Anatomy of an Espresso
Coffee Education / June 26, 2019
The perfect espresso: a lifelong pursuit for us coffee nerds. At it’s best, espresso is a harmonious balance of acidity, bitterness, and sweetness. At its worst, it can be aggressively sour or bitter. So how do you avoid these pitfalls? One of the first steps is to look for the “three phases” a shot goes through while it’s pulling.
Each phase brings something different to the table. Coffee experts talk a lot about extraction, and that’s essentially what we’re looking at here. Different compounds in the espresso extract at different times. Too much of one phase will throw the shot out of balance.
Part One: The Heart
This is the most concentrated part of the shot. It’s heavy in body, and often it shows itself as deep, rich brown drips. This phases carries most of the bright, vibrant flavors of the espresso such as citrus and other fruit notes, but can be very intense, sour, and acidic on it’s own.
Part Two: The Body
After the Heart, you will notice that the shot speeds up a little and becomes a warm caramel color. This is what we call the Body. The body is actually pretty well balanced, not too sour or bitter, but it’s flat and boring. The Body needs the high notes and low notes of the other two phases to create a dynamic experience.
Part Three: The Blonde
Towards the end of your shot, it will become very light in both body and color. We call this the Blonde. Back in the day, we were taught to fear the Blonde. I was told that it just watered the shot down, but it’s not so! It is an important part of the overall extraction. The Blonde brings pleasantly bitter flavors, like dark chocolate. Though it can be dry and astringent on its own, the Blonde is the perfect foil for the intense bright flavors of the Heart.
On their own, each phase is flawed, but when all three parts combine, they make a perfectly balanced experience. Pleasant acidity, balanced by bitterness, and supported by sweetness. A rich body, not too heavy, not too thin, just perfect for sipping and savoring.
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