Blend differences for pure espresso and milk-mixes?

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
Posts: 14
Joined: 15 years ago

#1: Post by bitrocker »

hi all,

i was often told that there are blends that taste better with milk (for cappuccino for example)
and those that taste better without milk (for pure espresso). i just was wondering what makes a
blend tasting better when drank with milk? is it the bean, the way it was roasted, or something
else? or is it that even that simple like the less sourness the better for a milk-mixed-coffee?

thanks: lars

User avatar
Team HB
Posts: 13950
Joined: 19 years ago

#2: Post by another_jim »

Good question.

My opinion is fairly radical on this -- there would not be much similarity between a blend designed purely for espresso and one designed purely for milk drinks.

-- Strong dry distillate tastes that are marginally undrinkable in black coffee and horrible in espresso are wonderful in milk. The clove flavors in dark roasted Kenyas and some Colombias particularly come to mind.
-- Espresso requires a lush, creamy mouthfeel best provided by medium roasted Brasils or perhaps Harars and Yemens. These tend to under perform in milk, where getting the caramel/vanilla/chocolate flavors from these beans typically requires a slightly darker roast
-- There are some bright, light roasted beans that make good cappas; typically non-citrus Centrals with apple, stone fruit or berry flavors, but most are duds. For espresso on the other hand, even a pinch of a lighter or more acidic roast can do wonders.

In practice, blends designed for both drinks tend to be compromises tilting one way or the other. In Italy, the cappas made from blends designed primarily for straight shots, tend to taste like lightly caramelized milk; in the US, the straight shots, made from blends designed primarily for milk, tend to taste dark and brooding.

The best roasters in the US are proud that their mainline blends work well in both directions. This is actually a very tough feat, and they have reason to be proud. However, I hope that eventually enough people here order straight shots to justify separate blends, and that they can use their creativity and access to great coffees for something more creative.
Jim Schulman

bitrocker (original poster)
Posts: 14
Joined: 15 years ago

#3: Post by bitrocker (original poster) »

hey jim,

thanks for the reply.
don't wanna start a poll, but maybe it's interesting to see how many people that drink espresso and milk drinks at home also do have 2 separate beans (and maybe grinders too) for that job. so? anyone who does have 2 beans (and 2 grinders?) for that job?
for me i just have one (mostly the mocambo brasilia, which is quite cheap and easy to get over here), because i mostly drink a cortado or cappuccino.

best: lars

User avatar
John P
Posts: 138
Joined: 18 years ago

#4: Post by John P »

It is difficult to produce both an "espresso only" blend as well as a "great with milk espresso" when you are a small roaster. It's not so much a blending issue as it is a cost/practicality issue. While many come for our espresso, we sell a lot more milk drinks and I believe many smaller roaster/ roaster-retailers have to find that balance where one can work well in both domains. I do find that what works phenomenal as espresso almost never shines above about an eight ounce latte. There are some radical concoctions with Kenya or certain Guatemala that are exceedingly bright as espresso... not OVERLY citrus, but right on the precipice. Balanced with a good Sumatran, or maybe a Brazilian Cerrado, or a good Uganda Bugisu you can create something wonderful where the citrus becomes sweet heaven in milk and the flavor rises to the top, as you descend into the cup the darker tones will cut through the bulk of the milk and reveal themselves in great harmony with the sweet/citrus notes.

In short, if you create something that works wonderful as espresso, but has either a dominant bright note, or a booming bass note, then it will work well in most milk drinks. Perfectly balanced god shots are solely meant to be just that.
John Piquet
Salt Lake City, UT

Posts: 2523
Joined: 18 years ago

#5: Post by zin1953 »

bitrocker wrote:how many people that drink espresso and milk drinks at home also do have 2 separate beans (and maybe grinders too) for that job. so? anyone who does have 2 beans (and 2 grinders?) for that job?

My wife and daughter drink only lattes. I'll usually have one cappuccino in the morning (maybe two on the weekends), and otherwise drink straight shots. I have two grinders at home, but only because I use one without a hopper for decaf when we have company . . . I pull the "regular" drinks for everyone with the same blend.
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.

TheCod Father
Posts: 38
Joined: 17 years ago

#6: Post by TheCod Father »

...thread merged with topic on same subject by moderator...

I have found a new(to me) shop that has great mixed coffees .So happily I picked up some and headed home to have some . When I brewed a double shot of straight espresso ( my usual ) and sipped ,my eyes watered and lips puckered with a strong full bitter blast on the first sip. However having said that I have to say that the same coffee is absolutely delicious in a capp. I'm so confused.

Is it common to find a blend that is too bitter to drink straight ( I even tried it at the shop just to be sure)
The owner has offered to help me work up a blend that i will love so I just have to figure how to bring down the bitter and up the fuller dark flavors

Any help appreciated.

Some mornings it's just not worth
chewing through the straps

TheCod Father
Posts: 38
Joined: 17 years ago

#7: Post by TheCod Father »

WOW !! You Mods are QUICK .

Thanks,for moving . I should have read into the forum before posting

Some mornings it's just not worth
chewing through the straps

Posts: 91
Joined: 16 years ago

#8: Post by mariowar »

Obviously we can use the same blend for everything. However, I have found that I have to use colombian (40%) to give the milk based drinks the kick they need.
I usually steam about 6 ounces of milk so I am talking about a 8 ounce drink. For shorter cappas 5 to 6 ounce blends that I think are bland ( do not cut the milk properly) without colombian beans could work as well.

Usually this is the blend that works better in milk drinks (8 to 9 ounce) for me:

Colombian 40%
Sumatra or Sulawessi 20%
Brazil ( dry processed)10%
Central America 10%
Indian Malabar 20%

For straight espresso shots, I would not use colombian beans. I rather to use mostly non acidic coffees like Brazil, Sumatra, Malabar, Yemen. However, sometimes Central America coffees work for me too.

I hope this helps.

User avatar
Posts: 2695
Joined: 19 years ago

#9: Post by malachi »

As noted above - economically it is very difficult for a small commercial roaster to produce both. In addition, economically (and practically) it is difficult for a small coffee bar to buy and prepare both.

This is not to say it's not done. There are a fair number of places to do.

But what most really good roasters do instead is produce a blend that works well in both (up to a point). Even the best isn't universally good. So what most top roasters do is accept that once you get past the 8oz double latte, all bets are off and simply focus on a blend that will work well as a straight shot, an americano, a macchiato, a capp and a short latte. There are numerous examples of coffees that pull this off.

As Jim states - this is not something that's easy to do, and these roasters are very proud of this accomplishment. Especially as coffee is an agricultural product and changes over time (and from harvest to harvest) and as a result the component beans in the blend are changing all the time.

To be honest, I've never had a blend that was "designed" for straight shots that was superior to these top "general purpose" blends. Perhaps because they're formulated for consumption with lower volumes of milk OR as a straight shot - they're simply good as straight shots. Perhaps the roasters who are doing "straight shot" espressos just aren't as good at their craft. I don't know.

On the other hand... I have had numerous espressos that were "designed" for use in milk that are better in milk that these general purpose espressos. The old (circa 2002) Black Cat is a good example of this. Absolutely gorgeous in milk drinks (of all reasonable sizes). The problem is that these espressos tend to range from not that good to really bad as straight shots.

Given the not-insignificant challenges, if you're trying to produce your own espresso - I'd highly recommend focusing not on a general purpose blend but rather on a blend that is specific to the way that YOU consume your espresso -- and which is tailored to YOUR tastes in espresso.
What's in the cup is what matters.