On the way to work, so many of us stop off at our favorite coffee shop to get that espresso shot intended to give you a much needed jolt. When you finally arrive at work, of course you are expecting a robust, strong drink to get you through your day.
The first sips are strong and delicious. Unfortunately, as the day moves on, you’re left with a gritty, acidic taste and a dull, nasty, lifeless aftertaste. But how can that be when just a short time ago, that was the best espresso you’ve had touch your lips?
What you may be unfortunate enough to have experienced is a dead espresso shot. So many coffee enthusiasts and baristas fight the good fight every day to prevent dead shots. But what exactly causes a dead espresso shot, and is it something you can avoid?
As a general rule, if an espresso sits too long, it can “die.” A dead espresso tastes disgusting and lifeless. Generally, if an espresso dies after sitting too long, the coffee used was not high-quality to begin with. As it begins to cool, the underlying negative qualities begin to shine through.
- A dead espresso is one that has been left sitting for too long and had time to cool off.
Continue reading to unlock the enigma of dying espresso shots, master the art of brewing, and learn to identify dead shots and how to avoid them for the perfect espresso.
- The Death of an Espresso Shot
- Is it a Dead Shot?
- Prevent So You Don’t Have to Fix
The Death of an Espresso Shot
The death of an espresso shot is a tragic loss for most coffee enthusiasts. When you order or brew an espresso, you’re expecting a rich, robust cup of joy. So, it’s quite disappointing when you realize your espresso may be dead. But what exactly is a dead espresso? Can it really be as bad as it sounds?
A Dying Flavor
A decent espresso shot will normally be a tad bitter, a little bit tart, but also somewhat sweet. The concentrated beverage generally packs a wonderfully flavored, powerful punch. However, a dead espresso will pack an equally powerful punch, with much less satisfaction.
A dead espresso shot is one that has gone through several chemical changes. These changes will sometimes cause the espresso to have a disgustingly ashy taste with a heavily burned aftertaste. Or it can sometimes be described as flat with a harsh, bitter aftertaste. While the flavor may have changed, a dead espresso still contains caffeine.
Evolving Textures, Colors, and Aromas
As an espresso shot continues to go through chemical processes, the texture, color, and smell will change as well. As the crema on top begins to melt and combine with the coffee, the espresso shot becomes thicker, lighter, and will even smell burnt or possibly less aromatic all together. This generally begins to happen within a couple of minutes.
Is it a Dead Shot?
It can be frustrating to get a dead espresso shot. But what’s more frustrating is not being able to tell it’s a dead shot before it touches your lips. Unfortunately, this happens to more coffee lovers than they’d like to admit. Is it possible to tell if your espresso is dead before having to taste it and suffer the consequences?
A key characteristic of a beautiful espresso shot is the frothy layer of foam that forms right at the surface of a freshly brewed espresso. A combination of the water, oils, and air creates the ambery goodness. It’s arguably the best part of any well-brewed espresso.
In a dead espresso shot, the crema will likely have dissipated. As the crema melds back into the espresso shot, it allows more air to reach the coffee. Unfortunately, this causes the deterioration of flavors to happen much faster than intended.
While it may seem like the smart move to allow your beverage to cool, that isn’t quite the case with coffee. Espresso, in particular, is meant to be enjoyed piping hot, as hot as you can tolerate. A room-temperature or even cold espresso is a tell-tale sign of a dead espresso shot.
Our taste buds are greatly affected by temperature. So, as an espresso shot begins to cool off, the temperature no longer masks any imperfections. This is especially the case with espressos that were brewed from low-quality beans to begin with.
Aside from cooling off and losing its crema, a dead espresso will generally lack the tempting aromas it once had. Temperature can also affect our sense of smell. A hot espresso generally fills a room with strong, delicious aromas. However, an espresso that has been left to sit and cool will likely not release any significant odor.
Prevent So You Don’t Have to Fix
So many problems have solutions, some incredibly easy, others exceptionally difficult. But even better than fixing a problem is preventing it before it happens. This goes for dead espressos as well.
