January 31, 2011 Nathan

Want less bitter coffee? Just add salt…

Modernist Cuisine is the foodies’ bible. Its writers take food seriously. And unlike a lot of restaurants out there – they also take coffee seriously. So these snippets from the coffee section posted at Eater.com are worth pondering and filing away for your next coffee party. At least one of these tips will improve your coffee at home.

The Cold Portafiller

“The classic example with espresso is if your portafilter is cold, it’s impossible to pull a good shot. It’s going to be sour no matter what… And the portafilters are clean and sitting down in the drip tray, they’re not locked into the machine. You might as well turn around and walk back out. It’s impossible for them to make a good cup of coffee at the point because the portafilter’s cold. They’re going to put the grinds into a cold or even lukewarm portafilter before locking it in and pulling the shot, and the temperature of that portafilter is going to cause the temperature of the water to plummet. And low temperature water going into your grounds is going to make a very acidic brew. So one of the things you want to see is the protafilter even when not in use locked into the machine because that keeps it hot.”

Weighing the Dose

“… we would do experiments where just being off by half a gram, how many espresso grinds you put in, would make an enormous difference in how good the coffee tastes, with everything else being as same as possible. And so it really reinforces the point that if you want constancy, especially when you’re learning a knack for it, you’ve got to weigh. We’re just not that accurate as human beings to judge things by eyeball. We certainly can’t feel in our hands 17 and a half grams versus 18 grams of coffee. That’s just too small of a difference for us to perceive. It makes an enormous difference in the final cup of espresso.”

Salting bitter coffee reduces the bitterness

“… actually sugar doesn’t actually mask bitterness at all, but salt does. The idea with adding a tiny bit of salt to mask the bitterness of the coffee, and the trick when doing this is to get it so you don’t really detect the saltiness. A salty cup of coffee is not tasty, but just enough so it diminishes the bitterness of the coffee. The easiest way to do it is to just add small amounts of saline solution, actually. That’s a very dilute solution of salt, you don’t have to worry about it dissolving at all, and it’s harder to over do it. You can do that in your cup of coffee, you can do it with tonic water.”

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About the Author

Nathan Nathan is a coffee lover, home roaster, amateur barista and coffee tinkerer. He's married, has two kids, one turtle, and for a day job works for Creek Road Presbyterian Church. He previously worked in PR. This blog is his attempt to make coffee tax deductible.

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