Favorite Espresso Blends 2010 - Page 4

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#31: Post by HB (original poster) »

Black Cat Classic Espresso by Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea

It was no surprise that Black Cat Classic led the popularity poll; Intelligentsia Coffee has been a favorite among forum participants on this site and CoffeeGeek. Over the years, they've refined the blend; it eventually morphed into a product line called Black Cat and the blend itself took on the "Classic" moniker. Intelligentsia describes it as "a syrupy and sweet espresso blend that has been the staple of our lineup since the very beginning. It is a product of intensive lot selection and close, direct work with the farmers who produce its components. The hallmark of Black Cat Classic Espresso is its supreme balance and wonderful sweetness."
Dan Kehn

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#32: Post by another_jim »

Thoughts going through my head wrote:It's orange. There's got to be some mistake. Did they send the right coffee? Has something gone wrong with my machine, my tongue, my grinder? It's orange.
In 2002, Intelligentsia issued an open invitation to all alt.coffee denizens and rolled out Black Cat to an audience of hobbyists hard core enough to be willing to travel to a roaster giving a party. It was probably the first third wave blend outside of Seattle. In those days, it was composed of a DP Brazil, a Sulawesi and a Fraijanes, and it was mostly chocolate, with some spice, some apricot, some molasses. It's changed over the years, but overall, it has always been a dark and heavy delight.

In the last few years, Black Cat became Black Cat Classic, and additional Black Cats, single origins, and decafs, joined it. Now it's changed again. This Black Cat is more like the SOs than the classics of the past. It is a mix of two Minas Gerais Brazils, Facenda Do Serrado and Facenda Conquista. One is roasted medium light, and the other a tad lighter.

The taste is like an English Seville orange marmalade, one of those with the fat chunks of candied orange peel. At low dose the taste is sweet, upping the dose adds some edge. Low temperature extractions emphasizes the jam, upping the temperature shifts it to the peel. Keep the flow normal and the temperature at or below 200F, since it gets burnt and salty when you go too ristretto or too hot.

Surprisingly, the orange punches through milk with aplomb. The taste is delightful, like a scone with clotted cream and marmalade

This is not a complex blend, but it is very focused, very pure, and very high concept. In wine tasting, saying a wine taste like wine is an insult. In coffee, it goes both ways, there are great "classic cups" that taste like coffee, and which you just enjoy, rather than talk about. Then there's there's the conversation piece coffees that taste so unusual that they invite lots of comments. If you ever wanted to experience an espresso that 100% definitely guaranteed does not taste like coffee, and that's all about the comments, try this version of Black Cat.
Jim Schulman

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#33: Post by malachi »

Black Cat is special to me. The first coffee bar I worked at decided to switch from the (crap) coffee we'd been using - and brought in samples from many top roasters (at the time). Regular customers and employees all had a chance to comment and vote on the various coffees - and Intelligentsia ending up being the favorite. As a result, Black Cat was the first truly good espresso I ever got to work with.

This was back in 2003 or so. At that time, I described Black Cat as follows - "an espresso for people who love American IPAs." While the coffees in Black Cat have changed, over the years the basic direction and flavor philosophy (if not profile) of Black Cat has remained the same. Dark chocolate, dark fruit - a heavy and big espresso with a ton of body and strong but not unpleasant bitterness. A very "American" rendition of espresso springing more from our brewed coffee heritage than the Italian traditions.

So you can imagine my surprise when I started working with this newest incarnation of the blend and discovered something radically different - with little to no link between it and the Black Cat(s) of the past 7 years.

This Black Cat is a rather simple and light espresso. Dominated by sweet citrus acidity (candied orange rind, bergamot, sweet lime zest, kumquat), it's a subtle and almost soft coffee.

Parameters were also quite different from the old Black Cat recipe. Instead of the "coarse grind, updosed, tight flow" approach of the past - best results seemed to be far closer to a traditional italian mode (finer grind, neutral dose, moderately fast flow). My best results were achieved as follows:
- 200f
- 17g (LM OEM ridged double)
- 1.6oz
- 23s

This gave a smooth, creamy espresso with a light body dominated by the citrus marmalade notes described above. Finish had a hint of droste orange chocolate and some light caramel.

Some things to note about this.... First, the coffee responds exceptionally poorly to higher brew temps, becoming very bitter and thin and harsh. It's highly advisable to stay well below 201f. Second, updosing this coffee is a bad idea. Higher doses result in the coffee losing all the sweetness that balances out the acidity - creating a shot that is acid and bitter only (not pleasant). Finally, I found it to be very important to cut the flow immediately upon blonding. Going further resulted in very astringent notes and a radical reduction in what little body the espresso has.

