Favorite Espresso Blends 2010 - Page 7

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malachi

#61: Post by malachi »

Most everyone who has been around espresso in the US for any amount of time knows who David Schomer is - and what Espresso Vivace is all about.

For at least the last five years Schomer, Vivace and the Vivace coffees have been controversial and polarizing topics of discussion.

I think that this peer reviewed tasting of his flagship straight espresso blend (Dolce) is a perfect illustration of not only this polarizing nature - but why these coffees are so controversial.

As some background and in the spirit of full disclosure.... I was trained by Schomer about 10 years ago, know him casually, have had many a fine beer with him, and like and respect him. I've used his coffees a lot and am familiar with them - and with how David wants them to be prepared.


For the purpose of this write-up I'm going to break things into three sections. First - I'm going to talk about the taste of the espresso and how I prepared it. Second - I'll talk a bit about the philosophical differences between Vivace / Schomer and leading so-called "3rd Wave" companies. Finally, I'll talk a little bit about my own thoughts on all of this.


The taste and how I prepared it...

To get the best possible input and perspective on such a controversial coffee, I decided to have some other tasters involved as well. I used 3 people to do this over 2.5 days. One is a roaster. One is a wine professional who used to live in Italy. The third is a coffee fan who used to live in Portland and drink a lot of Stumptown.

Everyone agreed on a number of things about this coffee.

1 - Best suited to short milk drinks. In a macchiato with a tiny touch of sugar it was something we all agreed was very tasty. In fact, all four of us agreed we'd be happy to have that exact drink every day - with the wine guy claiming it was one of the best espresso drinks he'd had in the US. Again... very Italian ("exactly like what I'd have every morning downstairs from my apartment in Verona").

2 - Lovely looking shot. This espresso produces copious, dense and heavy crema with gorgeous colouring. When used with milk, it's very (very) easy to get fantastic looking latte art.

3 - Very unique flavor. Absolutely unlike any other American espresso that I've had. The best description that we could come up with (and agree upon) was that it is like a Highland single malt scotch. It's dominated by oak, peat, a little smoke, some medicinal notes, toast and light caramels and vanilla. Aftertaste is very scotch like.

4 - Incredibly dense and heavy mouthfeel. This is a really coating espresso. This can be a good thing (when it is well prepared and to your taste). But it can also be a bad thing. A poorly prepared shot will linger on your palate for a long long time. And if this is an espresso that you do not like (even when well prepared) that you're going to really not like it (as you'll still be tasting it 30 minutes later).

5 - Has real defect issues. Many of the shots had a strong wet cardboard flavour in the initial sip. Interestingly, however, with well-prepared shots subsequent sips rarely showed this note. In the aftertaste, however, this flavour would also crop up about 25% of the time. Also got hints of ash off some shots and the periodic "cod liver oil" note.


In terms of pulling shots of the Dolce, the best results for me were found by pulling the shot hot, moderate updose, ristretto but without extended extraction time:

For me this translated to:

- 203f brew temp
- 18.5g dose
- ristretto (75% ratio - hard to do my volume given the huge amount of crema)
- 26s extraction time

I, personally, find this coffee touchy and finicky to work with. The combination of the narrow range of acceptable temp (to my taste) and the very very frothy flow make this both hard to dial in and hard to manage. I was trained on this espresso (albeit a long time ago) and even so I was running at about 50% failure rate. Demands a lot from a machine and a LOT from a barista. There are, however, some additional tips and tricks to mention here.

I find it much easier to pull with a spouted portafilter. The massive crema production makes judging flow and grind accurately with a bottomless very difficult.

There is a "leather" note that can creep into the coffee and when this happens it becomes unpleasant to my taste. If you start to find this occurring it is likely that your extraction time is too long. I (personally) found only bad results with extraction times over 30s.

I found that a fine grind was definitely undesirable with this coffee as it seems to emphasize the "earthy" notes (taking what in a good shot could be defined as "peat" and turning it into "dirt"). I also found that with a too-fine grind there was a big decrease in the sweet caramel notes (yielding a very unbalanced shot). These shots were also almost too coating and heavy on the palate - a shock to the tongue. If this is happening to you, you probably want to loosen up the grind some.

If you're finding a sort of "dorito" or "blue cheese" or "dirty sweat sock" note in the shots - especially if the shot is also a little "sweet and sour" tasting -- your brew temp is probably too low.

If you're getting no sweetness and a ton of harsh bitterness and funk - your dose is probably too low.


This gets us to the Philosophy issue...

Current trends and beliefs are that espresso is a way of preparing coffee and that a good espresso accurately represents and portrays the coffee being used. Espresso, therefore, is the means to the end (and the end is appreciation of the coffee).

Vivace reverses this. Coffee is the means - and espresso is the end. The goal is appreciation of the espresso, and the beans being used are secondary.

This is controversial, to say the least. Honestly, it's a big challenge for me. I deeply believe in the idea that "it's all about the coffee." So something that subjugates the coffee and makes the end beverage the most important thing.... to me it feels like a step backward.

