Brew Ratios, Basket Sizes, and the Confusion over a "Double Shot"
We often see confusion and frustration firsthand because we teach thousands of people how to make espresso drinks at home every year. One of the major culprits is the proliferation of misinformation about coffee on the internet. Some of which are from very prominent people and places.
Shot "Length" & Brew Ratios
Big Coffee certainly didn't do itself any favors when describing terms. A large portion of the confusion comes from the "length" of a shot. "Length" does not refer to the extraction time (as it should) but relates to the brew ratio. While there is no proper industry standard for brew ratios, the following are generally accepted:
A ristretto, or "restricted" shot, is a more concentrated shot and tends to reduce the bitterness of darker roasted beans. It also stands up to milk very well. Third-wave roasters generally prefer the normale 1:1.5-2.5 ratio for the more mainstream medium-roasted coffees. Many roasters will have preparation recipes on their websites or on their retail bags – if that fails, always ask the barista. Long shots are actually preferred in Italy, where single baskets are still common.
The "Double" and portafilter basket sizes
Further confusion stems from a distinction over "single" or "double shots." Unfortunately, as America was relatively late to the espresso game, the nomenclature was established in Europe while we were still drinking Sanka.
A double shot was derived from the Italian term doppio, which means double in Italian.
That is only half the story. Italy's brew ratios are wildly different than in America or anywhere else. So, while it is reported that a doppio was 60ml of liquid espresso, we need a clear indication of how much ground coffee typically went into that.
A "double" basket is currently sized for 16-18 grams of ground coffee. It used to be 14 grams but has since expanded. The single basket is intended to hold 7-10 grams of ground coffee, and a triple basket, around 20-22 grams.
However, the term "double" can no longer be assumed to be pulled on a double basket with a specific coffee yield, as the brew ratios and basket sizes have diverged so dramatically from Italy to Australia to America. A "double" at one cafe, with a specific bean, will most certainly be a different volume of liquid from another cafe. Campos doesn't even use double baskets in America. They use triple baskets. When you get a "double" from them with their Superior Blend, it is 21 grams of ground coffee in, to 42 grams out, or a 1:2 brew ratio. By way of comparison, you can see that Onyx recommends pulling shots with a ratio of 1:2.2 for their Geometry blend. Again, a different volume output for the same amount of ground coffee.
So what is a "double" today? There is no standard. A double can be virtually anything pulled with a double or triple basket in a size range of 14 to 115 grams of liquid espresso. Good job, coffee industry. Way to make things easy.
The only part of this that is clear is extraction time. All espresso preparation is generally done between 23-45 seconds, depending on the solubility of the coffee. So a "longer" shot will simply use a coarser grind than a shorter shot, as the amount of ground coffee will be the same with the same extraction time. As we explained in our "How to Read your Coffee Bag" article, darker roasted or lower elevation coffee extracts quicker than lighter roasted or higher elevation coffee, so we tend to pull those coffees quicker.
What does it all mean, Clive?
At Clive, we strive to make sense of these legacy terms to help consumers make great espresso at home. We have dispatched all mentions of single and double shots in favor of brew ratios. We have also centered around using a triple basket, as it is more forgiving than the single or double, especially in the 53mm variety. It is also gaining favor in the most prominent cafes.
The Clive recipe for espresso is the same as used by the originator of American espresso (and the pioneer of latte art), Espresso Vivacé in Seattle. We use a 1:1.5 brew ratio (as it stands up to larger milk drinks), a triple basket with 20 grams of ground coffee to extract 30 grams of liquid espresso in 23 (dark roast) to 30 (medium to light roast) seconds.
It is high time to dispatch with the term double altogether. Or, simply ask the follow-up question. "Could I please have a double? Oh, by the way, what is your brew ratio?" You'll notice we avoid terms like "triple" and "ristretto" because those terms don't give you the details that count.
The importance of using a scale
To cut through all mentions of triples, doubles, and such. Just use a scale and a brew ratio. Any scale is better than no scale, but we have found that the Acaia Lunar Scale is the best. In addition to fitting perfectly on nearly every drip tray, the Acaias are waterproof and rechargeable, which makes them virtually indestructible.