We all make fun of Italian espresso blends and of the people who use them. Why pay eight to twelve dollars per pound for cheap stale coffee when you can get high quality fresh coffee for roughly the same price? We especially made fun of Ken Davids when he reviewed some of these blends
, comparing them to US ones, and declaring the most plebeian of all Italian espresso, Segafredo's bar blend, the winner.
But then it occurred to me that I haven't pulled an Italian blend for years; and the last time I did, I wasn't a very good shot puller, nor did I know much about coffee. So I'm not being fair when I make fun of these coffees. I wonder how many others making fun also do so without having given them a serious tryout after they became experts.
That is why I'm staring at a 1 kilo package of Essse Caffe's Miscela Masini. Essse
is Segafredo's premium brand, and Miscela Masini
is Essse's top blend. It was roasted on July 10th, 2010, about 11 weeks ago, and expires on July 1, 2011. I suppress my snickers and start pulling shots. The Puzzle
How can stale coffee be this good? Miscela Masini isn't quite up to the standard of the best coffees we reviewed in the favorite blends project; but it completely spanks anything you'll pick up in a supermarket, and is better than most of the fresh espresso blends done by specialty roasters in the US. Solving this puzzle can perhaps even help us improve the blends we normally drink, which use high end, fresh coffees.Taste & Shot Pulling
The dry aroma reminds me of a distilled, barrel aged grain mash; not quite whisky, but perhaps if whisky were made of buckwheat. There are also hints of smoke and nuts.
All the shots have a dense layer of crema and heavy mouthfeel. There is no acidity. Shots pulled at high doses or ristretto flow rates taste mostly of wood, but dosed at the Italian 14 grams and ground for normal flow, the taste opens up into a complex mix of roast flavors. The experience is reminiscent of oak paneling, leather chairs, brandy and cigars. If you are looking for fruit, acidity, crispness, you are in the completely wrong place.
The description Ken Davids gave of the Segafredo is close to what I'm getting, but this blend is cleaner and tighter. In essence, while this blend has no origin flavors or acidity, the roast flavors are far more complex than those of any of the coffees in the HB reviews.
Unlike many other Italian blends, this espresso does not require sugar. However, it is neither sweet nor crisp, rather the bitterness is balanced by a fat and buttery mouthfeel and alcoholic aromatics.Staleness By Design
While Illy is an acidic coffee that needs to be fresh, the situation with this blend, and probably most other Italian blends, is different. It is designed to taste as good or better stale than fresh. The blend is a mix of about 25% of lightly roasted robustas, 50% of darker roasted arabicas, and about 25% of a darker roasted robusta peaberries. The darker roasted beans are not oily, and won't get skunky. All the coffees seem to be slightly baked ahead of the first crack, and then finished very fast afterward, so that the acids are baked out, and the roast flavors, both the nutty, woody and toasty ones from before the first crack, and the chocolate and distillates that develop at the second crack, are accentuated. Unlike the aromatics and acids of light roasts, or the oils of very dark roasts, these baked roast flavors are relatively immune from staling. Robusta Reconsidered
And one of the blend components is better staled than fresh. Fresh robustas smell of rubber and solvents. But the brandy aromatics that Ken Davids liked so much in the Segafredo, and that are powerfully present here, is what happens to the Robusta rubber and solvent after it's sat for a month or two. Or at least it's what happens to the Robustas used in Segafredo coffees.
Let me be clear about the potential here. This coffee, over two months old, produces a dense thick crema, due to the robusta. The robusta also creates an ultra-complex roast taste, and smells like brandy. What would happen if you took this same two month old robusta and combined it not with an indifferent stale arabica tasting like nuts, but a fresh roasted one brimming with fruit and floral aromas? Maybe a completely brilliant espresso blend?
Just a thought brought on by an Italian espresso blend.