Taste testing and price comparing with Redbird, Illy, and Lavazza

Postby kkillebrew on Sun Jan 22, 2012 6:49 pm

Often way too influenced by what is written in these posts, I have been doing some taste tests (along with my wife). Both of us are somewhat partial to lighter Northern Italian type roasts. She does not do espresso shots but I do, both of us love a good cappuccino.

Redbird represents, for me, the best of the small independent roasters, Illy the most famous name and reputation for quality (and the most expensive), and Lavazza the least expensive true Italian beans.

Without a doubt I think the Redbird Espresso is the best for shots, but it's a bit mellow to stand up to the milk in a cappuccino. The shots are beautiful and caramel looking with fantastic crema production. The roast is exceptionally fresh with an earthy chocolate flavor. The beans hold up exceptionally well even three weeks after opening. Staying with Redbird, their Blue Jaguar roast is more robust and makes a very good cappuccino while still retaining the organic earthy flavor of the Espresso roast. Redbird pricing is shockingly low when compared to the quality. I like to have pound of the espresso, unopened, stashed in the freezer for special occasions.

Moving on to Lavazza, I find that Top Class produces a great shot with good crema production and a chocolate like aftertaste but with less intensity than Redbird and too mellow to make a great cappuccino, though this is very good coffee and makes a great cup of drip. Lavazza Super Crema likewise with more body than the Top Class and good for those who enjoy a chocolate tasting cappuccino or shot with a hint of acidity. At $23 for 2.2 lbs Lavazza is a standard in our house, and there is always a 2.2 lb bag of Super Crema or Grand Espresso in the pantry. Hard to beat Lavazza when you consider quality and price.

Next is Illy. Famous and expensive and only in cans, I was ready to hate this stuff based on price alone but alas, there is a reason they can charge so much... To date I have yet to find a better roast for cappuccino and it is all my wife wants. She was hooked on Super Crema and loved Blue Jaguar, but since her first Illy Cappuccino (medium roast beans) she has wanted nothing else - she gulps them down. I bought 8.8 oz of beans for $16 online, and then she found 4.4 oz cans of preground for $5 at Marshalls. Argh! You bought preground I said??? but then I found the grind to be perfect for the Pavoni, and it has stayed fresh in the can for three days still producing a decent crema, though less than the other brands mentioned here. I think crema is not as important as many may think when making cappuccinos.

So I have to give the Illy very high marks and it is our coffee of choice. Oddly enough, the best price I have found on it is at our local super market (HEB in Texas) for $11.95 for the 8.8 oz can, while the best online price I could find was around $15 for the same can.
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Postby subq on Mon Jan 23, 2012 2:52 pm

which "can" ?
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Postby subq on Mon Jan 23, 2012 7:26 pm

I had my wife grab a can of Illy since we have HEB here...just for kicks since I've never had it.

She accidentally picked up the ground stuff because it was the only can that said ground for espresso machines...I would have actually preferred the whole beans...but since it was just a test, who cares...I've never had pre-ground beans on a home espresso machine anyway

At any rate, I opened the can (pop) and pulled a shot immediately. This little experiment affirmed a few things for me...

I guess what I drink must be considered "really good" because this was terrible in comparison. It basically tasted like charbucks (burnt and bitter)...I understand some people like that of course so no offense meant...I just don't find it smooth at all.

Apparently, my Preciso grinds pretty good because I can choke my Strega with a fine enough grind and this pre-ground "for espresso machines" ran through like water through a window screen. If it wasn't for the fact that I can retard the lever on the Strega the first shot would have been pretty much a gusher. I dosed at 19g (14g double basket)...I am going to try to dose at 21g and slow it down a bit (since I can't control the grind), however, I don't think the results are going to be dramatically different.

Suffice it to say, I will stick to the beans I have been buying from the "favorite Roasters" list here on the forum when I am buying roasted beans.

It also affirms just how much "punch" the Strega has as a lever machine.
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Postby mariobarba on Mon Jan 23, 2012 10:04 pm

Back when I had a Breville pressurized machine, Illy pre-ground at 9$ a can from Costco was reserved for special occasions. Now that I know better I have not returned to Illy since Costco only carries pre-ground Illy and I am way too cheap to pay 15$ a can for whole bean (60$/Kilo, what?!?). I have however tried a lot of the roasters on the "favourite roasters" thread, some I liked and some I didn't. At the same time I have been working my way through some Italian roasters. This takes longer because most of these only come in 1kg bags (very big if you don't particularly like the coffee). I am currently working my way through a bag of Kimbo extra cream. Too dark for my tastes. I agree about the Lavazza Top Class though, it has always been one of my favorites. Lavazza Tierra I did not like (similar to 3rd wave coffee, too bright for my tastes).

The key to Lavazza is to stick with their bar line of coffees. I remember a US/Italy showdown either here or on CG where they used Lavazza Qualita Rossa or Oro for their tests. These are not espresso coffees. The fact is that most Italians in Italy and in NA still call coffee brewed in a Moka pot espresso. These Lavazza's are better suited for this rather than in an actual espresso machine.
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Postby subq on Tue Jan 24, 2012 12:34 pm

It must be 4/1 because this stuff isn't even close to worth what they are charging for it IMO (I realize everyone has different tastes).

Dosed at 21g basket can't really handle it...smashes against the screen...even with a gorilla tamp...still have to hold the lever back the whole way.

Experiment complete, they won't be getting my money again. :)
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Postby Randy G. on Tue Jan 24, 2012 4:03 pm

Does Illy taste OK? Sure, at least the whole bean does if you use it in one or two days after opening. Is it spectacular? Not close. Is it worth about as much as 100% Kona? As soon as pigs can get a commercial pilots license.
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Postby slybarman on Tue Jan 24, 2012 4:24 pm

So far he only has a multi and instrument rating, but I understand he is currently working toward his CFI.

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Postby peacecup on Tue Jan 24, 2012 4:55 pm

Never had redbird. Tried a number of NA roasters when I lived there, mostly from the Northwest. Followed the mantra: fresh, less than two weeks post-roast. Very good. Moved over here. Tried some very good local micro-roasts. Good. A little pricey.

Now the interesting part. Bought some Italian imported "best before" beans from the local supermarket. Not Illy, not Lavazza (though I have tried them, and found Illy ok). Musetti, Caffe Agust, Molinari, the list is infinite, limited only by what the importers bring in. Italy may be dominated by Illy, but there is a mind-boggling number of roasters there. These guys know how to blend and roast.

I use Caffe Musetti as my daily roast. The stuff is great. Punches through milk, makes sublime straight shots. I try any others that I know have high turnover rates at the stores. As long as the containers are sealed, and I freeze them afterwards they keep very well. Not two days, but two weeks no problem. I buy kilo bags, and download a few days worth into an old Illy can, kept in the freeze also. These age gracefully, with very minor adjustments to the grinder over the two-week period it takes to polish off a kilo.

Rejecting Italian coffees out of hand because they are not under two weeks post roast is simply missing out on a lot of what espresso has to offer.

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Postby subq on Tue Jan 24, 2012 5:01 pm

peacecup wrote:Rejecting Italian coffees out of hand because they are not under two weeks post roast is simply missing out on a lot of what espresso has to offer.

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I am pretty lenient...I pretty much only reject them if the cost/quality doesn't work out. :)

Case in point, I'm going to finish this Illy even though I don't think it is any good.
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Postby subq on Tue Jan 24, 2012 5:47 pm

Just pulled a shot of Paradise (Espresso Nuevo) right after a shot from the Illy and the difference was like night and day.
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