Favorite Espressos 2016

Behind the scenes of the site's projects and equipment reviews.
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#1: Post by HB »

This year's review will continue in the style of last year's reviews, i.e., evaluations will be blind and reviewers will not know what espresso is being evaluated until they post their commentary. Over the course of a week, we'll review a coffee. During this period, the thread will be locked so peer reviewers can post their comments together, then the thread will be opened for public comments.

For members who wish to play along, the (non-blind) reviewer who arranged the delivery will post an introduction with "spoilers" which can be clicked to show the name(s) of the coffee currently being reviewed.

The first review begins this weekend.

DISCLAIMER: Unless otherwise noted, evaluation coffees were provided for review purposes by the roaster. Other than said samples, the reviewers receive no financial or material compensation of any kind from the roasters or Home-Barista.com for evaluating these coffees.
Dan Kehn

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#2: Post by TomC »

This is our first official review for 2016. I have been pleased with some of my previous purchases from the roaster who then provided these review samples for us. The review notes below will be kept under "spoiler" tags until all the reviews are published. I'll leave an explanation for each spoiler for folks to decide on their own if they want that information at this moment.

For blind reviewers wishing to know a bit more about the roaster, the coffee components and general philosophy without me revealing the name of the company or name of the blend, click the first reveal immediately below.

Spoiler: show
This roastery is headed up by a foodie/French cuisine enthusiast and sommelier, who has deep roots in Italian wines and culture. They have been roasting direct trade (one of the very first in his area in Seattle) for almost 20 years now. The coffee blend is comprised of two Southeastern Brazilian coffees, one a full natural, and the other, a pulped natural. This coffee is roasted on a Dietrich, aiming primarily for balance and depth.

The following spoiler will reveal the coffee, with a link to the roastery.

This reveal will show what the roaster is finding in their tasting notes if you'd like to compare after you've gotten some experience with the coffee.

Spoiler: show
Caramel notes, sweet chocolate, light nutty finish leading towards mild baking chocolate

My tasting notes. Overall, I was quite pleased with the coffee, noting foremostly it's incredible balance and development, which I believe is very hard to achieve. It didn't squash all its sparkle, nor did it taste baked and roasty. It works well on its own, even though it was specifically developed for a milk based beverage. This would be a first choice espresso for me to have on hand to share with guests and company that might otherwise be put off by brighter, more acidic roasts. More detailed flavor notes below.

Spoiler: show
Today's shots (day 6) are pulling easily and tasting good so I proceeded to start now. This blend was designed for a milk based beverage in mind, but straight shots reveal tasty stuff that stands up on its own. Straight shots pulled today (Linea and Mazzer Major) following the suggested parameters (18g in-35g out, 201 at the puck) are balanced, rich and with a mouthfeel bordering on lip smacking. The roast level looks darker than what I'm actually tasting in the cup. I'm finding just enough sparkle and acidity to keep me interested, yet lacking negative roastiness and astringency. It's well developed, approachable and deeply bodied. This blend has impressed me previously, which is why I elected to review it properly.

Last night's shots were mostly sweet and salty caramels with dark cocoa notes, with just the slightest hint of anise in the finish. Day 7, the straight shot is revealing a hint of red fruit, akin to biting into a plum and tasting the skin of the plum as you chew. In milk, its foremost caramel with almond roca and a chocolate/cocoa note that is very reminiscent of those See's Candies dark chocolate hard candy pops.

As it cools, the sweet almond note resonates a bit more, with a slight boozy amaretto note. Mouthfeel is rich, unctuous and lingering. This blend is not complex. It's a 3 note harmony, with an incredible balance. It pulls very easily and is quite forgiving.
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#3: Post by drgary »

I really like this coffee. An H-B member was visiting my home last weekend. I pulled a shot without careful measurement for him and his wife. They had liked my home roasts a lot, but this was their favorite. I'm not surprised because my home roasts don't (yet?) approach this sophisticated blend. I found it very easy to dial in. Here's my review, set behind spoiler tags for those who want to taste it on their own before comparing to others.

