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Favorite Espresso Blends 2011 - Page 3

Postby HB on Tue May 24, 2011 11:03 am

Apollo by Counter Culture Coffee

Counter Culture Coffee had three nominations, including their new season espresso blend Apollo. They describe it as "caramel, nutty, fruity, syrupy, chocolate, and awesome". They disclosure its components: 65% Proish Chiapas, Mexico; 35% Konga Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia.
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Postby cannonfodder on Wed May 25, 2011 11:09 am

Counter Culture Apollo

You have to admire a company that is willing to have a staple coffee that changes with the seasons. It must take a lot of work constantly morphing the blend to whatever the season has to offer. The restaurant trend the past few years has been to source the best of the seasonal offerings to provide the best and freshest food to its customers, why should coffee be any different. The Apollo blend morphs through the year to keep in pace with regional seasonality so the blend can go through some major taste changes. If you don't like version X, wait a couple months and a new version will be out.

Counter Culture was kind enough to send us some of the last batch of Apollo 4.2 then followed that with the new 4.3 blend so we can see how the coffee has changed. The previous 4.2 consisted of 65% Proish Chipas (Mexico) and 35% ECX Yirgacheffe Gr1 (Ethiopia). The 4.3 uses 65% Proish Chiapas (Mexico) and substituted the the ECX with 35% Konga Yirgacheffe (Ethiopia).

The 4.2 is no longer available. The coffee had a nice fruity and spice aroma in the bag. My preferred brew parameters were 18 grams in a LM triple basket (my machine needs headspace so 18 in a triple is just right) pulled at 200F for 19-20 grams extracted in 22-25 seconds. The cup was fruited with berries and a background orange with a molasses back end and a nice sweetness. Pulled longer the body got weaker, the sweet flavors fell off and the fruit faded leaving the cup somewhat hollow. The blend had a low to medium low acidity but a nice bright and refreshing flavor. At temperatures higher than 201 or extraction times over 26 seconds the coffee got bitter and astringent. The coffee worked best at around day 4 with a noticeable fade in the fruit starting at around day 6. It quickly goes south after that.

The Apollo 4.3 blend has a lighter dry aroma, not as fruited. The brew parameters fell very close to those of the 4.2 version. I settled in on a 19 gram dose pulled at 200F with 20-21 grams extracted in 22-25 seconds. The cup was not as lively as the 4.2 blend and the berry had been replaced with a citrus (mandarin orange?) and lemon with the molasses/spice being replaced by some light caramel and cocoa. Pulled longer the cup body thinned down and became almost tea like with a little tannin in the finish now and then and a hint of pit fruit. The acidity is a little higher in 4.3, call it medium to medium-light. At temperatures higher than 201 the cup picked up a burnt bitter and at extraction times over 25 seconds the cup got astringent and distillate.

The coffee held up to milk better than the 4.2 version. I would still keep it short with no more than 5 ounces of milk. In milk, the citrus and lemon dropped off but the chocolate came forward with a distinct cocoa in the cup. For something interesting, try dosing at 19-20 grams and pull an ultra ristretto (one little ounce) at 197F and you get a liquid sweet tart candy.

I found both versions interesting and enjoyable.
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Postby another_jim on Wed May 25, 2011 4:43 pm

INTRODUCTION: Counter Culture Coffee was known for its lower toned espresso blends, Toscano, Rustico and La Forza; and came somewhat later than other US roasters to producing a blend that emphasized the brighter and lighter fruit tones. Last year, they brought out Apollo and it was clear that they hit the ground running. The HB crew did not have a chance to review it then, but we were impressed enough to make it one of our must review coffees for this year.

OVERALL TASTE DESCRIPTION: Lots of fruit fragrance and sweetness without too much acidity. The fruit is mandarin orange, not overpoweringly strong, but in surprising amounts given the low acidity. The roast flavors are Triple Sec, orange peel, cinnamon and cocoa. The blend is ultra clean, and the orange finish is so sparkling it seems like a breath freshener. The body is heavy and syrupy.

RESPONSE TO DOSE, FLOW, AND TEMPERATURE CHANGES: At high doses, the orange flavors and roast flavors separate, with the roast flavor reminiscent of cocoa and caramel and cinnamon. At lower doses the flavors fuse into candied orange peel. Higher temperatures muddy the flavors; keep shots low to medium in temperature. Ristretto shots emphasize the cinnamon and orange peel, while the more lungo shots taste more sugared. I went to more ristretto shots as the blend aged to maintain its impact.

