Favorite Espresso Blends 2010 - Page 3

Behind the scenes of the site's upcoming equipment reviews.
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#21: Post by malachi »

The current Ecco Espresso blend (to my taste, but other testers might disagree) performed best at 4-6 days post roast.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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#22: Post by another_jim »

Ecco is a fruit intensive blend; so I preferred the added aromatics when it was on the fresh side, right after I got it, 3 to 4 days post roast. It got easier to get chocolate, and a lot better in milk, a few days later.
Jim Schulman

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#23: Post by da gino »

I opened my bag of Ecco today and agree that it does not seem too fresh at all - quite enjoyable. I'll have to keep this in mind when I order it in the future.

I've generally pulled shots on my Elektra according to Dan's comment in his Maximatic review quoted below..
HB wrote:Heat exchangers and especially Dragons don't speak in temperatures like 198, 201, and 203°F. Instead they speak in terms of hot, medium, and cool (skilled baristas can add at least one more gradient "medium-cool").
For those pulling shots on HX's I'd love the added info of what your favorite flush routine was with a given coffee, for example, a medium temp for me is often achieved by a 6 seconds flush after the water dance stops and 6 seconds pause after that, but you'd get a different profile starting at a similar temperature if you flushed longer and then rebounded longer. I've explored different temps with coffees, but not as much about "the same temperature" achieved in different ways so I'd love any advice on ideal flushes with these coffees if you have any.

Obviously the ideal flush will differ from any one machine to another even of the same make, but it would give a nice jumping off point.


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#24: Post by another_jim »

da gino wrote:I'd love any advice on ideal flushes with these coffees if you have any.

Obviously the ideal flush will differ from any one machine to another
I've stopped giving numerical advice on dose, shot timing, or temperature. Following such advice not only retards a person's skill development, ironically, it also virtually guarantees poor shots. Baskets, groups, grinders and machines vary. So the more precise the recipe of what works on my setup, the more likely it becomes not to work for yours.

On the other hand, advice like "low dose, medium flow," "medium-hot temperature" does travel well. So it is up to each person to know how to achieve these for his or her own set up. More importantly, the concrete, hands on, practice of consistently varying these parameters for oneself, and noticing how they affect the taste, is what creates expertise and confidence.

By using only approximate and relative terms, I'm not implying that, for instance, 0.5C temperature changes or 0.5 gram dose changes are too small to notice. On the contrary, when approaching a sweet spot on many blends, they will matter. I'm saying that the specific 0.5 changes which count on your setup will be different from those which count on mine. Therefore, a rough guide will get you there much more reliably than a precise recipe that works only for the author, not the reader.
Jim Schulman

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#25: Post by HB »

Hair Bender by Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Hair Bender was among the top five in the membership poll and the bars that server it are well covered in the popular press (e.g., A Seductive Cup in the New York Times). They describe Hair Bender as "a complex espresso blend featuring coffee components from the three major growing regions of Latin America, East Africa and the Pacific Rim. The aroma demonstrates floral notes of jasmine while the flavor is a combination of sweet citrus, milk chocolate and caramel."
Dan Kehn

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#26: Post by another_jim »

When is bitter not bitter? When it's structure.

A good red wine is not a simple fruit bomb, instead it starts with lots of tannins and oak barrel flavors. When the wine is young, these dominate; but as the wine ages, these flavors become "structure," the taste equivalent of an outline drawing. But instead of separating the patches of color, taste structures separate patches of taste. With Hairbender, a blend of Sumatra, Brazil and a Central, working the temperature and dose for one afternoon gets you the same experience of taste structure as ten years of aging a case of fine red wines.

The first shots I tried were all Sumatra, a really good one with some smoke, sherry cask oak, and that dark lavender scent characteristic of the most carefully processed beans. The Brazil was only detectable as a slight creamy flavor, and the Central was AWOL. It was still a very good shot, retro tasting, like coffee at Peets in the 80s.

