Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Hatred of the Lungo

Long ago when the first espresso machines were hitting the Belgian and Dutch restaurants and bars the machines were programmed to offer us coffees the size of a 'normal' cup, say in between 12 and 18 cl, 4 to 6oz.

The extraction parameter of a 25 seconds run was correct. The grammage of the dose and temperature of the machine were almost correct. And the average roast and origin of the beans were not too bad either. But still we had a cup 'full of mistakes'.

People were getting used to drink this kind of beverage and the taste of it didn't change a lot over the years. Most probably it became a bit stronger and dirtier and people started to add more and more sugar and nutroma/coffee milk.

When I was younger I barely drank these kinds of coffee, called a 'koffie'. Sometimes people think I've always been a big coffee drinker, but the opposite it true.
The days I discovered Italian espresso a new world opened up, but because in Antwerp I couldn't find a decent place were this beverage was offered my coffee intake continued to be very low.

At the age of 28 I started my first espresso bar. Influenced by the Italian original and New York copies I saw a hole in the market.
Those days I thought that Illy, Lavazza and Segafredo were the only brands that offered beans that were good enough to brew the small shots and it was this last company that offered us the best help and a free 2-group espressomachine with grinders.

We learned the difference between a real espresso (3cl) and a lungo (15cl). The extractions were not too far off and the milk frothing was ..... a bit Starbuckslike I think, but at least the cappuccinos and lattes were espresso based and the place was booming.

But there was still one drink on the menu that I totally disliked and that was the lungo, or the coffee we served when people ordered a 'koffie'.
In those days I thought the mistake we made was the type of Segafredo blend we used, the strongest one.
But one day I tested a lighter blend, that was conceived for lungo's and that cup was very dirty as well.

At the age of 35 I started Caffenation and had 3 espresso's and 5 or 6 lungo's on the menu. This helped me to show all my coffees and blends to my clients, but myself I never liked the lungos. They were tasting better then the Segafredo ones, but still I felt something was wrong.
Of course I knew in Italy a 'normal' coffee was 3cl, the French and Spanish the double, but still I had a hard time understanding why our lungos were so bitter and dirty and nasty.

Now in 2012 we walked the walk and talked the talk, we are way better informed now and 2 years into slow coffee century we are bit by bit ready to bury the classic cup.

I knew for years the espresso machine was never made to brew 15cl cups, but as the market demanded this garbage we were used to serve it. STOP.

When you cup a normal or good arabica you can taste all different characteristics and the lighter you roast (I don't say 'bready'), and the better your bean you pick, the more you can taste coffee is a type of fruit. The suble nuances, fruity notes, enhanced acidity and overall sweetness is 2 die 4.
When we later on brew this freshly ground coffee with a decent filter or press we have an almost perfect beverage.

Then when we roast the beans a tad darker and we pull a correct espresso and again we have an almost perfect beverage. Of course totally different from the filter coffee, but still wonderful.

Then we take the same espresso roast, grind it a bit coarser and use the espresso machine to make a lungo, we at once discover all kinds of 'off tastes' that were not in the original cupping and neither in the filter or espresso brew.


Why do we still have a lungo of the week on our menu?
Over the years we stopped making classic lungos, but never found a beverage to replace our lungo of the week. Here we use the fine (espresso) ground, appr 14 grams, dose it in a double portafilter basket and pull a 13 cl coffee, with of course a 25to30" extraction. This coffee tastes in between a double espresso and a classic lungo. Yes it's dirty and yes a filter coffee is way better, but we came from very far and still hundreds of clients believe this coffee is the one and only. Possibly more for its texture then for its taste.
We tried to convince them to switch to filter/press coffee, but they think that's too light. We tried to push them towards doppio's, but they think that's too strong or small.
The day - it's not the planning but a thought - I open I new bar it won't be on the menu, but so long we still make them, like 25 times a day. My heart is almost bleeding every time they order one, but it's not easy breaking metal with bare hands and so we try to live with it.

So yes I hate the lungo and yes I love the espresso and filter. For sure it's the original and for sure it's the future.
And .... this future is black. :-)

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