Compared to a regular cup of coffee, espresso is so much more concentrated. Its powerful aromas and rich tastes can be overwhelming in a wonderful way. Indulgers can feel the impact of concentrated caffeine almost instantly.
However, sometimes a home-brewed espresso doesn’t quite meet expectations of a sweet, aromatic experience—or even turns out nasty and bitter. We’ve all been unlucky enough to experience that unpleasantness at some point. But have you ever wondered why exactly your espresso is bitter?
Espresso can taste weird or bitter because of low-quality beans, over-extraction, or brewing techniques. Measurements, water temperature, and equipment cleanliness can also cause espresso to taste nasty, bitter, or “weird.” Taking precautions against these issues can solve this problem.
- Some of the most common causes for bitter espresso.
- Simple solutions to fix these problems.
- Key information to prevent weird-tasting espresso.
- Key Takeaways
- Reason 1: Low-Quality Beans
- Reason 2: Over-Extraction
- Reason 3: Dirty Equipment
- Reason 4: Improper Tamping
- Reason 5: Wrong Grind Size
- Reason 6: Roasted Beans Too Old
- Reason 7: Incorrect Coffee Measurements
- Reason 8: Incorrect Water Temperature
- Reason 9: Not Using Freshly Ground Beans
- That’s A Wrap
Reason 1: Low-Quality Beans
Most of the time, the flavor of your espresso makes the quality of the coffee beans quite apparent. A low-quality bean will almost always make any brew taste bitter, but especially espresso. It’s such a common issue that most coffee shops will use a different grinder to prevent the rancid oils from ruining the espressos.
Quick Fix: Purchasing a high-quality bean/blend such as Stumptown Coffee Roasters Hair Bender or Kicking Horse Coffee Cliff Hanger Espresso will reduce the bitterness you experience. Grinding your own freshly roasted beans can help ensure the quality for your espresso.
Reason 2: Over-Extraction
Another very typical cause of bitter or bad-tasting espresso is over-extraction. When the water and beans have been in contact for too long, this occurs. When this occurs, too many of the beans’ natural chemicals are extracted, overwhelming the flavors. So, basically, the beans have been “over-brewed”.
Quick Fix: Choosing a larger grind size can prevent over-extraction. The smaller the grind size, the quicker the water pulls out the flavors and leaves nothing but the nasty flavors. Adjusting the brewing time and using a timer can ensure that the water is not pulling out the bitter, harsh flavors.
Reason 3: Dirty Equipment
Cleaning your equipment is one of the most important parts of having a great espresso at home. Proper cleaning is not only essential for health reasons, but lack thereof can lead to a disgusting espresso.
Unfortunately, more often than not, our equipment isn’t as clean as we think it is. If the oils and sediments from the grounds and water are left to go rancid, it can lead to a bitter espresso. The longer this problem continues, the worse it gets.
Quick Fix: Properly cleaning your espresso machine and other equipment frequently can prevent and fix this issue. Running a descaler solution through your machine after cleaning it can also help remove any leftover funk.
Pay close attention to the type of water you use. Using filtered water is both better for your machine and will result in an excellent espresso. See our article What is the Best Kind of Water for Brewing Coffee to learn more about the types of water you can use.
Reason 4: Improper Tamping
If you’ve been to a coffee shop to order an espresso, surely you’ve watched the barista carefully push the coffee down using a little tool. This is called tamping, which is basically when you use the tamper to compact the coffee grounds to control the flow of water through the grounds.
The goal of the tamping process is to allow just enough water to saturate the coffee grounds at the right pace. To do this, the “tamper” needs to be used to pack the grounds into a little disc that leaves just enough space.
If tamping is not done correctly, it could lead to over-extraction (the water flows too quickly) or under-extraction (the water flows too slowly). It’s a balance that can be difficult to master.
Quick Fix: Practicing your tamping technique to ensure level tamping will help solve this problem. To do this:
- Straighten your back, square your shoulders, and bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
- Correctly measure the grounds according to your machine’s specifics, and then make sure the tamper is level in the coffee bed.