I liked it, but wanted more. After consulting with Chris, I raised the dose, coarsened the grind and dropped the temperature. With each shot, the Sumatra outline got filled in, first with a watercolor wash of cola and apple flavors, then with fatter flavors of almond, cocoa, and pit fruit.

The Sumatra content translates into a finer than usual grind, but the best strategy is to max out the dose and to set the grind as coarse as possible to still get a regular to slightly fast flowing shot. Going too fine will introduce harsh tastes. Start with a medium temperature and get the simple Sumatra outline drawing. Then drop the temperature and taste as the other flavors emerge like magic. It's really cool, a tasting tutorial disguised as a bag of coffee.

The overall balance and mouthfeel on this blend is very refined, whether it's pulled as a plain Sumatra outline or filled in with the other flavors. The taste combination strikes me as somewhat retro, but immensely polished. It would certainly be at the top of my list if someone asked me what the classic Northwestern espresso is all about.
Jim Schulman

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#27: Post by HB »

After several days, my initial impression of Hairbender remains: It's exceptionally well balanced. I'm not one to mark down coffees that may be slightly too acidic or tad sharp if it has other compensating factors (e.g., booming floral notes). Hairbender over the last two days has demonstrated light citrus notes (not grapefruit acidity, more like the tart/sweetness of Cripps Pink apples). At faster flow rates, the roast notes drop to nearly zero, but the creamy body and lingering milk chocolate finish remains.

It blends well with small amounts of milk (up to 4.5 ounces for cappuccinos if mild coffee flavoring is acceptable). Macchiatos around 3.0 ounces total keep a more distinct chocolate/almond with notes of orangette (recipes).
Dan Kehn

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#28: Post by malachi »

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I like Stumptown coffees. A lot.

Most people think this is because I used to work for Stumptown. The truth is that I took a job at Stumptown because I like their coffees so much. To be more exact, I took a job at Stumptown because I loved Hairbender.

So you can imagine my pleasure when Hairbender was selected as one of the coffees for this review process.

What I did not expect was that I would learn so much about the Hairbender in the process.

My fellow reviewers are all very experienced home baristas and passionate coffee and espresso lovers. The level of skill in the group is very high. Going through the process of peer-reviewing the Hairbender made me realize something important about this coffee. It is unique. That is a good thing - and a challenging thing as well. I've come to realize that the Hairbender breaks many of the "patterns" that baristas rely upon. Over time, we learn how coffees behave and group these behaviors into patterns. "Northern Italian style" means low dose, fine grind, moderate flow, medium-high temp. "Classic PNW style" means high dose, moderate grind, slow flow, medium temp. We sometimes label these by coffee/taste/method ("triple ristretto chocolate bomb" or "SO pulped natural brazil" for example). Over time we build up a "library" of these patterns and use them as shortcuts for quickly dialing in new coffees.

This is a problem when it comes to the Hairbender. Learning how to work with this coffee can be difficult - very difficult in fact. Following learned behaviors (the above patterns) from other coffees (even if unconscious "baristas intuition") can rapidly lead you down a rat-hole. As noted - the Hairbender is a unique coffee and a unique pattern. As such - working with the Hairbender for the first time will always be a learning experience. If you're open to this (as all the reviewers were), you can not only get great shots - you can learn something new. If you're not open to new patterns.... or don't feel like the bother, you're likely to dislike this coffee. A lot.

There are (to my taste) two primary "sweet spots" for this coffee. In a weird way, they are inverted versions of each other. The first is a "chocolate first, fruit last" shot - where the flavor starts with a burst of bittersweet dark chocolate / fudge flavor before opening out first into stone fruit and then into dark cherry acidity finish. The second is a "fruit first, chocolate last" shot - where the flavor starts with bright cherry / pomegranate and apple jolly rancher sweet acidity before rounding out into a sweet chocolate and butterscotch finish. While the former is a bigger and more "intense" profile that will appeal to the Imperial Stout drinkers among us - the latter is more balanced and layered (comparable in a sense to Trappist Double) and I think will be more pleasing over time (whereas the first style will become boring day in and day out).