WHO SHOULD BUY IT: Many people are interested in high toned fruited coffees but are turned off or intimidated by high acidity. In espresso, high acidity is a challenge, and may be too much for entry level gear or beginning baristas. Even with good gear and experience, an acidic blend may be finicky enough to make it more of an adventure than a go to choice. Apollo is a fruited blend that is fault tolerant and well behaved at all doses and most temperatures. Counter Culture is apparently very selective with Apollo's coffees, going for the maximum of fruit and sweetness at the minimum of acidity. So people who want to start out with lighter roasts, or want a light roast blend that pulls with bulletproof reliability, will be very pleased with Apollo.

A NOTE ON APOLLO'S BLEND MANAGEMENT: We had a chance to taste both version 4.2 and 4.3. The change replaced a DP ethiopian with a WP one, but kept the other constituents the same. The overall effect was very minor to me. 4.3 may be a tad edgier, with a cinnamon and more grapefruit bite in some shots. But this difference is as small as shot to shot or roast to roast differences of the same blend, so it's hard to be very definite.

More importantly. Counter Culture Coffee has developed a winning strategy for managing the blend. They are not wedded to maintaining specific tastes. Instead, they seem to switch coffees whenever necessary to maintain the gestalt of the blend, that of a strongly fruited shot where the sweetness greatly outweighs the acidity.
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Postby shadowfax on Sun May 29, 2011 7:01 pm

Counter Culture Apollo

Apollo is Counter Culture Coffee's entry into the fruited, 'high-acid' espresso blend category. It's a simple blend of 2 coffees: 65% Mexico Chiapas and 35% Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. We conducted our review just as Counter Culture was shifting its blend slightly, changing the Yirgacheffe component from ECX Grade 1 (4.2) to Konga (4.3). They were kind enough to send us samples of the final roast of Apollo 4.2 and the first roast of 4.3.

Apollo proved to be a refreshingly nice coffee with ample red fruit sweetness (hardly a hint of citrus) and nutty chocolate and molasses roast notes. For a blend of just a couple of components, the two versions were remarkably similar. To my palate, 4.2 was a bit more emphatic of the roast character (molasses/chocolate) with a bit more spice (cinnamon?), where 4.3 had a cleaner, slightly brighter character.

Apollo favors a medium to high dose (17.5-19 grams in a VST "18 g" basket), pulled to a modest ristretto ratio of 65-85% (scaling the ratio up with the dose and age, generally). Temperatures were best in the 'medium range of 199-200° F: too high, and shots become ashy (especially in the finish); too low, and a puckering sour red fruit flavor dominates the shot. Most of my favorite shots also pulled a little fast, in the 24-26s range. The coffee is pretty easy to work with, especially if you're just looking to get a good, simple shot from it. If you're looking for a more interesting, refined shot (isn't that why we're here?), it can be a challenge to avoid areas where the shots are bland, where the flavor components are all there, but seem faded.

My personal sweet spot (on the GS3) for 4.3 was 199.5°F with 18.5g dose pulled to a 75-80% brew ratio in 25 seconds. This shot profile has intense sweet red fruit flavors (cherry and raspberry), a hint of green tropical fruit, and a nice clean finish as the fruit fades and the caramel/chocolate lingers.

Apollo makes a delicious, sweet chocolate-cherry cappuccino, coming out best pulled at higher dose and temperatures to minimize the sour cherry notes, which, though they can work well in a straight shot, come off poorly in milk. Overall, Apollo seems like a crowd-pleaser in both of its incarnations; most espresso drinkers should be able to manipulate it into a profile that suits their palate well.
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Postby malachi on Mon May 30, 2011 2:17 pm

Tasting the Apollo was an interesting experience as it was a chance to not just evaluate an espresso - but to evaluate two different versions of the "same" espresso. As such, this gave us a chance to not only taste each espresso on its own merits - but also see how it would likely change over time given the season nature of coffee.

Given this, I'm going to write up each "version" by itself and then sum up the whole.

Apollo v4.2

This is a coffee I've been waiting for.

After being frustrated by a lot of american espressos over the last 18 months, it was a huge pleasure to get to play with this coffee.

