"Attack" in espresso tasting

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
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another_jim
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#1: Post by another_jim »

"Attack" is not a coffee tasting term, nor a wine one from which a lot of coffee tasting terminology is borrowed. It comes from from tasting brandies, whiskeys and other distilled drinks. Attack describes the intensity of the initial hit of the beverage on the tongue, which can vary a lot in these drinks. While it isn't very useful for describing regular coffees, I'm beginning to think it's absolutely huge for espresso.

Many people have remarked that brewed coffees are more like wine, while espresso is more like brandy. I think one of the key distinctions is in this initial attack.

For instance, I never much liked the Vivace blends, and am having problems with Black Cat this year. This is true despite these clearly being good blends that people whose taste I respect like. I could never quite get an analytical handle on the aspect I didn't care for, but which others value. My friend, Joel Klein, who posts here under the name Il Vecchio, is also a bourbon and tequila aficionado, and gave me a few pointers on how to taste them. Turns out, I didn't much like even the best bottles if they had a strong attack. It took a while, but I finally made the connection between this and espresso. I don't enjoy blends with a strong attack. Knowing this, I can bracket this factor out when tasting, and think about how I like the rest of the shot's taste profile. In other words, knowing the term makes me a better espresso taster.

So the next time you taste a shot, think:

Attack --- Taste Profile --- Finish.

It may help you sort out what's happening on your tongue.
Jim Schulman

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Randy G.

#2: Post by Randy G. »

another_jim wrote:"Attack" is not a coffee tasting term.......{snip}........ I don't enjoy blends with a strong attack. Knowing this, I can bracket this factor out when tasting, and think about how I like the rest of the shot's taste profile. In other words, knowing the term makes me a better espresso taster.

So the next time you taste a shot, think:

Attack --- Taste Profile --- Finish.

It may help you sort out what's happening on your tongue.
This, once again, reminds me of how difficult objective tasting can be, and how much training and experience it takes to get good at it. I wish I had the opportunity to get more taste training, but living in the sticks as I do, and being so busy with other obligations at the SCAA shows I just don't get much of a chance... But still, I have a good example:

At the Seattle show I took the beginning roasters course, just to be able to sit in on one course, mingle with some pros, and see what that end of it was all about. Our group roasted two batches- One was an amazing Bolivian that would have tasted good if brewed in a dirty sock in pond water. To say it was a taste treat is an understatement. The second batch (which I do not remember what it was) was from some not so special beans that were not roasted too well. We cupped it (that was part of the class-- just the basics of hot water, ground coffee, measured and sipped). I sipped, let it linger a bit, and sipped again. I looked at another, more experienced taster in the group and remarked, "Not as good as the Bolivian, but tasty." Or words to that effect, anyway.

He looked quite surprised and shocked, and said, "Pay attention to how it starts-- the first taste you get," or words to that effect.

I sipped again, and at the very beginning of the sip it was really disgusting. The bad taste went away very quickly and was pleasant for the remained of the taste.

I feel like such a neophyte in those circles, but then I remember my wife: her four comments re: coffee:

It's bitter
It's smooth
It's too coffee-ish
Mmmm.. That's good!

The Vibiemme has eliminated the first one, so she's down to three now. :wink:
Espresso! My Espresso! - http://www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
LMWDP #644

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HB
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#3: Post by HB »

another_jim wrote:I don't enjoy blends with a strong attack. Knowing this, I can bracket this factor out when tasting, and think about how I like the rest of the shot's taste profile. In other words, knowing the term makes me a better espresso taster.
Interesting post. I'd never heard this term and referred to such blends as "palate thwackers." My assumption is that roasters intentionally develop these espresso blends knowing they'll be the base of lattes / cappuccinos. The end result with a little milk is a nice balanced drink with chocolaty and caramel flavors. As my interest in cappuccinos has waned, I've noticed my preference drift towards blends with weaker attacks, though I enjoy a good palate thwacker from time-to-time.
Dan Kehn

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cannonfodder
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#4: Post by cannonfodder »