The difference between the two is subtle when it comes to the extraction parameters. For the first, the temp is slightly higher and the flow rate slightly slower and volume slightly down. Other than that, the parameters are very similar (as follows):

Profile One ("chocolate followed by fruit"):
- 198.25f
- 19g (LM OEM double)
- 1.5oz
- 28s

Profile Two ("fruit followed by chocolate"):
- 197.75f
- 19g (LM OEM double)
- 1.65oz
- 26s

The trick with both (and why this is counter to most patterns) is the combination of very high dose and very coarse grind. The goal is to get a moderate flow rate with the coarsest grind you can. The high dose allows for this. I would tend to suggest starting with the high dose (19g to 20g) and trying to get the grind as coarse as possible for the flow rate. Once you have the right dose/grind/flow rate, then start dialing down the brew temp. The idea is to dial it down until the cherry notes appear, then until the apple notes appear, and then until that acidity become sour. Then dial it back up a touch. You should now be at the above described "Profile Two". You can adjust as described above to bring it to Profile One to compare and choose the one you prefer.

If your shots are thin - you're likely at a dose that is too low.
If your shots are bitter - you're likely at a temp that is too high.
If your shots are tarry - you're likely at a flow rate that is too low.
If your shots are astringent - you're likely at a flow rate that is too high.

As an additional note - this coffee is very intolerant of dirty machines. I don't exactly why it's such a big issue with this particular coffee - but if you find that your shots are tasting stewed, skunky, oily or marshy this might be the cause.

Some people have said that they feel this shot doesn't hold up in milk. I tend to disagree. Yes.... I wouldn't be likely to serve it as a latte. But truth be told - most people who drink lattes would probably like it given that the nature of choosing to drink a latte is largely about obscuring the flavor of the coffee. But in a short milk drink I think this is an absolutely lovely coffee. If pulled for Profile One the drink becomes a hot chocolate cherry bon-bon. If pulled for Profile Two it becomes more nuanced, with apricot and cherry acidity punching through over a milk chocolate Quik base.

In conclusion, this is IMHO a benchmark espresso and a benchmark coffee. It is a standard to be measured against. But, for all of us, it's also a benchmark to measure your skills against. I now understand the many plaintive comments about not being able to duplicate at home the flavor of Hairbender from a Stumptown cafe. But if you're up for a learning adventure - this coffee should be on your list.

On a side note: I'd guess that this coffee is going to be particularly challenging with certain machines and grinders. The combination of the coarse grind requirements and the high dose requirements and the dramatic flavor changes from small brew temp changes could prove to make replication of these flavor profiles very difficult when working with some machines or machine and grinder combination.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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#29: Post by shadowfax »

In my half-decade of trying coffee from online retailers, I'd never managed to order from Stumptown. So I'd been looking forward to the opportunity to try it for this review. My order was roasted and posted on Thursday the 19th of May, and made it halfway across the country to me in Houston by Saturday. I started out by cupping it when it arrived: a modestly sweet coffee with a nice dry caramel-chocolatey finish for me. Warm, I found some fairly light/mild fruit high notes. As it cooled, the fruit all but disappeared and the cup transformed into caramel, dry cocoa and... peanuts?--certainly, a real mellow nuttiness.

The next day I began to pull shots, beginning at a medium dose of around 18.5g (and going up to 19.5g) and a low-ish temperature around 198°F, brew ratios in the 55-75% range. It's readily apparent that Hairbender is easy to get balance from, and that balance improved steadily with a drop in temperature; by Monday I found myself at 197°F and having room to go lower: like Jim, I found my shots to be dominated by Sumatran flavors, a refined smokiness and earthiness that seemed to drown out all but the faintest hints of fruit and florals. In a straight shot, this was an interesting experience, yet it left something to be desired for me. In a short cappuccino, however, it makes a really delightful comfort-food classic drink. No shocker, just a lightly smoky, creamy, chocolatey, simple cappuccino: classic.

