Espresso Neapolitan - Mr. Espresso - Dark(er) Espresso Review

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TomC (original poster)
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#1: Post by TomC (original poster) »

We have two planned coffee roasters providing samples for the 2023 HB Espresso Review this year. I sought to find an example of a traditional Italian/Neapolitan style darker roast, and a modern light roast to review to cover a broad audience base. We're beginning with the darker roast, provided by Mr.Espresso of Oakland California, a well known Italian coffee family that established themselves here on the west coast in 1978.




The coffee blend for this review can be found here, called Neapolitan Blend. Mr Espresso has about 5 different espresso-designed blends they offer, but Neapolitan is the house blend used in their cafes for the espresso based drinks they serve.

Some suggested pulling parameters are as follows: 19-19.5 grams in, 27-29g out in 26 seconds for lighter extractions, and up to 40g for more richer shots that are heavier bodied. All are suggested to be pulled at much higher temps than what seems normal for any dark roast. They set their Faema E71's to 210 degrees. They are quick to advise, and I've found it to be true over the years, that their coffees really need to be brewed at these higher temperatures to push thru a sour note that is found on shots pulled at more traditional lower temperatures.

The lore surrounding Mr Espresso and their roasting approach has always been rather unique. They've been grandfathered in to being allowed to roast over a live fire, using oak wood, for all their roasting (a difficult hurdle in the Bay Area and California Air Quality regulations). They describe the uniqueness of this approach, in that it is able to give more moisture content for the heated gasses doing the actual convective heating of the beans, which allows for a slightly longer drying phase that reduces acidity, and improves body/mouthfeel without getting acrid and smoky. It should definitely be noted that no part of actual burning wood smoke comes in direct contact with the beans, they don't taste of woodsmoke, it just heats the drum and heats the air that is moved thru the internals of the drum indirectly.

I find Neapolitan Espresso to be an easy to dial-in espresso that many who are seeking this classic roast style would find appealing.

My shots were all pulled on my Izzo Leva at 253 degrees, ground on my Titus grinder. It really needs a coarse grind. Minimal saturation (pre-infusion), which is why I shifted away from other modern machines like my Speedster. IMS Competition basket, dosing and times as above.

My thoughts on the coffee are as follows.

Dry ground Fragrance: Oud (incense from the agarwood family) anise, leather.

Wet aroma: plain cocoa, toasted walnuts

Acidity and basic tastes: soft, milder darker chocolates, (think Hershey's not Valrhona), marzipan, a bit of praline if pushed to longer extractions. Acidity is lightly present, very tame, harmonious and smooth. The overall impression of the basic tastes are bittersweet dry cocoa, nuts, not very complex.

Flavor: (aroma in the mouth) - No fruit to speak of. Nor florals. It has a well-developed caramelly bittersweetness intertwined with dry distillates. The wood notes are toasty, spicy impressions, to me are like faded cinnamon, way in the background.

Mouthfeel: Medium weight on the palate. Texture is satiny with shorter extractions, longer shots are thinned out, but drag more of the dry distillates into the cup affecting the finish, bringing along more savory punchy notes. The drying sensation of those longer shots bring tannic, brisk hints of tobacco and tea. For this coffee blend, it's been an interesting comparison between reviewers. I don't pick up a lot of smoke or acridness found in most other roasts this dark.

Aftertaste/Finish: Medium resonant finish, leaving bittersweet chocolate foremostly.

Thoughts and background: this coffee is comprised of a Brazil, two Guatemala's (the Centrals rotate), a Colombian and a Mexican robusta.

This coffee is a solid starter espresso for folks looking in for a simple Neapolitan style shot that doesn't present much challenge dialing in and not searching for complexity in the cup. In milk, it transitions mainly into light cocoa notes only. It is nice to find a coffee of this style and depth of roast that isn't overly harsh or acrid. I enjoy most of Mr Espresso's offerings and I'd say this is an easy going option. For folks looking for more complexity, I'd definitely also recommend their Tuscan Espresso or Triestino Espresso Blends, roasted a tad lighter.
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another_jim
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#2: Post by another_jim »

In Milk: The blend makes a solid six ounce cappa with a regular double basket; for longer milk drinks, use a high capacity basket.

