Favorite Espressos 2017

Behind the scenes of the site's projects and equipment reviews.
User avatar

#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.

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

User avatar
Team HB

#2: Post by TomC »

I can't think of another cultivar that is more approachable for espresso than a good washed Ethiopian. I think these tend to be near universal favorites and for good reason, they nail delicacy, sweetness and acidity easier than other coffees that tend to bring more bitters along with them. I find when I veer far from an Ethiopian coffee, it starts to become a trade-off of one of those three primary traits I'm seeking. When looking for an well crafted Ethiopian, paying a visit to the King of Coffee will put you in good order. George Howell's encyclopedic knowledge of coffee likely exceeds all others and his sourcing efforts and farming knowledge pay dividends in the cup. So that's where we begin this years Favorite Espresso review.

What's so unique about this coffee, this company, their roasting approach, the farmers and mill, etc is that for the very first time I can recall, the entire Team HB body was unanimously enthusiastic about a coffee roasted this light. That's a big deal. It speaks volumes when all these efforts combine to achieve something so well received. The overabundance of sweetness really kept everything interesting.

You can find Reko Espresso here at George Howell Coffee Company. For the most part, with the exception of one member, this review was not blind. With that being said, if other members wish to try the coffee and evaluate it for themselves before comparing against the review panel, they can read the remaining portion of our reviews kept behind spoiler tags.

Spoiler: show
Reko Espresso is a washed coffee (albeit with a long fermentation time, similar to a pulp natural), sourced from heirloom varietals scattered amongst 800 or so small farms in the Kochere region of Ethiopia, roasted two ways, the drip version likely being a slightly lighter roast. This roast appears close to a city/city + range with some retained bean surface texture, the beans are mixed in size and on the smaller screen size. The whole bean fragrance is heady dark caramels and toast with the ground bean fragrance being more savory, with touches of baking spice and orange peel. A sensation not unlike the savory citrus found in Asian orange chicken sauces. Fortunately, in the cup, the savory note is completely replaced with a variety of deeply sweet citrus/marmalade notes. The whole bean and ground aroma don't translate and it's a rather surprising revelation to find these delicate citrus notes devoid of the savory backbone.

Pulled via their recommendations on the modified Linea (needle valve pre-infusion control) and MonoCon (Monolith Conical), 18g in, 40g out in 38 seconds with my boiler set to give me a group water temp of 204°F yields a cup of wonderful, sweet citrus, namely orange marmalade (this is no 3rd wave sour orange juice), hints of lychee and even a faint cucumber emerge. The finish resembles buttered toast. I note at coarser grinds the intensity of the citrus moves more towards key lime pie than the orange marmalade where I prefer since this also tips the balance, removing most of the minor bitter development notes, leaving the voluminous sweetness intact. The acidity energizes the shot with sparkle. The body is thin, not uncommon for a washed Ethiopian and the crema is thin and quickly dissipated. Folks seeking to tame the bright intensity of the acids and citrus can grind finer to reveal more bittering notes, perhaps the blood orange side of citrus and this also carries some bitter dark chocolate notes in the tail end. Although I quite like washed Ethiopians in milk drinks, the citrus vanishes and the interplay between the milk fat and maillard notes of the coffee blend to reveal toast, a hint of hazelnut and oodles of caramels.

This coffee would be a top tier recommendation for someone looking for a light roasted espresso with clean, candy sweet citrus notes. It hits it out of the park in terms of sweetness and is a light roast coffee done exceptionally well.
Join us and support Artisan Roasting Software=https://artisan-scope.org/donate/

User avatar
Team HB

#3: Post by RapidCoffee »

Spoiler: show
This 12oz bag of coffee arrived on March 31, and I sampled it for this review April 1 and 2. The bag was clearly labelled with the roaster and coffee, so obviously my review is not blind.

George Howell's Ethiopia Reko

Liner notes indicate this is is a washed, high-grown Ethiopian Kochere, from the Yirgacheffe region, harvested in 2014 and roasted for espresso on March 27. I would characterize the roast as medium. The beans are peaberries, evenly roasted and beautifully culled. There were essentially no broken bean fragments, quakers, or scorchers in the bag. None.