There are things that I, personally, am very biased against in espresso. I don't like espresso that is unbalanced or incomplete or not cohesive. I don't like the "sweet and sour" espressos that have become more common of late in the US. I don't like defective green coffee. And I don't like mis-roasted coffee.

I've had a lot of espresso in the last year and a half that was, as a result of my biases, very unenjoyable.

Version 4.2 of the Counter Culture Apollo, on the other hand, is clean, balanced and well roasted. Best of all... it just tastes good.

The first version of the Apollo was one of the "sweet and sour" espresso that I mention - and I wasn't a big fan. This version, however, is a whole different beast.

And here is the cool thing... this coffee has a ton of "sweet spots" for extraction that yield wildly different results. Say you like that "sweet and sour" profile - just go with a colder brew temp and lower dose. Or if you drink your espresso in milk you can go hotter and coarser / heavier dose and you've got the milk chocolate capp of your dreams.

This is not to say that this is an easy coffee to work with. It is, in fact, a little finicky outside of the primary sweet spot(s). But if you have the skill to manipulate it you're going to get great results.

To my taste, I found it best as follows:
- 200.5f
- 18.5g dose
- 70% extraction
- 25-27s

When dialing in the coffee, what I shot for was maximizing the heavy chocolates, molasses, malt sugar, caramel and marzipan notes. The way I did this was by first dialing it in to maximize the molasses note. At it's optimal point you'll get a ton of very syrupy blackstrap flavour along with a noticeable dried fig note. The trick is that getting this maximized puts your right on the very edge of the coffee going ashy due to brew temp being too hot. So you want to stop right before ash flavours emerge. Once you get that brew temp dialed in (max molasses, no ash), you want to tune dose and extraction ratio / flow to bring out the caramel and marzipan in the middle of the profile and the chocolate in the aftertaste.

I found the key (for me) was to make sure the grind wasn't too fine. Getting the grind coarse enough resulted in a clarity and separation of flavours that was ideal. Otherwise it became muddy and flabby. In addition, if the dose was too low the coffee would lose most of its intensity of flavour, becoming flat and boring. The same would become true as the brew temp became too low (though sweetness increased).

Now... this is just one possible profile.

If what you're looking for is max fruit, max sweetness and max aromatics - you can go with the "sweet and sour" profile. To do this you'd drop the brew temp down to 199f and reduce the dose down to 17g (par). In addition (and this was the key for me) you'd want to decrease the extraction ratio to a little over 60%. What you'd be looking for is tons of sweet citrus candy (almost to the point of it tasting like artificial citrus flavours). This profile doesn't do that well in milk, however, and has little to no bottom end or structure behind it. While not to my taste - some here may like this. It's also much easier to produce acceptable shots with this set of parameters as you have greater margin of error.

The one negative of this espresso is that there is a noticeable "hollowness" to the coffee. The flavour profile is not complete or rounded and has an empty spot in the midrange of flavours. For me the key to producing enjoyable shots (regardless of which flavour profile you're shooting for) became working with this hollowness rather than trying to fight it. At my "chocolate and molasses" parameters, the hollowness was there but rather like a double IPA, it became a part of the overall character of the beverage in a positive way.

So who would like this espresso? Honestly, the only folks who I could think of who would not like this coffee are those who cannot handle any hint of either bitterness or sourness. Otherwise, this one is a keeper for sure.

Apollo 4.3

With version 4.3, CCC takes the "chocolate and molasses" profile of version 4.2 and move it a bit more towards the "exciting" shots many are looking for.

Unlike the previous version, with this version there were fewer sweet spots to my taste. I spent a fair amount of time trying to eliminate either sour notes or astringent notes when exploring this coffee.

In the end, I settled for an extraction sweet spot that was very similar to what I used with the 4.2.

This was:
- 200.5f
- 19g dose
- 75% extraction
- 26-28s

This yielded a shot that had a nice high end sweet tangerine note, some interesting spicy red wine (grenache) notes and a whole ton of sweet chocolate, hazelnut and molasses in the low end. As with the prior version, the key seemed to be to avoid overly fine grind and surf the fine edge of a "too high" brew temp.

I found that the coffee responded poorly (to my taste) to temps below 200f, where it became sour and very hollow. In general, in fact, the hollowness of this coffee was the primary weakness to me. The midrange hollow spot from the version 4.2 was far more noticeable -- especially in milk drinks.

Overall I found this to be a very good coffee - but not as complete as the prior version of the Apollo.