Spoiler: show
Initial instructions for this review were that it would not be blind, so I opened the packaging and read the letter from the roaster that included his preferred brew parameters of 18 gm dose, yielding 50 - 60 ml in a 25 second extraction with water hitting the coffee between 201 and 204°F. 50 ml of this coffee weighs about 36 gm. I adjusted these parameters to the pre-infusion and flow rate that works with my Conti Prestina vintage commercial lever. The Prestina lever starts at about 8 bars pressure and declines from there, showing the shot at the end. My Prestina is modified by adding PID (proportional, integral, derivative) computer temperature control. I've offset the PID readout by 52°F to display a shot temperature that matches the flavor profile of brewed coffees, so my shot temperature is approximate. For this coffee boiler temperature offset to brew was always showing at 201 - 202°F. However my commercial lever has declining temperature throughout the shot. The combination of temperature and pressure decline yields excellent flavor definition and avoids overextraction and overheating. As a shot brewer results with this machine are very consistent, especially since I don't pull shots in rapid succession. My grinder is a Fiorenzato Doge Conico with 68 mm conical burrs.

My favorite shots were 18 gm in, 35 gm out, using a 30 sec preinfusion, followed by a shot after releasing the lever of 33 - 35 seconds. Peak flavor was between five and seven days post-roast with the sweetness just starting to fade on the eighth day. At these brew parameters shots were very smooth and balanced with rich crema, tasting like dark chocolate, sweet raspberry in the mid-range, baker's chocolate, cocoa and mild bitter almond in the finish. The sensation of drinking this coffee was like coating your mouth with rich hot chocolate. At day 9, I needed to updose to maintain the same flow rate, and the sweet almond taste was more prominent.

This is a very fine version of a traditional Italian roast, where it is fully developed in a way that I like a lot. The shots I pulled showed none of the harshness of darker roasts done with less finesse. The roaster's recommended coffee to milk ratio is a standard cappuccino of 150 - 160 ml. The coffee flavor shows well at that 3:1 ratio, emphasizing dark chocolate.

I did not vary temperature much but did experiment with more updosed shots and longer pulls. Updosing disrupted the fine balance and smoothness exhibited at my preferred brew ratio and brought forward the bittersweet chocolate. Updosing could help emphasize flavor in larger milk drinks, however. A tighter grind for a longer lever pull yielded a shot that was extremely smooth, but where flavor notes weren't as clearly defined.

I prefer this coffee as espresso rather than brewed, because espresso emphasizes the balance and finesse of the flavor notes accompanied by the smooth and rich mouthfeel. My impression of the brewed cup at the fifth day post-roast was a clean, sweet cup in the middle range with a musty, earthy taste with some bitterness at upper end. There was a hint of very mild acidity, and when slurping the brewed coffee for cupping there's a vanilla note too. Aftertaste was dominantly earthy with almond bitter at back of the mouth and sweet in the middle. To be fair, the coffee hadn't peaked at this point, and I did like the brewed version. My brewing gear consisted of a Bonavita PID kettle set to 204°F, a Clever Coffee Dripper for immersion brewing, and a Bunn grinder equipped with Ditting burrs.

My formal review was on my commercial lever, very carefully controlled. I will add notes about what it's like to pull this coffee more casually on at least one vintage home lever.

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

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#4: Post by RapidCoffee »

Check out this coffee for a highly enjoyable, classic northern Italian-style espresso blend.

Spoiler: show
My two 12oz bags of Caffe Lusso Gran Miscela Carmo were roasted 6/29 and arrived two days later, in beautiful black and copper themed bags.

Per liner notes: this is a blend of three Brazilian coffees, roasted medium dark.