Clean beans!

Either my nose is on the blink, or this roast exhibits an uncanny lack of aromaticity. I was unable to identify any dominant aromas in either the whole beans or ground coffee.

To start, I sampled the coffee in an Aeropress at a 1:15 brew ratio. This produced a clean, mild, balanced, tea-like brew with modest orange flavors.

I then sampled it as espresso on my Spaz S1. Coffee was ground on a dosered Robur, and dose was held constant at 15g (comparable to 18g on a 58mm basket). Brew temperatures were tested from 88C to 94C, brew ratios varied between 1:2 (50%, normale) and 2:3 (67%, modest ristretto), and brew times ranged from 25-30s. Coffee tasting was done first as straight espresso, then with sugar, then with sugar and a small amount of milk.

This coffee was relatively easy to dial in a standard grind and brew settings, although it blonds early.

Crema color tends (coincidentally) to orange hues.

My espresso notes echo those from the Aeropress: clean, balanced, mild, tea-like, with a taste profile that is predominantly orange: orange aroma, orange juice, orange rind. There is essentially no chocolate, nuts, leather, tobacco, liquor aromatics. Liner notes state apricot and date; perhaps there is a hint of stone fruit, but I cannot taste date, raisin, or other dried fruit. This coffee is mild enough to enjoy as a straight shot, but also works well with small amounts of sugar and milk. At 5-6 days post roast, there was still a hint of effervescence. I suspect it is optimal for espresso after at least a week of rest.

I liked the Reko best when brewed at 92-93C. It is drinkable throughout a wide range of brew temperatures, but high and low temperatures emphasize sour acidity and/or orange rind bitterness. Slightly shorter pulls (25s) seemed to produce a more balanced flavor profile. Normale brew ratios (1:1) yield a light, tea-like shot, whereas modest ristretto brew ratios (2:3) enhance the syrupy mouthfeel.

I have never jumped on the 3WOJ* espresso bandwagon, preferring medium roasted espresso blends with a balanced taste profile to intensely fruity/acidic/sour light roasts. This coffee, with its citrus taste profile, could certainly be classed as 3WOJ. But it's a very enjoyable example of that category.

Who should buy this coffee: those looking for an exceptionally clean, light cup, dominated by citrus fruit flavors.
Who should not buy this coffee: those who prefer a classic Italian or west coast espresso blend, darker roasts, chocolate/nut/leather/tobacco taste profiles.

* Jim Schulman's wonderful acronym: third wave orange juice :-)

User avatar
HB (original poster)

#4: Post by HB (original poster) »

Spoiler: show
Due to obvious package marking and a misunderstanding, this is an unblinded evaluation. While I've heard of the roaster, George Howell, this is my first evaluation of any of his offers. The suggested brew temperature was a blazing 204°F. A lot hotter than my usual 202ish, but why not? The recommended brew ratio was a true double (18 grams in, 36 grams out).

A few days post roast, the first espresso was a panoply of orange flavors: Blood orange, mandarin orange, candied orange. I ran out of orange-themed descriptors and moved onto sweet fruit with a gentle lemongrass finish. Those who are looking for chocolate and nut blends: Run, and run fast! But if you're intrigued by a sweet fruity coffee blend without pucker and an ultra clean finish, you'll love this one.

As the days rolled on, the subsequent espressos were milder versions of the first one. Blood orange transitioned to a delicate lemon cookie; later, I was reminded of thin shortcake biscuits. Attempting to regain the punch of the first day's shots, I increased preinfusion time to a whopping 20 seconds; it's manual trick on the La Marzocco Strada depicted in the video below:
To some degree, this restored a greater level of sweetness, but the intriguing fruit flavors were still subdued. Pulling as a ristretto was not a good idea; the acidity spiked without offsetting sweetness.