Straight Shots: The robusta component is so subtle that I did not taste it; it does contribute to the crema. I did not find a great deal of variation in the taste when pulling singles, doubles or Seattle style overstuffed doubles.

There is a difference between more ristretto or less extracted pulls and and more lungo or more extracted pulls. The less extracted, more ristretto pulls favor chocolate and caramel flavors; the longer more extracted pulls favor a smoky distillate that is more wood than tobacco. Despite its slight astringency, I liked it; but other reviewers were less impressed. In any case, the flavor can be worked from a standard chocolate and caramel comfort food shot to something with a darker edge, depending on fine you grind, how long you run it, and how much you extract.

The likely best audience is fans of medium-dark roasts; it is not as distillate laden as the classic Neapolitan blends like Saka or Kimbo, but it does have a slight smoky edge
Jim Schulman

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baldheadracing
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#3: Post by baldheadracing »

First, a grateful thank-you to Mr. Espresso for supplying this coffee.

I pulled the coffee three to five weeks post-roast on a Linea Micra (9 bar), Key (110 rpm), and Unibasket (18g dose). I only pulled straight espresso. Best shots for my tastes were at 200F and 30g out (1:1.7). Although a longer ratio (1:2.2) offered more complexity, the shorter ratio gave more of the enjoyable lingering mouthfeel that comes from this espresso. Going shorter (1:1.3) eliminated complexity.

The espresso reminded me of unsweetened baker's chocolate, with a very mild touch of the acidity that can accompany burnt butter/caramel, with a bit of a nutty caramel tone - maybe hazelnut? I couldn't taste any unpleasant bitterness, but I am not sensitive to bitterness. (Baker's chocolate is bitter, but it isn't an unpleasant bitterness.) For those sensitive to bitterness, a demitasse-spoonful of sugar or a drop of maple syrup could make all the difference. That's what they do in Naples (the sugar, not the maple syrup :-)).

I am not an Italian-style espresso aficionado; I only drink these coffees a couple times a year. Thus, I'm not in a position to compare this coffee to the Neapolitan coffees that I've had. Overall, this coffee seemed to be like my memories of the 'Neapolitan-style' espresso. You don't have to import from Italy to get that taste - and get it fresh-roasted.
-"Good quality brings happiness as you use it" - Nobuho Miya, Kamasada

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Jeff
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#4: Post by Jeff »

Overview

It's 1980 and today is a trip to Caffé Vittoria. Established in 1929, it is said to be the first Italian cafe in Boston. We ordered and two demitasse arrived. My friend showed me the trick of making it appear that a sugar cube was floating on the espresso by stacking two in the cup. Slowly it melted, disappearing into the dark brown depths. A quick stir and the syrup was ready to drink.

If that's your idea of a classic espresso, this Mr. Espresso offering can bring you back in time. It is offers a simple, classic espresso flavor at a modest price. Its flavor note is such that it doesn't "punch through" milk but becomes a subtle contributor to a traditional-sized cappuccino.

On the Counter and in the Cup

For my tastes, I found that the better shots were coming with lower temperatures, shorter ratios, and restricted-flow baskets, such as the EPNW 14 ridged and its strong taper. These general guidelines and either a Lagom Mini or 64 mm Mizen burrs could get a shot that had unsweetened baking chocolate bitterness, a bit of sweetness, and occasionally a hint of artificial vanilla†. The finish was generally bitter, suggesting sugar or milk if you prefer. A 15:15 g shot got lost in a cappuccino in a 6-oz cup, lending a generic coffee note to a drink that was primarily the sweetness and texture of the milk. My better shots were in the 15:18 g to 15:23 g range in 15-22 seconds from pump on and moderate pressures.

For those not familiar with my taste preferences, I primarily pull light-roast espresso. I pull medium or medium dark roasts only every few months.

If the parameters were such that I'd expect higher extraction, I found that the sweetness was quickly overwhelmed by smoky flavors reminiscent of a morning campfire. Not quite sweet like a welcoming wood fire but not quite ashy either. Higher temperatures pushed straight into unpleasant bitterness for me. Similarly, I was not able to find a set of parameters that allowed this coffee to work well with my usual Pullman 17-19 basket (a "high-flow" basket like VST) with Ahlstrom 909 paper filter on the bottom.

