Making coffee that is consistently good and ready in a short amount of time can seem impossible, whether you are a professional barista or making your own espresso at home. Whether you’re a customer or a coffee professional, you might have experienced situations where either you or your customers aren’t happy with the inconsistency of the coffees, or the amount of time that you need to wait to get a consistently good brew. All too often, coffee shops will sacrifice consistency in their coffee for efficiency, or sacrifice efficiency in order to be more consistent. But with the third wave of coffee, coffee shops can’t afford to fail when it comes to either of these if they want to keep their customers happy. While it might not be so important to you when making coffee at home, consistent espresso is key to keeping yourself satisfied in the morning and avoiding frustration when making your favorite drinks. If you get the consistency right, the good news is that this will usually lead to coffee that is made more efficiently and is of better quality.
Why Espresso Consistency is Necessary
In a coffee shop or other commercial setting, espresso consistency is crucial to success. Coffee experts say that consistency is important to ensure that customers are always getting the same cup, since they are paying the same price for it. When your espresso is consistent, you’re not dealing with a situation where one customer pays $5 for a great-tasting cup of coffee, and the next pays the same amount for a drink that tastes terrible. When it comes to serving specialty coffee, consistency throughout the process of preparation is important for always getting a beverage that tastes amazing, whether you are working in a coffee shop preparing coffee for customers or making your own coffee at home. Simply put, without consistency, it’s impossible to reach the high standard of coffee that you want.
Why Does Espresso Consistency Fail?
Experts say that since there are many variables that have an impact on the process of coffee extraction such as the extraction pressure, temperature, and the process of dosing, tamping, and distributing the espresso, the drink is a very complex one. And it can be tricky to get keeping all these different variables consistent right. Along with that, there are some other factors to keep in mind. For example, if you work in a coffee shop, you may not have that many customers in the afternoon, making it easier for you to extract shots in the same way. On the other hand, most coffee shops experience peak hours in the morning, and when baristas are dealing with a long queue and lots of customers who want to get their coffee as quickly as possible, it can get messier and harder to keep things inconsistent as baristas are not only focusing on the coffee but also talking to their customers and serving any other food products that they have ordered alongside their drink.
How Coffee Shops Can Improve Espresso Consistency
When a barista has only the coffee to focus on, getting it consistent can be much easier, which is why for home baristas, it’s often easier to make sure that their coffee is the same every morning. But the café setting can quickly take a toll on the professional barista and make it harder for them to produce consistent results, particularly during busy peak hours. The good news is that there are several things that coffee shops and other commercial settings can do to improve the consistency of their espresso. These include:
Nothing else will matter if your baristas do not have access to good training. Whether you have state-of-the-art espresso machines and equipment, buy great coffee from excellent roasters and have gotten your coffee-making process down to a fine art, none of it is going to matter if your baristas aren’t properly trained and don’t know what they are supposed to do to get the most out of all of this. In fact, no matter what you have invested in to improve your coffee, it’s still going to be inconsistent without the right barista training. Baristas need to be trained in the technical aspects of espresso making and extraction such as espresso machine flow rate, and they also need workflow training in order to make it easier for them to do things the same way every time. A good workflow gives the barista the chance to work more efficiently and provides them with more time to focus on making the beverage. With the right training and practice, this will help baristas stick to good habits, and improve consistency.
Experts agree that providing baristas with as much opportunity as possible to improve their experience is one of the best ways to improve the consistency of your coffee. It’s important for baristas to get to a level of skill and experience where they will do certain things automatically. Inexperienced baristas, who have not gotten to this level yet, might be fine in a quieter period in the coffee shop, but when under pressure with a long queue of customers, might struggle to keep things consistent while working faster, which can lead to a higher risk of mistakes or a longer time spend trying to remember protocols, getting help, and double-checking things.
Invest in Good Equipment
When it comes to making consistently good coffee every time, a barista needs to be able to rely on the equipment that they are using to facilitate the work that they do and support them in producing great, consistent coffee. It’s important for coffee shops and other commercial settings to invest in equipment that has the ability to reproduce the extraction profile every single time while making it as easy as possible for baristas to do this. Before investing in new equipment for your coffee shop or café, there are a few factors to consider. These include:
- Ergonomic: It’s important to make sure that equipment and accessories are comfortable to use, since this means that baristas are going to be more likely to use it the same way every time.
- Ease: The easier the equipment is to use, the faster a barista will pick it up.
- Consistency: Can you rely on this equipment or accessory to perform consistently throughout the shift?
- Maintenance: Is the equipment or accessory easy to clean? If it’s difficult to clean, this can lead to it not being cleaned as often as necessary, which can reduce consistency, quality, and even safety.
When choosing equipment for your business, it’s important to bear in mind that even small differences in the properties of the equipment that you use can have a big impact on the workflow of your baristas. For example, using a machine with a steamer that is activated by a lever rather than a button can be more ergonomic for baristas and adds a greater level of control.
Tips and Techniques for Consistent Espresso
Whether you are making espresso at home or are a barista serving espresso drinks in a commercial setting, the good news is that there are lots of things that you can do to make better espresso and keep it consistent every time. The good news for baristas is that most coffee shops, especially coffee shop chains, have already perfected the recipe for their espresso and as long as you stick to these steps every time you brew a drink, you should get consistency every time. But for home baristas, it can take some trial and error to get the drink right, and with so many different variables that go into brewing espresso, it’s also important to make sure that you record exactly how you brew each shot so that when it comes to the perfect one, you know what to replicate next time to keep things consistent. Whatever setting you are in, these tips will help you improve consistency:
Keep the Portafilter Clean: Even if you’re using the same coffee beans, dose, extraction time and all the other variables, a dirty portafilter can have a huge impact. Moisture and leftover grounds can lead to the next coffee tasting over-extracted, so make sure that it’s clean before using it again.
Get the Right Dose: Even the smallest of differences in your dose can have an impact on the consistency of the espresso you make. Some grinders have a doser included, making it easy to get the right dose every time at the push of a button. If you don’t have access to this or want to be in more control, use a scale to check your dose before distributing and tamping the coffee.
Tamp Evenly: Even if all the other variables are exactly the same, the coffee being tamped unevenly can make a beverage that tastes very different from the last one. When tamping, it’s important to press down hard and long enough until the puck is fully compressed and does not have any more room to go down further. Make sure that the puck is levelled horizontally.
Consistency is key to making great coffee every time, whether you’re a professional barista or making your own coffee at home.