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Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
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Discussions > Espresso > Q and A > Overly bitter...  
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belmore
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Joined: 2 Dec 2013
Posts: 12
Location: Atlanta, GA
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Tue Dec 3, 2013, 6:37pm
Subject: Re: Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
 

OK. I concede! I've tried everything with these beans to produce a decent shot from my Anita. Smaller dose. Coarser grind. Lower temp. Nothing has worked. My last hope is that the most common recommendation here (get better beans!) is the right one. I just ordered some bags of Espresso Vita (regular and decaf) from espressovivace.com. Hopefully, with those beans I can start producing some drinkable shots!

I must admit that I'm a little disappointed that my far cheaper super automatic is much more forgiving. Here's hoping that when feed good beans that the Anita proves its worth over the Magnifica.

Thanks everyone for your support and advice! I'll post back my results after my new beans arrive.
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boar_d_laze
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Posted Tue Dec 3, 2013, 10:47pm
Subject: Re: Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
 

Target extraction ratio?  As a rough rule of thumb, a normale is 50% extraction ratio.  That means the extraction yield weight should be twice the dose.  

In your case we want to push the ratio towards ristretto a bit to get away from bitterness.  Try a 66% extraction ratio.  That would be, for example, a 27g yield from an 18g dose.  Understand though, that I'm not saying an 18g dose is necessarily optimal for your setup.  It's just a f'rinstance, and -- if the change of beans doesn't turn the trick for you -- a starting point.

Even if you get the right dose and extraction ratio, there might still be distribution issues which effect what I call "degree of extraction (the point to which the pull is underextracted, overextracted, or cut at the "blond point").

Single basket with 14g?  Sounds like not enough headroom.  If you're going to dose more than 8 or 9g, use a double basket.  

Beans?  Easy enough to find out. You're already on the right track.  I've got nothing to add.  Except if you were pulling decent coffee on your old machine with Whole Paycheck Foods' beans you ought to be able to do as well with Anita + Vario.

Temp?  Temping an E-61 HX without a thermometer can be done simply, consistently and accurately by palate.  Not only temping, but shaping the temperature hump as well.  But, maybe we should save the fancy stuff for later

The teething period you're going through now is part of "dialing in."  At this stage, we're not sure whether you're dialing in the machine, the temp or something else.  Eventually we'll get to the process of dialing in an appropriate for any and every bean, and you'll discover that finding the right temperature to within a couple of degree range within the entire  ~9 degree range of espresso temp range (~196F - ~205F) is palate driven.  No thermometer can tell you what's right.  You have to listen to the bean for that.

Getting back to where we are now:  Even though brew temp is the first thing to investigate when someone complains about bitter espresso (too hot!), I gather you've already pushed your temps low enough to have eliminated that as the cause of bitterness.  Or maybe not.  Rather than watching for the end of steam, you want to listen for the flash boiling to end.  Then pull another two seconds or so before locking in your pf.  Wait a minute or two, and two it again.  That extra flush will give the thermo-siphon a chance to stabilize the head, and get the entire group singing in the same key.

We might as well find out for sure if temp is the problem.  Temp the way I described, then flush yet again.  Pull a couple of shots which you know are too cold.  Flush for 7sec after flash boiling ends, then pull a shot.  Allow the machine to recover, temp and flush for 10sec, and pul a second shot.  Remember, going too far is the point.  Just think of it as an exercise in "eliminating variables," rather than an attempt to get a good shot.  Don't worry, we'll get to the good shots soon enough.

Since bitterness is a constant -- no matter how cool you brew -- I suspect that your coffee is overextracted.  Based on your posts, you've done some research and suspected the same.The three variables of barista technique are temp, grind and dose; they're combined with what should be a constant -- distribution.   The bitterness could be a result of any of the variables, distribution, or an unholy combination of any or all.  

Sometimes research alone is not enough to get everything in sync.  You might need some guidance.    

Before coming to any conclusions, let me ask you a few questions related to degree of extraction:
  1. Are you getting crema?
  2. Is the machine still pouring crema when you cut the shot?
  3. What color is the stream when you cut the shot?
  4. Is the stream translucent?
  5. Is the top of the (espresso in) the cup mottled?
  6. Dark tan? Light tan?
  7. Does the end of the pull leave a pale circle on the top of the cup?  

