Espresso Tasting Notes

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
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malachi

Postby malachi » Jul 06, 2005, 3:35 pm

Some thoughts on coffees used in the Bricoletta review to date:

Intelligentsia Black Cat -- While less of a standout with this machine than it was with the Mia, I believe that may have more to do with the other coffees performing better than the Black Cat performing less well. I am beginning to believe that Black Cat may well be the ideal espresso for home baristas. It is tolerant of temp fluctuations and extracts well at a range of temps and doses. It's not a finicky espresso and works well as a straight shot and in various sized milk drinks. Personally, I consider this to be the current standard for home machines.

Stumptown Hairbender -- Probably my current favorite espresso blend, the Hairbender seems less well suited to most home machines. It really thrives on commercial dual boiler setups. I'd love to see how it does on a home dual boiler. When extracted on a Mistral or the like, there is a gorgeous complexity and clarity - a sort of "layered" effect in the flavours. On the Mia this was severely muddied. With the Bricoletta, the issues becomes far less noticable. There is still a bit of "fuzziness" but there is far more complexity and the coffee ends up with less of a mid-range "hump" in the profile. I'd consider this a challenging blend for home HX machines but one worth exploring for the high-end equipment and skilled user.

Barefoot Redwood -- This was a challenging espresso for a home machine. The sweet spot seemed quite constrained. Too high of a brew temp and it became noticably smoky and with a very strong cedar note. Too low of a brew temp and the brighness got out of hand. My guess is that this would suit those looking to make lattes and americanos exclusively. It would be interesting to see how it would perform on a temp stabilized dual boiler machine.

Barefoot Sweetness -- A well named espresso, this is a very heavy and sweet shot. As with the Redwood, the window for good extraction is a bit narrow, but this is a far easier espresso to work with. It seems particularly good in short milk drinks.

(Have to run errands - more to follow)
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

User avatar
malachi

Postby malachi » Jul 06, 2005, 6:42 pm

Counter Culture Toscano -- Another forgiving and flexible blend. To me, this tastes best in short milk drinks where some of the smoke gets toned down a little. It's a "heavy" espresso and seems to be quite easy to work with. It tolerates a range of temps - though it seems a little finicky on dose. For home HX machines, this seems like another really good option, though perhaps not a "newbie" espresso.

Doma Vito's -- If the Black Cat is the reigning standard bearer, the Vito's is the dark horse challenger. This blends is really easy to work with - comparable in my mind to the Black Cat in fact. Unlike the Black Cat, the Vito really shines as espresso, though it's good in short milk drinks as well. In lattes it gets a bit lost. It's very flexible on temp and even on dose. I'd strongly suggest this for folks who have home HX machines and want to branch out to new coffees.

Doma Ruby's -- This is a bit more of a challenge I find. On the home HX machine the mid-range seems to dominate, resulting in shots that are a bit unbalanced seeming. In addition, it seems a bit finicky on both temp and dose. On the other hand, from what I gather it's amazing on dual boiler commercial machines. It would be interesting to see the results on a home dual boiler machine. It does have some lovely berry notes.

Vivace Vita -- Could well be the reigning champion of challenging espresso blends. Incredibly finicky when it comes to brew temp. Too high and you get noticable cigaretta ash notes and some mushroom funk. Too low and you'll get even more of the mushroom funk and some super astringent wet cardboard notes. Right in the middle and you get an incredibly sweet caramel, some gorgeous chocolate and wonderful fruit. How narrow is the window? Probably about 0.5F. Seriously. Oh... and it's finicky about dose as well. Oddly enough - the best espresso of the test so far was from this blend, but I have no doubt that luck played a very large part in that result.

Ecco Caffe Brazil Cerrado Daterra Reserve 2004 -- I've covered this previously, but I'll just note that it's an amazing coffee on this machine. I've commented that it seems like single origin espressos really shine on home HX machines - and this coffee is a great example. It's actually shockingly flexible on dose and temp - you can get a range of different flavour profiles depending on your manipulation of these two variables alone. A great intro to SO espressos.

