Canterbury Coffee Training Manager Lenka Bohorova explains pre-infusion this way:
It’s the pre-wetting of coffee grounds at the beginning of the brewing process, allowing the ground particles to absorb water and release carbon dioxide, opening paths for the remaining water to more easily extract the coffee.
During pre-infusion, water is added to the coffee grounds in a specific pattern, usually with a low pressure, and then it is held for a short period of time (2 to 8 seconds) before the main brew cycle starts. This allows the coffee grounds to absorb water and to start the extraction process before the full pressure of the brew is applied.
Pre-infusion helps to ensure that all of the coffee grounds are saturated with water, and it also helps to reduce the amount of channeling, which is when water flows through certain areas of the coffee bed more easily than others. This can lead to uneven extraction and can result in an inconsistent cup of coffee.
Pre-infusion is often used with espresso brewing, but it can also be used with other manual brewing methods such as pour-over or French press. It is considered an advanced brewing technique, and it is used to achieve a higher degree of control over the brewing process and to achieve a more consistent and balanced cup of coffee.
Pre-infusion can be controlled manually by the barista or it can be set automatically on some coffee machines. It is a technique that is used by professional baristas to extract the most flavours from the coffee beans and to achieve a consistent cup of coffee.
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