Some derived hints on direction:
- if you find the espresso to be thin, sharp and bitter with a slightly ashy chalky note, you probably need to lower your brew temp.
- if you find the espresso to be both sour and bitter - dominated by a very sharp citric acid note - you probably will want to reduce your dose.
- if you have a ton of orange but little to no sweetness (and no astringency) then your flow rate is probably a little slow and you might want to loosen the grind a bit.
- if the shots are almost without body, lead with a very sharp orange-rind/coriander bite and finish with drying astringency, then you might want to cut the shot a bit shorter.

This coffee seems best as either a straight shot or a very short milk drink. In more than a couple oz of milk, the coffee is nearly entirely lost and in Americanos it becomes thin and sharp.

Over all I'd say this is a good and serviceable coffee if not a great one. It's lacking that something special, first of all, and to be honest I find it a little one-dimensional and boring. Now... to be fair... I tend to really prize coffee that have what I've described in the past as a "signature flavor" - and this lacks that. If it only had a little more chocolate (for example).... But others may find it to be wonderful. Don't get me wrong.... this is a good coffee. It's better than 99% of the coffees out there. But at the end of the day it's probably going to be disappointing to those who were looking for the "classic" Black Cat flavor profile. This one is less for those who like an American IPA and more for the drinkers of classic German Lagers.

I suppose it is unfair to compare this coffee to memories of the past. But the truth is that - when it's called "Black Cat Classic" - Intelligentsia has to be prepared for people to do this. Especially when the name "Black Cat" has accrued so much meaning over time. Yeah, this is a good coffee. In fact, I'm confident that some people (those who are looking for something that is Illy-like but with more character and flavor or those who love single origin pulped natural brazil espresso for example) will love this espresso. But - to me and probably to many long-time fans - it's not Black Cat.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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#34: Post by RapidCoffee »

Black Cat Espresso, May 27 (roasted May 19)
coffee dose: 15g
brew ratio: 67-73% (shot volume 40-43ml, espresso weight 21-22g)
shot time: ~30 sec after appearance of espresso on bottom of basket
temperature range: 88C-93C (190.4F-199.4F) in increments of 1C

Grinder: Robur with doser and (full) mini-hopper.
Espresso machine: La Spaziale S1 V1, no preinfusion, brew pressure (no flow) 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, stopping at ~40ml/30sec/blonding, then weighed resulting liquid
Visually, all pours were good to excellent.
For tasting, poured shot into prewarmed cappuccino cup. Sampled straight, then with 1/2t sugar, then with increasing amounts (1-3oz) of microfoamed milk.

Tasting notes
Sour, tangy, acidic, fruity.
Orange, some chocolate with milk.

Sourness down. Pleasantly fruity.
Orange, some chocolate with milk.

Sourness gone. Still some fruitiness with orange notes.
Good with milk.

Slight bitterness emerging. Fruitiness continues to diminish.
Chocolate is disappearing, slight caramel emerging.
Good with milk.

Definite bitterness. Fruitiness is disappearing.
Chocolate has been replaced with caramel and a slight nuttiness (cashew?) in milk.

Too bitter for my palate. Decided to stop temperature testing here.

This rendition of Black Cat Classic Espresso is somewhat one-dimensional, although I did enjoy it. As noted, the dominant taste is fruity orange, especially at low-to-middle brew temps. There was a decided shift in flavor from fruity to bitter around 90C. I preferred the shots brewed at 89-91C (my Spaz S1 settings).

It was surprisingly difficult to dial in the grind on my normally bulletproof Robur, and I saw more shot-to-shot variation with this blend than most roasts. At 8 days post-roast, perhaps the BC is nearing the end of its optimal lifespan.

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#35: Post by another_jim »

Black Cat Update

As the coffee gets past a week in age, the dominant orange fades a little, and the middle range flavors of Brazilian coffees emerge. In dry processed Brazils, these tend to be cocoa, roasted nuts and earthy flavors; on wet and pulp dry process ones, they tend to be reminiscent of soft drinks like colas or root beers.

In Black Cat, I'm getting the soft drink flavors. When these combine with the orange marmalade flavor, it makes for a striking effect. The shot is still ultra-clean, and each flavor very distinct; but the combination is very odd, even bizarre.

