Maybe you have just bought that really expensive Espresso machine and are dreaming about drinking the perfect espresso and are let down when you actually taste it because it seems bitter or even more like a sour espresso instead of a rich, indulgent flavor. Or you may have even had this happen at local coffee shops. You may be thinking, ‘Is this what everyone actually drinks and likes it?
I’m here to tell you that no, that is definitely not what a good espresso should taste like. We will talk about a few reasons why your espresso is bitter and how to fix it.
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Is Espresso Supposed to Taste Bitter?
The simple answer is no, espresso should not be bitter! We often think of coffee as being bitter, but espresso should not be. And, coffee that is bitter itself probably comes down to using a commercially produced coffee and not a high quality coffee, but that’s a subject for another post.
When you have maybe had a bad espresso, a couple words like Bitter, Sour, burnt, or just unpleasant may automatically come to mind, but that should NOT be the case. Your espresso should not have a bitter taste or even a sour taste. A good espresso shot should have a rich, dark chocolate taste and leave a nice caramel taste in your mouth. It should be something that you look forward to treating yourself with.
Does Espresso Taste like Coffee?
Espresso tastes quite similar to coffee. The reason being that espresso is basically coffee that is just highly concentrated. So, it’s just in the form of a small, tiny mug of coffee instead of a regular amount of coffee and this makes for a more strong and intense flavor. If you look at the ingredients on most lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatos, they all will say made with (#) of Shots of Espresso and they are still referred to as coffee based beverages. Espresso just forms the base for most coffee drinks.
How to Avoid Bitter Espresso
Making the perfect cup of Espresso is truly an art and can have many different factors. But, the 2 main reasons for bitter espresso comes down to the actual coffee beans and the brewing process. Those 2, very crucial factors are what decides if you will have a cup of espresso that hits that sweet spot or one that leaves you not wanting to taste espresso ever again.
Other important factors would also be over extraction, grind size and dirty equipment.
This comes down to different brand preferences. It can be hard to know exactly what is good and what’s not, until you buy a few different ones and try them out. You do want to choose a bean that is specifically for espresso so that it will have that rich flavor.
Different brewing methods will need different grinds. Like if you are using a french press then you will want a coarser grind of espresso and if you are just making an espresso then you will want a fine grind.
- Brew Time. This is a crucial element to making the perfect espresso shot. Brew it too long and an element called Tannic Acid will start to come through and make the espresso bitter. Generally and espresso should take about 20 – 25 seconds whereas if you are using a french press it can take 4 minutes.
- Temperature. This can be just as big of a factor as the brewing time. High temperatures can be as damaging as brewing too long. The ideal coffee brewing temperature is 195°F to 205°F (90.5°C to 96.1°C).
- Brew Ratio. Having too much coffee grounds and not enough water or vice versa can also cause an unpleasant taste. For best results, use roughly 2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every 6 ounces of water. I’d definitely say that coffee is both an art and a science; tweak it to your taste buds.
Over Espresso Extraction
The sour taste that coffee can sometimes have comes from the tannic acid with the coffee beans themselves. It’s the tougher part of the coffee so it takes higher temperatures and higher pressures to extract this compound. You do, however, not want make an over-extracted coffee because that let’s that acidic taste seep through and go right into your espresso shot.
You should be able to tell, just by looking at the color of the coffee whether it’s over extracted or not. The perfect espresso should have a crema topping with a rich brown color. When the acid begins to leak through, the crema will start to have a much light color and make for a bitter coffee. Extraction time should be NO longer than 25 seconds.
Yes, not regularly cleaning you machine can lead to the taste of espresso being altered. The coffee can build up in the machine and taint the end product making the flavor of your espresso be off. It can also cause the water flow to be hindered and cause some of the problems mentioned before. So, just make sure you clean it regularly!
How to Fix Bitter Espresso?
Here are a few quick and easy ways to help that coffee flavor out without having to brew a new shot.
Just a pinch of regular table salt can help fix the unpleasant flavors of bitterness in the espresso without messing with the true coffee flavors. As adding too much salt can be the best way to also ruin your espresso.
Adding Cream or Milk
Did you know that people who use cream or milk in their coffee hardly ever complain about it tasting bitter as opposed to those who drink straight espresso? That’s because the fat content in the milk helps to neutralize the bitterness and enhance the flavor of the brew.
I know that some people really won’t want to add sugar to their coffee, but sometimes just adding a little bit can help to quickly sweeten that bitterness and be a good thing.
How often should I clean my Espresso machine? This really comes down to how much you use it. Are you brewing a couple shots a day or is your whole family of 5 each making them a daily coffee. If it’s just being used once a day, every month or month and a half should be fine. If it’s heavily used, you may need to clean it out every couple of weeks.
I hope that this blog post helped you to learn how brew the best shot of espresso without the bitterness.
Here a few tasty treats that would pair well with your perfectly brewed espresso!