Have you purchased "ultra premium" priced coffees for espresso?

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

Have you purchased ultra premium priced coffees for espresso?

Total votes: 64

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#1: Post by HB »

Recently "ultra premium" priced coffees have garnered more and more attention. La Esmeralda Especial is one of the better known examples, but I've noticed our sponsor roasters advertising some coffees for more than $25/pound. For example, Miguel at Paradise Roasters is known for his "reserve" and "grand reserve" selections, Intelligentsia Coffee and Counter Culture Coffee feature "reserve" selections in their newsletters, Coffee Klatch has "World Exclusive / Limited Edition" coffees shown prominently on their website, and PT's Coffee features its "passport" selections.

When I first read the hoopla around La Esmeralda Especial, I thought to myself, "It's a publicity stunt, nobody will pay more than $12-$15 per pound for any coffee." But Jim Schulman and others pointed out that millions of people pay $3-$4 for ordinary lattes at cafe chains, why is it crazy to pay $2 for a cup of what's reputed to be the best coffee of the year? Specifically:
another_jim wrote:Nevertheless, I think it is worth it. A pound of roasted coffee that costs $100, prorates to about $2 per cup; and coffees at this level of excellence drink like fine wines which cost far more per glass.

Point taken. Given the yield of drip or French press coffee, it's a unique coffee experience and it's not going to break the bank. Does the same fiscal logic hold true when making espresso? I wince when I pull a sink shot with coffee costing $12 a pound. At 2-3x cost for a limited-edition superlative espresso... you may want to step out of the room, it could get ugly. :?

Have you purchased "ultra premium" priced coffees for espresso?
Dan Kehn

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#2: Post by lsf »

2 months ago I bought a pound of biloya from pt's coffee. Was the coffee 4 times better than my normal espresso blend? I cannot tell. However, that's the best coffee I had so far and my girlfriend is craving for more of it. She keeps asking me. The only thing that prevents me from buying some more is the price. Coffees at that price are luxury that I cannot afford everyday...

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#3: Post by another_jim »

The $50 to $100 per pound coffees may be a poor idea for espresso. They are usually at their best at very light roasts, and they are generally about the fruity acidic tastes. For instance, this year's Esmeralda (non-ayction Geisha) was a 95 coffee in the cup, and just a 90 coffee as espresso. The Biloya was better as a brewed coffee too.

But some taste better as SOs. The Aricha that Miguel sells is a case point. More importantly, there are some very good blends that cost over $20 per pound, since they use a blend of auction lot or relationship coffees. The various blends used at the USBC and WBC fall into this category. I think these are definitely worthwhile for home baristas.

In the interests of full disclosure, I want to say there's a big element of pure self interest in my advice. I like these coffees a lot, and I want them to have enough of a market so that roasters keep bringing them in. People buying the "regular premium" blends that go for around $12 per pound have an interest in this too. These blends have gotten a lot more interesting in the last few years, mainly because they too benefit from the better quality coffees coming in. There's a lot of overhead in sourcing small lot coffees, and the top roasters need to sell the ultra-premiums to justify putting other small lot coffees in their regular blends.
Jim Schulman

Ken Fox

#4: Post by Ken Fox »

another_jim wrote:The $50 to $100 per pound coffees may be a poor idea for espresso. They are usually at their best at very light roasts, and they are generally about the fruity acidic tastes. For instance, this year's Esmeralda (non-ayction Geisha) was a 95 coffee in the cup, and just a 90 coffee as espresso. The Biloya was better as a brewed coffee too.

But some taste better as SOs.
Spending more does not necessarily equate to getting more.

Jim and I have discussed (and drunk together) the Biloya as a SO. I think we have come to the same joint opinion, which tempers my initial enthusiasm for this coffee. I've now roasted at least 5 batches of it, one of which I flubbed due to operator (my) inattention. Forgetting that one batch, all the others had occasional phenomenal SO shots, but there was a lot of variation and the average shot was only "good" rather than exceptional. In addition, all the great shots (and there haven't been that many) coming from the Biloya have been in the first 5 days of life of this coffee, after roasting. It becomes rather tired by the end of the first week and loses almost all its charm. My standard practice is to weigh out 14g of coffee on a 0.1g scale for each shot, and these shots are amazingly consistent in "shot quality," if not in flavor, so I would discount the inherent variability of espresso shots as being a major factor in this case.

