We have the chance to work with a fair amount of single origin coffees-around 14 in stock at any time, many of them work great as espresso-some do not. We also specialize in light roasts, so this of course means some of the shots we get from say a Central American will be so bright that it nearly hurts. Trying a Nicaragua we use for instance, I can only get a mediocre shot no matter what variables I change. On the other hand our rather light-roasted ethiopias work fantastic-the complexity is enhanced, while other coffee's flavor disintegrates even with much grind adjustment-nitpicking,cursing, etc and while producing shots that LOOK perfect-but taste somewhere between sawdust and ashes. These are coffees that are otherwise strong.

I'm wondering if there are rules for this, I've noticed some coffees work better with higher dosages or lower, longer and shorter extraction times, but I can't say I've picked out any sort of pattern-besides that a good natural/dry ethiopia seems to be bullet-proof. Are some coffees just doomed to make bad espresso? I'm aware of course that many coffees favor different methods, but I'm looking for some specifics here. Any ideas, fancy techniques?

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If you are roasting lighter you should start with a lower dose, such as 14-15 g, in the PF and look for 27-30 second extraction at a temp probably on the plus side of 200 F.

Some, but not all, of the INTENSE espressos will do wonders in small milk drink like macchiatto and traditional cappuccino. But you still have to adjust to eliminate any sour notes. Intensity is ok.
drop the temp. and play around with it. Age, roast, and origin all make drastic differences when dialing in espresso. Espresso needs to rest at least five days preferably 7 to 8.I have pulled S.O. Sumatra espresso that was tasting best with a 35 second extraction time. 18 grams, 199 and with a shot volume less then an ounce and half. Just example of how extreme some coffees like it.I agree with John p on the lower dose but i am curious his shot volume. Most shots of S.o i pull range in extraction time of 23 to 28 seconds. The volume is 1 and 3/4 ounce. A dose of probable just over 18 grams when fresh and 20 if it is a bit older. Most of the time well aged beans, maybe 9 to 10 days out, will pull a well balanced shot when compared to fresh beans.
realizing this was about trouble shooting i am going to add a few more pointers.
1. if the espresso has a abrupt sourness to it, the coffee might be too fresh, shot time might be too short or the temp could be too low. If your roast is too light there might be nothing you can do.
2. If the coffee tastes bland, heavy without destinction or being clearly bitter. I would drop dose, then adjust grind as need sense your shots will speed up with a lower dose.

most of all is practice to build up a natural instinct on what direction to take while dialing in. The more you do it, the more you'll understand what your tasting.
"Sour" is very nondescript, in a way. Low temperature "sour" tastes different than short extraction time "sour" which tastes different than bright acidity.

It's not only about roast profile, but also about bean density, and what flavors the coffee normally exhibits.

Higher density coffees tend to like a lower dose. Lower density coffees tend to like a higher dose. And, like most things in life, there are always exceptions. These are general guidelines, and not a lot else.

If astringency is a problem, sometimes updosing helps to tame it a bit.

Extraction time is dependent on so many factors, that I hesitate to give even an estimate without having tasted the coffee first.

I've had situations where what would be considerd "too fresh" was optimal, and situations where "too old" was optimal.

Diagnostic skills come from lots and lots of tasting good shots, bad shots, updosed shots, downdosed shots, high temp shots, low temp shots, long extraction times, short extraction times, and almost everything in between.

That having been said, I would bump the temp for high acidity coffees, and/or pull them a bit long (based on color). I know, it seems wrong, but you won't know until you try it.

You can also keep two cups catching both halves of a double. Pull one of the cups out from under at the normal time, and the other at a later time. Switch it up and do one early and one "normal".

A salami can help a whole lot with diagnosing and balancing an espresso.

in short: taste and learn.
Just a thought... Try cupping five different S.O.'s and the one that doesn't really stand try putting on bar... My theory is that espresso turns up the flavor volume so much that if the coffee is already too flavorful on the cupping table, it will be unbearable on bar. I have noticed that if a coffee has a seemingly muted taste profile (as long as it is not defected and is clean and balanced) 75% of the time it makes a phenomenal espresso... Still, you will need to adjust your brewing temp, dose and all your other variables accordingly. But I have found this to be an excellent way to decide what to throw on your bar in the first place.

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