I can see those who like the "sweet and sour" espresso profile preferring this version to the 4.2 -- but for anyone who likes integration and completeness, this is a slight step down. It's definitely best as a straight shot (in milk it tends to vanish or become very sour tasting).

If you get an astringent note, you're likely grinding too fine. If the coffee is puckeringly sharp, the brew temp is likely too low. If the coffee has strong tobacco and ash notes, the brew temp is too high.


Apollo

I think this little experiment shows three things.

1 - Counter Culture is working hard at maintaining a signature flavour for the Apollo. This flavour has evolved from version 1 to a point where I think it's likely to be consistently desirable and enjoyable.

2 - Creating a consistent 2 bean blend (especially when one of the 2 beans doesn't change) is definitely easier but can result in incomplete profiles ("hollowness" in this case).

3 - If you drink straight shots of espresso and like something of this profile - Apollo is worth a try.


Notes:
- all shots pulled on a rebuilt La Marzocco GS
- grinder used was a Mazzer Robur
- baskets used were a 17g Strada double, an OEM LM ridged double and an Espresso Parts laser etched double.
- all shots were pulled using a bottomless portafilter
- coffee was cupped as well using standard cupping protocol
- coffee was pulled on days 5 through 8 (post roast)
- all weighing was done using a 500g digital scale
- GS was temp calibrated using a Scace and Fluke
- brew pressure on the GS was slightly below 9 BAR
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin
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Postby RapidCoffee on Thu Jun 09, 2011 2:35 am

Counter Culture Apollo Espresso Blend ( roasted June 2, tested June 8 )
coffee dose: 15.0g (53mm basket, equivalent to 18g on a 58mm basket)
espresso weight: 20-23g (shot volume ~40ml)
brew ratio: 65-75%
shot time: 25-30 sec after appearance of espresso droplets on bottom of basket
temperature range: 88C-95C (190F-203F) in increments of 1C

Protocol
Grinder: Robur with doser and (full) mini-hopper.
Espresso machine: La Spaziale S1 V1, no preinfusion, blind basket brew pressure 9.25bar, 53mm double basket, bottomless portafilter.
Ground coffee into tared basket and adjusted dose to exactly 15.0g.
Very brief WDT stir with needle, then tamped to ~30#.
Pulled shots into prewarmed shot glass on tared digital scale, stopping at blonding (25-30sec).
Visually, all pours were good.
For tasting, poured shot glass into prewarmed demitasse cup. Sampled straight, then with 1/2t sugar, then with small amounts (1-2oz) of microfoamed milk.

Tasting notes

95C
Some bitterness, but surprisingly drinkable, even at this high temperature.
Good with sugar.
Milk brings out dark chocolate flavors.

94C
Some bitterness, but quite good.
Fruitiness emerges strongly with sugar.
Milk brings out chocolates and caramels.

93C
Slight bitterness and and sharp/acrid flavors, but very good shot.
Even better with sugar: syrupy, sweet-tart, fruity, tangerine, citrus flavors predominate.
Caramels and milk chocolate flavors emerge in macchiatos, but get lost in larger amounts of milk.

92C
Bitterness down, indiscernible with sugar. Very nice shot.
With sugar: syrupy, sweet-tart, fruity, tangerine, citrus flavors predominate.
Caramels and milk chocolate flavors emerge in macchiatos, but get lost in larger amounts of milk.

91C
Bitterness is gone, only hints of acrid flavors remain. Sourness up, with hints of astringency.
With sugar: syrupy, fruity, sweet-tart, citrus flavors predominate.
With milk: not as good, as sourness increases. Strong caramel flavors predominate.

90C
More sourness and astringency.
With sugar: still good, sweet-tart citrus flavors.
With milk: strong caramel flavors, but getting too sour.

89C
Not as good an extraction. More sours, and some funky notes are appearing.
Less pleasant, even with sugar.
With milk: strong caramel flavors, but overly sour.

88C
Funky and sour to my palate, no longer enjoyable.

Conclusions
If you are looking for a classic "comfort food" espresso blend, dominated by chocolate, caramel, and nut flavors, then look elsewhere. Apollo is a unique two-bean blend, notable for its distinctive syrupy sweet-tart citrus fruitiness. Unlike most espresso blends, which are based on Brazilian coffees, Apollo uses 65% Mexican Chiapas. Ethiopian Yirgacheffe makes up the remainder of the blend, and there are no low-toned coffees (such as Sumatrans) to give bass notes. The result is a versatile but demanding blend, yielding good extractions at a wide range of doses, grind settings, and temperatures.

