What is Espresso Powder?

You probably read the wrong thing online

Robert McKeon Aloe
Jul 13 · 5 min read

My wife bought some espresso powder a few years ago. It was expired, and I wanted to get rid of it. However, I wanted to know what it was. I thought it was just coffee, and I ran this wild and terrible experiment without knowning exactly what it is, but I will dive into that before getting to the experiment. I just love fucking around and finding out.

Definition

Espresso powder is made by brewing espresso, dehydrating the espresso until there is only a hard residue, and then grinding up the hard residue. It is used in baking to give things a coffee flavor.

Please remember, everything in espresso powder is water soluble, unlike coffee grounds which are roughly 30% soluble.

Online Recipes

After I ran this experiment, I looked up some recipes to try to understand what the hell happened.

I found multiple recipes online, and I was disappointed in how people could not read what was in the King Arthur description of espresso powder. Here are the two methods I saw in the first 5 recipes to pop up:

  1. Bake espresso beans until dry, then grind.
  2. Brew coffee, place the spent grounds on a baking sheet, dry, and regrind.

#1 is clearly just grinding coffee beans that you have roasted again.

#2 is caused by people not parsing a sentence correctly:

They see the phrase “Ground, brewed, and then dried” to mean you brew the coffee, then dry the left over. What it actually means is that you brew coffee, and then you dry the coffee liquid. The coffee liquid is the best part of the coffee. That’s the point of the coffee extraction. If the other bits of coffee tasted good, people would have used them.

If you found an espresso powder recipe online, it has a high probability of being wrong.

Experimenting with Bad Ideas

Let’s get to some bad ideas. The espresso powder hadn’t been used in two years, and a little bit of moisture made the whole thing stick together. So I broke it up.

Then I put it into an espresso basket, and it didn’t tamp well.

Then I dishonored my espresso machine.

In the first two seconds, I knew I had made a mistake.

But I had to keep going because with a lever machine, once you pull the lever down, you’re past the point of no return.

And it just got worse.

The liquid volume was 80g, and the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) measured at 12.51%. I put 20g in, so the Extraction Yield (EY) was 50%. This is when I realized everything was soluble.

Then I had to clean up a terrible mess.

Quality Analysis

King Arthur says espresso powder is made from high quality beans, but I would say that it is not. Let’s assume they don’t over extract their espresso and end up extracting at 22%. To produce 85g of espresso powder, they would need to use 386g of coffee or 0.85 lbs. This is almost 14 oz, and typically, high quality coffee is sold in 12oz bags around $15 to $20.

Even if they roasted their own beans, which they don’t because it isn’t on their website, they could get the cost down to $8 or $9 per lbs assuming they buy in bulk.

Most likely, they are buying their coffee from elsewhere, and they have to buy it far less than $8/lbs because then they would have no profit. This ignores the brewing costs because they would have to pull roughly 19 shots (20g each) of espresso.

This short cost analysis makes me think espresso powder is not actually made from espresso, and most likely, they are using garbage coffee beans. Coffee powder doesn’t smell great either.

I had flashbacks of when I brewed coffee residue that had built up under my machine for over a year, but at least I didn’t try one of those home recipes for espresso powder. I think it could be an interesting tool to use for testing coffee or combining with spent coffee to better understand espresso.

Here is the full video of this catastrophe.

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