Rounding out the exploration, I tried a teenie bit of sugar. That's not recommended, as it rendered its acidity null with no compensation in fruitiness. Stirring does even out the layered flavor profile, if the sharper finish in the last sip offends. I didn't try it as a cappuccino, but I imagine it would be overwhelmed by anything but modest volumes of milk. As the last of the sample made its way through the grinder, the espressos were more delicate and tea-like. This coffee was a wonderful change of pace and I highly recommend it to those who favor straight espresso.

Dan Kehn

User avatar
Team HB

#5: Post by dominico »

Spoiler: show
With some packaging assistance I was able to go into this review completely blind. I received the coffee on March 31 and did the bulk of my review from April 2nd through April 5th.

Initial Impressions
The first few shots I pulled were very floral
Strong aroma, intense - sweet flavors
Aroma: floral, like lavender or potpourri. Some shots even had a fruity pebbles-like aroma to them.
Flavors: plum and lavender. Very sweet, slight "grape jolly rancher" finish.
Very light on body

Generally positive: I'm not a big fan of overly floral coffees, much of my dial-in efforts went to pulling the flavor profile as much in the "fruit" direction as possible. That said, I know a quality coffee when I taste it. Even though floral coffees are not my favorite, this coffee really plays to its strengths. Those who really enjoy floral coffees (or people who really like lavender) will probably find this to be one of their favorites.

I preferred brewing it hotter -> less intense floral flavors, this also brought the plum flavor from somewhat tangy to more of a sweet plum.

Dose and brew ratio really didn't seem to make much of a difference to the taste: the lavender - plum sweetness theme was prevalent throughout. This is not a coffee that most would pull as a ristretto, but if you keep the temp hot and the flow slow you can pull it off and still arrive at a balanced shot. The higher dosed ristretto helped with the body; although the intensity was borderline aggressive, and palate fatigue set it quickly. I went back to lower dosed shots to mellow it out a bit.
Il caffè è un piacere, se non è buono che piacere è?

User avatar
Team HB

#6: Post by another_jim »

Spoiler: show
INTRODUCTION: I did not get the coffee blind; so knew it was the Reko from George Howell. The Reko is a premier Yrgacheffee region coffee wet processed Kenyan style; and George Howell is one of the world's best known and most expert coffee roasters. Obviously, this was going to affect my opinion. To counteract this, I blind tasted the shots and brew against two other light roasts, the Finca Santa Theresa Miel Geisha I roasted myself, and a very sweet light roast blend from Passionhouse, the Chicago House Blend. My notes are based on these semi-blind tastings.

OVERALL TASTE: My cupping notes on the coffee: "Something very lightly baked, like bananas, dominates the nose and taste when warm. Superb body and mild acidity. Mild candied orange peels in the finish. The cup is laid back, perhaps a sign it was roasted for espresso. Apricot and orange flavors come out on cooling; fresh almonds in the finish. A superb coffee in the 92.5 point range." In the subsequent shots, the baked banana and almond aromatics are less apparent, and the fruit more so. Yrgacheffes are typically very floral, but the Reko leans more towards the fruit than the flowers, with the flowers merely a hint. What makes the Reko outstanding is its combination of sweetness and flavor. I was able to easily pick it out in the blind comparisions since it was both sweeter than the Geisha and more flavorful than the Passionhouse blend.

DIALING IN: This is an easy coffee to dial in. Despite the light roast, it is so sweet that a medium grind does better than a fine grind, producing cleaner and more pronounced flavors. Keep the flow rate medium to fast, since ristretto flow rates produce an unbalanced orange peel flavor. Keep the brew temperature on the hotter side.

