There's a phrase that's been in use only for the past few years, and one that was started in the newsgroup alt.coffee: the God Shot.
It's almost becoming common vernacular, and I guess the web and Usenet (where alt.coffee resides) have a lot to do with it. Where three years ago I was among a small group of individuals who were first using and defining the term, this past weekend at the CoffeeFest show in Seattle (November 8-10, 2002), I was eavesdropping on a conversation between two Baristas in the latte art competition, and I overheard one of them say "my God Shots are coming more and more often". It put a smile on my face.
But what exactly is the God Shot? The answer comes naturally to me, so naturally, that I can't actually put it in words with ease, but I do know instinctively what it is. One thing it's not: it is not meant to be a slam against God, or the breaking of one of the Ten Commandments (Thou shalt not...). It is a homage to God in a way because when someone talks about a God Shot, it is something so special, so unique, so perfect, it's almost as if God Himself has blessed it. And since a long ago Pope proclaimed that God blesses and approves of coffee, it is only natural it could extend to the perfect espresso: the God Shot.
The God Shot Defined
I had a small roundtable with some Baristas a month or so back, and one of the areas of conversation revolved around the definition of a God Shot. We reached consensus and I think you'll find most people would agree with this definition, at least on the West Coast of the US and Canada
A God Shot, by nature has to be the double ristretto. This is a double shot of espresso that is specially prepared to produce a 1 ounce (give or take a quarter ounce) beverage using the same amount of grinds as a normal (3oz) double, in the same rough time as a normal double (25-30 seconds). How do you achieve this?
I have a much longer article in the works on the ristretto shot, so I'll be brief here - you achieve this by refining your grind to the point where you slow down the extraction rate on the coffee, giving you less overall volume in the same shot timing.
The ristretto itself is a challenging drink to prepare, and not for the casual home espresso drinker. It is challenging, but is also sought after for one reason - where espresso is a concentrated, impactful form of a coffee beverage, the ristretto is even more so - it is almost the pure essence of the roasted coffee bean, in a liquid, digestible format.
Here's where the God Shot comes in - if espresso is more intense and concentrated than brewed coffee, and ristretto is higher than that, the God Shot is the ristretto shot maximized to the point of achieving something that David Schomer (of Espresso Vivace) and many other espresso purists before him have sought: coffee that tastes as good as fresh roasted coffee smells.
This is the fleeting thing. It really is.
I've had many, many espresso shots that were good. I've had many that were great even. I've had a fair amount that were so good, I remember their taste, texture and smell.
But I've had very few shots that were on a different level completely. I've had some precious espresso shots in my lifetime that are so memorable, if I close my eyes, I can not only remember the taste, mouthfeel and sensations from the shot, but I can also picture the surroundings, the atmosphere, and, where applicable, the people I was with or the people who made it for me.
To this day, with literally 1,000s of quality espresso shots "under my belt", the God Shot count is maybe at best 30 or 40. And I'm pretty sure I can remember each and every one of them.
That's how I define the God Shot. But how did the roundtable of Baristas define it? They were much better than I am at putting it into distinctive words, but I'm not going to tell you about that just yet. I'm going to cover something else, the "floating God Shot".
God Shots that Float
| Two years ago, this shot would have been labeled a "God Shot" by me. |
| Today, it is a good, even a great shot, but I could tell by the pour (and later, by the taste) it wasn't quite on that other level. |
I do it. Many people do it. We have a moving level, or bar as it were, of what a God Shot truly is.
A year or two ago, I made the bold statement in alt.coffee that I achieve a God Shot one out of seven times. Others in the thread claimed as much as 3 or 4 out of 5.
But waitasec - I said above that out of thousands of espresso shots I've had, maybe 30 or 40 were God Shots. Whatupwitdat?
It's the floating God Shot Level. One thing about the definition and use of the term - it gets overused a lot within the groups that use it. It's like the word "cool", or "amazing". It got thrown around so often, that it came common place to use the term God Shot to describe what was truly a great shot of espresso, but not one that is the exception to the rule, not commonplace.
In other words, the phrase became diluted somewhat. Espresso newbies, God bless them (heh heh heh) would proclaim God Shot status within days of getting their first high powered octane espresso machine. But I discovered something over time - talk to those same folks a year later when they were more seasoned, and one of the most common things you hear is "wow, I thought my shots when I first got into this were good, but if I made them today, I'd pour them out".