BDL
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belmore
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Joined: 2 Dec 2013
Posts: 12
Location: Atlanta, GA
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Wed Dec 4, 2013, 3:14pm
Subject: Re: Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
 

Thanks for your help! I think that I have pretty eliminated high temperature as the problem. I started out with the intent of following the steps as you described them, but things turned out much more haphazard. I think the combination of my beans becoming more stale and moving to the double basket, threw over my grind off dramatically (!?). I had to go a much finer grind.

What I was trying to do was a pull a 25g shot from 18g of beans in about 20 seconds. I never really achieved it before giving up. As I went finer and finer, I ran into a problem where 18g of coffee simply wasn't enough to really get a good distribution in the double basket. Maybe because of this (or the fact that these beans really are quite stale), going finer tasted even worse. In the end, my best result was with a coarser grind, yielding about 60g or so of coffee in about 20 seconds. It still wasn't terribly good.

Are you getting crema?

The crema being produced actually looks pretty good to my newbie eyes. Immediately after pulling the shot, you can see layers of different densities and colors from pale to pretty dark. The bottom 1/4 or so of the shot is a solid dark color. The remaining 4/3 transition gradually from dark (almost black) to a light tan. I can see "tiger striping" in the stream coming out of the portafilter, too.

Is the machine still pouring crema when you cut the shot?

I believe so.

What color is the stream when you cut the shot?

It's blonding. Again, I never really got the grind fine enough, so even cutting off early, the stream had started to blonde.

Is the stream translucent?

No. I don't think so. It's light colored, but not translucent.

Is the top of the (espresso in) the cup mottled?

Yes. It's mutl-colored with dark and light browns, kind of mixed together.

Dark tan? Light tan?

The crema is mostly a lighter brown. The body of the shot is quite dark, almost black.

Does the end of the pull leave a pale circle on the top of the cup?  

I'm not totally sure what you're asking here. There is a paler area in the crema. Originally, when I read this question (before pulling shots), I thought you were asking if the screen was leaving a circular mark in the puck. It definitely was when I was using the single basket. I didn't notice one when I used the double. I'm not sure if that's significant, but thought I mention it.

Thanks again for all the help. It's greatly appreciated!
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belmore
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Joined: 2 Dec 2013
Posts: 12
Location: Atlanta, GA
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Thu Dec 5, 2013, 9:53am
Subject: Re: Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
 

I tried another experiment. While pulling a shot from my WF Java Moca beans, I used 3 different glasses to capture the extraction at different stages. The result - they all tasted awful and each one had a funky, unpleasant smell. I really hope this is being caused by the beans and not something else. I should be getting my Vivace beans tomorrow or the next day.
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CMIN
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Posted Thu Dec 5, 2013, 10:00am
Subject: Re: Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
 

99% sure it's the beans, Whole Foods has stores down here that roast and they suck imo, better than Charbucks, but they seem to roast every bean/blend to the same dark level which is a no no, different beans have different roast requirements, not a one size fits all roast. They do carry artisan roasters but I've never found fresh stock, think the closest I've seen is Counter Culture 3 weeks out from roast lol
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belmore
Senior Member


Joined: 2 Dec 2013
Posts: 12
Location: Atlanta, GA
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Mon Dec 9, 2013, 1:59pm
Subject: Re: Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
 

I wanted to post a follow-up now that I have definitively fresh beans. Although my results improved, I'm still finding my shots too bitter. Confusing me even further, I read this thread:

Click Here (www.home-barista.com)

in which, Jim Schulman suggests that bitter coffee is most often due to under extraction, not over extraction. Huh? Further, as I understood it, he suggests manipulating the dose rather than the grind to achieve the correct timing of a shot -- adjust the grind to achieve the desired bitter/sour/sweetness balance and then adjust the dose for timing. Up until this point, I wasn't under the impression that the grind really had a direct effect on the taste of the shot. I thought it was the combination of the grind, the dose and timing that determines the taste. A coarser grind with a higher dose could taste more or less the same as a finer grind and a lesser dose, but I think Jim would suggest differently. I have yet to have a chance to experiment in light of this new information, but I am curious to what others think.