WHO SHOULD BUY: This coffee is for people who want to know what third wave roasting is at its best, especially if they've been burned by some of the overzealous raw lemon and orange peel concoctions coming from other roasters. It has the citrus and pit fruit flavors, along with the fresh almond and light baked good aromatics, that are the hallmark of third wave roasts, along with more than enough sweetness to balance their higher acidities. Moreover, George Howell is offering the same coffee roasted both for brewing and espresso. Therefore, this roast has a slightly longer development time and balances better in shots than in brew.
Jim Schulman

User avatar
Team HB

#7: Post by drgary »

Spoiler: show
A High-Grown, Washed Ethiopian from a Legendary Roaster

This is a premium coffee roasted by George Howell, the pre-eminent pioneer of specialty coffee. It's an Ethiopian Reko, from the Kochere region, grown at high altitude.

His rendition creates a very balanced espresso when pulled at moderate heat and as a normale. It integrates sweet and fruity and sour flavors, has a rich, slightly sticky mouthfeel and an almond bitter finish. I prefer pulling it on a pump machine rather than my usual preference for levers, because it seems to improve with a short pre-infusion and fast pressure ramp up compared to the longer pre-infusion required with my lever machines.

I found this coffee challenging because it doesn't do as well with the extreme flavor separation created with my Conti Prestina, a spring lever that combines a declining pressure profile and a large intra-shot temperature decline. Another challenging aspect is the coffee's sensitivity to temperature, doing best at 199°F and being more sour below and above that temperature. This coffee does well as a straight espresso. I don't recommend it for milk drinks, because its flavors reside mostly in the mid-range, where they are masked by milk.

I began my review blind. Although it was shipped in a labeled bag and outside packaging, my wife transferred the beans for me. After trying the initial pourover I guessed the origin and processing method, and I even guessed the roaster from comments Tom had made before the distribution. Its East Coast shipment origin was revealed by its early arrivals to reviewers there and delays farther west. My wife had to stifle her laughter when I told her my guess!

I tried dialing in the coffee to the roaster's parameters of 204°F with 18 gm in and 40 gm out and got more sourness and off tastes than I liked. I had trouble balancing its sour acidity with sweetness, and although there were hints of florals at times, these were never prominent. I soon concluded that this was too harsh as a ristretto and moved to a faster flow rate and a normale brew ratio. Then I looked at other reviewers' notes to see if I could do better. John's review notes helped me drop the temperature to 199°F so I could appreciate the coffee more. After all, readers want to know how it tastes at its best.

This is not my favorite roasting style for a high-grown, washed Ethiopian. I prefer less development so I can taste more floral notes. My attempts at pulling this coffee showcased toasty flavors in the place of florals. On the other hand, this roast profile can be easier to tolerate as a daily driver for those who prefer "coffee that tastes like coffee" (a well-known descriptor by Jim Schulman). My preference for that style leans toward Guatemalans that emphasize chocolate and nutty flavors with some spice and florals at the high end.

The initial shipment was sufficiently slow that I didn't try this coffee in its earliest days. A second shipment was sent thanks to Tom's diligent support of the distro. I tried that sample at Day 4 and only started the first bag at Day 7. Here are some detailed flavor and technical notes to fill out my summary above.

I don't have complete information about the Olympia Maximatic shots but can provide this much. My best shot was 13.3 gm in and about 35 gm out, pulled at medium temperature, and with a steady narrow stream rather than drips. Keep in mind that the Maximatic has a 49mm group compared to the normal commercial standard of 58mm. The Maximatic is a "dragon" heat exchanger (HX), which means it starts hot and you cool it with a flush. I did a three second cooling flush before locking in and pulling the shot. As noted earlier, this shot was a balance of sour and fruity, smooth and rich, with a slight almond aftertaste. I didn't pick up many distinctive flavors with this shot but was impressed by its balance and mouthfeel.

The best shot on my Conti lever was five days post roast: 17.5 gm in, 50 gm out, 15 sec preinfusion, 199°F and a 50 second pull. This was smooth, sophisticated, and fruity. It had a woody aftertaste I didn't like but at this temperature the sourness and fruitiness where balanced. When pulled hotter and more sour, the sweetness had a pungency and tasted like oranges.