I like what Karl Rice said in alt.coffee in this thread:
I define a Godshot as a better shot than I've ever made before. Each time I pull one, the bar goes up a little and it will be harder to pull the next one. The Godshots get less and less frequent.
The bar indeed does move, and the shots do become much less frequent.
As the term "God Shot" does become more known in espresso brewing vernacular, I think it's time to move it back to the place it is supposed to sit - the peak of the peak, the king of kings, the shot that stands out so much, God must have blessed it.
Which brings me back to...
A Working Definition of the God Shot
The roundtable came up with a very cool way to describe the God Shot, and also a description of how to achieve it. Let's start with the latter. How do you achieve a God Shot?
Do everything right, and hope for the best.
That's it. Do your prep the right way - make sure you're using the best quality specialty coffee beans you can get, fresh roasted and well blended. Make sure your grinder is working in tip top shape and it is a top notch grinder. "Be at one" with your grinder, as in know how your grinder will react to the beans you put in it, know about the tiny things such as humidity, ambient air temperatures, age of the beans and the like, and adjust the grind accordingly.
Make sure your espresso machine is set up right, and running right. Know the proper temperatures and boiler pressures your machine needs to pull off a great shot. Keep your equipment clean.
Prepare your portafilter with all the skill and experience you can muster. Dose the exact proper amount. Level it off, get ready to tamp, and do your tamp. Tamp and spin and wipe. Flush the grouphead for a second or two, even on the commercial machine in a high volume shop. Lock and load, set up the cup and brew.
And hope (or more appropriately pray) for the best.
Do the things right, and you'll get a great shot of espresso every time. But great doesn't equal a God Shot. Why? Even the most seasoned, professional and passionate Baristas know they can pull great shots, but also know the God Shot only comes if the stars are aligned, the moons in phase, Jupiter is in Venus, yada yada... oh yeah, and for some who believe in it, God looked down, and decided, yes, this one is worthy, I bless it.
Now for the former - a genuine, working definition of what the God Shot is. This is a consensus report - various comments were compiled, written, and edited, and everyone agreed that this was the best way to verbalize this special drink. You've waited for it, you've read through all of this, here it is:
The God Shot is a double ristretto shot that looks special from the moment it starts slurping down from the portafilter spouts. The colour of the streams is always a dark rust-red colour, and often a sense of tiger striping, with alternating lines of lighter rust with darker rust, can be seen. In the cup, the shot is 100% crema from the get go right up until the end of the pour, and the black nectar starts to form as you complete the shot. It can take up to 30 seconds or longer for the crema to settle in the top third of the cup, leaving the bottom two thirds an opaque black. The top of the crema is quite often a dark ruby rust color with no traces of over extraction (blond or beige spots), but often something called tiger-mottling, or specks of darker spots where the intense, highly concentrated colloids and flavours of the espresso draw show themselves - these are the barely-solubles that made it to the cup.
The aromas as you lift the cup to your nose almost overpower with the intense, pure smell of what the roasted and ground coffee smelled like moments before. As you swirl the shot to release even more aromas, the true God Shot will almost overwhelm you. Then it comes time for the first sip. You'll know at this moment, if you didn't already, this was something unique - the mouthfeel is beyond almost anything you've sampled before - the aromas, tastes, colloids, flavours, you name it, they all coat the tongue and seem to constantly hit the perfect notes on all four major taste areas of your tongue. They compete with each other, but always seem to compliment the areas of sweet, sour, bitter and sharp on the tongue.
As you swallow the shot, the back of your mouth and throat get the final joy - the espresso coats this part of your mouth and doesn't want to give up. Where a normal espresso shot may leave bitters and an unpleasant tang in the throat, the God Shot gives such an amazing sensation of mild bitters and sweets that it is almost as if your mouth doesn't want to lose this sensation - it wants to keep it around for a while. The God Shot definitely does not want you to "flush" your mouth with some other more mundane beverage or a stick of gum or another sweetener or diluting food or beverage. Your mouth sends a command to your brain: you must savour this.
Pretty heavy stuff.
I would add one thing to this. The God Shot, by definition, will turn even a tea totaller into an avowed espresso hound for life. I've seen it happen.
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| This one started off looking really good - streams are thick, rust/bright red brown, and heavy. |
| Something seemed to be missing. This had all the indications of a fantastic espresso shot, but... |
| Even though the red was lustrous and deep, the slight blond tinging is a sign that God Shot Status wasn't achieved. |
(ed note): for this story, I pulled about 20 shots, hoping for a "God Shot" to photograph. I came close, but never hit it.