To close out the review of the ECM Technika IV, last Friday we held a blind taste test using Counter Culture Coffee's Apollo single origin espresso. The ECM's challenger was the espresso lab standard equipment, the La Marzocco Linea PB. Both espresso machines used the same grinder (Compak K10 Pro Barista), dose, and pull time. The agreed upon brew temperature for Apollo was 200°F (measured with a Scace II thermofilter at 20 seconds into the pull).
Before the test began, our host Nathan Brown and I marked the bottoms of a set of identical cups for one espresso machine and left another set unmarked. Before being presented to the taster, the baristas manning each espresso machine would give the drink they just pulled to a third person who would then swirl and shuffle the arrangement like a shell game, so neither the baristas nor taster knew which cup was pulled from which espresso machine. Timing was approximately 30 secondsECM Technika double espressoLa Marzocco Linea PB double espressoECM and La Marzocco espressos side-by-side
Once the taster decided which was better, they would place the "winner" on the left side of the collection of dirty cups; at the end of the session, we counted how many winners belonged to each espresso machine. Here's what it looked like after 8 rounds:
And the great reveal:
The marked cups were from the Technika. Although most agreed it was a close competition, the La Marzocco Linea PB (again) won overall by a convincing margin, 6 to 2. In my opinion, the two were closely matched, but the La Marzocco espressos were slightly sweeter and therefore better balanced than the ECM.
While brew temperature is frequently attributed outsized influence on espresso taste, judging from the look of the pours, I thought the slightly higher forgiveness factor of the E61 over the La Marzocco group produced results that alternatively favored better temperature control (La Marzocco) and reduced risk of channeling (ECM). Nathan and I started each pull at the same time and sometimes the La Marzocco's showed evidence of channeling. The first time we agreed to discard that round, but when it happened a second time, we decided to follow the golfing rule of "playing it where the ball lies". These extraction inconsistencies may have contributed to comments about outliers.
Below are participant comments:
Bob wrote:Realistically, I thought that it was a tie. If both shots had been served to me in sequence I would have thought them identical. With the benefit of side by side comparison, I noticed a slight increase in body, and sweeter aftertaste with the Linea shot.
Ian wrote:Although both espressos were quite close taste-wise and I would be hard pressed to tell the difference a day apart, there were subtle differences that were discernible side-by-side. I picked the LM for a few reasons, firstly I found the LM cup a bit sweeter than the ECM; it had a tad more body which gave me a better mouth feel - a little like a single malt versus a blended and the finish was less sweet and more bitter in the ECM. That all said both shots were very good, fruity, reasonable body, very nice acidity not quite as high as I would have expected from Apollo.
Brett wrote:You know, I'm really not a coffee guy.
Kurt wrote:I could definitely notice a difference in the 2 shots coming off the La Marzocco and ECM. The one I preferred had more flavor, a richer body with a sweeter taste. I was surprised that there was that much of a difference. What could account for some of this is that the volume of the two shots were different. I could have been one of the two outliers given that I have the least refined espresso palate in the group.
Brian wrote:I thought the LM shots were tighter, more dense and slightly sweeter. The other shot was a little more nutty and less sweet.
Nathan wrote:Compared with the "incredibly similar" shots that others experienced, I was an outlier, I think. In two rounds of shots (we gave it two chances), the better shots were both sweet and mildly citrus-y with medium body - somewhat better-than-expect body, for the flavor profile. The lesser shots, were sharp, unbalanced, and harshly fruity. It could be the outliers are attributed to channeling (?).
Thanks gentlemen for your comments and thanks to Counter Culture Coffee for hosting our comparison test and supplying coffee. Below are the participants from the blind taste test panel, except Nathan who managed to elude the camera:BrettBrianBob, Ian, Kurt, Dan (apparently dozing off)