Down at what seemed like a crazy 196.5°F, I hit my "Hairbender sweet spot" 7 days post-roast. As you've read already, this coffee demands a pretty big dose, medium-fast flowrate and, for me, a low temperature.
The sweet spot for me looks like this, a good reminder for me that temperature suggestions (and other brew parameters) aren't entirely transferable from setup to setup or taster to taster:
  • 196.5°F
    19.5g dose
    ~28-29g brew weight
The mildly sweet, mellow fruit and floral notes I tasted in my initial cupping explode on the front and gradually subside to a much more nuanced (and more chocolatey) finish of the Sumatran flavors I got at higher temperatures. Here is a shot that shows off the breadth of what this coffee has to offer, a layered shot with a wide gamut of flavors.

Hairbender is indeed an interestingly, almost enigmatically challenging espresso. It's easy to get decent shots out of, making an array of varied and quite palatable shots across a range of brew temperatures and a (narrower) range of doses. There's lots of room for exploration, but as a result it can be easy to think you've found a good shot recipe and miss out on a lot of what it has to offer. Starting with a high dose, coarse grind and medium temperature, and then gradually dropping the temperature, as Chris and Jim advised, is really a great way to approach it, one that was rather novel for me and really remarkable to experience. I don't think Hairbender is necessarily a good starter espresso, but I would say it's a 'must-try' coffee for an espresso enthusiast.
Nicholas Lundgaard

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#30: Post by RapidCoffee »

Stumptown Hair Bender Espresso (roasted May 23, tested May 30)
coffee dose: 16g
brew ratio: 70-75% (shot volume 40ml, espresso weight 21.5-22.5g)
shot time: ~30 sec after appearance of espresso on bottom of basket
temperature range: 88C-95C (190F-203F) in increments of 1C

Grinder: Robur with doser and (full) mini-hopper.
Espresso machine: La Spaziale S1 V1, no preinfusion, blind basket brew pressure 9.25bar, 53mm double basket, bottomless portafilter.
Ground coffee into tared basket and adjusted dose to exactly 16.0g.
Very brief WDT stir with needle, then tamped to ~30#.
Pulled shots into prewarmed shot glass on tared digital scale, stopping at ~40ml/30sec/blonding.
Visually, all pours were good to excellent.
For tasting, sampled straight, then with 1/2t sugar, then with small amounts (1-3oz) of microfoamed milk.

Tasting notes
Sour, slightly bitter, but nice balance of flavors.
Drinkable with milk.

Better, but still sour.
Fruitiness is hard to describe: green apples? unripe apricots?

Still slightly sour but an enjoyable, fruity, syrupy shot.
Good with milk.

Sourness gone.
Nice, balanced shot.
Caramel, brown sugar flavors with milk.

Nice, balanced shot. Perhaps the optimal temperature setting on my gear.
Brown sugar flavors with milk.

Still good, both as straight shot and with milk. No bitterness yet.

Still good, especially with milk.

Bitterness is finally emerging.
Still surprisingly drinkable as a sweetened capp.


Some like it hot! Stumptown Hair Bender is drinkable across a wide range of temperature settings, even up to a relatively scorching 95C. I liked it best at 92C.

Perhaps the best descriptor for this blend is balance. There is some fruitiness and acidity, but it doesn't overwhelm the shot. Not much chocolate, but caramel/brown sugar sweetness emerges in milk drinks.

This coffee is denser than most, and responds well to updosing. 16g was not an overdose, even in the 53mm Spaz double basket.

Unlike Black Cat, which is on the wane after a week, Hairbender needs at least that much rest time. I tested it at day 7 post-roast. Hints of acrid undertones suggest that another day or two of rest would be optimal.