The Intelligentsia Roasterie in Chicago is next to the Goose Island Brewery (a very nice local beer). Goose Island makes a light fruity summer ale using wheat and citrusy hops. It occurs to me that this Black Cat is the espresso equivalent. If you take the blend for what it is: a slightly tongue in cheek summer blend of unusual and high quality Brazil coffees; you will enjoy it. If you are expecting the big heavy Black Cat of old, you will be disappointed.
Jim Schulman

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#36: Post by cannonfodder »

It has been a while since I had Black Cat espresso so I was looking forward to trying it out again. My coffee was roasted on the 19th and arrived at my home a day later. I allowed the bag to rest for 4 days prior to opening it. When I open a new bag of coffee, I have a strange ritual, I like to cut the top off the bag then promptly stick my face in the bag and take a couple of deep breaths to catch the essence of the coffee. The Black Cat came across as sweet, citrus, light floral with no smoke or heavy roast aromas. The beans are light roasted. A mahogany color with some darker chocolate color veining. I would call it a city+ roast. Out of first crack but far from second would be my guess.

I cleaned my Elektra and Cimbali grinder then got started with the new blend. I went with a Marzocco ridged straight sided triple basket for this coffee. That allows me to get more coffee in the basket while maintaining some headspace for the machine. A critical item for Elektra espresso machines.

I will cut to the chase about my findings. My best results were obtained with an 18 gram dose pulled at 199F at 25 seconds for 1.5 ounces (by weight on a scale, almost 2 oz by crema volume). I was getting a citrus and floral (jasmine) nose. In the cup, orange with a little orange in the background with a strong orange base. Did I mention it tasted of sweet candied orange peel? This is nothing like the Black Cat I have had in the past with its deep brooding body and flavors. This iteration is lively, a mild acidity with some light florals in the background but dominated by candy orange and ginger with medium body. There is a slight bitter note in the background but it is more like a bitter citrus, like the pith of an orange peel, not an offensive bitter.

I did work the blend up and down doses as well as temperatures. It did not take much over 200F to bring out some not so tasty distillates, an acrid, don't do that again flavor. That resounded throughout the tests, any dose, any flow rate, anything over 200-201 the cup went bad real fast. At lower doses the cup went bland. It lost what body it had and flavors were unbalanced. At higher flow rates the distillates and bitters came back out.

As the coffee ages, around day 7/8, the strong citrus started to town down and other flavors started to emerge. I am not sure what to make of them. I am having a hard time putting my finger on the new player in the cup. It is still predominately orange but not as in your face orange. Possibly a little nut or stronger floral (orange blossom?) in the cup. The shot parameters have not varied, I am still getting the best results from the above combination. It is still a good, if not unusual cup but I am finding that I preferred the coffee earlier in the resting period with the stronger orange notes.

In milk it was quite interesting. Being a medium body with citrus flavors, it will get lost fast. I found it agreeable as cappuccino with 4-5 ounces of milk/micro foam. The citrus is still playing in the cup, with an almost orange sherbet taste. I found it pleasing but preferred it as a straight shot. With the lighter body and zesty citrus and sugar I would find it a nice summer espresso, the equivalent of a summer wheat ale for those times when a deep, heavy drink would be too much. I liked it, and will buy it again.
Dave Stephens

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#37: Post by HB (original poster) »

This concludes the formal review of Stumptown Coffee Roasters - Hairbender and Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea - Black Cat Classic.

For those who wish to add their results for these two coffees, this thread will remain unlocked until the start of the next review cycle in approximately one week. The next two coffees will be announced in Nominees for "Favorite Espresso Blends" review.
Dan Kehn

Versalab: maker and supplier of finest espresso equipment
Sponsored by Versalab
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#38: Post by malachi »

Anyone who has questions about either/both/any of these coffees - feel free to ask.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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#39: Post by tekomino » replying to malachi »

Keep doing what you doing. :D This is very useful.

I got Hairbender other day and had no trouble dialing it in using your instructions. It would have been much more time consuming without them, but Hairbender is now on my list of favorite blends. Really great coffee and it goes great with little milk.

I had trouble though pulling it with Cremina since temperature is not really under my control. As first shot when machine is coldest, I get lemon bite, on second shot it is too bitter... It seems Hairbender works best at certain tight temperature range.

I would love to read how you go about dialing-in coffee you don't know anything about. Can you write little bit about that? What's your process, any patterns etc.?
Refuse to wing it! http://10000shots.com

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#40: Post by malachi »

It's an on-going process for each of us - and I think all of us have our own methods and practices.

I've written a little about my approach (and others have commented on their own) in a couple places at a couple different times.

Here, here and here (in chronological order).
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin