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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cafe Espresso and Competition Espresso. 2 different things

---disclaimer--- After competition I will be offering both of these styles of espresso to my customers. Until then I will be focusing on SCAA sanctioned espresso so I can build the skill set needed to win my region in the upcoming barista competition!

SO! I really didn't want to make any non-charity related posts until after the Htown Throwdown but since this directly pertains to the products I am serving right now at my shop I wanted to make a blog post about SCAA, or the Specialty Coffee Association of America's SCRBC: South Central Regional Barista Competition.

This Competition will be held in December, or maybe January in Austin, TX. In entering this competition, I will be committing myself to preparing espresso in my cafe to SCAA guidelines, instead of the modern American cafe style of preparing espresso. I want to talk a little about the differences between each, and what is unique about each one.

--American Cafe Espresso--

I have been serving espressos up to this point dosed (or weighed) at 21.5 grams of coffee, ground in a way to create a 1.5 - 1.75oz shot or "triple" as it is referred to in coffee slang. Brewing temperatures can change dramatically with each different espresso between 196 to 205 degrees fahrenheit. They are served with custom, larger than average "18 gram" ridgeless brewing baskets and most of the time are used with a cut or "naked" portafilter that is easily cleaned by rinsing under a hot water spout through and through and then dried with a clean cloth thoroughly. I have always loved these big, smooth, almost syrupy in texture monster shots. They create rich tones of red and dark brown with a viscosity similar to motor oil. Flavors are robust and pop, and extractions tend to develop longer in the group head before dripping into a shotglass to create an espresso. This means that shots develop longer, and take a liking to a lighter roasted coffee geared towards profiling the elements of each bean individually in any given espresso blend. I don't split cafe espressos up, so a triple will go into a cappuccino the same as a triple would be served for a latte or espresso. So to sum it up, cafe espresso is bigger, bolder, and thicker.

Now to the competition shots, and how it pertains to my cafe: During competition I am required to follow SCAA guidelines for what a competitive espresso is. I am not here to say which is better or give reasons why one is superior to the other, just to state facts and how these two "espressos" can be so very different.

--SCAA Espresso Guidelines--
An espresso is a one ounce beverage (25 - 35 ml)
An espresso is prepared with various grams of coffee (depending on the coffee and the grind)
The espresso will be brewed at a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees fahrenheit.
Extraction time is recommended to be between 20 and 30 seconds.
Extraction times must be within a 3 second variance of each other.

So, instead of 21.5 grams of espresso, due to limitations of the basket size (16 grams) the maximum amount of espresso grinds I can stuff into a portafilter is somewhere around 18 grams, give or take a gram. This drastic reduction in soluble coffee grinds affects my extraction times. Because my extraction times are affected, my grind size must become finer to handle the brewing pressure accordingly. This means that I have created an entirely new and different product for my customer than they may usually be accustomed to.

Roast profiles must change because the total number of dissolved solubles decreases by the amount of grinds you are reducing for your espresso.
Espresso is now created 2 at a time, instead of 1 at a time, and look and consistency has changed.

These aren't good or bad things, they are just changes that need to be taken account of and understood. There is still a lot of flavor to be experienced at the lower, traditional competitive dosing measures of espresso. I believe that espresso blends alter because roast profiles must be tweaked to create the proper brewing apparatus in these competitive shots of espresso.

I have gotten some awesome results out of an SCAA shot and believe I can make it even better. It creates a whole new concept of coffee that I am trying to fully understand and appreciate for what it is (and win, of course!) and hope that my customers are willing to go on this journey with me as I perfect competition style espressos for my cafe!


  1. David,

    The word on the street is that the SCRBC will be co-hosted by Cuvee Coffee and Caffe Medici, meaning that it will likely be held here in Austin. The dates reserved by the SCAA are tentatively January 14-17, 2009. These are subject to change depending on venue availability, etc. Good luck with the practicing, and I hope to see you on the 30th for the Htown Throwdown.


  2. I'm pretty much "hooked" on the current expresso so I am really excited about trying the SCAA shot. Go and WIN !!!

  3. Thank you for posting about the upcoming SCRBC! We are also coming to Houston, Texas in 2011 for the 23rd annual SCAA Exposition, 'The Event'. Hope to see you there!