Shorter shots occasionally had a bit of non-distinct or slightly orange-ish acidity without sufficient sweetness to be balanced for my tastes. Those notes faded quickly with a slightly finer grind or slightly longer ratio.

This coffee is significantly less dense than the light roasts I usually work with, requiring a 2-3 g smaller dose for similar puck depth. Although it tends to clump, puck prep was straightforward without noteworthy unevenness seen from the bottom of the EPNW 14 basket.

Profile Details

A variety of profiles were explored using the DE1. I preferred the ones with lower pressures (5-ish bar in the basket) over variants of Default and its 8-bar extraction pressure. Some of the shots I enjoyed most were pulled using Rohan's PSPH profile. For this coffee and basket combination, it works out to roughly 4 mL/s until the coffee just starts flowing, then a 5-bar extraction. Joe D's Extractamundo Dos! also worked well. Here it is roughly fill the basket until beading, hold for around five seconds, then a 5-bar extraction.

† If you're concerned about tainting your grinder, this is not an artificially flavored coffee.

Edit: I found out that what I have incorrectly called "baker's chocolate" is better called "unsweetened baking chocolate". Baker's Chocolate is a brand name, covering a wide range of products. The company was originally named Walter Baker & Company. Source: Wikipedia

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LBIespresso
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#5: Post by LBIespresso »

After trying several different approaches, here is what I learned:

I love when I find out something that I held to be true is either wrong or not always right. Darker coffee needs to be pulled cooler, cue the gameshow wrong answer buzz. It may be true in some cases but not here for me. My best shots were all pulled with my CT2 at 96 (the max temp).

I will spare you the details of each shot and cut to the ones that I think got something right.

Format Coffee in/out - raise lever/ramp up/total pull time - Temp - grind Kafatek Max SLM with chirp at .2

3: 15/22 6/6/40 96 degrees 6.5: Vanilla/ nut / dark chocolate and a hint of hopps maybe? I could see what Jim meant by single malt. Interesting, enjoyable but not what the drinker chasing comfort Neapolitan shot might be looking for.

2: 16/24 6/6/40 96 dgrees 6.7: Vanilla / marzipan / plum. The subtle stone fruit acidity and lack of bitterness and smoke, likely makes this the best shot for a lighter roast drinker that wants to enjoy a traditional shot.

1: 16/16 6/6/40 96 degrees 6.0 : grading this as a classic Italian espresso this was spot on. Thick, creamy, chocolaty, nutty. Crowd pleaser for sure. Nothing new wave about this one but it was objectively best at hitting the intended notes of the roast style.

While I am not a dark roast drinker per se, I enjoyed playing with this coffee since I am trying to better understand the style and have acquired a taste for it while doing so.
LMWDP #580

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cannonfodder
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#6: Post by cannonfodder »

I tend to shy away from darker roasts. The often bitter, ashy notes I get from most turn me off to them. However, a well-done dark roast can be rather good bringing out the dark sugars, spice, and cacao notes.

The coffee arrived in a nice retro-style packaging. The aroma from the bag is not burnt or ashy. It has a deep cacao note with just a hint of smoke and a light sweetness. It is certainly a dark roast but stops just short of being oily. Darker roasts tend to develop surface oils a couple of days after roasting, then the oil dissipates only to return a week later. This coffee never developed the oily dark roast sheen.




I started with my temperatures set much lower than recommended in the 196F range (91C) pulled on the ristretto side. I was getting good flavors but with a smack of astringency in the finish. I started working up the temperature range when I found out the recommended extraction temperature is 208-210F which was a shock to me. So, I cranked the temperature on the GS3 up to 98C. At the higher temperatures I was getting a lot of bitter and ashy notes with burnt sugar in the cup. Not something I enjoyed. However, in a cappuccino with a dash of sugar, the bitterness subsided and I was getting dark chocolate, walnuts, and caramels in the cup.

As I worked back down the temperature scale, I found my best result for espresso was at 93.5C pulled ristretto. The sweet caramels and dark chocolates were dominant with a touch of nut and a hint of acidity.

