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jimseven"jimseven" - 5 new articles

  1. The State of Espresso in 2015
  2. The State of Espresso 2015 Survey
  3. A New Coffee Classifieds Section
  4. The Coffee Professional Beginners Guide
  5. USBC Regionals, Competitions Formats and Purpose
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search jimseven
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

The State of Espresso in 2015

These are the results of the survey I conducted over the last two weeks. I had a great response to the survey – around 1,500 replies. I needed to clean up a little bit of the data (which meant discarding quite a lot of weird responses), but there was still a lot to work with.

I hoped that the data would give some insight into global, as well as local trends. I was also curious to know if there was much correlation between home consumers and professionals, in their tastes and styles.

A caveat fairy early on: This is not a truly good overview of how espresso is being served around the world. This is a review of how people who read this blog brew espresso in cafes and at home. I think this should be considered when looking at the results.

One final note: Brew ratios. I’m going to talk about relationship between ground coffee dose to liquid espresso weight as a ratio i.e. 1:2 or 1:1.5. I’m not going to use 50% or 66% etc, because these are percentages and not ratios. (I know that seems obvious but we have a habit of using brew ratio for both and it doesn’t make sense in my head).

Who is the fussiest?

Let’s start with comparing the average commercial recipe with the average domestic one. They’re actually very, very similar.

Domestic Vs Commercial Recipes
User Dose In Dose Out Ratio Brew Time Range
Home user 18.3g 36.4g 1:2 24s – 36s
Commercial 19.0g 37.5g 1:1.98 25s – 34s

The brew recipes and ratios are very, very similar. The only difference is that the acceptable brew time window is actually wider for home users. Interesting though, that the styles of espresso were pretty uniform on average. However, home users had higher standard deviations when it came to the brew recipe (essentially there is more diversity there), but lower standard deviations when it came to brewing time (there is more agreement on the window of acceptability).

The ristretto is dead

Not only is a 1:2 ratio, extremely common, and the global average for respondants, but the percentage of cafes and home users brewing ristretto style espresso is really very low.

This perhaps get amplified when I explain that I am categorising anything from 1:1.5 and below as a ristretto. (Which perhaps a very different definition than I might have used back when a 1:1 ratio was not uncommon).

Commercially only 11.8% of respondants are pulling shorter espressos/ristrettos, and about 14.5% of domestic users (perhaps an argument of consumer preference being slightly disconnected from commercial offerings).

I suppose I should try and explain away this data, and the trend in brew ratios so let’s have a look at the distribution in cafes:

Click to embiggen
Click to embiggen

So, generally espresso is being brewed at a relatively high brew ratio and espressos being served are somewhat dilute. While we can’t know people extractions, if we presume a reasonable level of extraction happening (which is quite likely with higher brew ratios) then lots of espressos out there around 9% strength. (For reference, many of us were previously chasing 12% and a brew ratio of around 1.5 until relatively recently – myself included.)

While some would smugly claim that the Italians were right all along (as an Italian espresso is often closer to a 1:2 ratio or more) the doses of coffee being used are a long way from Italy’s traditional 7g per espresso. Also, the raw coffees being used are likely extremely different too.

I think a few different factors are likely at play here:

  • Increased use of extraction measurement (and people chasing higher extractions)
  • More experimentation with grinders and recipes (the EK43 thing etc)
  • The internet echo chamber

More and more people are pulling shots in a similar way. I’ll come back to this point in the conclusions.

A Travellers Guide to Espresso in Different Cities

One of the fun things to look at was how different cities have different espresso styles. I’m torn how to present the data here. I looked at 20 different cities (that had large enough numbers of respondents to do a little data analysis). I don’t just want to dump the table here, so I thought I’d highlight a few different interpretations for some cities. Let’s start with my home town:

LONDON: 18.5g IN | 34.6g OUT | 26s – 35s

London is interesting to me because it had the lowest levels of variation across its recipes. Essentially the espresso style here was the most homogenous of any of the cities I looked at. Whether one interprets that as strong consensus or an embarrassing lack of diversity is a question probably better answered by consumers in London than by me. What also surprised me about London is that the average brew ratio put it in the top 5 cities for shortest/strongest espressos. The only cities pulling shots with lower brew ratios were San Francisco, Seoul, Moscow and Philadelphia.

New York City:  18.7G IN | 35.5G OUT | 24S – 33S

New York City was incredibly similar to London in many ways. Both have a very low percentage of respondents pulling ristrettos (about 4.5% each), but both also have relatively low diversity in recipes in the surveys. New York City is pulling slightly larger shots, slightly quicker but the averages are really very similar.

SYDNEY: 20.6G IN | 47.2G OUT | 26S – 35S

It was tempting to lump the main four Australian cities together (Sydney, Melbourne, Perth & Brisbane). What wasn’t surprising (going by stereotype) was that these were the only 4 cities with an average ground coffee dose higher than 20g. (Oh to be a roaster/supplier in Australia…)

I chose Sydney here, because it was something of a surprise to me. For a long time the stereotype of Australian espresso was a big dose in, and a relatively short shot. (Ah, the double rizzbanger…) This is clearly not the case anymore. Perhaps as a reaction to this particular stereotype, Sydney now pulls the largest and most dilute shots of any city. This larger brew ratio (1:2.3 here) is mirrored elsewhere. Perth is at 1:2, Melbourne and Brisbane both at 1:2.2.

One thing to note: home users in Australia aren’t pulling espresso the same way. The ground coffee dose is a little lower (about 19.5g) and the shots are smaller (1:1.8 is the average ratio). However, I don’t think we can confuse or conflate domestic espresso brewing preferences with consumer preferences.

MoSCOW: 18.3G IN | 33.1G OUT | 22S – 27S

Moscow was interesting, not only because the only place with a lower average ground coffee dose was Montreal (you didn’t see that coming…) but because the shots are pulled much quicker there than anywhere else. Pretty much every city is pulling shots for 30+ seconds. (Stockholm is the closest, with a similar ground coffee dose and a brew time of 23 – 31 seconds.

I’d be interested to know what is driving this. Is it something in the water that aids extraction? Is it a general preference for shots brewed quicker? I have no idea – but it was interesting.

LOS ANGELES: 19.1G IN | 37.0G OUT | 25S – 32S

LA was noteworthy because it was a place with some diversity. Despite the average brew ratio being nearly 1:2, there was the highest percentage of respondents pulling ristrettos here (30%). It also had the biggest variation in brew recipes. LA is home to some diverse espressos, and I think that’s a very good thing indeed – and made me want to go and explore it all a little bit more.

Are Cities Representative of Countries?

No, not really. By and large there was a reasonable (but not huge) difference in the brew styles of a country and its capital city. I’ll use the UK as an example:

UK VS London
Location Dose In Dose Out Ratio Brew Time Range
UK (excluding London) 18.0g 35.8g 1:2 26s – 32s
London 18.5g 34.6g 1:1.87 26s – 35s

One might think that the trend, the fashion, is for larger espressos. You’d also think that this would manifest first in the capital, but that isn’t the case here. You could argue, however, that the difference between the two is trivial which brings me to my conclusion…

A death of diversity

What shocked me about the replies I got was, ultimately, how similar they all were. I’m really struggling with how I feel about it. Perhaps what we have here is the wisdom of crowds and we’ve actually reached a point of best practice. A 1:2 ratio could very well be the best way to brew an espresso. However, that doesn’t really sit right with me. It’s too neat.

What many of us fall in love with, early in our coffee careers, is diversity. Coffee can taste of so many different things, it feels like it is full of potential and possibility.

I’ve said before that there is a real value to having an aesthetic behind your coffee business. Is what we are seeing here an industry broadly creating an aesthetic behind its espresso brewing? Or are we seeing a trend?

The internet – blogs like this, twitter, newsletters, forums – allow rapid sharing of information. The downside of it is how easy it is that ideas spread very quickly and are often adopted without sufficient testing and rigour.

I’ve been brewing at a 1:2 ratio as a starting point for a while now. This survey has not validated this practice, in fact it has caused me to be deeply suspicious of it. Am I brewing this way because it is mathematically convenient? Am I brewing this way because everyone is? Am I making sure I’m properly exploring recipes and considering what I want to present? I remember all too clearly how much I liked a 1:1.55 ratio…

I believe we’re coming to a point in time where many of us will be reconsidering our approach to espresso. I think it is time to focus and think through the experience we’re trying to share – from the point of view of the gustatory, the tactile and the intellectual. I don’t believe we all have the same tastes, same ideals, and same goals for our espresso. I don’t believe, even for a second, all consumers want the same thing.

I believe that a homogenous environment is bad for speciality coffee, and bad for the consumer. Going against the grain proudly, but most of all intentionally, gives you a niche in the market. If nothing else, I hope reading this will inspire a little experimentation outside of your current comfort zone. I hope it inspires a conversation with your colleagues to really define clearly the espresso you most want to source, or to roast, and ultimately to serve.


The State of Espresso 2015 Survey

It has been a long time since I’ve done a survey on the brewing habits of the readership of this blog. I figured it was a good time to do it again. (I think the last time was 6 years ago!)

From this I’ll produce a little report looking at trends in espresso around the world at the moment. Please, be honest about how you or your cafe makes coffee – there is no wrong answer!

Before we get to the data input – a few words of explanation. For the ground coffee dose in – ideally just give me a single number that you use as a starting point. 19g of 15.5g or whatever it is. However, please don’t input the “g”. Just “19” or “15.5”. Same with the brewing weight too please. I know we all work in ranges, but I’m just looking for an overview.

Aside from kindly filling in the form, I’d like to ask you to please share this as far and wide as you can. The more data the more interesting the results will be. I will run for at least a couple of weeks, and wrap up once entries slow down.

Thank you!


A New Coffee Classifieds Section

We’re launching a new section of Coffee Jobs Board today – a Classifieds section for people who want to sell coffee related things (like espresso machines, grinders or anything else – domestic or commercial). You can post an ad on the site for free, as a 7 day listing. This 7 day listing will always be free. (There is a featured 30 day option for £3/~$5.)

Since its launch and transition from London Coffee Jobs, the Coffee Jobs Board has continued to grow and I hope has continued to be useful to many businesses. The rate of job postings, and job applications, continues to increase and it is slowly spreading outside of the UK.

A few people had asked if they could sell equipment through the jobs listings, and I had said I’d rather they didn’t – but it did encourage me to explore the idea more. Traffic to the board is now at a level of about 200,000 page views per month – so I think the Classifieds section can be a useful place for people to sell various items.

Please note – the site is just for listings, you are not buying the item from the site and we’re not responsible for the transaction in any way, and we don’t take a cut of the payment. Do please do your due diligence on anything you buy, regardless of where you find it.

Feedback is welcome – this is a live beta, so there may be the odd bug which we’ll fix as quickly as we can. I really want this to be a useful resource for anyone with an interest in coffee, commercial or domestic.


The Coffee Professional Beginners Guide

If you’ve just started working in coffee, chances are you’ve worked out that coffee is:

1. Really, really interesting
2. Huge
3. Complex

As such you’ve turned to the internet to try and do some research. However, what is online is a rich mixture of information, without much hierarchy and often without a good place to start.

Here is a beginners guide to coffee reading and learning for an interested coffee professional.1 It is divided into three parts, based on how much money you have available to spend on learning more about coffee.

I will update this list whenever it seems appropriate to do so, and mark items as new.


This is the joy of the internet, the abundance of free information. For many years I suffered a little imposter syndrome, feeling uncomfortable because almost everything I thought I’d learned had been acquired for free on the internet.

This Blog:  Since you’re here, you may as well explore a little. There’s a kind of “best of” on the blog (that has been updated now) here: Articles/Links

Barista Hustle: First things first: if you haven’t already then immediately sign up for Barista Hustle, and then after that go back through the past postings. There’s lots of new stuff coming too – so make sure you’re paying attention.

Barista Magazine: Hopefully your employer has a subscription to Barista Magazine, and if not then you should start demanding they get one. At the very least you should be following their blog.

ChefSteps Espresso Guide: A series of 12 stunning videos, and a tonne of great content. Go sign up – it’s free!

Cat & Cloud: A blog from Jared Truby and Chris Baca who have a tonne of experience behind bar, and this really shines through in their writing. Essential reading for those in the industry. Check out their new podcast also.

CRS Coffeelands Blog: This is, in my opinion, the best writing on coffee online right now. Michael Sheridan’s writing is both informative and challenging. As a newcomer in coffee, the world of sourcing is presented to you in a magical, charming and ethically sound way. I think it is important to dig a little, as the truth is far more complex, and rarely as comfortable as we’d like it to be.

Daily Coffee News: This blog, from Roast Magazine, has become one of my favourite news sources. Recommended.

