanted out of this setup and the EKspresso (on the whole) simply tasted better.

I then spent a couple more months without the EK43 as it got broken in transit from an event in Ukraine so I brought in a dozen different tea varieties and loved the simplicity of adding water at the right temperature and the right time and never having to faff around just to get a cup of hot tasty liquid.

I also picked up a Nespresso machine and some of Colonna’s capsules – they tasted good, they were repeatable and they were better than 90% of the cafes in the UK – I want coffee to be like that always and then I want the other 10% too.

When the EK43 came back I immediately felt the burden as I started throwing coffee through it as part of my daily ritual.

The growing pains of Home Espresso

Dialling in is a total ball-ache.

Every morning I’d weigh out half a dozen doses of that day’s espresso beans and use the first three to dial in, starting with yesterday’s recipe as a starting point. Coffee is an organic product and changes even throughout the course of the day.

This unfortunately means that in order to drink a cup of coffee, I’d usually have to taste a pile of bad coffee beforehand which sorely reduced the desire or even ability to simply sit down and enjoy that cup of coffee.

This is fine in a service setting, it is not fine when you are the only one drinking the coffee.

Multi-roaster means wasted coffee

Not including the waste from dialling in – after a few weeks of sitting in my kitchen most bags of coffee would start tasting hollow, woody, dull, etc. This would limit my ability to order great beans which meant I would find myself unable to order the beans I wanted when they were available for sale and then resorting to lesser products later on because those beans were now sold out.

Scheduling bean deliveries is hard

I travel a lot (or used to anyway, I really am trying harder not to this year) and had to try and schedule bean deliveries for when I was in and then to try and make sure that I had sensibly aged beans by the time I arrived back from whatever trip I was next on.

This usually meant ordering beans as soon as I arrived back at my house and a day or two before I left my house so that my time away could be used to age new arrivals and so on and so forth.

Caffeine intake is hard to control

Because I tended to up-dose for the EK43 and then pull big gushy shots, I could usually manage two of these 55g gushers a day and then I was out. That hardly allows for variety does it?! Not to mention being unable to make sensible milk drinks. I like the occasional milk drink.

This is all so frustrating and all I wanted was a cup of coffee

New Goals

The point of that meandering backstory above is that I now had several new goals to achieve with my home espresso

  1. I wanted sweeter, gloopier espresso
  2. I didn’t want to have to dial in coffee every bloody time
  3. I wanted smaller cups of coffee
  4. I wanted to be able to order in any coffee I desired and not worry about it going stale
  5. I wanted to simply drink a cup of coffee in the morning and not have an ordeal doing so

Freezing beans

Having been following Michael Cameron and Mat North and their adventures it seemed that freezing my beans might help me attain most of the above without too much fuss.

Having been meaning to get around to this for some time, I finally picked up a vacpac machine at the start of this year, froze some beans and then dialled in via refractometer with those frozen beans (Start with a gusher at a desired ratio, work your way up until EY starts dropping again, somewhere around this point is usually a sweet spot) some frozen beans from a roastery that I didn’t even like that much.

The result was an espresso that was “almost enjoyable”, whereas the best I’d managed with that bean up until then was “barely tolerable” (They were pretty insoluble beans and I suspect it just got easier to pull something out of them). I also gained quite a few notches on the EK43 dial because I was grinding a lot coarser to get the same sort of times than I would have been.

Not in itself enough to warrant celebration but it was an interesting start.

Dropping pressure

Despite that extra space on the dial, I was at this point still on fairly high doses (19g) and dishing out shots around 50g in weight. Dropping to 16g I found it hard to control at my usual 9 bars and so dropped my pressure down to 5bars where I still had a lot of leeway on the dial.

Dropping temperature

Despite the extra space on the dial and the more controllable shots at lower doses, I was easily hitting bitter extractions at 94C unless I brought my shot times below 20s even for ratios just a tad over 1:2 – in my quest for “repeatable” this was a bit of a “no go” because an extra second at this sort of speed means an extra 5 grams of coffee and a completely different espresso shot. (16g to 32g is very different to 16g to 37g!)

Previously when I had dropped temp/pressure and tightened up my shots with room temperature beans the results tended to be underwhelming, it was hard to get any real sweetness out of any of the beans I had available without making those shots almost as long as my traditional EKspresso shots at which point I had the sweetness but none of the clarity and none of the desired body and therefore had gained nothing and lost a lot by trying to be be clever.

This time, using frozen beans with just that one lousy batch of unwanted coffee seemed to really sort this problem out, not only was I having controllable ~30s shots with 16g doses at 1:2 but they were even tasting good with beans I didn’t even like that much.

The first real test

A day or so later I was away on holiday and a batch of coffee that I knew I actually liked was finally ready for brewing as espresso, I stuck it in the freezer the morning before and dialled in the evening before I flew out.