In milk-based drinks the higher extraction temperature is the best option. At lower temperatures, the espresso would get lost in the milk. Even at higher temperatures, I would not go over 6 ounces of milk. Larger volumes of milk would overwhelm the coffee. 4 to 6 ounces were my best drinks. As an espresso a lower temperature pulled ristretto brought out the dark caramels, dark chocolate and nuttiness with what I would call medium body. Shots were heavy crema which lends to a silky, buttery texture to the espresso. I am not a sugar in my espresso person and all my shots were straight.

I was grinding on a KafaTek Monolith max using a 19-gram IMS competition basket in a LA Marzocco GS3-MP. The darker roast makes the beans lighter so you get a higher volume to weight. 17.5 grams of coffee was a full basket. I was pulling with 8 seconds of preinfusion at 4 bar, then 8.5 bar for the majority of the extraction lowering the pressure to 6 bar as the shot neared its end.

In conclusion, it was a good dark roast with a wide acceptable range of temperatures. Milk drinks are best kept smaller and extraction temperatures higher. Straight espressos were best pulled ristretto at a lower temperature for me.

Dave Stephens

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dominico
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#7: Post by dominico »

I spent the first half of this summer in Italy. As expected, I drank a lot of shots of espresso there. While "Italian style espresso" tends to get lumped onto one category there is a fair amount of variation in the roast levels and flavor profiles among different roasters and regions.

Shortly after returning to the US the first 2023 review coffee landed at my doorstep: Mr Espresso Neapolitan



My first thought was that I love the packaging, very reminiscent of the aesthetic of the 60's hey day of the Italian Coffee Bar.
I was also given brewing instructions of something like an 18 gram dose brewed at 205 degrees. This sounded utterly preposterous for a Neapolitan blend and I figured it must be a mistake, so I promptly ignored the advice and started at my own baseline for "Italian" style blends: 14 gram dose brewed at either medium or low temp, starting at a normale ratio and then shifting to ristretto if needed.

For my equipment: a 1963 Faema President spring lever, Kafatek Monolith flat grinder, and VST baskets (in this case 15g VST baskets), classic Faema lever shot profile of 5 second preinfusion at 1 bar followed by a quick ramp to 8 bar, letting the spring create a descending pressure profile. Grind size to allow about a 1 gram per second flow rate into the cup after the lever is lifted.
I've found that imported Italian coffees usually have their sweet spot right somewhere in that range.

I pulled my first shot.

Lots of crema.


Either the coffee is very fresh or it contains some robusta.

I tasted it and was surprised at how "juicy" it was.
I found a complete absence of bitterness. Instead I was surprised to find that there was actually some form of acidity; surprising because " a near complete absence of acidity" is one of the common traits of nearly all Italian blends. The acidity is not overpowering, but it is there enough to be noticed.
The flavor profile definitely has some of the typical characteristics of Italian blends going for it: A lot of nice dark/baking chocolate, a hint of vanilla and honey, and the touch of acidity I found really adds to the texture, adding a bit of cream/ butterlike quality to it.

It turns out that the "sweet spot" for this coffee is very wide. I got nearly the same shot flavor pulling a ristretto, a normale, a "turbo shot", and even increasing the dose and using an 18g VST.
Increasing the temperature did reduce the acidity, without introducing bitterness, but also removed some of the "buttercream" quality to the shot that I had found fun.

While reviewing this coffee I had a few other coffees on my bench which were polar opposites to this one, including an anaerobic thermal shock strawberry watermelon explosion of a coffee.
I'm appreciative of how easy and friendly the Mr Espresso is to dial in vs the lighter more "modern" coffees on my bench. Sometimes there is something to be said about a consistent, non-finicky coffee with a comfortable, crowd pleasing flavor profile.

One potential drawback for milk drinkers is that none of the flavors are particularly punchy. In milk it would get overpowered and fade into a "generic coffee" profile.

I went through the entire bag without any sink shot, even after pushing the extraction parameters into extreme ristretto territory.

Summary
This coffee is pretty much what it claims to be: what if every shot in the bag consistently reminded you of the best qualities of an Italian blend: chocolates, buttery mouthfeel, without the bitterness, no sugar needed. It's like this blend recreates the nostalgia of a shot from a bar in Italy during a particularly pleasant day.