My preferences for Apollo tend towards higher temperatures (92-93C), slightly coarser grind settings, mild ristretto pours, and slightly shorter extraction times. I liked Apollo shots best with a small amount of sugar, which brings out the fruitiness and counters the sourness. Caramels and some milk chocolates emerge in macchiatos (1-2oz milk), but flavors get drowned in larger amounts of milk.

This blend was ready to drink after 5-6 days of rest.

Apollo is composed of dense coffees. A tamped 15g dose is well below the ridge line of the Spaz double basket:
Image

Consistency is more challenging than Brazil-based blends. Bottomless fans should not expect the "prettiest" pours from Apollo.
Image

For every day espresso, I gravitate towards classic northern Italian blends, with big booming chocolates and caramels that stand up well to milk. (OK, I admit it: I have plebeian tastes in espresso. :wink:) Apollo will not change that. But it makes a refreshing change of pace from the other favorite espresso blends we have tested. Highly recommended for those who want a fruitier blend, and something a bit different. Kudos to Counter Culture for taking a chance on Apollo, and pulling it off so well.
John
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Postby Sherman on Fri Jun 17, 2011 9:43 am

Counter Culture Apollo 4.3
Roast date: 6/2/11
Test window: 6/8-6/11

Initial Preferences
Temperature: medium
Dose: 17g
Output: 22-23g
Ratio: 75%
Time: 30s

First shots on 6/8, starting at 14.5g, 60% at 24s, medium temperature and updosing 0.5g through to 17g. Eye cupping is fine, but everything tastes thin and soapy from the 6/2 bag, and I'm not getting anything remotely close to the orange peel. Maybe it's too early.

Additional shots starting 6/9, bumping ratios up. At the above-stated parameters, lighter body, acidic and sweet with a gentle fruit forward note. I'm still not getting a strong orange peel; more of a generic ripe stone fruit with a citrus-ade finish. Going toward a higher ratio brought out an odd, fizzy soda water note that wasn't unpleasant, but prodding in a "are we there yet" way.

Exploration
I took a turn here and went back to my "soapy" notes, dropping the dose to 15.5g, running output to 33g, resulting in a 47% ratio. No soap, but predictable lighter body, a little sweeter and a new lightly roasted sugarcane note. Still haven't found the orange, but I'm noticing that all of my shots are nicely acidic and sweet, inclusive of the changes. Once the parameters have been set, additional shots through 6/11 produce consistent results.

For milk drinks, I use Traders Point Creamery whole milk. It's readily available at my local Whole Food$, and makes my daily 2% look like dirty dishwater. This is gilding the lily to be sure, but seeing as how milk rarely crosses my palate, I figure it'd be a pleasant indulgence. As a cappa, the sweetness plays very nicely with the milk without losing its edge. The gentle ripe stone fruit is now peaches and cream, topped with lemon zest. Some roast notes enter and leave quietly without disturbing the action.

Leverage
Cycling between 0.7-0.9, the Olympia Cremina provides a sufficiently temperature stable platform for medium temperature shots. Light temperature surfing can be achieved by timing the pull to when the heating element clicks on/off. Pull just when the light goes on and I hit the cooler side. Pull when the light goes off, I hit the warmer side. I've recently ordered the adhesive thermometer, and will start calibration shots as well.

Baskets were loaded similarly to the Maxi (17g, medium grind setting), then lined up and pulled in sequential pairs delineated by preinfusion times(10s/6s, 10s/3s, 6s/3s). At 10s preinfusion, the stone fruit cleared up, tasting separate peach and cherry notes, but with a sharper bite in front. The bite started to dissipate as preinfusion dropped to 6s, almost disappearing at 3s. My best shots were at the following profile:

Temperature: medium
Dose: 17g
Output: 26g
Ratio: 65%
Time: 28s (incl. 3s preinfusion)

Higher ratio shots turned the fruit notes into fruit cocktail syrup*. Lower doses melded the peach and cherry into a generic stone fruit.

And in this corner...
Pump machine brings out some interesting caramel and roast notes, but also add carbonation flavors, normally associated with unrested roasts, to the mix. The lever displays distinct stone fruit flavors, but the caramels are heavily backgrounded.