- Push down, applying even pressure, until the grounds look compressed into an even disc.
- From there-finish, the brewing process.
Using a calibrated tamper can also ensure the most even tamping has been done. Once it’s been pushed to 30 lbs of pressure, the calibrated tamper will make a noise to let you know that’s enough.
Experimenting with basic tamping techniques used for different machines and brews can ensure that you will get the best outcome. Once you find the technique that works for you and your taste buds, your espresso will be hard to beat.
Reason 5: Wrong Grind Size
One of the biggest frustrations about brewing espresso is finding the right grind size that works for you. Your brewing method will determine the grind size you need to improve the espresso flavor.
If the ground size is too large, it can lead to under-extraction because not enough of the natural flavors can be pulled out, leaving your espresso utterly watery and flavorless. Whereas if the ground size is too fine, it can lead to the over-extraction of flavors and cause your espresso to be bitter.
Quick Fix: The best solution to this problem is simply experimenting with brewing methods and grind sizes. Usually, a fine or extra-fine grind is the way to go for espresso, but really it depends on your taste buds.
Reason 6: Roasted Beans Too Old
Just like most everything else, as coffee beans get older, they get stale and disgusting. You wouldn’t use old, sour milk in your espresso, would you? So why use old, stale, bitter coffee beans actually to brew your espresso?
Quick Fix: Buying freshly roasted beans to brew your espresso can instantly improve the flavor. As a general rule, try to purchase beans that are closest to the date the roasting process was completed.
Clearly, the travel time and distance will come into play, so aim for at most five to ten days from the completion of the roasting process. Choosing local can ensure the freshest, like with most other products.
Reason 7: Incorrect Coffee Measurements
Measuring the coffee grounds for your espresso is an extremely important step in the brewing process. Since espresso is more concentrated, it requires a higher coffee-to-water ratio.
The measurements for a single basket is somewhere between 7-10 grams, for a double basket, 16-18 grams of ground coffee, and 20-22 grams for a triple. Check out Clive Coffee’s article about pulling the perfect shot of espresso to learn more about the coffee measurements for espressos.
Quick Fix: The best way to correctly measure the grounds is by using a scale like the Acaia Pearl. Using a scale will prevent any measuring mistakes, and you can adjust your measurements more efficiently.
Reason 8: Incorrect Water Temperature
The temperature of the water during the brewing process will directly affect the final taste of your espresso through the “yield percentage.” To avoid getting into the mathematical specifics, the yield percentage is simply the number of elements that are extracted from the coffee.
Basically, if your machine isn’t getting your water hot enough, it could lead to bitter, flat espresso. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if your machine is getting the water too hot, it can cause your espresso to taste burnt. The ideal temperature for the water is 195℉ and 205℉.
Quick Fix: Fortunately, many espresso machines now come equipped with temperature gauges and the ability to calibrate your machine to the temperature you want. Adjusting and experimenting with the temperatures and brew methods will help you find what works best for you and your preferences.
Reason 9: Not Using Freshly Ground Beans
When coffee beans are ground, some of the natural oils, heavenly flavors, and pungent aromas are pulled out almost immediately. So, when you buy pre-ground beans, it’s safe to say that some of that goodness has already been lost between the process to your home.
Quick Fix: Grinding the coffee beans at home can instantly improve the flavor of your espresso. Doing so extends the freshness of your coffee beans and will allow them to pack the punch you’re hoping for. It also helps you control the grind size, which will help prevent bitterness as well.
That’s A Wrap
While it can be frustrating to feel like your espresso is ruined with bitterness, it’s a problem that has many solutions. Once you’ve figured out exactly what’s causing that bitter aftertaste, there are ways to prevent and fix that annoying problem.
Bitterness is usually caused by subpar coffee beans, over-extraction, or even equipment that hasn’t been properly cleaned.
The wrong coffee beans, ground size, and water temperature are all factors that can throw off your espresso’s flavor as well. Fortunately, these solutions can help you on your way to enjoying your shot of caffeine from home quickly.
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