Espresso is complex beast…
And it’s hard to nail it down to a one-size fits all program. Of course the standard espresso extraction these days is using 18 to 21 grams of coffee, 9 bars of pressure, for 25-30 seconds. Yet, I recently read an article from the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) about a survey given to baristas at an event roughly a year ago. This survey was used as a way to gauge how close, or far, from the SCA’s definition of espresso baristas are preparing the drink. In the end, many of the standards are holding pretty constant; except one.
A resounding 93% of the coffee professionals polled say they pull solely, what is traditionally known as a double. Yet, some go as far as to say the terms single, double, and triple are not even relevant anymore, and all pulls are just a “shot”. This got me thinking about how I perceive the espresso shots I make at home, how the shops I frequent prepare it, and if the single shot is dead.
The short of it is, yes. It’s long gone, at least in American third wave coffee culture.
The long answer is, in all honesty the single shot, along with all odd number shots are useless. There are likely two main reasons for their timely demise. One is the emergence, and popularity of bottomless (otherwise known as naked) portafilters. They are aesthetically beautiful, provide a full view of the extraction process, and give the barista visual cues to issues in preparation. Bottomless portafilters pull in one solid stream, at least ideally. Of course you can split the shots from that point, but that leads me to the next reason.
Every third wave shop I’ve meandered into around the country has a double in every espresso-based drink. The main reason for this is because a single shot means another goes down the drain. When a barista dials-in their espresso they set it up for double shot parameters. Its very rare, and in fact I've never seen a shop making single shots. This requires a separate basket, a separate dial-in, and likely another grinder. Why waste the coffee, the time, and drink less caffeine?
Lets just agree to do away with the odd number shot altogether. Save the money from going down the drain, and just leave the single shot in the past where it belongs. The time has come to accept that a "shot" in modern, third wave, speciality coffee is now solely a double. In fact, we can even go one step further, and ditch the term double altogether. A shot is a shot, its the full amount of espresso dispensed in one pull.
Rest in peace single shot, you've had a good run. From the early 20th century to today, one hundred plus years is not too shabby.