Conclusions
The nicest thing that I've noticed so far is that the pleasing notes that make themselves initially known haven't disappeared during the course of exploration. Wherever I turn, the acidity and sweetness are right there, but not in my face. Either that's a good thing about the coffee, or I'm not making drastic enough changes to the brewing parameters.

Apollo pulls more than its weight in cappas, but I'd prefer to run it as a straight shot in the Maxi. It performs well in levers, but the differences are apparent and the separation of peach and cherry were a neat twist. Attempts to bring out more caramels in the lever by downdosing were unsuccessful.

*Cannonfodder brought this descriptor up first. I found it particularly apt, and am including it here. It ain't stealing if I attribute the source, right?
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Postby HB on Sat Jun 18, 2011 11:11 am

This concludes the formal review of Apollo by Counter Culture Coffee. Next up...

Leftist Espresso Blend by Gimme! Coffee

Gimme! Coffee was nominated last year, but we ran out of time. It's back for the 2011 review of their Leftist Espresso Blend. They say "from a sweet start to the smoky finish, these espresso shots are intense, flavorful, thick, complex and drinkable. It shines through the sweetness of milk and stands alone as a tiny cup of luxurious red-brown crema with a silky body."

PS: To see what reviews are planned, see Nominees for "Favorite Espresso Blends 2011".
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Postby RapidCoffee on Mon Jun 20, 2011 12:06 am

Gimme! Leftist Espresso Blend (roasted June 14, tested June 19)
coffee dose: 15.0g (53mm basket, equivalent to 18g on a 58mm basket)
espresso weight: 20-21g (shot volume 40-45ml)
brew ratio: 70-75%
shot time: 25-30 sec after appearance of espresso droplets on bottom of basket
temperature range: 87C-95C (189F-203F) in increments of 1C

Protocol
Grinder: Robur with doser and (full) mini-hopper.
Espresso machine: La Spaziale S1 V1, no preinfusion, blind basket brew pressure 9.25bar, 53mm double basket, bottomless portafilter.
Ground coffee into tared basket and adjusted dose to exactly 15.0g.
Very brief WDT stir with needle, then tamped to ~30#.
Pulled shots into prewarmed shot glass on tared digital scale, stopping at blonding (25-30sec).
Visually, all pours were good to excellent. Pours start slowly, then produce a fine striped extraction cone.
For tasting, poured shot glass into prewarmed demitasse cup. Sampled straight, then with 1/2t sugar, then with small amounts (1-2oz) of microfoamed milk.

Tasting notes

87C
Straight shot: smooth, mild, rich, generic coffee flavors.
Good with sugar and milk, although cappuccinos are somewhat bland.

88C
Straight shot: more "bite" (bitterness and acidity) than 87C.
Good with sugar.
Milk chocolate, caramel and walnuts/pecans all emerging in cappuccinos.

89C
Straight shot: more "bite" than 88C.
Good with sugar.
Very good cappuccino, with strong milk chocolate, caramel and walnut flavors.

90C
Straight shot: more bitterness.
Good with sugar.
Very good cappuccino, with strong milk chocolate, caramel and walnut flavors.

91C
Straight shot: more bitterness and hints of smokiness.
Good with sugar.
Very good cappuccino, with milk chocolate, caramel/brown sugar and walnut flavors.

92C
Straight shot: more bitterness.
Good with sugar.
Good cappuccino, with darker chocolate and walnut flavors.

93C
Some bitterness and acridity in straight shots.
Good with sugar.
Good cappuccino, with darker chocolate and walnut flavors. Does not hold up as well to milk, as caramel diminishes.

94C
Some bitterness in straight shots; acridity down.
Good with sugar.
Dark chocolate and walnuts with milk.

95C
Too bitter straight
Good with sugar.
Loads of dark chocolate and walnuts with milk.
High temp sweet spot for cappuccinos.

Conclusions
I have enjoyed Gimme! Leftist for several years, but this sample was something of a surprise. In the past I would have characterized Leftist as a darker* roast, done right: molten dark chocolate, spice, nuts, smoke. This batch was more of a generic northern Italian roast, done right: enjoyable, but not nearly as distinctive.

I preferred mild ristretto pours with fairly typical extraction times. The dark chocolate still pours out at higher temperatures, and I found a sweet spot for cappuccinos at 94-95C. There is another sweet spot at lower temperatures (below 91C) for straight shots, or milk chocolate/caramel/walnut cappuccinos. Oddly, Leftist responds less well at midrange brew temperatures (92-93C) on my gear.

Overall, Leftist is a versatile blend, suitable for both straight shots and milk drinks. The current incarnation is a medium roast, similar to other "comfort" blends we have reviewed. Personally, I hope to see a return of their signature darker roast in the future.

This blend was ready to drink after 5 days of rest.

* not charbucks dark, but distinctly darker than many other specialty microroaster blends
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Postby another_jim on Mon Jun 20, 2011 6:06 pm

INTRODUCTION: Gimme! is one of the premier 3rd wave roasters, and Leftist is their bar blend. In the past, US bar blends were designed primarily for milk drinks, and had what we at HB call "comfort food" profiles -- fudge and chocolate syrup shots. That has changed, and many roasters have gone to brighter, more acidic bar blends -- Black Cat is one that has travelled this route. The alternative is to bring out a brighter alternative to the bar blend, like Counter Culture's Apollo. Gimme! has had a lighter alternative, the appropriately named "Platinum Blonde," for many years; so there was no need to change the taste of Leftist. Nevertheless, it has changed; and there is a story behind this.

Colleen Anunu is Gimmes! coffee buyer and head roaster. She is also one of the rising stars in the world of sourcing and cupping coffees. Ten years ago, coffee importers cupped, but very few roasters did. Roasts were medium to dark, and roasters could rely on the uniform taste of the generic regional coffees brought in by large scale importers. Along with the rise of single estate, auction and direct trade coffees, has come a rise in the cupping acumen of the roasters buying and selling these coffees. This has changed the tastes and standards of roasters; and the changes are beginning to show up even in bar blends. It's probably more a matter of professional pride; since it is hard to see how the adding refinement to a basic bar blend can influence sales.

OVERALL TASTE: Colleen Anunu's influence is all over this blend. Despite being a medium-dark roasted, Sumatra heavy blend, the coffee is whistle clean and free of all flaws. When brewed, there's a subtle but tasty top end of violet scents, and sweet greens and cherry that enlivens the darker roast flavors and balances the blend. Violets and sweet greens are the signature of very high quality Sumatra and other Indonesian coffees. The roast taste is toasted nuts, smokey distillates, and oak, probably from a combination of the Sumatra with an American Bourbon or Typica. As the coffee cools, brown sugar and cocoa comes to the fore, boding well for espresso. A slight fruited astringency, like rhubarb, appears in the long finish. All these flavors can be had when the shots are done right.

PULLING SHOTS:

BREW RATIO: The blend has a very tight sweet spot for brew ratio, about 70% to 80%, halfway between normale and ristretto. Anything more and the taste is woody, hollow, and undeveloped; anything less and there are brooding peaty flavors that overpower everything else. Since the blend contains significant proportion of Sumatra, you should start with the grinder set extra fine, or with a dose about 1.5 grams higher than usual in a double basket. Keep to this brew ratio regardless of dose or temperature.

DOSE: When we played around with the blend a few days ago, Sherman remarked that the higher dose shots tasted less aggressive than the low dose ones. That is so unusual that I thought it was some sort of mistake; but pulling experience has borne him out. As you increase dose, the creamy mouthfeel fo the shot rises faster than the power of the flavors, and the effect is to take the edge off. The overall shot quality remains the same at any dose, although I prefer the lower ones for their definition.

TEMPERATURE: I did not like high temperature shots, since they tasted dull and tarry. Medium temperatures had more of the nice smokey chocolate flavors; while low temperatures brought out added sweetness and the complex top end flavors.

WHO SHOULD BUY THIS: If you want to practice controlling flow rates and brew ratios, this a good coffee to work with -- it tastes boring unless you hit the mark; then it tastes great. Most Sumatras, by the time they get here, taste very much worse for wear; so having a chance to get a blend that stars a really good Sumatra makes for a nice change of pace. Finally, this is neither a blend for those looking for a big heavy comfort food shot, nor for those looking for a bright, SO style shot. Instead, it lies somewhere in the middle ground. This makes it a coffee that doesn't shout; if you drink it like a regular coffee drinker, while paying attention to other things, it won't distract you. However, that would be your loss; since it is well worth the close tasting.
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