At Day 4 post roast, second shipment, I could discern more flavors, but the shot was more intense than I like. It was 17 gm in, 41 gm out, 45 sec preinfusion, 56 sec pull, 199°F. A moderate lemon-orange acidity structures this cup. There's a strong sweet orange aftertaste as it rolls over the tongue, with an upward curve into boysenberry sweetness. There's a moderately bitter note like dark pizza crust with a hint of almond. As the cup cools, sweetness and sour are more balanced, with a ripe persimmon flavor (without puckering), and a hint of rum. The aftertaste starts to resolve into a light rum and then something between toast and apricot, as noted on the bag. The longer aftertaste as one's mouth waters from the acidity reveals a flush of sweet nectar. A couple of minutes later, the aftertaste is like yeasty, dark pizza crust. As it approaches room temperature I can understand why the roaster included dates and apricots in the flavor description, but this is only when it's quite cool. At this brew ratio, the mouthfeel is rich, smooth and almost sticky. It comes close to salty but isn't quite there. Is this a favorite coffee? No, I've got a chocolate sweet tooth, but I appreciate its subtle and integrated flavor notes and recommend it for that reason.

Here are my initial, blind pourover notes to give you some additional sense of the flavor profile. Day 7 post roast, first shipment: When ground, the coffee's acidity is apparent in its aroma. The beans are mostly uniform in size with one bean still in parchment. I also noticed one that was a shell and had slight scorching, but these were the exception. I started with a pourover brew using a Driver metal filter at 204°F. This is a medium roast, well developed, with moderately strong acidity. It has prominent nutty flavor, good raspberry sweetness. There's also a note like baked bread and a gentle almond-like bitterness in the finish. As it cools there's a prominent note of yeasty bread. Unlike many coffees I've tried, it does not have a tobacco-like aftertaste but resolves with a gentle bitterness like dark toast. It's earthy and balanced with medium body. Further cooling reveals a moderate woody note and more sweetness emerges. As it cools toward room temperature, the acidity becomes more prominent and a powerfully sweet nectar appears under the tongue. The sweetness is reminiscent of what you would find in a high quality late harvest Reisling. At room temperature the background flavor resolves to walnuts and dark pizza crust with late harvest sweetness.

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

User avatar

#8: Post by shadowfax »

Spoiler: show
N.B.: I did not evaluate this coffee fully blind-I saw the label for the coffee prior to evaluating it.

George Howell Reko Espresso

This coffee is an excellent medium-light roasted washed Yirgacheffe. Its dry aroma is fruity and subtle, with a just a hint of chocolate. It makes an excellent espresso whose character is acidic, but wonderfully balanced by sweetness and heavier fruit flavors. The floral notes that I prize in Yirgacheffes is subtle at best, likely due to the roast. Its acidity is mainly orange in character, with a hint of red fruit, and sometimes green melon-especially at lower doses. There's a heavier, cooked fruit flavor that grounds the cup. The body is juicy and usually slightly syrupy, depending on the brew strength.

I found that the roaster's specification, an 18g dose with a roughly 50% brew ratio and a relatively hot 203-204°F, was just about right for my setup. I preferred 16.5-18g in my VST 18g basket, and found that a fine grind and long, slow preinfusion suited this coffee well. I found that 204°F really was the ceiling on temperature. Much above that, and the acidity is muted and an ashiness emerges in the finish. Shots with a lower dose were softer and juicier, and emphasized the red fruit and green melon, with a more floral character to them. Higher doses were punchier and emphasized the orange notes more.

While I didn't notice roast flavors like chocolate in my straight shots, they are subtly present in cappuccinos. The coffee is probably too light to take much milk, but I found it delightful in my preferred 5 oz. cappuccino. These are creamy and sweet with a hint of chocolate and malt, and a faint floral-fruit aromatic to them.