Taste testing was done after 5-7 days rest. Test equipment includes a dosered Robur grinder and La Spaziale S1V1 espresso machine (53mm grouphead, double boiler). Coffee dose and extracted espresso were weighed to the nearest 0.1g for calculation of brew ratios. Coffee dose was 15.0g, tamped to 30# with a flat Espro tamper. Grind was adjusted to extract 27g (+/-1g) liquid (~50 ml) in 30 seconds, for a 55% brew ratio. Brew temperature was adjusted in 1C increments from 88C to 92C (uncalibrated). Espresso was stirred and tasted straight, with sugar, and with steamed 4% milk.

Gran Miscela Carmo is a traditional northern Italian roast. The dry grinds have a generic coffee aroma. The taste profile is rich dark coffee, mild and well balanced, with little acidity. Flavors include dark chocolate and caramel, especially with milk. This is rounded out with a suggestion of nuts and very little fruit (perhaps a hint of cherry).

Straight shots are good, but somewhat lacking in complexity. The blend shines most brightly in cappuccinos, where milk brings out the dark chocolate and caramel notes.

Gran Miscela Carmo is very easy to dial in at standard espresso settings. Extractions are beautiful. All of my pours were right on the money (perhaps a first).

Obligatory espresso porn.

This blend has a wide range of acceptable brew temperatures. Brew temperature settings from 88C-92C all produced decent shots on my Spaz, with the sweet spot at 90C. Bitterness increases over 90C, but the results are still very drinkable with milk.

Summary: Gran Miscela Carmo exemplifies traditional northern Italian roasts. This blend is very tolerant of grind, dose and temperature variations, making it an excellent choice for espresso novices. Highly recommended for those who enjoy traditional espresso blends. Not for lovers of light roast "3WOJ" coffees.

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#5: Post by dominico »

Spoiler: show
I'll start off by saying that I reviewed this coffee completely blind; during the review I no had idea who roasted it. I did know that it was roasted as a traditional espresso profile and that it was designed to shine in milk. I reviewed it exclusively as a straight espresso: partly because I rarely drink milk drinks and partly because I feel this coffee is good enough to stand on its own as a straight espresso.

Overall Impression:
This coffee is a good example of a traditional style roast done well. It is extremely balanced, so much so that I had a difficult time pulling a bad shot, even after going all over the board from ristretto to lungo of various baskets, doses and shots times.
For the most part the coffee puts forth a good representation of chocolates and evokes the "warm fuzzies" of contentedness (and nostalgia) I get in my belly after finishing a quality traditional espresso. It is missing some of those complex undertones I usually look for on the tail end of a good Italian roast, but then again it presents none of the bitterness that I have to try to avoid in most italian roasts either.
I found this coffee extremely easy to dial in: after going through almost 12 ounces of it all of the shots have been pleasurable. I found this coffee gained complexity as it aged. A few days post roast it was all about the chocolates. As it aged walnut, almond, and the lively undertones of the coffee started to shine through.
All shots pulled on a vintage commercial lever with Mahlgut Grist grinder.

As a normale:
Pulled as a cooler shot at the suggested 18g I got a very generic, yet pleasant, milk chocolate and a mouthfeel that I can only describe as "fluffy".
A very pleasant shot yet not very complex.

Either pulling it hotter and dropping the dose to 16g brought out more of the complex "background orchestra"; although pulling it hotter added a somewhat bitter edge it.

Pulling it faster (around 25 seconds) brings forward an initial almond that gradiates to a walnut as the shot cools.

As a ristretto:
Intense semisweet bordering on milk chocolate sweetness, fades to baking chocolate in the finish, rich satisfying mouthfeel without even a hint of roastiness.

Final thoughts:
This is a coffee I would choose to serve at a party; everybody who likes coffee (and some people who normally don't) will like this espresso. If you have a friend who is "espresso-curious", serve them this, you just may get them hooked.
Il caffè è un piacere, se non è buono che piacere è?

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#6: Post by HB (original poster) »

A solid northern Italian style espresso, enjoyable straight or with small/medium milk.

Spoiler: show
This coffee was shipped directly from the roaster, so I employed an accomplice to transfer the labeled coffee bags to an anonymous container. Tom had mentioned it was a dark(er?) roasted coffee. While it did have a slight roasted scent, there was no ashiness. I don't regularly drink dark-roasted coffee, but I enjoy an occasional one--if it's done well.

