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Need Some Espresso Blend Feedback!

Postby Bak Ta Lo on Tue Oct 09, 2012 3:10 pm

After testing espresso blends for a few hours, I need some feedback, as I am thinking myself in to circles. Anyone willing to volunteer some input on my espresso blend ideas? (Thanks for helping me with my homework. :) )

I am preparing a signature espresso blend for an exam. I have decided to use a blend of some of my regular "go to" beans, as I am confident in their profile and have easy access to them freshly roasted at a good price. I need a lot beans to burn through for practice and rehearsal, so the blend needs to be economical, but specialty grade.

There are three beans that I like from the local roaster:
    Sumatran "Gold Top" Mandheling (Vienna) - Earthy, spicy, chocolate, big body, lots of crema
    Costa Rica Tarrazu (FC+)- balanced "coffee taste", sweet, black cherry, syrupy body
    Kenya AA (FC)- citrus and chocolate, medium body, bright

I have used each of these as single origin espresso from my Strega, but for the sake of the exam's criteria of using a balanced tasting coffee, that will be tasted straight and in milk drinks, I want to make a nice middle of the road blend, but not just use the typical espresso blend beans. The exam machine is an NS Aurelia II, so they beans may pull differently on that pump machine.

I have tasted these as several blends (I am blending post-roast):
50% Costa Rica, 25% Sumatran, 25% Kenya (seems a little sharp or biting, maybe from the Kenya)
Drop the Kenya, 50% of the Costa Rica and Sumatra beans (heavy syrupy bitter sweet chocolate shot, pretty good)
75% Costa Rica, 25% Sumatran (Too sweet?)

This same roaster offers some other beans I might try to blend with, a nice Guatemala Antigua, a pretty typical Yirgacheffe, average Colombian. Their beans are not phenomenal, but they are good and consistent, and the goal here is to deliver consistent shots of typical espresso, not create a novelty shot.

The goal is a blend that makes a nice straight shot, blends well with milk, easy to describe to the judges why I like the beans and how they blend, while being an economical blend I can afford to buy and blend by the KG for practice. It has to be a blend I create, not a commercially purchased SOE or blend.

Interested to get some thoughts on what makes a good "typical" espresso shot, what you would not want to taste, what you EXPECT to taste.

(Now off to work on my tulips again, I swear I am "milk pattern" challenged :oops: )
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Postby another_jim on Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:35 pm

I've seen a lot of medium and dark roast Central/Indo blends, but not a lot of Kenya/Indo or Kenya/Central blends. given these roast levels and the expectations of the judges, tuning the proportion of the Cr and the Sumatran may be your best bet.

The Kenya would blend well with the Colombian and the Yrg. The latter would be a very 3rd wave straight shot, but not much in milk; the former very good in milk, but trickier as a straight shot. I've never tried a roughly 1:1:2 blend of Yrg, Kenya and Colombia. It might work as an all round
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Postby TomC on Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:54 pm

This is my sort of exam :)
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Postby Bak Ta Lo on Tue Oct 09, 2012 11:18 pm

another_jim wrote:I've seen a lot of medium and dark roast Central/Indo blends, but not a lot of Kenya/Indo or Kenya/Central blends. given these roast levels and the expectations of the judges, tuning the proportion of the Cr and the Sumatran may be your best bet.

The Kenya would blend well with the Colombian and the Yrg. The latter would be a very 3rd wave straight shot, but not much in milk; the former very good in milk, but trickier as a straight shot. I've never tried a roughly 1:1:2 blend of Yrg, Kenya and Colombia. It might work as an all round


Great, thanks, I like the suggestion to continue tuning the Central/Indo blend. It is a nice tasting shot, has great crema, and goes wonderfully in milk. I will put some more of it through the machine tonight; once I get the ratio close I can play with grind and dose more to find the sweet spot. The Kenya really does not seem to want to fit in to this blend; I was more in love with the idea of having 3 continents in the blend than I knew what I was trying to do with the taste. A two bean blend is much easier to manage for me, and cheaper without the Kenya AA.

I tried previously to do a very unique Konga/Brazilian blend light roast, it was "not espresso like" for my test subjects, so I am now going for the safe blend. I ended up just using the Konga beans for Chemex brews, a very tasty failure at least.
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Postby Bak Ta Lo on Tue Oct 09, 2012 11:26 pm

TomC wrote:This is my sort of exam :)


It has been eye opening to prepare for the test, I have had to bite my tongue constantly, open my mind, and learn that some of my home techniques don't translate to high volume rapid drink production. But, on the other hand, many of the techniques and methods I learned here have enabled me to hang in there with professionals who have been pulling shots for years longer than me. I took the 2 hour written exam last week, and I can safely claim that over half of my answers came from things I learned here at H-B. The amount of knowledge you can pick up here from reading 30 minutes a day for a few months is comparable to thousands of dollars of professional training classes.
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Postby drgary on Thu Nov 15, 2012 2:14 am

So Jeremy ... how did you do? And what was the exam?
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Postby Bak Ta Lo on Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:27 pm

Thanks for checking Gary, I was just thinking about that exam too...

The good news is I passed the SCAE CDS Barista Level 2 written exam portion of the certification! That was a seriouly grueling exam, and I am glad I have that part out of the way.

I will have to go back and re-test my practical exam portion, the practical exam follows the exact same standards as the WBC competition, and I need more practice on my latte art. My weak link is pouring two pairs of lattes, each set having a different pattern, rosetta, tulip, heart, you pick it... But the set must be made of two matching pours. If you have two hearts, the two hearts must be the same pattern, size, placement, etc...I can pour duplicate hearts pretty OK, I have more trouble getting my tulips to be carbon copies.

I just need more practice with milk, and I think I will be ready to complete this exam in December. It is the last thing I need to earn my 100 points within the SCAE CDS system, to earn the SCAE CDS Barista Level 2 Certification. It has been seven courses and exams over about six months, to get this far, one more test and done. It has been fun, they have designed the CDS system well, and the courses continue to improve.
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Postby TomC on Wed Nov 21, 2012 2:30 am

A very high congratulations for you! Well done! It's surprising to see them fixate on the fluff like latte art. I'd rather a barista be more proficient in understanding regional differences in coffee, more fully as apposed to how well you can create a teddy bear in my morning capp. But it doesn't diminish the accomplishment regardless.
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Postby Bak Ta Lo on Wed Nov 21, 2012 3:39 am

Tom, thanks and agreed! I have uttered more four letter words trying to get my latte art in shape than during any other part of the exam prep. The good thing is that before this exam I pretty much never even attempted latte art, nor cared that much about it, but I now have a much greater appreciation for the skill. I have spent a lot of time with milk, steaming, learning to steam one pitcher and divide to make exactly enough micro-foam for two 6 oz lattes, finding the right texture for latte art. It has forced me to get better at the areas where I was not that interested for my own consumption.

The written exam is really coffee-centric; origins, history, coffee science, green beans, brewing equipment and technology, roasting, sensory, brew and extraction ratios, and all long form written answers, no multiple guess. H-B.com had really helped me get a diverse base of espresso knowledge before I started the CDS program, I am not sure how many people besides H-B'ers can have a hour long friendly debate on flat Vs. conical or doser Vs. doserless. And I am happy that I know the answer the exam "wants" but I also sometimes know a good argument for doing it an alternate or better way that I have learned from members here, or from my own experience. I like that we learn here from open debate, research, anecdotal comparisons, regional variations, etc... I have not been fed one way as the right way from a single place of employment or training center. I have had to read, try, compare, and decide what I get the best results from with my own hands and equipment. That is much more valuable that being told what is the right way.
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