Stumptown Guatemala Finca San Vincente -- A far more challenging single origin espresso. Requires careful control of your variables - especially your dose. On the other hand, if you manage those variables well you get an amazing espresso. Lovely chocolate covered cherry and vanilla and butter... Dig it.

Hines Panama Esmerelda Special -- Don't try this at home. Seriously. Incredibly finicky and challenging. The temp window is very, very small. Drop a little too low and the acidity turns puckeringly sour. A little too high and you get ash and anise. And the dose is so tight as well. A little light and the shot is thin and bodyless. A little too heavy and it's stewy like steeped potpourri. Pulled on a temp-stabilized La Marzocco this coffee is a jasmine/bergamot honey/tangerine Muscato dream. But on a home machine.... you're burning money.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

Abe Carmeli
Team HB

Postby Abe Carmeli » Jul 06, 2005, 7:44 pm

Chris,

Since you asked for it, here are my two cents on some of your tested blends as they performed on a home Dual Boiler machine (Brewtus in my case).

Hairbender: Man, I tried hard to work with your dosage recommendation of 19.5-20 grams, coarse grind and hard tamp. It produced a mediocre cup, and almost choked the machine. It was somewhat single dimensional. However, when I took it down to 17 grams 1.5 oz, it was superb. Strong chocolate, cherries, some flower notes and dry fruit.

Dolce: Sweeeeet as advertised. Getting the right temperature was quite easy. For this one I do have a point of reference as I had it at Vivace a few times. It was in par with what I had out of the Synesso. But then again, you are most likely a super taster, which I am not. I may not be able to detect so subtle differences

Doma Ruby's Very balanced, and kind of a crowd pleaser but with substance. Think of a Cameron Crowe film

Black Cat & Toscano - I have nothing to add. It is practically impossible to get a bad shot using those two.

Daterra Reserve My favorite Single Estate (I am not sure it is single origin though). This blend changes its profile as you climb up the temperature scale and tolerates anywhere from 90-94c. You can see how fruit in the lower temperature diminishes when going higher, and chocolate increases.

On all blends, without exception, dosing over 17 grams never improved the cup. I may not have the palate for updosing.
Abe Carmeli

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malachi

Postby malachi » Jul 06, 2005, 9:15 pm

Have you tried a triple basket with the Black Cat?
Or with the Dolce?

FWIW... I found best results with:
Hairbender - 20grams, LM ridged double basket
Dolce - 21grams, LM triple basket
Vita - 18grams, LM ridged double basket
Black Cat - 21grams, LM triple basket
Toscano - 17.5grams, LM ridged double basket
Ecco Caffe Daterra - 18grams, LM ridged double basket
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

User avatar
malachi

Postby malachi » Jul 06, 2005, 9:16 pm

Oh... I'm not actually a super-taster. My taste-bud count is about average.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

Abe Carmeli
Team HB

Postby Abe Carmeli » Jul 06, 2005, 10:51 pm

malachi wrote:Have you tried a triple basket with the Black Cat?
Or with the Dolce?


No I haven't. All my tests were done using doubles. Some with the ridgeless, some with the L/M. I just don't use triples at all as I find them too concentrated, too syrupy for my taste. I often pull double ristrettos and 17 grams for 1.5 oz liquid is plenty for me.

The head clearance on most home E61 machines using the L/M double basket is 16 grams. Any dosage above it will hit the dispersion screen. 18 grams is clearly oversoding or updosing in that environment, and looking at your dosage, it appears you prefer a restricted expansion of the puck. I believe it is a matter of personal taste, there is no right or wrong there.