I found this coffee to be one of the most enjoyable I've reviewed in a long time; it's right up my alley. While I'd recommend it to "acid hounds" such as myself, I suspect I'd have enjoyed the lighter brew roast of Reko even more. I think this coffee is an ideal choice for those who are sensitive to overly bright coffees but interested in experiencing the beautiful flavors that a washed Yirgacheffe has to offer. This is an excellent coffee, and the roast seems to strike a good balance that delivers ample sweetness without sacrificing too much of the delicate flavors in this coffee.
Nicholas Lundgaard

User avatar
Team HB

#9: Post by homeburrero »

Spoiler: show
Disclaimer: I did not review this coffee blind. I knew the reputation of the roaster, and that certainly affected my review. Knowing that it must be a reputable espresso I think I worked harder to appreciate its qualities. This coffee has subtle charms, and had my review been fully blind I might have missed that entirely. I'm very new at evaluating and describing coffee, so I used this opportunity to learn more about tasting high quality espresso.

George Howell Reko Espresso
Dec 2014 harvest, local heirloom varieties
Kochare region, 6070 - 6900 ft above sea level
Washed (after 36 - 48 hours fermenting in peeled fruit)
Roast Date: March 27
Arrived: April 3, via UPS, in bag with one-way valve
Evaluated: Apr 3-10 (7 - 14 days post roast)
Recommended brew temp: 204℉

K30 Vario grinder
Rocket Giotto Evo V2 (rotary pump and 0.8mm gicleur)
18g VST basket

Flush-and-Go with EricS group thermometer
No special pre-infusion shenanigans
OCD grooming (WDT, groom/strikeoff with curved blade, OCD tool)
Coffee beans split into 2 small Ball jars upon arrival, never frozen.

Dialing in:
Compered to most (including an Ethiopia Guji natural I've been enjoying lately) this one needed a relatively coarse grind. I tried ristretto and lungo extremes first, and decided, contrary to what I usually prefer, to not try pulling this one as ristretto. I adjusted my flush to push the brew temps 2℉ - 4℉ above what I usually use because of the 204℉ recommendation from the roaster. My favorite shots were around 18.5 gram dose / 40 grams beverage in 35 seconds. (That's total E-61 lever-up seconds, with first drops at about 6 seconds.)

Beans and ground coffee had a subtle and mild fragrance. Distinctive, but I was not able to describe precisely, other than a sweet mild floral fragrance. Surprised me a little - previous to this, all my favorite Ethiopian coffees have had a ton of fragrance at the bag vent, but this one did not.

As with the beans, the fragrance of the brew was subtle and floral, with maybe a tinge of almond in a long inhale. I got no blueberry or chocolate in the fragrance, nor in the aroma and taste. My best shots were bright, sweet and pleasant, again with subtle, indistinct (to me, a neophyte taster) floral notes. At the last cooled sip, an orange/orange rind flavor was clearly there. On my favorite shots, the crema was a little blonder than what I usually expect, and a little short-lived. That could be partly due to being 7-14 days post roast and the high (for my altitude) brew temps. Conventional wisdom is that my altitude, where water boils at 203℉, may not be conducive to brewing espressos that like a high temperature. I did notice that the hotter shots had more big bubbles than usual in the crema, but I think the high temp shots tasted as good or better than shots pulled a few degrees cooler. The body wasn't syrupy to me, but I'm no expert about that - I'm so used to ristretto-ish shots that I can't properly judge normal ones.

Even at temp and extraction rate extremes, I never got an ashy shot from this coffee. When I went ristretto, I found it a little too sharply acidic for my taste.

I did try a small cappuccino, and made a couple cappuccinos for friends. My friends are normally fans of big blueberry coffees, but really liked this one, describing it as pleasantly floral. I agree, it was floral, along with caramel and other subtle flavors I liked but am at a loss to describe.
nínádiishʼnahgo gohwééh náshdlį́į́h

User avatar
HB (original poster)

#10: Post by HB (original poster) »

TomC wrote:What's so unique about this coffee, this company, their roasting approach, the farmers and mill, etc is that for the very first time I can recall, the entire Team HB body was unanimously enthusiastic about a coffee roasted this light. That's a big deal. It speaks volumes when all these efforts combine to achieve something so well received. The overabundance of sweetness really kept everything interesting.
Thanks Tom for arranging this review!
Dan Kehn