The fact is, it can be much easier to prevent a dead espresso shot than it is to fix it once it’s happened. Fortunately, there are a few ways to prevent an espresso shot from dying long before you have to experience that frustration.
Drink it Quickly
The biggest reason espresso shots die is because of the chemical process that happens while they’re cooling. So, the simplest way to prevent the death of a much needed espresso shot is to drink it quickly, while it’s still hot. Avoid letting an espresso shot sit for more than a minute so the chemical process during cooling doesn’t happen.
Machine Maintenance for Better Pulls
It’s extremely important to remember that a clean, well-maintained machine is going to give you the best espresso shot every time. It’s important to clean your machine thoroughly and properly after every use.
Cleaning your machine well after you use it every time keeps your machine ready to go at any given moment. It also guarantees a cleaner, stronger pull and gives you the most out of your espresso shots. There are a few important steps to remember to better maintain your machine.
- Make sure the spent puck is removed immediately to prevent any oils or residue from the grounds from building up.
- Immediately rinse the portafilter for a couple of seconds and wipe it and the filter screen with a clean cloth.
- Wipe off any milk residue, especially on the steam wand, to prevent the milk from drying and solidifying.
Fresh is Best
Most things are better with fresh ingredients, and espresso shots are no exception. Using high-quality, freshly ground coffee beans is a sure-fire way to get an exceptional espresso shot. Even if you’re unable to drink your espresso the second it’s finished brewing, using high-quality coffee beans will prevent the disgusting flavors that develop as an espresso cools.
Better Storage for Quality
Using fresh, high-quality beans is only part of the fight for a quality espresso. Properly storing coffee beans both before and after they’ve been ground will help keep them fresh. These tips can help keep your coffee beans tasting better for longer:
- Use an airtight container to keep the coffee from absorbing any moisture, tastes, or odors.
- Freezing in an airtight container, while not always recommended, is a good way to keep them fresh for up to a week.
- Don’t over buy coffee beans because the longer they sit, especially once the seal is broken, the more the beans absorb impurities.
Cling Wrap for the Win
If you’re not able to drink your fresh espresso right after it’s brewed, you could also use cling wrap to keep it tasting wonderful and fresh. Wrapping the cling wrap tightly over the top of your espresso shot is an excellent way to prevent the chemical processes that ruin it from happening.
As the crema on top dissipates, oxidation begins to happen, pulling out any nasty flavors or imperfections. The crema acts like a barrier of sorts that prevents this process. Airtight cling wrap replaces the crema as it disappears.
Grind Size Matters
Choosing the best ground size for your espresso brew can be just as important as using high-quality beans. Deciding what size ground you need to use to prevent a dead espresso shot can be somewhat difficult. Especially because choosing a size depends on how you like your espresso.
If you use a ground that is too fine, you could be facing over-extraction, causing your espresso to be extremely bitter. However, if you use a coarser grind, you may run into under-extraction and end up with a watery, flavorless espresso. Testing and adjusting your grinder to get your desired outcome is your best bet.
Espresso shots are intended to provide a quick and tasty energy boost when you need it. Unfortunately, a dead espresso shot not only leaves you with a bitter aftertaste but can also leave you bitterly disappointed.
Preventing a dead espresso is the best way to prevent that kind of frustration. Avoiding oxidation during the cooling process and identifying the reason you’re getting a dead espresso will help prevent it from happening. Please share your experiences, tips, and results with your fellow espresso shot lovers.
How long do espresso shots take to die?
1-3 minutes. The process of an espresso shot dying begins very shortly after the espresso is finished brewing.
Does a dead espresso shot have less caffeine?
Fortunately not. The term “dead” applies to the flavor of the espresso shot, not its caffeine content. The amount of caffeine in an espresso shot does not decrease as it dies.
Can you drink dead espresso?
Absolutely. Although it’s not likely you will want to, as the flavors and smells have become less appealing as the espresso shot dies.
- Pressurized vs. Non-Pressurized Portafilters: Who Wins? - October 12, 2023
- De’Longhi La Specialista Prestigia Review: Barista’s Dream? - October 12, 2023
- Top 5 WDT Coffee Distribution Tools Every Barista Should Have in 2023 - October 11, 2023