If dark chocolate and vanilla/caramels are your thing, you normally drink straight shots, and you want a friendly introduction to Italian style flavor profiles that don't hold the classic bitterness of typical Italian blends, then this blend won't disappoint.
https://bit.ly/3N1bhPR
Il caffè è un piacere, se non è buono che piacere è?

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HB
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#8: Post by HB »

Apologies for being late to the party...

Mr. Espresso Neapolitan is simple dark(er) roasted coffee that is more approachable than most I've tried, thanks to a clean finish with no ashy overtones. I found it very easy to dial in. I admit not paying attention to the recommended brewing parameters, especially the sky-high brew temperature, and instead used my "starting point" setting (201°F, 35 seconds, 17 grams in/34 out). A smooth, creamy, mild chocolate/tobacco espresso that barely hints at roastiness.

It reminds me of a solid Italian cafe bar blend, but with little to no sugar required. It wasn't marred by typical dark roast problems, e.g., bitter finish and ashiness. Due to its laid back nature, I found it was best as a straight espresso or cortado, otherwise its flavors were muted in a latte or American-sized cappuccino.

If you want to try Neapolitan style coffees or just a friendly dark coffee-- especially if you're starting to experiment with espresso served straight up --Mr. Espresso is a good starting point.
Dan Kehn

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Jake_G
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#9: Post by Jake_G »

I'm also late to this party.

I was on the road when the coffee arrived. But it was tossed in the freezer by my mate who was checking in on the place a day or two after it was delivered.

First shot attempt was 15:25 at 92C:

This was ground too fine, as the shot timed out at 60s on the GS/3. It turned into a small volume Cortado at 60ml total and was pretty nondescript.

Second shot was a straight shot, pulled coarser to give me 15:22 in ~45s

The shot was beautiful as it was pouring; it's a very espresso-porn friendly blend. I added a bit of sugar, to embrace the Neapolitan roots of the blend. It was sweet and sour.

I tried a few more shots at 94c with 1:1.5 and 1:2 ratios. Both of those were sour, with the 1:2 being both sour and ashy/bitter. I eventually bumped it up to 97c and pulled it shorter at 1:1.2 (15:19) in 25 seconds.

I didn't grab a picture, but this shot was balanced. Not ashy, not sour. I got baking chocolate with a very heavy dose of walnuts. There is bitterness, but it is tied to the underlying flavors. The bitterness matches what you'd expect from eating a strong walnut, or biting into Baker's unsweetened chocolate.

I think this blend is a nice example of a simple darker coffee that 'tastes like coffee'. It is a good match for a (very likely large) segment of home baristas that like their coffee to be simple, repeatable and very 'coffee' focused. I didn't get any sweetness or berries or anything like that. But also I didn't really get anything earthy or funky. Just baking chocolate and loads of walnuts. There is also an acidity there, as Dominick mentioned. If you like this, you can pull the shots at lower temperature and dial in the amount you like, just to keep things interesting. If you don't want any acidity at all, just bump the temperature up to their recommended 205°F and cut the shot short.

I made a short milk drink and it cuts through the milk nicely. Overall, I'd say this is a nice comfort blend without any fruity characteristics. Nice and simple thick bodied espresso that shines on the ristretto range and makes a good milk drink.

Cheers!

- Jake
LMWDP #704

Milligan
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#10: Post by Milligan »



Played with it this a bit:

1st shot: 17g -> 30g in 33s. 8bar descending to 6bar. 8s PI. 194F This hit a very balanced shot with chocolates, caramel, and a slight nuttiness that read praline to me due to the hint of sweetness. Turtle came to mind. A very clean chocolate shot without the annoyance of wood/roast that seems to go hand-in-hand with chocolate-forward shots. No fruits or other interest to be found. A great example of a coffee that knows what it is going for and hits the target.

2nd shot: Same parameters but grind slightly changed to hit 30s. Same characteristics but not as balanced. I plan to try higher temp with a fast shot time.

Ran it over the Roast Vision and it hit a 16, right at the lighter end of "medium dark."

TomC, I have Prodigal Milk Espresso coming in tomorrow. So that was a timely purchase to compare these. I'm taking this bag to a coffee friend this weekend so I'll have more impressions from our tasting.

Lastly, I can't help myself saying "Mr Espresso" in an operatic voice. My wife is much annoyed.