Jennifer Murray, winner of the 2008 Western Australian Barista Competition, spent time as manager and trainer at the Western Australian Barista Academy before moving into Customer Service at 5 Senses Coffee. She is now our beloved buyer of the world’s best green beans. Here, she talks about espresso-based coffee.

Sure, perfectly steamed, silky milk enhances the coffee experience and yes, some milk brands taste better than others. However, let us not forget the real player here — the often neglected espresso base that has evolved for better or worse as the industry has grown. Here’s a look at some of the current trends and ‘faux pas’ that exist in cafés today, and what you can expect in the cup as a result.

Base #1 — Single Shot Espresso (25-30ml)
This is probably the most common method — a single shot of espresso as the base of all drinks, excluding long blacks and macc’s, which often have a double dose. If done well, the single-shot base can have delicate nuances and complexity that subtly change as the ratio of coffee to milk changes. However, the majority of the time (sadly), the demand for larger cups often results in over-extraction of the coffee to compensate for the larger volume. This produces a bitter, watery shot that can cut through the milk, but requires sugar to balance it out.

Base #2 — Double Shot Espresso (50-60ml)
As mentioned above, larger cup sizes leave cafés with one of two options — add more milk or add more coffee. An increasing number of cafés are opting to use a double shot of espresso as the base to all drinks, instead of over-extracting a single shot. This way, they don’t need to decrease the cup size, but can offer a full-flavoured cup, without the bitterness. The investment is obviously significant, as this method automatically doubles coffee consumption. Because of the added cost, it is fair to assume that any café using a double shot as a base is serious about the end result.

Base # 3 — Double Ristretto (25-30ml)
The ristretto or ‘restricted espresso’ is approximately the first 10-15ml of an espresso shot. It is known for its dark, reddish-brown colour and syrupy mouth-feel. Strong and sweet in flavour, it has a complete lack of bitterness. To compensate for its small volume, it is typically served as a double shot. Through milk, you can expect a smooth and sweet coffee with absolutely no bitter aftertaste.

So, as you can see, these different methods definitely create three different results in the cup. None of which are incorrect, it all comes down to personal preference. Just keep the cup size in mind, and remember that a larger size doesn’t always mean a bigger coffee, it may just mean a milkier one.

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