As a straight espresso, the flavors of black walnuts, tobacco, and chocolate predominate, especially as it cools. Although billed as dark roasted, it has only mild lingering roast notes. The finish is clean; unlike some darker roasted coffees, it leaves no ashy aftertaste. I've long suspected this is why most Americans drown espresso in milk. This espresso has a pleasant roasted edge; moreso than Counter Culture's Forty-Six that I wrote up in the Olympia Cremina review.

The chocolates improve as it ages. I enjoy it as a straight espresso. It works well as a cappuccino too, where the milk's sweetness rounds off the already nicely balanced coffee. It's surprising that an espresso works so well both au naturel and with milk; usually roasters lean one way or another. This roaster expertly threaded the needle, capturing the essence of Pacific Northwest cafe espresso blends. I was very much reminded of my review of Caffe d'Arte.

The pours were ridiculously easy to nail. If you need a starting point, I recommend 202°F and normale brew ratio.
Dan Kehn

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#7: Post by shadowfax »

Spoiler: show
Caffè Lusso Gran Miscela Carmo Espresso Blend

The coffee arrived very promptly after its roast date (Wednesday, June 29) on Friday, July 1, super-heated from a day in the UPS truck in the Texas summer. I started sampling the coffee on Saturday, July 2, but didn't really begin reviewing it in earnest till Sunday, July 3. I worked with it periodically and exclusively all the way till Saturday, July 9. As mentioned, this coffee shipped direct from the roaster, and I didn't take any measures to blind myself.

On first sight, the roast was much deeper than I am used to, a deep, dark brown with glistening little droplets of oil emerging from a portion of the beans. The dry aroma of the whole beans was mellow and chocolatey, with a pronounced roastiness.

This coffee's dominant flavors are nut (walnut, cashew, peanut), baker's chocolate, wood, and smoke. The best shots feature a balancing caramel sweetness and a subtle hint of cherry acidity. The coffee is distinctly clean, lacking any hint of funk or earthiness. When dialed in, this produces a decent but simple shot of espresso. The crema is stiff, airy, voluminous, and persistent, but typically marred by astringency; every shot I tried was considerably better for dispensing the crema, either by vigorous stirring, waiting awhile, or both-even 8 or 9 days post-roast.

The roaster billed this coffee as one particularly intended for milk drinks, and indeed, it does produce a pleasing cappuccino. The nuttiness is pronounced in this format, the caramel transforms to dolce de leche, and the faint acidity emerges to lend the whole thing a "peanut butter and jelly" taste.

This coffee seems suited for those looking for extremely low-acid coffees, and especially anyone looking for "chocolate PB&J" cappuccinos.

For this coffee, I found the roaster's spec of an 18g dose, a 50-60 mL shot (30-40g by weight, for me), at 201-204°F in ~25s, to be pretty accurate. The coffee is relatively tolerant of different temperatures. On the other hand, it is very sensitive to a fine grind, and preparations which necessitate this (e.g., VST baskets and very long "Slayer style" preinfusions) are sure to bring out the worst of the coffee's astringence and an ashy finish. My preferred brew parameters were 18-18.5g in a relatively deep basket (Synesso 18g ridgeless), 32-36g brew weight (50-60% brew ratio), a brew temperature of 200-201°F, and a total brew time of 22-30s (with little to no preinfusion). Long brew times emphasize walnut and wood notes, but suffer from muted acidity, mild astringency, and ashiness in the finish. Shorter brew times emphasize chocolate, a milder nut flavor (cashew?), caramel, and more noticeable acidity. The coffee is easy to work with, but while well-balanced shots come easily, I struggled to produce a shot that was both well-balanced and interesting.
Nicholas Lundgaard

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#8: Post by cannonfodder »

Bit of a delay but here it is.

Spoiler: show
I happen to be on call when this coffee arrived. The long days had prevented me from spending any time on Home-Barista so when the box arrived I eagerly opened the box, read all about the coffee etc... so this was not a blind tasting for me.

