A Shot of Science: Perfecting Espresso Extraction for Maximum Flavor

Espresso machine brewing double shots

Scientists have found that more finely ground coffee beans lead to weaker espresso due to uneven extraction. They used a simple mathematical model to split the coffee into two regions and examined how the uneven flow affected the brewing process. This uneven flow persisted in different parts of the coffee bed, affecting the taste of the coffee. By understanding and preventing uneven extraction, it may be possible to improve coffee production and achieve financial savings through more efficient coffee consumption.

Understanding the source of uneven extraction in brewing espresso can improve the beverage and enable substantial financial savings by using coffee more efficiently and efficiently.

Researchers at the University of Huddersfield have found that uneven extraction in espresso brewing results in weaker coffee when using finely ground beans. Understanding and preventing this phenomenon can improve coffee taste and enable financial savings through more efficient coffee consumption.

Espresso coffee is made by first grinding roasted coffee beans into grains. The hot water then forces its way through the bed of coffee beans under high pressure and the soluble content of the coffee beans dissolves (extraction) into the water to produce espresso.

In 2020, researchers found that more finely ground coffee beans produced weaker espresso. If, for some reason, regions exist within the coffee bed where little or no coffee is extracted, this paradoxical empirical result makes sense. This uneven extraction becomes more pronounced when the coffee is ground more finely.


Coffee Flow Instability

In this figure, Q is the rate of flow, epsilon is the porosity (which increases as coffee is extracted), and c is the concentration of dissolved coffee (a measure of the strength of the espresso). Credit: W.T. Lee, A. Smith, and A. Arshad

One of the regions in the model system hosted more tightly packed coffee than the other, which caused an initial disparity in flow resistance because water flows more quickly through more tightly packed grains. The extraction of coffee decreased the flow resistance further, as coffee grains lose about 20% to 25% of their mass during the process.

“Our model shows that flow and extraction widened the initial disparity in flow between the two regions due to a positive feedback loop, in which more flow leads to more extraction, which in turn reduces resistance and leads to more flow,” said co-author William Lee. “This effect appears to always be active, and it isn’t until one of the regions has all of its soluble coffee extracted that we see the experimentally observed decrease in extraction with decreasing grind size.”

The researchers were surprised to find the model always predicts uneven flow across different parts of the coffee bed.

“This is important because the taste of the coffee depends on the level of extraction,” said Lee. “Too little extraction and the taste of the coffee is what experts call ‘underdeveloped,’ or as I describe it: smoky water. Too much extraction and the coffee tastes very bitter. These results suggest that even if it looks like the overall extraction is at the right level, it might be due to a mixture of underdeveloped and bitter coffee.”

Understanding the origin of uneven extraction and avoiding or preventing it could enable better brews and substantial financial savings by using coffee more efficiently.

“Our next step is to make the model more realistic to see if we can obtain more detailed insights into this confusing phenomenon,” said Lee. “Once this is achieved, we can start to think about whether it is possible to make changes to the way espresso coffee is brewed to reduce the amount of uneven extraction.”

Reference: “Uneven extraction in coffee brewing” by W. T. Lee, A. Smith and A. Arshad, 9 May 2023, Physics of Fluids.
DOI: 10.1063/5.0138998

#Shot #Science #Perfecting #Espresso #Extraction #Maximum #Flavor