The lower-rated Adado, which presumably is less good brewed than the Biloya, has consistently produced better SO espresso shots for me than has the Biloya. One of the ways they are producing coffee like the Biloya is presumably through using a lot more labor to hand sort the beans, keeping only the very best ones for the premium coffee. But, it just might be that for whatever is gained by this practice, something is lost in exchange, the kind of thing that might produce a longer living and more consistent result as an SO espresso.

At least in this one case, paying up for a super premium bean has not paid off in the (espresso) cup. In fact, I think I prefer the adhoc blend of 25% aged Lintong Sumatra plus 75% Yemen Ismaili that has been suggested using coffee from the Coop or from a number of other sources, in preference to the Biloya for espresso. Since the coffees in this blend (green) cost a small fraction of the price of the Biloya, it is dismaying to prefer it, but I do. What's more, this blend lasts a long time, and seems to be serviceable for espresso up to maybe two weeks post roast. Not bad for the ~$3.50 I paid per pound of green.

What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

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#5: Post by luca »


I think that you hit the nail on the head in saying that some of these uber-premium coffees are better suited to non-espresso use. HB member "edwa" is down in Melbourne for work at the moment and was kind enough to drug mule some of the Paradise Esmeralda over for me. It was amazing as brewed coffee and relatively good as the few shots of espresso I pulled with it, but simply not brilliant. Indeed, sometimes I feel that solid high eighties lots out-perform low nineties coffees as espresso.

This raises the interesting question as to how useful traditional cupping reviews are for espresso. One of my favourite features of your coffeecuppers.com reviews is that you are quite explicit about what portions of your review apply to brewed coffee, espresso and even cappuccino.


LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Exam, WBrC #3, Aus Cup Tasting #1 | Insta: @lucacoffeenotes

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#6: Post by another_jim »

Bob and I try every coffee in all the various brewing forms. In a perfect world, if three coffees ranked A, B, & C in the cup, they'd rate ABC as shots. We are closer to that today, having gotten cleverer about dosing and temperature management, but I don't know enough to have any idea whether it will ever be true. For now, ABC in the cup can turn out to be BCA as shots; you just have to try whether the monster coffee in the cup will work as espresso or have you running to the sink.

One discrepancy that's rarely talked about is between cappas and straight shots. This is at least as great as between straight shots and brewed coffee. After my coffeecuppers experience, I feel so strongly about this that if I were to compete in barista competition, I would have my two blends for straight shots and cappas, and use whichever worked best for the specialty.

Here's a few differences:

-- Ultra light and ultra dark roasts can make great cappas, but rarely great shots. Ashy dark espressos can resolve into something tasty in milk; and ultra acidic light roasts can turn into the banana-strawberry milkshake.
-- Washed Centrals and Kenyas are usually too intense as shots, but roasted Full City or Vienna they can make magical nut and spice cappas.
-- I've never had a melange roast (very light and dark) that works as espresso, but they sometimes are perfect for cappas.

Given that most shots outside the Italian-Latin world are made for milk, the whole process of blend formulation (i.e. even worrying whether they make palatable straight shots) may be slightly whacked.
Jim Schulman

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#7: Post by cannonfodder »

I have had a few premium blends this year and enjoyed them. I have gotten to the point in my espresso/coffee development that I have begun seeking out the unusual and unique coffees because I have become bored with many of the available blends.

The Rocket premium espresso blend, the Coffee Klatch US and World championship blends (I liked the US blend best), I also had a couple cups of Biloya at Cafe Grumpy on the Clover. That made an exceptional cup.
Dave Stephens

Absolute Coffees

#8: Post by Absolute Coffees »

Just a Thought; I am looking at the prices of Kona's i see they range from 22.00 lb to my price of 27.00 lb. Now I know Kona and alot of other coffees ranging from 11.00 a Pound to 15.00 a pound, all really good coffees, but when some one has a Cup of Excellence for 19.00 a pound would it not be worth the price to buy a rated coffee vs a unrated coffee.

Ken Fox

#9: Post by Ken Fox replying to Absolute Coffees »

Only your taste will determine whether a given coffee is "worth it" to you. Kona (and some other coffees such as Blue Mountain) sell for prices that are determined more by their limited supply and cachet than by what is to be found in the cup. Neither of these aforementioned coffees are notable for making good espresso SO shots, and at their prices would be a real waste to put into a blend, where they would disappear.

What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955


#10: Post by Jarno »

I haven't been impressed with Blue Mountain in espresso. Although it is not bitter, I find that they lack distinctiveness or character when made into espresso. I find that these specialty espresso coffees are blended for that very reason and one can tell the difference between one specialty blend from another.