Now to your palate, supertaster or not, you are amazing. When I read your cupping of Daterra in which you detected Orchid, I said to myself Orchids don't even have a scentl, how did he do that? :shock:
Abe Carmeli

User avatar
malachi

Postby malachi » Jul 07, 2005, 1:17 am

Abe Carmeli wrote:The head clearance on most home E61 machines using the L/M double basket is 16 grams. Any dosage above it will hit the dispersion screen. 18 grams is clearly oversoding or updosing in that environment, and looking at your dosage, it appears you prefer a restricted expansion of the puck. I believe it is a matter of personal taste, there is no right or wrong there.


Actually, that's not entirely true. There are updosing methods that (with certain coffees -- caveat, caveat) allow for much higher dosage with a sufficient gap both before and after extraction. An example would be the Hairbender where, with both the Mia and the Bricoletta, I've been consistently dosing 20grams with the LM ridged double and seeing no imprint in the dry puck and only the slightest, undefined screen imprint in the wet puck.

Abe Carmeli wrote:Now to your palate, supertaster or not, you are amazing. When I read your cupping of Daterra in which you detected Orchid, I said to myself Orchids don't even have a scentl, how did he do that? :shock:


Actually... heh... there are a few Orchids that do, in fact, have a noticeable scent and all Orchids have some sort of scent (though it's usually quite faint and subtle).

That being said, it all comes down to experience. I've had the great fortune to cup with some of the best cuppers in the world and have learned a huge amount from them. As a result, I now possess a tiny, tiny fraction of their skill when it comes to differentiating, identifying and communicating flavour.

Orchid is but one example of this process (I first identified Orchid cupping last year's Panama Esmerelda with Duane Sorenson).
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

Abe Carmeli
Team HB

Postby Abe Carmeli » Jul 07, 2005, 9:57 am

... heh... there are a few Orchids that do, in fact, have a noticeable scent


How deep into the swamps of Louisiana does one need to go to find one of those. :D
Abe Carmeli

User avatar
malachi

Postby malachi » Jul 09, 2005, 5:43 pm

Olympia Roasting Big Truck -- Another "moderate" espresso, somewhat flexible and moderately tolerant of a range of brew temps and doses. A bit bright and thin bodied as a straight shot, but with lovely sweetness and fruit. In milk the brightness softens and the fruit becomes sweet and dominant. Makes a really wonderful cappuccino.

Terroir Brazil Cerrado Daterra Northern Italian Roast -- This is an intensely aromatic coffee. It makes an incredible straight shot with dominant notes of hazelnut and marzipan with gorgeous gooseberry high notes and a dense caramel finish. Drunk as straight espresso this is a true treat, tasty and balanced. It gets quite lost in milk however, so isn't really suitable for use in cappuccinos much less lattes.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

User avatar
malachi

Postby malachi » Jul 18, 2005, 6:58 pm

Some cupping notes from the Ecco Caffe Brazil Cerrado Daterra Reserve 2004 (from the morning):

A really wonderful origin espresso. Somewhat tolerant and flexible but also very complete for an origin espresso. In the cup this is dominated by a balance of marzipan sweetness and dark chocolate bitterness. Tons of fruit and floral notes - especially in the aroma (almond, vanilla, tropical flowers, coffee blossom). It has an unusual fluffy, pastry sugar feel on the palate. Not a heavy coffee or a big bodied coffee, but with a really pleasant and long lasting aftertaste. The finish is dominated by the interplay of the chocolate and the fruit, with a little cigar tobacco note sneaking in. This is a very sweet and yet subtle and balanced espresso. Has a ton of crema and is a lovely reddish colour. Far and away best suited to consumption as straight espresso. If you're going to combine it with milk, I'd suggest not exceeding a 3/2 ratio (2oz espresso, 3oz milk) otherwise the espresso ends up being "lost" in the milk and the overall experience becomes flat. If you normally drink you coffee with sugar, you should taste this first without - it's quite sweet.

For my taste and with my set-up, I found that the coffee extracted best with the following parameters:
- 18-19 gram dose (up-dosed in a LM ridged double basket),
- 200F brew temp,
- 26 second extraction
- 1.75oz double

Enjoy.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin