"This coffee is over-extracted" or "This coffee tastes under-extracted". This word can be used in a very pretentious kind of way, to almost make it sound like this topic would go right over your head or if you don't understand what it means then you will be made to feel like a fool.
I get it.
When I first got into coffee this phrase was constantly used and all I wanted was to make a good cup of coffee that I could enjoy. I didn't know the correct way to use it. I didn't know the effect it had on my brewing. It wasn't until I started to really dive into the differences (and tasting thousands of cups of coffee) that I was able to put 2 and 2 together. I now know that having a good cup of coffee and having it extracted correctly go hand in hand, I just think the coffee world has had a difficult time conveying that to the masses. When it comes down to it, once you know and learn what to look for, you can brew some of the best coffee you have ever had even in the comfort of your own home. Coffee was made to be enjoyed. It is supposed to be fun experience. It can easily be bogged down with words and phrases that can over-complicate the process. But hopefully this can help.
What is "Extraction"?
Extraction simply means "the action of taking out something". This idea becomes complicated with coffee because the use of the word becomes twofold. In a chemistry way, it means the actual soluble compounds that you "extract" from the coffee itself. That is a conversation for another time. When you hear baristas and you-tube videos talk about extraction, they are almost always talking about the THING that is extracted. This case, the coffee in the cup. Now these two concept are not mutually exclusive. EXTRACTING your coffee correctly does lead to the EXTRACTION of the correct solubles that make your coffee taste good. A bunch of compounds that make coffee taste the way it tastes. Again, this isn't meant to be confusing, its a pre-cursor to talking about the actual brewing of our coffee and how to make it taste the best it possibly can.
If you have ever had a cup of coffee that makes you pucker your cheeks, a coffee that leaves a dry/ashy feeling at the back of your throat, or a perfect coffee that leaves a sweetness on your taste buds and has a clean finish as it goes down, you've tasted the results of extraction. Granted how a coffee is roasted does come into play (i.e. a lighter roast versus a darker roast), but all coffee has to be extracted to give you the end product of coffee in your cup.
How I learned to correctly identify extraction
Yep... that is what you think it is... a sifter. I like to think of it as a giant espresso portafilter. You know... one of these:
I know its strange, but let me explain. Take the image of the sifter. Take that sifter, fill it up with marbles, hold it over a bucket, and pour water right over the top. What is that water going to do? It's going to flow straight through and come out the bottom of the sifter super fast. The water to marble contact time is going to be almost non-existent. This is the idea of under-extraction.
Now take that same sifter, do the exact same steps, but instead of filling it with marbles, fill it with sand. Pour your water over it and what will it do? The sand will take in all that water and eventually if you pour enough water through it, it will finally come out the bottom very slowly through the now muddy sand that is in the sifter. This is over-extraction. The water to sand contact time is exponentially longer then the water contact time with the marbles.
When we pull double shots of espresso, our "golden time'" of when we like it to finish is around 28 seconds. Now when the coffee grind size is too coarse (think of the marbles), the water will come out of the portafilter at a much quicker rate. Say the shot of espresso finishes at 18 seconds. Without even having to try it, I can tell you it is under-extracted because it finished way faster then what we planned it to be. Now if you have an espresso machine at home, I would challenge you to taste that shot that pulled really fast so you can taste what under-extraction taste like.
One more example, your morning pour over. You have a manual pour over brewing method, you get a new coffee from your favorite roaster, you brew it up that next morning, and it seems to be brewing much slower then usual. If you time your pour overs, you may be aiming for just under 3 minutes but for some reason this coffee is finishing closer to 4 min. I can almost guarantee that coffee will taste over-extracted (sifter filled with sand).
Great! ... Now how do I know what that tastes like?
Timing is the first noticeable element of extraction. But the next step of learning the importance of extraction is taste. This one is a little harder to explain without you actually being able to sit here and taste coffee with me (which I would love to do with all you at some point!) but I'll try to make it as discernable as possible.
All of coffee come down to one simple idea: balance. Balance of sweetness and acidity, balance of aroma and flavor, etc. Having too much of one can lead to coffee that is lacking or that is too intense. For lighter roasts, during the roast process you want to balance sweetness and acidity so that you don't have a coffee that only makes you pucker every time you drink it. For darker roasts, you want to balance mouthfeel and taste and not roast the beans too dark to where all the flavor is gone.
We deal with lighter to medium roasts specifically at our shop, so this balance is crucial to give you all a coffee that isn't roasted too light or too dark. Now in brewing specifically, when things are not in balance, we get over and under extracted coffee. An under-extracted coffee will typically hit you in the front your palate (not in a great way), and an over-extracted coffee will hit you in the back of your throat (leaves you wanting more, dry feeling). Now get a coffee that is perfectly balanced and extracted, it will hit you so nicely in the front of your palate (sweetness, juicy acidity) and pass your tongue to your throat all the way down in such a clean way that it's like you just hydrated with coffee. (weird right? Its the only way I can explain it lol). Our goal is to get to this point.
Under extraction is described as being sour and lacking sweetness. It will make you want to almost "pucker". This is accentuated in espresso (if you have ever had a shot that made you "pucker" I would bet it pulled very fast). In a cup of coffee, its harder to tell but you can definitely taste some sourness and you can feel it in the front of your palate. This is where taking the timeframe into consideration really helps with identifying under extracted coffee.
Over extraction is less "hit you in the face" and more leaves a wanting taste in the back of your throat. This is where bitterness comes into play. Bitterness is sharp and pungent (leading to an astringent taste) as opposed to sour which is more acidic. It leaves you feeling "dry" as if you just drank sand. (ok... maybe not that drastic.... but you get what I mean). Its very hollow and leaves you wanting so much more. Again, take these astringent flavors with the time the coffee finished brewing into consideration.
ok... now how do I fix these to make my coffee taste great!