Right now, with a 16g dose and my current grind, I'm getting about a 30g espresso in 25 seconds. Unfortunately, its bitter. So based on Jim's logic, I assume that I should make my grind finer and lower my dosage.
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belmore
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Joined: 2 Dec 2013
Posts: 12
Location: Atlanta, GA
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Mon Dec 9, 2013, 8:13pm
Subject: Re: Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
 

I tried going finer and reducing my dose, but it didn't yield a better shot. I noticed my pucks were mush after they were pulled (something that I hadn't noticed before). While tasting one of the last of my many failed shots, I realized that it was probably sour rather than bitter. Then I started to question whether all of these shots that I've been thinking up to this point have really been bitter. The feeling that I have no idea what I'm doing soon followed, a feeling of hopelessness after that.

Honestly, I didn't realize what I had signed up for. But I didn't go into this blindly. I did lots of research. It sounded like a little trial and error would be required to get a good shot. Doing each individual thing still seems easy enough. Weigh, grind, distribute, tamp (with a bathroom scale), flush, pull, time and weigh the resulting shot. Repeat with a finer or coarser grind until you achieve the proper sized shot in 25 secs or so. I still think that I am doing each individual thing more or less correctly. At this point though, I'm clueless. I'm stabbing in the dark trying to improve. I can't taste my espresso and know what I should do. My espressos are as good as the cafe up the street that I sampled, but I never imagined my best efforts would produce worse shots than my Nespresso.

Unfortunately, I'm quickly approaching at a decision point. Keep or return my Anita. I'm frustrated and debating whether I should be at least considering a cheaper and more user friendly machine (maybe something like the CC1 or the BDB). Any advice/reassurance/painful truth would be appreciated. Thanks!
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boar_d_laze
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Joined: 21 Nov 2006
Posts: 1,277
Location: Monrovia, CA
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: La Cimbali M21 DT/1 Junior...
Grinder: Ceado E92; "Bunnzilla"
Vac Pot: Royal Coffee Maker
Drip: Chemex + Kone; Espro Press
Roaster: USRC Sample Roaster
Posted Mon Dec 9, 2013, 11:54pm
Subject: Re: Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
 

Bitter coffee is overextracted.  Sour coffee is underextracted.  Hot water extracts faster than cold water.  A finer grind (more surface area) extracts faster than a coarser one.  So... if time is held constant, hotter, and finer grind, each tend to the bitter.  

Dose is a little more complex.  Generally, if you brew a smaller dose for a longer period to brew to a given "strength," you'll move towards bitter.  But, espresso is more sensitive to dose than other forms of brewing and even holding time constant, smaller doses tend towards the sour.  

There's a practical limit to how much control you have adjusting dose -- because you usually have to adjust grind as well to maintain a good rate of flow.  Smaller dose (which moves the drink in the direction of sour) requires a finer grind (moving the drink towards bitter), in order to retain that good flow.  

On the other hand, smaller dose/finer grind produces a "more aggressive" drink, and larger dose/coarser grind -> mellower.  It's possible that you're confusing "aggressive" with "bitter," and you may want to adjust dose/grind towards larger/coarser.  But... I think you've already tried that.  

Jim's method of adjusting dose for taste then adjusting grind for a better time is more a way ofisolating a variable as anything else.  You could as easily go the other way.  My grinder adjusts for grind size very precisely, but I dose with a timer instead of a scale.  That makes it easier to accurately control grind than dose so I start with grind.

A CC1 or BDB will tell you (more or less) what temp you're hitting, but won't tell you what to do about the taste.  If you're really confused about temp from the Anita, you can rent a "Scace Device thermometer," or a different one which not only measures temp, but pressure as well. I forget from whom, but if you built it and he will come google you'll find it.  

Sour is not bitter, bitter is not sour Neither is "bland," nor "aggressive."  If you're confused about which is which that's a problem.  What makes it even more pernicious is that it's possible your shots are so bitter or aggressive for some reason other than temp, that no matter how cool you brew you'll never taste acid.

The point -- or at least one of them -- is that a different machine won't help you.  

It sounds like you've done a lot of research and are doing nearly everything right -- without ever quite getting a handle on how to isolate variables and nail down the problem.  If I could spend a couple of hours with you, I'm pretty sure that I could teach you the basics of tasting and enough technique to start dialing in.  I'm not the world's greatest teacher but I'm free.  Unfortunately, we're separated by continent.  

Palate, to the extent that you can identify what you're tasting -- really drives technique.  There's no magic combination of grind, dose and temp which will work for ever machine, grinder and bean. If there's someone giving barista classes in your neck of the woods, consider taking one.  At least you'll develop confidence that you recognize the basic tastes.  If worse comes to worst, you might even consider paying someone to come to your house for an hour to show you how to dial in.