But the truth is that most people don't really care about the coffee. What they want is a great tasting drink. If that drink is made from defect-ridden spot market coffee - but it tastes amazing - then they're happy. They'd rather have that than a single origin CoE shot that tastes like sour tea or hot lemonade.

People talk about the "Italian Tradition" of espresso. And what Vivace is doing is, clearly, an American version of exactly this. It's a beverage. It's not seasonal, there is no transparency - it's comfort food and a social lubricant.


Finally, my own thoughts and conclusions...

To be completely honest - this is not an espresso I would suggest without really understanding the buyer first. The flavours are so unique that a large percentage of coffee folks are probably going to be put off. The defect and the divergent philosophy is going to drive away all the coffee freaks and geeks out there. The demands on the machine are going to mean that a lot of home baristas will be really frustrated trying to get repeatable consistent shots. The demands on the barista are going to probably limit it to a small subset of potential buyers. And the combination of all of these.... yeah, makes it low probability.

That being said.... for someone looking for that signature Italian experience, who has a temp manageable machine, has solid barista skills -- and who likes macchiatos (with a little sugar) -- this might be the perfect solution.

And to be entirely fair - that macchiato was freaking amazing. I mean... seriously. One of the best drinks I've had in.... well.... a long long time.


For me this is a hard one. Philosophically, it's counter to what I believe. But... I deeply respect the Italian tradition - and also believe in creating a great experience for people drinking my drinks. The "coffee" here is horrible. It has terrible defects, it's arguably not of specialty coffee grade... it's just bad. But.... the espresso produced from it ranged (when done well) from good / interesting to great / amazing.


So... yeah, this is a polarizing coffee to say the least.
The wine guy felt that it was total comfort food and "incredibly Italian" in profile.
The roaster hated it and described it as "filthy".
The coffee fan said it was nice but a little funky.
Me? I had some shots that were truly horrible, some that were drinkable but not to my taste, and two macchiatos that were absolutely lovely. So I honestly don't know what to say.

I guess in the end this coffee is one that truly does demonstrate that "Taste is Personal."
If you read this description and you say, "I might like that espresso" - then by all means you should try it. It might turn out to be your favorite coffee available - and that is great.
But be aware that you also might find that you cannot get anything drinkable (to your taste) from it.
Caveat Emptor.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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RapidCoffee
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#62: Post by RapidCoffee »

Vivace Dolce Espresso (roasted June 5, tested June 11)
coffee dose: 15.6g
brew ratio: 74-82% (shot volume 50ml, espresso weight 19.0-21.0g)
shot time: ~28 sec after appearance of espresso on bottom of basket
temperature range: 88C-95C (190F-203F) in increments of 1C

Protocol
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 15.6g.
Very brief WDT stir with needle, then tamped to ~30#.
Pulled shots into prewarmed shot glass on tared digital scale, stopping at ~50ml/28sec/blonding.
Visually, all pours were very good to excellent.
For tasting, poured shot glass into prewarmed demitasse cup. Sampled straight, then with 1/2t sugar, then with small amounts (1-2oz) of microfoamed milk.

Tasting notes
88C
Slightly sour, but surprisingly drinkable, especially with sugar.
OK with small amounts (1oz) of milk. Coffee flavors get lost in larger amounts of milk.

89C
Sourness/acidity down, slight astringent aftertaste.
Good macchiato.

90C
Sourness continues to drop.
Some funky notes emerging, masked by sugar.
Milk chocolate appearing in macchiatos.

91C
Sourness gone, but increasing funkiness.
Excellent macchiato.

92C
Bitterness beginning to appear.
Funkiness down, perhaps masked by emerging bitters.
Good with sugar and/or milk.

93C
Bitterness is starting to dominate flavor profile.
Still good with sugar and/or milk.

94C
Increasing bitterness and funkiness.
Nice milk chocolate, some caramel in macchiatos.

95C
Bitter but still drinkable, especially with sugar.
Caramel flavors in milk.

Conclusions
Vivace Dolce was something of a surprise to me. After all, David Schomer has been hyping uber-precise flat brewing temperature profiles since the 90's. And at least one of my fellow reviewers found this to be a difficult, finicky blend.

In my tests, Dolce was a classic Northern Italian style espresso blend, with a balanced flavor profile and a wide range of acceptable temperatures and brew ratios. The beans are lower density than other tested blends in this study, with a level dose of under 16g in the 53mm Spaz double basket. Basket beading (first appearance of espresso droplets) was rapid, typically at 3 seconds. Crema production was prodigious, with a large cone from the bottomless PF.

Image
Vivace Dolce: big crema, big cone.

As noted, the flavor profile was balanced, moderately sweet, with adequate acidity but no outstanding fruit flavors. Medicinal/liquor overtones and some funky/earthy flavors are present, especially as brew temperatures increase. The acceptable brew temperature range was quite wide, with an optimum (on my gear) at around 91-92C. I preferred syrupy ristrettos with a small amount of sugar, and macchiatos with a small (1oz) amount of milk. Flavors were lost in larger amounts of milk. Milk chocolate and caramel notes emerged in milk at higher brew temperatures.

