Well below par …sorry!

I’d like to apologise (again!) for the particularly poor shot of espresso I served Tristan the other day when he popped into the cafe. Perhaps it’s not something I should really broadcast, but I don’t mind admitting to shortcomings when they occur. If anything I think it’s important to be aware of them, as they can serve as a tool to improve what I do, and understand where improvements can be made (although I will shortly be placing a good portion of the blame at the door of our crazy, ancient machine!).

I had a lovely coffee in the grinder (Tanzania Blackburn Estate AB from Peter James), with which I would ideally serve up a syrupy ristretto double with sweet dark sugar and black fruit notes. Yet, for some reason, it just would not behave! I even remade the shot as the first one looked pretty bad as well, but if anything the second was probably even worse. Whilst I can’t be sure exactly how it was in the cup, judging from the extraction, the visuals, and the feel (way too long and quick, with an insipid cinnamon colour), I just knew it was going to be pretty unpleasant, and nowhere near justice to such a nice coffee. I wouldn’t normally be happy serving that shot to any customer, let alone someone who knows and loves their coffee, but I wasn’t going to make shot after shot all day until it was right (much as I would like to), and so, unwillingly, I served it. Very kindly and graciously, Tristan drank it anyway (you didn’t have to!), and I can only apologise profusely!

It’s always lovely when coffee folks pop in to the cafe (even though it puts the pressure on!), but I can’t help feeling guilty when I know the coffee is not up to scratch …or worse. If  people make a special effort to seek you out, I really want it to be worth their while – not to show off – just because I want them to have the great taste experience they’re seeking, and that you can’t ordinarily get. In this instance though, I fear I failed!

Coffee produced with care on our very old machine ranges from (very occasionally) excellent, through to awful (when it refuses to behave), and tends to live between reasonable-to-good. Sadly this shot, despite my best efforts, was very much towards the lower end of the spectrum. It was below the standard I would normally feel acceptable to serve, and nowhere near ‘great’.

Not that I didn’t try. All my standard techniques were adhered to, naturally, and in addition I tried to surf the machine (which had been idle for a while at that point) down to a temp where this particular bean usually seems to thrive, and I tried a couple of things to compensate for neither step on the grinder being anywhere near the ideal grind at that particular point in the day (as I said to Tristan I could do with about 3 extra steps in between the others at times like this! …or stepless). But nothing did the trick. Aside from the grinding issue, I think there must have been some kind of nasty temp fluctuation, etc, with the machine (which is quite common with it) for the shot to extract as it did.

We’re now using some really fantastic coffees for the espresso at the cafe, and with the degree of care I dedicate to my work, the consistency and quality should really be higher. Whilst this shot was particularly below par, it was by no means a one-off: in all honesty it’s actually quite common for our shots to suffer from similar issues, regardless of how diligently and carefully one works. That said, I’d like to stress that the majority of my espressos would normally be at least a bit, or even vastly, better than than this one. And also, to an extent, the sort of discrepancies that really upset me might not even be of any concern to most customers. But I aim to constantly improve what I serve, and I believe that at some point in the future, improvements to our machinery will help not only to near-eradicate more extreme gaffs like this one, but also to raise the overall standard much closer to the great end of the spectrum!

Until then, Se la vie!

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