The Case for Turbos

Disclaimer: I have literally zero idea how to run a cafe. The series of questions I pose below are simply an attempt to make the reader question their understanding of espresso.

Have you tried a fifteen second shot?

  • If no, why not?
  • If the why is “because everyone says 30 seconds”, have you broken the rule?

It’s too short

  • Is it too short for EY? If so have you tried compensating with ratio?
  • Is it too short for contact time? If so what are you trying to achieve with said contact time?
  • Is it really too short? Can the 15 seconds saved be used instead for WDT?

But it sprays

  • Are you sure the same low density areas didn’t exist for a finer grind puck and didn’t spray simply due to a lower flow rate?
  • Are you sure the coarser grind puck isn’t extracting more even than its finer grind counterpart despite the sprays?
  • Are sprays an indication of true channeling? Are you sure that fine grind traditional shots don’t create pockets of uneven density that allow for greater localized flow through certain regions (channeling)?
  • Have you looked at puck bottoms post-extraction in addition to bottomless flow and been appalled by dark regions showing uneven regions of extraction in 30 second shots?
  • Do you think they’re ugly because you watched too many mousetail bottomless shots on Instagram?

But we’ve always done 30

  • Mat North, a venerable veteran of the industry, pointed out that in the late nineties, the industry was already doing turbo shots. The main motivation back then was efficiency, but ended up having the effect of improved taste for subpar roasts that were used back in the day
  • The history of brewed coffee is a bit murky, but from what little I was able to decipher, there was a big shift in roasting that came about only recently (early 2010s). Remember, even as late as 2007, Hoffmann had presented single-origin espresso as a novel idea during WBC. So prior to that, and even the decade and half after (now), specialty light-roast espresso, heck I daresay even medium-roast espresso, is not the norm. From that perspective, is it possible that a 9 bar 30 second shot was intentionally used to get a fair tasting shot out of overdosed baskets, with no puck prep, and the muting of acidic flavors at 9 bars creating the standard for what was to become the very definition of espresso – thick, gooey, chocolatey, with lots of body/texture.
  • Also back in the day, demucilagination was preferred over fermentation and make everything taste … boring (or coffee coffee).
  • Are we too invested in history?
  • Do we trust results of history too much?

Back to contact-time

  • Do you need it because of a wide grind distribution from your burrs? (hat-tip to Mat North for indulging me on the contact-time discussion and making me consider the benefits)
  • Is the alternative of passing more water through for equivalent EY result in too much acidity?
  • Is the preference for low acidity dictated by history?
  • Is the preference for low acidity dictated by habit?

But I want more body

  • Is it possible to get more body using a different roast profile?
  • Is it possible to get more body using a different espresso profile (longer low flow rate fill, or alternatively if your machine allows it – a slightly longer bloom during a turbo)?
  • Is it possible to get more body using certain varietals?
  • Is it possible to get more body using different processing methods at region of production? (I’m fully aware that this is an extremely risky proposition for the producer and SHOULD NOT AT ALL BE A THING DONE AT A ROASTER’S BEHEST)

It’s not espresso

  • What is espresso, really?
  • Who decided it?
  • If it’s a drink that’s prepared by passing water under pressure through a puck, with the grind of the puck and flow of water providing the resistance to build pressure, why should anything two bar and above with no lower limit on time, not be considered espresso?

Coffee is a fruit

  • Should it not taste like fruit?
  • Should the story not be of its magical complexities – a transparent rendition of the myriad of intricate and mind-boggling phenomena that happened to it even before it got into the roasting machine and eventually made its way to the espresso basket?

In conclusion

Have you tried a 10 second shot?

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3 responses to “The Case for Turbos”

  1. Very thought-provoking and I like it! When I started using Rancilio Silvia more than a decade ago (now I’m on DE1), I accidentally got “turbo shots” but I was surprised to find out that they could taste great, with or without milk.

    Trying to have an up-to-date definition of espresso and here is my preliminary version:

    -Espresso is a coffee brewing method using pressurized percolation, with a short brew ratio and a high TDS%, in which
    –Brew ratio is less than 1:3 (above that we have Allongé)
    –TDS% of brewed beverage is usually between 8-12%
    –Pressure is between 4-9 bar during most of the percolation phase (as the characteristics of puck compression will change below or above such pressure range)


    1. Thanks. I’m personally not too heavy on what exactly an espresso should be, especially as I keep finding that 2-3 bar shots can also be delicious, besides also being flexible about ratio because sometimes that’s a very convenient knob to dial in (and can go beyond 1:3) for restrictive setups. I do have some collective findings coming out in the near future (taste, ey and flow-rate based) for shots pulled at different pressures (between 2-8 bar) for the same grind setting, which is a func thing to test on one’s espresso setup.


      1. A comprehensive study on the effect between 2-8 would be really interesting, since I think we we were often instructed by experts (9 bar for traditional profile, 6 bar for turbo, less than 1 bar for Filter 2.0, etc.) without a lot of further explanation.

        Anyway, super excited for the possibilities (or, rabbit holes?) of research opened by DE1 and the community!

        Liked by 1 person

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