The words ‘God Shot’ sound so mysterious yet so alluring. Just what do they mean? And why do espresso-heads bang on about pulling one?
What is a God Shot? When making espresso, a God Shot is reserved for an excellent shot of espresso. The actual usage of the term varies from person to person. It can mean the absolute peak of espresso that only a few baristas in the world are capable of pulling, and even then only once in a while. It can also just mean a really nice shot of espresso.
If you’re interested in making a God Shot or simply just a bit curious about this whole ‘espresso’ thing then read on for some tips and tricks and info to make your mouth water.
(Tip #1: DON’T CALL IT EXPRESSO!)
What is a god shot?
Ah, the elusive God Shot. A term shrouded in mystery. You might hear the words, spoken softly, from the passing breath of an awestruck barista. Or see the term, mentioned reverently, on the 63rd page of a diehard coffee forum thread. So what is it?
Well, the term is derived from the word ‘shot’ which is used by many baristas to refer to the small cup of espresso. This word is pretty apt, the typical volume for a single shot of espresso is one fluid ounce which is the same as a small shot glass that might be used to drink something like tequila or vodka or other things that are not as nice as espresso.
Note that this refers to espresso and only espresso. Other types of coffee whether brewed coffee or espresso-based are likely to be met with sneers from the hardcore and elitist fanbase of typical espresso drinkers. Or at the very least, the powerful experience of a straight shot of E is not the same when it has been watered down by milk, sugar, cream or ice. As such, even the very best pull that was ever pulled is not going to taste any more than ‘really nice’ when shoved into a latte.
It’s a term that can be used by experienced baristas or espresso enthusiasts or maybe even just your tea-drinking uncle trying to connect with the surly barista serving his Lemon Frappuccino. As such, this disambiguation presents a thorny problem.
I will attempt to pluck the spikes of this issue by going to go over what is, for me, the three different ways that people use the phrase god shot .
The classic definition of God Shot
The classic definition is that a God Shot is a pull of espresso that is, objectively, a perfect 10. We’re talking the absolute best of the best, perfect conditions and perfect equipment, all the planets have aligned etc. The key point with this definition is that experienced coffee drinkers would all agree. This is a God Shot. Hence the word ‘objectively’.
To make a classic god shot the conditions need to be absolutely on point. We’re talking an A* espresso machine, high-quality espresso coffee beans, top-tier grinder. The works. All this equipment must be set up by a pro and the pull must be done by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.
For a God Shot to even occur, you need to be capable of putting out excellent espresso on a regular basis. You probably have years if not decades working in the field, you’ve experimented on a daily basis with espresso in that time, your adrenal glands probably need replacing due to your outrageous caffeine consumption…
And even if you’re at this point, then perhaps you’re able to pull a God Shot 1 out of 20 times.
Think the maestros at the World Barista Championship cooing over a particularly superb shot, “Yes, I think in my esteemed opinion this reaches the ranks of God Shot.”
One final point, this definition is probably where the term originated.
The layman’s definition of God Shot
You might also hear the term used for a really good shot. Perhaps from someone who’s not experienced with espresso but is really happy with how they made this one.
If I assume that you’re normal… That you don’t keep the company of those who fraternize in secret coffee cults. That you don’t spend an unhealthy amount of time reading internet coffee forums. Then this is the most likely definition to hear.
Think your wife calling from the kitchen, “Oooh this one’s really nice, I think I’ve made one of them god shots!”
The ‘experience’ definition of God Shot
I remember being on vacation in Southern Europe back in the late 2000s. I was with three friends, sat on fold-out chairs in a cute European cafe. I left my coffee to cool a little, as I always do, and listened to my friends talking about what great coffee they served. I ignored them, thinking they just didn’t know as much as I did.
When I put the coffee to my mouth it was like I entered another state of consciousness. All my thoughts disappeared and I was left with a powerful clarity. I was acutely aware of my surroundings. The latte glasses shining in the morning light, the clock performing its steady march forward in time, the melange of people who gathered here all with their own lives and thoughts.
I felt the caffeine high hit me instantly and the notes were dancing on my tongue. It was a bright, sweet flavor. Extremely smooth. I didn’t talk for a good five minutes. Sat there, silent, enjoying the world around me. I know that sounds pretentious but that’s really how I felt.
Think your mate Jeff on his wedding day, “Oh hell yea this Folgers tastes good. God shot all the way bro!”
Regardless of if we are referring to the casual or proper definition of a God Shot, there is a beautiful quality that comes with drinking a really fantastic coffee.
Being a total coffee nerd I’m happy to say I’ve had this experience a number of times. A more casual coffee drinker might have experienced it a handful of times. Either way, it’s special when it happens and might just provoke a reaction along the lines of… “Wow, is this a God Shot?”
Does a God Shot look any different?
Most espresso, whether foul brown sludge or silky smooth coffee will look similar. It will be a small volume of brown liquid that is steaming because of its heat. (If there’s no steam, then you have gone very wrong somewhere.)
The one visual difference might be the crema. Just to jog your minds, crema is the small layer of foam that sits on the surface of the espresso. It’s made of CO2 bubbles that have expanded and contracted in the high-heat and high-pressure conditions of the espresso machine and begins to disappear within seconds of the espresso being pulled.
The presence of crema on an espresso is typically, if not always, considered a good thing and the sign of a well pulled shot. It’s for this reason that many coffee roasters, when making an espresso blend, will include a little bit of Robusta coffee to the Arabica which gives the crema more of a boost.
So in this instane, you would expect a God Shot would have crema in many cases, although it is certainly not necessary.
How do I get a God Shot?
Honestly, if you’re asking, you’re probably quite far away from making something that would be considered a ‘real’ God Shot. Being able to distinguish a God Shot from a merely great pull of espresso requires years of experience.
To start making really good espresso you need to get experience. Lots of experience. That means having an espresso machine that you use every day and experimenting as if you were Einstein in 1911. The fundamentals of General Relativity were not discovered by accident and likewise you aren’t going to be pulling great espresso without a laboratory-esque dedication to playing around with the conditions on your espresso machine.
The first step is you need an espresso machine. I plan to make an article at some point on the best budget espresso machines, as a quick recommendation that Gaggia Classic is probably the best option that is not too expensive but offers enough for you to learn a lot about espresso and also not need replacing within 6 months. If you’re on the fence, making espresso requires quite an analytical approach and lots of testing and adjustment. If you’re into that (some of us are massive nerds, after all) then it’s a very rewarding hobby.
If you haven’t already, check out my guide to the many varieties of espresso-based drinks here. I’ve still not encountered anyone who’s heard of every single one in the list!