Currently at Back to Black we make all our espresso drinks using split shots on an EK43.
Split shots differ from single shots as each side is the rough equivalent of a double espresso. A typical recipe for us would be an input of 23g coffee yielding 64g of espresso, meaning each split shot is 32g and can be used to make two milk drinks.
Amazeballs? Yes. Perfect ? No.
Like many techniques it’s not without its drawbacks, which I plan to go through before giving a quick guide on how to use it successfully if you choose. First though I’ll waffle on about how I discovered the technique, because why not, this is a blog post and some people like having lots to read. Feel free to skip straight to the good bits below the second line.
First off I cannot take credit for inventing this technique, last year I heard of it through Prufrock’s blog post Here which explains the process in detail. I’d suggest giving that a wee read, it’s one of their better posts. (My one criticism would be that they painted this technique as a wonderful solution when actually it has many big drawbacks)
After reading the blog post I was really excited and interested to try this out since I’m always looking for efficiency boosters, this even promised to reduce costs too. Luckily I visit London every so often so one early morning I found myself outside Prufrock excitedly waiting for the shutters to rise. After getting in and ordering the first espresso of the day I was champing at the bit to taste the results. Sadly I wasn’t impressed. The shot lacked body and depth, it had sweetness in spades sure but wasn’t a very interesting coffee.
Shortly after I heard that another new coffee shop was also doing split shots but this time using an EK43. I also tried this and was again disappointed with the results, a similar weak bodied shot with sweetness but little flavour. Oh well…
Several months later
I started serving espresso using an EK43 and a single group La Marzocco GS/3. The quality was great but I quickly realised I was going to struggle to keep pace with customer orders and needed to find something to speed up the process. I remembered this technique and despite the poor experiences I’d had began to experiment with it myself and after a little while was surprised to find I was really happy with the results.
One of the main reasons I figured I didn’t like them before is because I wasn’t used to low TDS espressos. Typically I had worked in the range of 9-11% strength espressos whilst split shots tend to be 7-8.5% due to the high yield. Once you get over the loss in body you’ll taste greater sweetness and get more complex flavours coming through. I can’t go back to the old style now, I even have to get a little hot water on the side when I order espressos as I find them too intense at typical strength.
My customers have always been happy with this style of coffee and I have never had someone comment on the lower body. Perhaps I took such an aversion to it to begin with simply because I was a barista and spent years drinking it a different way or maybe they just weren’t made that well on the particular times I tried them.
Overall I’m happy with the quality and speed this technique delivers, I do still feel our drinks could be of slightly better quality if made individually. However I’m confident we’re producing a better quality, more consistent coffee than anywhere else in Glasgow. Until that changes, or we find other ways to ramp up efficiency, we’ll keep using this technique.
How to make Split-shots
Split-shots are not very different to making normal shots on the EK43, you’re just making them bigger. My friend Rob wrote a thorough piece on making EKspresso on his blog here which is worth reading.
I would suggest some rules for successful EKspresso split-shots are:
- Use 22g VST baskets
- Use a 58.5mm + tamper (I use a Pergtamp but will upgrade to a Push upon release)
- Only use coffee that tastes good at high extractions i.e. 20-23% EY. Five Elephant are great for this.
- Start with a brew ratio of 2.5-2.8, don’t go above 3 or below 2.2.
- Don’t be afraid of gushing shots, I’m regularly at brew times as low as 20-25s, they can still be high quality and consistent.
- Lower the pressure of your machine to 6/7 bars if possible.
- Make shots for drinks almost twice as quickly
Pretty self-explanatory. Think of what you can do with all that extra time…
- Use less coffee
23-24g makes two shots compared to a typical 18g dose for one shot, that’s a third less coffee. It will save you a substantial amount of money in the long run.
- Your grinder will be on less
This will save you electricity, make less noise in the cafe and also cause less heat build-up, potentially giving greater consistency and increasing the lifespan of burrs.
- Split-shots are not consistent enough for straight espresso drinks
This is the biggy. When you split the stream of a double spout portafilter each shot will rarely have the same TDS, even if it was an even extraction. I have no idea why this is but seen it confirmed by many others, including Tim Wendelboe and Patrik Rolf of Five Elephant in a Twitter conversation. This means they won’t be consistent enough for me to be happy serving them. At Back to Black we overcome this by using both sides for an espresso order and serving a 60-66g drink, obviously not ideal. We also don’t serve americanos (instead using batch brew but that’s a whole other post) so only really use split-shots for our milk drinks because of this.
- Wasted shots
One order means two shots, that extra shot has a very short shelf life and will be wasted at quiet times. Just how long it’s really good for as a base in milk drinks is unknown but I’m planning on doing some testing on this soon. This obviously dents the money saving benefit.
- Speed of service may not improve much
All the time you save is on making shots, meanwhile steaming milk is still the slowest and least efficient stage of making drinks.
- Limits coffee choice
Most coffees don’t taste good at the high extractions required so you’ll have to choose very carefully. It may mean you have to switch roasters. This will limit you to mostly a light Scandinavian style roast, if that’s not your thing then tough luck.
- Lower TDS of shots
The TDS of your shots will be lower, meaning milk drinks will taste a little weaker and black drinks will have less body. If you sell large size drinks this can have a big impact.
- Volumetric dosers won’t work well
Recently using volumetric dosers for EK43 espresso service has become a smart way to make things more efficient and easy. I’ve got one, its great. Unfortunately they weren’t designed with split-shots in mind so rarely manage more than a 21-22g dose, meaning you’ll have to add more beans each time, slowing the whole process down.
As you can see it’s by no means a perfect technique and has more than a few shortcomings. Try it for yourself and let me know now how you get on.