Online Communities:  Most of the successful online coffee communities are geared towards home users. Sites like Home Barista, Coffee Geek, Too Much Coffee, r/coffeet and the Coffee Forums UK do have valuable information but you’ll have to dig. Most are open to professionals joining and interacting, but tread lightly as there are members with decades of experience and passion. Working in coffee is not seen as a badge of honour (especially as many home users now have commercial level equipment, and are capable of producing as good a shot as any cafe). Be humble, be open and you’ll learn. Coffeed is now pretty dormant, but has interesting reading should you comb back through the archives.

Tamper Tantrum: A podcast/videocast library/event/conference all rolled into one. There’s tonnes of videos to go back through, with a lot of great speakers. Put an hour or two aside, at the very least.

Sprudge: It is hard to really define Sprudge. It’s a place for all things breaking coffee-news, from new cafes, a little gossip, very occasional cat gifs through to new technology, interviews and features. If it is happening, then you’ll probably read about it first on Sprudge. Follow on twitter or feed to an RSS reader. There’s also a lot of good stuff in the archives worth exploring through the tags and categories.

Brew Methods: This is a great resource, everyone’s brewing guides all in one place. It’s important to understand that coffee brewers are flexible devices and there is no one ideal way to use each one.

A little Budget (£60/$90)

The World Atlas of Coffee: I know this is blatant self promotion, however: if I don’t believe in it enough to recommend it, then I should never have published it. I wrote it to be accessible to anyone, and to be a good starting point in understanding more about the wider world of coffee.  (UK – £13.60/USA – $24.77/Rest of the World)

The Professional Barista’s Handbook: Scott Rao has written several excellent books, but you should start with this one. Lots of baristas buy this, but very few read it properly. I would strongly recommend putting the time in to read it thoroughly, and repeatedly, rather than flicking through the pages. It is the most expensive item on this particular section of the list, but worth it. (£30/$45)

The Devil’s Cup: I’m going to cheat here, and suggest you buy this second hand so that it sneaks in under budget. There are usually tonnes of copies available of it too, so it shouldn’t matter if lots of people buy it. It’s a bit of a weird choice. The reason I’ve recommended it is because it is a fun read, it gives you some insight into how coffee fits into culture around the world. I always tell people to skip the last chapter, they never do, and they always say they wish they had. It was the first book I read on coffee, and it got me excited about the wider cultural impact of coffee. I think that’s a good thing, and there are a few fun anecdotes in there. (UK – £3.00/USA – $5.00)

ChefSteps Coffee Guide: I really enjoyed working with ChefSteps and Ben Kaminsky on this, I think there’s a tonne of great info here, and the recipes make it worth the price of admission alone. (£9.00/$14.00)

A LITTLE MORE Budget (£200/$300)

I’m going to presume you’re going to buy all of the above items, leaving me about £140/$210 left to spend.

More Scott Rao: Everything But Espresso (£23/$35) and Espresso Extraction (£6.5/$10) are both worth picking up and reading properly. I wouldn’t recommend Scott’s roasting book unless you’re roasting for a living (or have more budget to spend than we’re talking about here.)

Coffee with Tim Wendelboe: There’s no doubt that Tim has a big impact on speciality coffee, and I think it is worth reading his opinions on coffee that you find in this book. It is another general overview book, from seed to cup, and I think a key part of every coffee library. (€23).

Black Gold: Coffee’s history is undeniably a difficult one. Fair Trade has, in recent years, seemed lacking in context and in relevance. It wasn’t always this way. This book was written at the peak of a coffee crisis, when prices were lower than the cost of production and coffee was deeply, deeply unfair.2 Anthony Wild’s book is detailed, well researched and dispels most of the myths around coffee. It’s not the lightest read but it is worthwhile. (UK – £12/USA –$19)

The Science of Quality: In some ways I’m reluctant to list this book, but at the same time there are few resources like it. I’m not sure that I’ve really managed to turn anything in this book into something of true practical value but I don’t know where else I’d look up some of the information found in it. It is expensive, and rarely found second hand. Illy have had a huge impact on coffee, and espresso – though it does seem like their impact is on the wane. (UK – £78/USA – $96)

Note: There are obviously a lot more free resources out there than listed here. What I wanted to share was a starting point. If I have missed something I really shouldn’t then let me know (Twitter is good for this) and I can try and add it on the next edit.