I hope that all that info helped to make identifying incorrect extraction a little easier. But the crappy part is you have to drink a coffee that is potentially very unpleasant. The great part is your next cup can be so much better. Hers is the simple solution:
If your coffee is under-extracted (think marbles, think sour, think fast finish time), then you need to fine up your grind size. That simple. Fining up your grind size would look like taking your coffee from coarse table salt size to maybe a finer powder. This will make the contact time between the water and coffee last longer and allow more extraction because their is more of a hinderance of letting the coffee out of the brewer (or espresso portafilter).
If your coffee is over extracted (think sand in the sifter, think dry and bitter, think long finish time), then you will need to coarsen your grind. A visual aide would be to take your coffee grind size from table salt size to red pepper flakes size. This will allow the water to more freely pass the coffee and EXTRACT (soluble compounds) in a way that makes the coffee taste much more sweet and clean.
These grind size changes don't have to be drastic. They can be minimal. Unless your coffee is finishing minutes later, you may have to adjust your grinder a few notches finer or coarser. Brew the next batch, and see the difference. It may surprise you how much different the coffee tastes after these adjustments!
Notes about Extraction and taste
There are a few asterisks worth noting with extraction and how to adjust coffee that may not be tasting right.
Hope this helps!
I know its a lot, but it has been years of research and learning that has brought me to this point. (With much more learning still to be had on my part!) If you have any more questions or need help with brewing, reach out and let us know! We'd love to help. Thanks again for reading!
The hidden Gem of the Southwest
I don't know if anyone actually uses this phrase here or not, but in my many years in coffee I have heard it a time or two from people who are just stopping in or moved here from another state. It really got me thinking about why I love it here. The "Land of Entrapment" is what I grew up hearing it called the most. Granted anywhere you grow up in can have a feeling of "trapping" you in or give you a sense of not being able to leave due to different circumstances. But for some reason Albuquerque seemed to have more of this then other places I have visited. A very different contrast of a "hidden gem" that I had heard from others. But nonetheless this place has always felt different.
For me it wasn't until college and had moved out of my parents house that I felt I had the choice to leave or stay. I was young, just newly married, hadn't really found my "forever job" (whatever that means). I had just started working at a local coffee shop called Deep Space Coffee, and this was where I had my first experience of love for a job. Never had I enjoyed coming into work so much before. The quality of drinks we were taught to make to the customers I got to interact with daily and the relationships we created (of which whom we still get to see to this day at Castle!), everything came together to feel like being in the coffee industry was where I wanted to be forever. In later posts I can expound on what happened after this period of time, but around 4 years ago I had gotten to a point where I was done with Albuquerque. I had given my everything to the city and to the coffee industry here and felt like my time was ending here. I applied to jobs in the coffee industry all over the country and had heard back from many of them, in particular one from Bethesda, Maryland that had offered me the opportunity of a lifetime and to move my wife and I out there and start a new life. But life has a funny way of changing courses very quickly. Over those next two weeks of hearing about the job offer, we had people in the city that believed that I could make a difference here in ABQ and offered me the opportunity to start my own shop here in my hometown. We said we would think about it. The very next day we had someone who offered us a spot to put the coffee shop. How could we say no to that? Again, life is funny sometimes.
We thought about it for a couple days and decided to forgo the opportunity in Maryland and give ABQ another go. That was almost 4 years ago. Crazy how time flies. Obviously there is so much more to that story, but I say all this for a reason. I have a newfound love for this city. We decided to stay and invest in this community and find the best that it has to offer. Oh man have we found a gem. Just as my story shows how unpredictable life is and how sometimes we have a plan for our lives and that it may not always turn out the way we originally planned, we need to take time to revisit those things in life that bring us joy in the present. It took me almost leaving to realize what a great place we have here in ABQ. By NO means is it perfect. Far from it. But how can you say that home is a "trap" if you don't try to find those gems for yourself? This is not the case for everyone and I get that leaving home is sometimes a must, but I hope that maybe this can help inspire you to possibly find what's beautiful about where you are in the now.
What the heck does that have to do with recommendations?
Sorry about all that backstory. I just felt it was important to state who is the one giving these recommendations. I started a business here because people believed in me, and because of that I have a new found respect and re-kindled love for this city. I went out and found all the things I now absolutely adore about this city. ABQ is a place with so much culture and community. People of so many backgrounds and unique stories to tell. (Which is another reason why I started a coffee shop because I get a unique opportunity to hear and experience all those stories!) We have the most AMAZING food and drinks here. Beautiful outdoor scenery and hiking paths to explore. As a barista, we basically are your human equivalent to the yellow pages (lol) because we get so many visitors and new people who ask us what to do and what to eat here in the city!
Alright lets get to it, Recommendations please!
Alright, so this will hopefully be a good place for people who live here already (or just moved here) and maybe want to try something new or are visiting, searching online in their hotel rooms or Air BnB's trying to find their coffee spot and places to eat the next day. I definitely have not tried every single restaurant or shop in ABQ but I have been to many of them throughout my life here. So know I do not have all the answers but hope to be a good place to start for you! There are so many more to include in here but these are just the places I frequent the most in no particular order:
Hope this helps!
I know there are so many more places that I could add to this list but if you are visiting this would be more food and drink then you could probably handle in one trip anyway! If you live here and have a favorite that I didn't mention or possibly haven't even been to then drop a comment below! I'd love to hear from you! Drop a comment if you ended up going to one of these places and let me know what you thought!