There are some machine problems which can cause excessive bitterness, and which you can't cure by manipulating grind/dose and temp.  Too much pump pressure can do it.  A bad bean caught in the grinder can do something very much like it as well.  

Be patient with the process, but mostly with yourself.  

BDL
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belmore
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Joined: 2 Dec 2013
Posts: 12
Location: Atlanta, GA
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Tue Dec 10, 2013, 7:01pm
Subject: Re: Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
 

BDL,

Thank you for the encouragement. I think that I took Jim's observations to the extreme. Instead of refining my grind and dose from where I had already dialed in, I pitched everything and started from scratch working with a much coarser grind and a larger dose, taking my shots ultimately in the wrong direction, leaving me even more frustrated. I think that the shots that I was making (before going coarser) were probably "aggressive", making any imbalance painfully apparent.

Moving to coarser grind did mellow them out, but at that point, I still hadn't dialed in a large enough dose to bring the time of my shots into line. I still wonder if I did move up to a big enough dose, would I end up with an equally aggressive shot? I gather from what you've said that the shots would get more aggressive, but not as aggressive as when dialed in with a smaller dose. Correct?

Here again is my problem. I'm not sure how the perfect shot (with these beans or any other for that matter) is supposed to taste. I keep thinking that my shots should be like those from my Nespresso or my superauto. Is this even a valid assumption? I noticed that my Nespresso produces a single shot in only 10 secs. The result is nice and mellow, with just a hint of bitterness. On the other hand,  that same shot would probably be mostly overcome by the milk in a latte. And I have no idea if my superauto is producing anything close to a proper espresso. Probably not.

I agree that hands-on help is ultimately what I need. Any local volunteers? I know that Counter Culture Coffee does have a training center here. I'm not sure if their training is going to be what I'm looking for or not and even if it is, it's not cheap and I wouldn't be learning on my machine.

I am regretting not getting a PID'ed machine though, because that's just one more variable that I have to contend with. I didn't anticipate the difficulty that I'm having mastering everything else, so when I picked the Anita, I wasn't too concerned about the added complexity of temp control. Honestly, I still don't know what I'll do at this point. I might give up on semi-autos altogether, swap my Anita for a BDB or just stick with what I have and add a thermocouple. The clock is ticking on me, so if I don't decide soon, the decision will be made for me. I appreciate that Chris' Coffee has the return policy that they have, and even though I won't come out unscathed, I still feel bad making them pay for my mistake.
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canuckcoffeeguy
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canuckcoffeeguy
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Posted Tue Dec 10, 2013, 8:58pm
Subject: Re: Overly bitter shots from my QM Anita
 

I have a hunch, based on my previous experience with Nespresso pods, that part of the challenge you're contending with is adjusting your palate to genuine espresso. If you're used to the taste of drinks produced by Nespresso and super auto machines, then you're accustomed to a more watered down flavour. So what you might perceive as bitterness in the shots from your current setup, might just be the jump in taste from Nespresso to true espresso.

Case and point: Before I became well versed in real espresso I bought a Nespresso machine. I thought it was great and used it for a few years. Then I discovered genuine espresso. At first, I thought everything tasted strong. But now my palate has changed.

Out of curiosity, I went back to my Nespresso machine recently to see what it would be like. It tasted watery, largely flavourless, and one dimensional. That's because Nespresso uses too little coffee to begin with, it's stale, and it utilizes a type of pressurized system akin to pressurized portafilters and super auto machines. Hence, the fast extraction flow rate of Nespresso and super auto machines.

So it's possible that you're accustomed to drinking the weaker, watered down espresso of these machines, and now that you're trying real espresso, you find it bitter--when really it's just stronger and more fully flavoured.

Or, it could be the above, combined with another variable(s) that is in fact producing some true bitterness, that, after more investigation and discovery, will help you correct the problem. So it could be your expectation of what espresso should taste like (based on your Nespresso experience) clashing with the espresso you're currently making, potentially coupled with another issue related to your dialing-in regime.

Just a thought.

Is there a way for you to buy beans from a good cafe in your area, where you can also taste them in espresso form? This way you have a reference point to draw upon and compare the taste to your espresso at home made from the same beans.
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