  1. I might do one aimed more for the home consumer in the near future  ↩︎
  2. I am open to the argument that is hasn’t improved, and in its current format is unlikely to – but this is another matter.  ↩︎

USBC Regionals, Competitions Formats and Purpose

I am writing something on the subject of the SCAA announcing an end to USBC regionals with a little hesitation. There’s a tonne of blog posts circulating, twitter is very busy, and it could be said that there is already a surplus of opinion. It isn’t my national competition under discussion so I feel like something of an outsider in all this, but it is a good opportunity to share a few thoughts I’ve been sitting on for a while.

I write this with sympathy for both sides. From the SCAA’s perspective the regional competitions consumed a lot of money and resources. They did return, but it could be argued that they do not return equally across all participating. A few people have a very good day (one person has a spectacular one), and the rest come away in varying states of satisfaction. This is the nature of competition generally, rather than the specific fault of barista competitions.

I was inspired to get involved with the Barista Guild of Europe by the SCAA’s Barista Camp model – events that returned pretty equally for everyone who attends and, while I don’t have the numbers, events that seemed to attract a more balanced gender mix too. The SCAA’s resources are not endless, and their job is to invest where it most effectively rewards and provides value to their membership.

From this perspective I understand the SCAA’s decision. However, I am also someone who is a huge fan of barista competition. Not only as someone who has benefited greatly from their existence, but who believes they’re great ways to develop and push yourself (and those opportunities feel pretty rare). Regional events made barista competition available to a lot more people – a good thing – but struggled with consumer engagement. The lack of consumer engagement also hampers opportunities for things like sponsorships – the companies that have traditionally sponsored have been marketing to the coffee industry, and to some extent they’re pretty tapped out. Nick Cho puts forward one solution for making the actual events happen, but I still believe there are challenges around engagement.

This brings me to a question of format, another discussion rolling around on twitter. Is this an opportunity for a new competition format? Perhaps. The current format is built around credibility (I’m sure some of you disagree, but go with me for a moment). For the community the best barista should primarily produce the best tasting drinks (and ideally do it in a charming, welcoming, friendly and interesting way). This means that the bulk of the points must come from tasting, which in turn immediately disconnects the audience from the competition. I’ve watched competitions for a decade now, and I can watch a WBC final onstage and have no idea who has won because I don’t know what those exact shots tasted like. (This is a challenge when you’re there to provide commentary and insight…)

I was chatting a little to Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, while in Gothenburg last week, and we were talking about competition formats. We were talking about this point of audience disconnection, and about how to do a taste based competition without losing the audience. If we look to the world of food tv (terrifying as it is) then there are formats and competitions that work, and have been hugely successful. What’s required is transparency and openness of judging as part of the format. Things like live scoring factor would make a big difference. I’m all for increasing transparency of judging, and I think it would remove the group-think dynamic that is inevitable in competition discussions. My one concern – that a judge may have missed a piece of information, and that post match discussion is useful for this – was answered by Maxwell who suggested that at the end of the routine judges ought to be able to simply ask the competitor questions. I like this. Having the judges briefly explain their scoring, what they tasted and what they thought, would be entertaining. This does start to look a little like the panel of judges on a talent show like The X-factor, but there’s no denying that its format that engages a huge number of people.

The downside of this is that judges quickly become bigger personalities than many of the competitors, especially if they’re good at playing to an audience. You’d need credible (from a coffee perspective) entertainers. We know that we want the person on stage, the person who has spent time, money and effort on preparing to be properly awarded with our attention. I do think that, to compete in something like this, you’d need relatively thick skin to be comfortable receiving your critique on stage.

Am I suggesting something like the above should replace the current format? No. It’s built for a different purpose. I think something like this could run alongside. You could easily compete in both, but I think there are formats or events that could help bring in consumers, bring in new sponsorship opportunities and help support a nationwide competition structure. Such an event could easily be a one-off, it doesn’t need a national or world structure. It’s an opportunity for invention, for experimentation. That opportunity has, I suppose, always been there – but now there is incentive. It doesn’t have to have the production values of the WBC, especially at the beginning.

I don’t know how I could help, but if you want to create a new competition format, based around the consumer, and you think I could be helpful then get in touch. I’d like to see the USBC thrive, the barista community in the US thrive, I’d like to see something positive come out of this that could have an impact on the rest of the world’s coffee communities too.


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