Sometimes even we Muddy's gnomies are amazed at how our baristas manage to pull a perfect shot of espresso every time. Just how do they do it? I sat down with barista Stephen today to ask him that question. Turns out there is even more to it than I thought!
First, Stephen says, you grind your espresso. And not just any espresso will do. At Muddy's we use Zingerman's Espresso Blend #1, a medium-roasted single-estate blend that is the foundation of every one of our rich and lively shots.
Our grinder is constantly being calibrated to create the perfect grind. If the beans are ground too coarsely, the water will go through too fast. A faster shot is sweeter, but it doesn't have the body or flavor a slower shot holds. But if the grind is too fine, the water goes through too slowly or not at all. What does get through winds up bitter. Multiple variables go into how long it takes to grind the perfect espresso each day, including the temperature and humidity. Today the perfect time happens to be 4.6 seconds, but usually it's closer to 4.2. It's that precise of an art, y'all!
Next you fill the filter full of the ground espresso and you mash it down with the little piece you push with, more properly known as the "tamp." Again, Stephen tells me, it's more of an exact science than you would think. You're going for a tamp of 40 psi, and it must be perfectly even to pull the perfect shot of espresso. Too much of a divot on either side will result in a weak shot.
"It messes with the consistency of the pour," Stephen says. "If you don’t tamp it evenly, then the water pulls through the beans unevenly. You know, it pours through two separate spouts, so the beans on one side end up being overly extracted, and the ones on the other side are under extracted. And over and under extracting effects the color, taste, and thickness of the crema [the light layer on the top], as well as its ability to heal itself if you stick a spoon into it. A good crema will heal itself, but a bad one will form around that hole. When you see that, you know the shot will be bitter."
Finally, we come to the last step. The barista puts the filter on the machine, presses the button, and watches it happen.
If you haven't ground your beans right or tamped them down correctly, then it ain't going to be pretty. But if you've prepped the beans properly, then it's a beautiful sight. "A perfect shot takes 22 to 24 seconds to pull," Stephen tells me, "and you will see it form three beautiful layers: the heart at the bottom is the darkest, then the body, and then the crema on top. A perfect shot will have a dark honey amber tone, and when it settles, you want a rusty golden color. If you've started with the perfect beans, the perfect grind, and the perfect tamp, then you know you've got the perfect shot of espresso all ready to go into the perfect drink."
I asked Stephen how he recommends our guests enjoy the flavor of our unusually perfect espresso, one we do not hesitate to claim is the best you'll find in any Memphis coffee shop. He says everyone should try it in an Iced Latte. They can add sweetener of they like, but everyone should try it without any added flavoring at least once. There isn't much milk to the drink, but just enough that it cuts the espresso down to the intensity enjoyed by most palates. "It's a very popular drink at this time of year. I make it for myself ALL the time."
So there you have it folks. That's how Muddy's baristas manage to pull a
great perfect shot of espresso every single time. Don't believe it? Come on down and try a Muddy's Iced Latte--or the espresso drink of your choice--and see if you have ever had better!