Double shots are so common in specialty coffee, that many cafés have removed the option by using double baskets with naked portafilters. But I believe there are good reasons in support of the single shot. And with a spouted portafilter, it doesn’t have to be double or nothing.
A double shot, but only one is wanted. Credit: J. Loayza
Single vs Double Basket, Naked vs Spouted Portafilter
There are three different options we, as baristas, can choose from:
The single shot basket: we extract just one shot at a time
The spouted portafilter with a double shot basket: we extract two shots into two different cups
The naked portafilter with a double shot basket: we extract two shots into a single cup
At the moment, the norm is double shot baskets. In fact, some even find the shape of the single shot basket can lead them to unevenly extract their espresso (although this is debatable, and also varies according to brand and design). But we all know how important consistency is.
However, unless the dosing and distribution of grinds in the basket and the tamping are awful, two espressos from a spouted portafilter are unlikely to be noticeably different from each other.
A lot of specialty coffee shops use naked portafilters and only brew double shots. The arguments for this (some of which are debatable) are that it allows you to control the flow and detect channeling, avoid temperature loss (since the coffee doesn’t touch the metal spouts), and potentially create a thicker, more attractive crema.
Yet only a few of these relate to flavour! Detecting channeling is useful for quality control, so in that way it can result in a more even extraction – but if you’re pulling great espresso shots, this will make no difference to the final product.
The Customer Experience
The biggest problem I see with the double naked shots is that sometimes they force people to drink more coffee than they actually want. Espressos can be delicious, but we should never forget that they are intense beverages.
The Italians gave us a beautiful tradition, that of a quick espresso drunk while standing at the counter of a crowded bar. Single espresso shots are the perfect size for this. It’s a tiny but tasty accent in our busy lives. And when it comes to milk-based drinks, many customers want to experience a balanced and mild latte – without having to drink a lot of milk just to contrast the double shot espresso.
People deserve small single-shot milk-based drinks. Why? Because coffee should be for everyone.
How many shots? Shouldn’t it depend on the customer’s preferences? Credit: Habitat Coffee
What About The Double Ristretto Shot?
The double ristretto shot: the same amount of dry coffee as a double espresso, but it’s only the size of a single.
Jim Shulman, one of the founding members of SCAA, wrote in 2007 that “in Italy, the shots tend to get shorter as one goes south, to go along with the darker roasts and heavier bodied beans”.
In short (pun intended), ristrettos are a good idea when roasts are dark. Lessening the extraction avoids extreme bitterness (and, some might say, makes the drinker’s suffering quicker).
But specialty coffee likes lighter, more acidic roasts, and acids are one of the first sets of chemicals to be extracted into the espresso cup. This means that, with a shorter yield, you can end up achieving sourness, saltiness, and too much intensity.
And double ristrettos in milk-based drinks, in my opinion, can be a dangerous game. Dairy mixed with too much acidity can start to taste of yogurt – and there’s a reason you won’t find that on the flavour wheel!
Of course, some disagree with me. But I would argue for caution when pulling a double ristretto shot with a lightly roasted coffee. Not all beans are suited to this.
Consider the beans you’re using. Credit : Art Bar
The Business Angle: Savings and Profits
Another of the reasons people give to justify naked portafilters and double shot drinks is minimal wastage. I admire the intention, but I’d argue that the wastage is the same. This is because, instead of looking at yield, we should be considering the dry coffee in the basket.
Naked portafilters will give you espresso for one serving. So if you’re making one cappuccino, you’ll just use one cup. On the other hand, with a double spout portafilter, you’re forced to use one cup plus a container for the extra espresso nobody wants. Cleaning that container is always annoying, I agree. But, at the end of the day, both portafilters have been brewing the same quantity of dry coffee (assuming you’re using a double shot basket with a range of 14g to 22g).
If, however, your customers happen to order two single shot cappuccinos, that double spout will increase your profits. Of course, if the order is for double shot cappuccinos, this is irrelevant – but if a customer wants a single shot drink, and it will decrease wastage, shouldn’t we offer them that possibility?
Shouldn’t we let the customer choose how many shots they want? Credit: Sonder Coffee
Profits should also take into account workflow. Good workflow depends on multiple factors: shop and bar design, equipment speed, barista efficiency, protocols… But choosing between double and single shot beverages can also have an impact. The critical factor here is time.
Imagine two small cafés facing each other on a busy street in a small town. Both use three group espresso machines and both make most of their profit through cappuccinos.
The first café uses naked portafilters, the second one prefers double spouts. The first one needs an average of one minute to finish one cappuccino, from dosing, distributing, tamping, and pulling the shot, through to steaming and pouring. The second one, because they can do two shots in two different cups simultaneously, has an average time of one minute for two cappuccinos.
Of course, this is only relevant for customers who want a single-shot cappuccino. But assuming there is a demand for this, which of these café owners will be able to buy a yacht first?
The single vs double shot debate can also have an impact on workflow. Credit: billiamjeans
Naked portafilters look amazing. The ability to see the espresso flowing into the cup, with that thick crema – it reminds us why we became baristas. But sometimes they’re not the most practical choice. We’re serving our customers, and so their wants must come first.
Working with double spout portafilters can open up new possibilities. It’s true that a too wide a range of products can confuse customers – but a small menu with distinct beverages that you can customise the strength of? I call that good service.
Some customers will prefer double shots, paying a little more for the extra espresso. Others will opt for single shots, and others a half shot diluted in extra hot milk. The choice is theirs.
People love being in charge of their coffee orders. Deciding how many shots they get in their drink is simply one more way they can decide what kind of drink they want.
Written by J. Loayza. Feature photo credit: Quentin Café
All views within this opinion piece belong to the guest writer, and do not reflect Perfect Daily Grind’s stance. Perfect Daily Grind believes in furthering debate over topical issues within the industry, and so seeks to represent the views of all sides.
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