I was using that in my observations of the titan grinders...
cannonfodder wrote:Again, it was not much of a contest. I pulled the tape off the basket and had picked the grinder correctly. The Kony shot was bright with more acidic and less body in the cup. I could tell the beans had aged another day as the cup was slightly different. The Kony was a little harsher today. The drink grabbed my tongue for lack of a better term. A harder attack on the palate (I believe that is a cup term I have heard in regard to spirits). Again the Super Jolly was mellower but the floral and fruit was more prominent than yesterday. Still lots of body but not as clear and defined as the Kony. This morning I preferred the shot pulled from the Super Jolly.
FWIW, I think it perfectly suites espresso tasting. It was the closest comparison I could make. The experience was like that of tasting single malt, tequila or any other high proof beverage.
Dave Stephens

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AndyS

#5: Post by AndyS »

Randy G. wrote: I remember my wife: her four comments re: coffee:

It's bitter
It's smooth
It's too coffee-ish
Mmmm.. That's good!

The Vibiemme has eliminated the first one
Why do you think that is so?
-AndyS
VST refractometer/filter basket beta tester, no financial interest in the company

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another_jim
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#6: Post by another_jim »

cannonfodder wrote:I was using that in my observations of the titan grinders...
Oops and sorry. You get all the credit if you're first.

I don't think I claimed credit for the term in my first post -- I usually assume that everything I come up with has been done before. Sadly, this is the only place where my assumptions are always correct.
Jim Schulman

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Randy G.

#7: Post by Randy G. »

AndyS wrote:Why do you think that is so?
It did have a winky after it, but I can say that the espresso has been noticeably better and more consistent with the Vibiemme when compared to Silvia, with everything else the same (same grinder, water, same roast and blend). A couple of weeks ago I pulled some shots with an SO (Brazil) on the Vibiemme that were really good- I can't remember trying an SO on Silvia. I have actually simplified my blend as I am tasting more in the cup from the coffee now than before.

Eric's adapter will be here next week so I can get things tuned a bit better, but the Vibiemme is such that even though I was offered a PID for it, at this point I feel no need for it. I also considered the hassle of installing a thermocouple in the boiler and decided to pass.

You would certainly know far more about the specifics as to why the espresso is so much better- the slow infusion at the start, temperature stability, the adjustable OPV that is so easy to set.... It certainly is a different machine! I have also been downdosing (Thanks, Mr. Fox!) and so that is yet another variable.

When I can get the brewhead temperature readout and my new conical grinder arrives to replace Rocky I can take the next steps to fine-tuning.

I will remind you that I mostly drink milk-based drinks, but I still sample the flow from the spouts using a demitasse spoon, and the espresso has been delicious, and even the worst I have had from the Vibiemme was much better than the same from Silvia. The bad shots from Silvia made me wince where the worst from the Vibiemme were disappointing but drinkable.

I am still learning this machine, so I am sure that there is more to come.
Espresso! My Espresso! - http://www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
LMWDP #644

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timo888

#8: Post by timo888 »

An interesting thing to consider when noting the attack of an espresso is whether you stir your espresso with a spoon, or not. The brandy is pretty much uniform from top to bottom of the glass, whereas with unstirred espresso there can be quite distinct layers.

Do you stir your espresso? (Poll?)

Regards
Timo

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cannonfodder
Team HB

#9: Post by cannonfodder »

another_jim wrote:Oops and sorry. You get all the credit if you're first.

I don't think I claimed credit for the term in my first post -- I usually assume that everything I come up with has been done before. Sadly, this is the only place where my assumptions are always correct.
No credit is needed. It is nice to see that someone else made the same kind of connection. Makes no difference to me who pawned the term first, the important thing is that we came to the same realization using two independent studies. That should give the comparison some validity.
Dave Stephens

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HB
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#10: Post by HB »

timo888 wrote:Do you stir your espresso? (Poll?)
I occasionally give it a gentle swirl, but no spoon action. Let's see what the poll Do you mix / stir your espresso before drinking it? results show...
Dan Kehn