The next morning it was 6am and I was preparing for my flight, I hadn’t touched the grinder from the previous day’s dialling in and I ran four shots through at exactly 16g -> 34g in 35s) which was the previous day’s recipe. They all tasted great and most importantly I didn’t feel as though I’d wasted any time making them.

On returning a week later, again not moving the dial from that original position I repeated the experiment to exactly the same results (although I chose to then adjust the recipe because my own subjective mood wanted something a little brighter).

I resolved to start sticking all my beans in the freezer to see how this would do long-term and whether the results were consistently acceptable.

A couple of months later

I’ve now got a freezer full of beans (as is the fashion these days) and I’ve got a list of recipes next to the machine (onto my second list now, I get through a lot of coffee).

One of the touted advantages of this frozen bean malarkey has been stated to be “one size fits all” recipes and similar grind settings and I’m not so sure about that seeing as my recipes seem to be quite diverse.

The Menu

I have found however that I’ve got the ability to use a far greater range of beans from across the spectrum and have therefore been doing so – and that might account for my variety of recipes as well. I could probably split them into three groups (Traditional 1:2 @ 25-30s, Lighter 1:2 @ 30-35s,Lighter Still 1:2.5 @ 30-35s) and that would cover pretty much every coffee in my freezer.

No Dialling In

What is for sure, is that when I make my morning coffee I can look at my sheet, weigh out a single dose of beans (or two if I have a guest) and put through two shots that will be close-enough to the sheet and taste “okay”. I haven’t had to do a morning dial-in for weeks now

Gloop

Most of my shots now tend to fall in the 1:2 range with a TDS between 9 and 11 (which is almost an EKstretto), I get a lot of sweetness (perceived or otherwise) at this ratio at the cost of clarity (which if I wanted, frankly I’d use a cupping bowl).

The ability to do this has (probably) come from the increased extraction over tighter ratios facilitated by the frozen beans generating greater amounts of fines. (probably, from what I’ve read, I don’t really care about the reason, I just care about the result).

Consistency

With the long gushing shots, the key metric to define success on the consistency front once already dialled-in tended to be “time”, a few grams here or there didn’t make much difference at a ratio of 1:3 but a couple of seconds would render a shot undrinkable.

With these shorter gloopier numbers, I find that weight is a lot more important and I actually have a lot of leeway with time – with the exception of a couple of knife-edge beans I’ve found that I have 2-3s either side of my goal where the coffee will taste “good enough” providing I hit the weight target and I’ll be happy to drink it.

Some of this is down to me trying to be a lot more relaxed about what it is I am drinking (although there are limits) and most of it is down to those shots actually being pretty delicious.

At the low temperature of 92C (and I’m considering going lower) it seems a lot harder to hit bitter flavours and the frozen beans allow me to grind at a level here I can generate enough resistance at that temperature. (Lower the temperature, the finer you usually have to grind).

Waste

In terms of coffee, I’m not wasting any; I’ve resolved to not buy coffee in from un-trusted roasteries and even when I branch out and risk the occasional espresso roast it’ll generally be usable and tasty enough for my morning coffee.  That means all of the coffee I buy actually gets drunk (I don’t think any bags are in the freezer more than a month yet as I tend to get through them

I’m not so keen on the plastic waste from the vac-pac bags which have to be cut open each time, it goes straight into recycling but I find myself wishing for vacuum sealable zip-lock bags or similar. I am thinking about using the manufacturer plastic urns for this purpose but I’ll need to do a side-by-side comparison with the bags to see if they’re actually going to keep the beans as well

Smaller cups of coffee

Apart from the lighter filter roasts that I stick through that need the extra few grams output (and even then I’m on 16g doses so…), I find myself being able to have 3-4 espressos through the day now which means I can actually sample a lot more coffee.

Mission Accomplished…

Two separate sets of goals achieved with a number of variables being changed in how I make espresso at home.

  • Low doses are a requirement for smaller espresso shots, low pressure allows this without simply gushing through the puck
  • Lower temperature shots allow me to pull those shots for longer without hitting undesirable flavours
  • Freezing the beans allows me to grind at a coarseness that still generate resistance for both those low doses and low temperatures
  • These shorter, tighter shots are sweeter and more “coating”, some would say at the cost of “clarity” but that’s a goal I’ve thrown by the wayside anyway
  • Freezing the beans means my recipes don’t change, meaning I don’t have to dial in beyond the initial session (which is usually only three shots anyway)

One of the cool side effects of this is that I’ve been able to use some espresso roasts now (even those simple Brazilians) and despite the EK traditionally turning most of them into roasty messes over 15 seconds I’m able to enjoy those simple and sweet coffees the way they were meant to.

I’ve even started buying in decaf because it’s all so damned tasty I want to drink espresso in the evenings too.

I hope this goes some way into explaining the recipes being seen on my Instagram and at the very least the motivation behind what I am doing. I have no doubt that it’s not to everybody’s taste and I still really enjoy those long EKspresso shots; just when they’re dialled in by somebody else (like @bcktoblckcoffee ).