Do you ever wonder what goes into making the perfect cup of coffee? While people might have slightly different preferences, there are 4 main factors that go into a great cup of coffee. These are thought of as the 4 M’s of espresso.
Miscela ☕ Macinacaffe ☕ Macchina ☕ Mano
The first “M” in the 4 M’s of espresso is the coffee blend, or mixture. There are many factors that go into creating an espresso blend. At Copper Canyon we have two different espresso blends. Our Black Stallion Espresso Blend is a medium roast enjoyed by coffee consumers all over the country. This is a blend of primarily Central and South American coffees. We also have a darker blend called Espresso No. 5 Blend. This blend is far darker than the majority of our selection. It is a mistake to assume that all espresso coffee must be dark roasts. The origin of the beans and the overall body of the roast profile is very important to the quality of the espresso. Typically espresso is made with a blend, as opposed to a single origin coffee, to get multiple flavor profiles in one cup of coffee. The creation of an espresso recipe is an impressive craft. Taking a selection of beans and combining them to achieve the perfect blend of sweetness, aromatics, and smoothness is a master roaster’s way of expressing themself. Often espresso blends have one main base component that gives the coffee a good body. A few other beans are added into the mix to showcase certain flavor notes. While the blend of beans is important, it is also crucial that the roasting process is carried out correctly. Coffee that is roasted too dark can burn which leaves a bitter, charcoal tasting brew. It is important to keep the aromas and sugars that are naturally present in the beans.
Macinacaffe (Milling Process)
After the coffee has been roasted, it must be ground. The milling process, or grinding, is the second “M” in the 4 M’s of espresso. There are many different types and styles of grinders you might find in a coffee shop. The two main types are the ones that grind bulk bags of coffee and the ones next to the espresso machine that are just used for grinding espresso beans. Within the category of espresso grinders there are several styles. All of the grinders have some sort of hopper for the beans to sit in. After leaving the hopper, the beans are ground. Some grinders are operated completely by the barista while some are more automatic.
These grinders have an on/off toggle that starts/stops the grinder. Once the beans have been turned into ground they fall into a dispenser. The barista holds the portafilter up to the machine and pulls on the dosing lever to dispense the grounds. It is up to the barista to use the correct amount of grounds into the portafilter.
These grinders have a timer that automates how long the grinder runs for which leaves less repetitive work for the barista. No matter what kind of grinder a shop uses, there are settings that should be adjusted. This is to ensure that the grounds are the correct size. Too fine of grounds can cause the coffee to be over-extracted, too coarse of grounds and the espresso could be under-extracted.
After the grounds are in the portafilter, the next step is to tamp them. There is a type of automatic grinder that does the grinding and tamping process for you, but usually it is done manually by the barista. They take a small handle with a flat base, called a tamper, and apply pressure to the grounds in the portafilter. The amount of pressure is also important to the espresso. Too much pressure and the water won't be able to flow through the grounds and the coffee could be over-extracted and bitter. If not enough pressure is used, the water might pass right through the grounds and leave a watered down taste.
Macchina (Machine espresso extraction process)
The third of the 4 M’s is all about the espresso machine. Similar to the grinders, there are different types and styles of espresso machines.
Semi-Automatic and Automatic
You will probably see semi-automatic or automatic espresso machines in most specialty coffee shops. With these two types of espresso machines, the barista is responsible for steaming the milk and overseeing the espresso shot. The semi-automatic espresso machines have a button to dispense pressurized water through the portafilter. This button must be toggled on and off. For automatic espresso machines, the button is programmed to a set time so the barista only has to press it to start the process. There are two other types of machines that are less popular.
The super-automatic machines require the least amount of training to operate which makes them popular in very large commercial companies. These machines are usually a grinder and espresso machine all in one. The barista just needs to press a button and the machine will grind, tamp, and pull the shot of espresso. Since they are such “hands-off” machines they don’t allow the barista to make as many adjustments for external factors.
The last major kind of espresso machine is the manual machine. The rest of the types of machines pressurize the water and force it through the grounds to brew the espresso. With the manual machines you generate this pressure by pulling on a lever that slowly pressurizes and releases the water into the coffee.
Mano (manual skills of the barista)
There are a lot of steps that go into the espresso brewing process. The last “M” in the 4 M’s highlights the fact that even with all the right equipment you can only craft the perfect espresso if you know how to use the equipment. While the most automatic types of grinders and espresso machines are usually pre programmed, the rest of the machines are adjusted at the barista’s discretion. At most specialty coffee shops, the espresso machine is dialed in every morning. (Check back for a blog post on the maintenance of an espresso machine, coming soon!) In addition to dialing in the espresso machine, baristas need to check the grind for the espresso. Espresso grinders should be adjusted daily or even multiple times a day. Many factors, ranging from the condition of the grinder to the humidity, can affect the grounds. For dosing grinders, this adjustment just means changing the grind setting to be more coarse or fine. For non-dosing grinders, the barista can (and should) adjust both the grind setting and the timing. This will ensure that the grounds are the correct size and that the correct amount of grounds are being dispensed into the portafilter.
Baristas in coffee shops go through training to be able to serve great coffee to all customers. These skills can develop into artistry. After brewing the perfect cup of coffee, some of the best baristas add latte art to your drink. These skills are very impressive, and garner the attention of coffee consumers worldwide. There are several different competitions that baristas are able to enter. These competitions happen anywhere from a local shop to an international stage, all competing for the best drink. (You can read more about the different competitions and the results at uscoffeechampionships.org).