I have to comment on the packaging. This is easily one of the nicest packaging I have seen in a long time. The bag was elegant, well designed and loaded with informative but not over the top information. If what was in the bag was anything like the packaging it should be good.

My coffee was roasted on 6-29 and arrived on the 2nd. The blend went into the grinder the next morning.
The coffee itself is roasted just a little darker than I normally roast but far from being a dark roast. It was a nice even full city to full city + roast. The dry aroma was pleasing but somewhat non-descript coffee aroma with some background sweetness. Ground the nose opens up with a nice toasty aroma with caramel and light fruit sweetness.

This is labeled as an espresso coffee. My first cup happen to be a siphon pot. As a brewed cup it was somewhat bland. Not offensive in any way but it did not make me sit up and take note of the experience. It was nice mellow and balanced cup with no one flavor profile jumping out at me. Little roast, little sweetness, little nut, little chocolate but uneventful. In my experience, coffees that are balanced but uneventful in a brewed cup often make good espresso. The flavors are intensified in the extraction. Likewise many coffees that are outstanding in the brewed cup do not make good espresso as the flavors are amplified and overpowering. I had high hopes for the espresso.

The next few days I managed to burn through the entire first pound, yup, it was good. My grinder is a Cimbali MAX which uses the DRM style hybrid burr set and the espresso machine, an Elektra A3 which I have been using for the past 10 years. The roaster recommends a temperature slightly on the high side of the extraction space, 201-204F, 18 gram dose with a slightly abbreviated shot at 25 seconds for 50-60 ml in volume. I found those parameters to be about spot on. I used a LM HQ triple basket dosed to 18-19 grams. My machine needs headspace so that is a 'normal' dose for this basket on my machine. I preferred a temperature on the lower side of the recommendation, 201-202F. Above the bitters started to become more pronounced in the cup along with more roast note and less origin note. I run a 7 second preinfusion at 3 bar then 8.7 bar for the remainder of the shot. I was running 27 second extractions including the pre infusion.

As a straight espresso the cup was thick, creamy, baker's chocolate with a little caramel, black walnut and a little tobacco (in a good way) note. I enjoy a good cigar and this reminded me of nibbling on high cacao dark chocolate while enjoying a good earthy, nutty cigar. I was getting a touch of berry in the background as well. Pulled more ristretto the body and buttery mouthfeel increased substantially along with the dark chocolate intensity. I was also getting more berry note but at the expense of the sweetness skewing the blend toward the bitter side. Pulled lungo the coffee washed out and some unpleasant distillate came out.

I thought this blend really shines in small milk drinks. A traditional cappuccino or macchiato with just a touch of sugar in the milk. The chocolates and caramels really boomed balancing out the slightly bitter black walnut. As the cup cools the nut fades along with the slight bitter and the chocolate and caramel/turbinado sugar note steps up. Almost to a molasses or sorghum sweetness. A very nice easy drinking cup that is sure to agree with those that do not like the high acidity and citrus blends being offered in many shops these day.
Dave Stephens

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#9: Post by another_jim »

Spoiler: show
OVERALL TASTE: The coffee has an alluring brandy aroma from the natural processing, with very pleasing cocoa and dark caramel flavors, along with a dash of dark roast smokiness. There is very little acidity. The coffee is too flat for brewing, but makes lovely chocolate milk cappucinos and medium/dark roast straight shots. This is a traditional espresso, but very clean, without the slightest hint of funk.

DIALLING IN: When the coffee is fresh, use a coarse grind, low temepratures, and fast flow to control the smokiness. The balance of the coffee improves, and shot making is very simple, after around 10 days pst roast.

WHO SHOULD BUY: Very highly recommended for people who enjoy Italian espresso roasters, but are looking for higher quality coffee.
Jim Schulman

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#10: Post by HB (original poster) »

Thanks Tom for arranging this review! And thanks to the reviewers for their insights. The thread is unlocked and comments are welcome.
Dan Kehn