This blend was very drinkable after 5-6 days of rest.

In summary: a nice, albeit unexciting, Northern Italian blend. Best suited for straight shots (ristrettos) and small amounts of milk (macchiatos).
John

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another_jim
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#63: Post by another_jim »

Dolce Review

I wanted to hate Dolce; instead I liked it a lot. I find this very disconcerting. To find out why, read on.

First, lets cover shot pulling.

Schomer, very famously, specifies Dolce at 203F, 8.3 Bar, 19 gram ristrettos. When I had shots prepared in this style in Seattle, I found them hard, with lemon peel, leather, and wood flavors, more like getting punched in the mouth than getting a coffee. The pulls I did at home using this recipe were like this too, albeit not as overwhelming.

When I changed the recipe, I got the blend to give me shots that were an altogether delicious combination of a chocolate and caramel base, along with alcoholic aromas, and a sherry cask, aged whiskey flavor. Getting this is not terribly difficult, but it isn't easy either -- it takes some precision. You will need to run the shots a little cooler than the Schomer level, at around 199F to 201F. This cuts down on the aggressive wood and medicinal flavors. If you enjoy these, you can inch up on the temperature. Second, you need to keep the flow faster than ristretto. Go for brew ratios of around 67% (e.g. a shot weight of 24 grams for a 16 gram dose), and shot times of around 27 seconds. The blend is very frothy, so you may need to swirl or knock smaller sized cups as you make the shot. I found this improves the flavor in any case. Going more ristretto will accentuate hidey flavors.

You can play with dose, while keeping the shot timing and brew ratio constant. Lower doses will accentuate the chocolate and caramel, higher doses the more alcoholic and sherry cask flavors.

The blend contains a substantial proportion of Monsooned Malabar, so you will need to grind it much finer than usual. I got my favorite balance of flavors when I used a weight of 17 grams (E61 style basket), while setting the grind to what I usually use for 15.5 gram shots.

So why is this disconcerting? Dolce is sold green, for home roasters, and I ordered some as a reference. Here is a picture of the beans.

Image

The green Dolce blend is at the bottom center. As reference, there are specialty level preps of a dry processed Yrgacheffe on the top left, and a WP Rwanda to top right. The coffee contains at least three different beans, the Monsooned Malabar are the virtually white beans. The slightly darker large beans are a dry processed Brazil, while the dark small beans are a grade five natural Ethiopian, probably a Lekempti or Sidamo. Not a single constituent of this coffee would even make it to the cupping table; they have so many preparation defects, they would be rejected on visual inspection.

This coffee looks a lot like a Mocha Java from a century ago, with aged coffees from Brazil and Indonesia, along with naturals from Ethiopia and Yemen. These coffees are not about crisp and clean, or origin flavors, or terroir, or cupping, or any of the things that the new origin centered philosophy of high end espresso advocates. Instead, this is taking a raw material and exposing it to a roasting alchemy that creates the espresso equivalent of the philosopher's stone, the godshot. The godshot is not about origins, it is about roasting and making espresso so it fits ones mental ideal of the perfect shot.

I thought I was over the god shot. I thought the reality of good ripe coffee, faithfully prepped, is simply better than anything I can dream up inside my head. But I was wrong. There really is an old school alchemy of the roast, in which eccentric and deeply flawed coffees are transformed into something fairly magical. Dolce is not better than all the delicate blends that rely on the origin flavors of their constituent coffees; but it is different, and it is very good.

If you've made up your mind that you won't drink poorly prepped coffees, you should avoid Dolce. Its flaws are masked but still apparent when done right, and very obvious when not. For everybody else, it's an old style treat.
Jim Schulman

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cannonfodder
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#64: Post by cannonfodder »

I have never had any of the Vivace offerings, so this was a new experience for me. My coffee was roasted on 6/04 and arrived at my home a few days later. The first interesting thing, it is sold in half pound bags. So when you order, you have to specify a quantity of 2 for a pound. It is packaged in a nice zip top bag so you can reseal the coffee to preserve freshness once opened. A pound of Vita and Dolce was nearly $40 with the shipping. Another reason I have never tried it; west coast to east coast shipping adds up fast.

Dolce is an interesting beast. I think it will be one of those love it or hate it coffees. It has a rather unique flavor profile. My first tip using this coffee would be don't let your eyes fool you. There is so much crema from this coffee that what you see in the cup can be deceiving. I would fill a 2 oz demi to the brim for 1.5 oz by weight. It also looks like it pours too quickly; but again, there is so much crema that the shots look to be flowing faster than they are. A scale is almost required with this coffee until you learn how it behaves.

Dolce worked best at higher doses so I had to use a bottomless portafilter so I could fit my LM triple straight sided basket in the portafilter. On my machine, 18 grams takes a triple basket. My best results were 202 with 18 grams pulled in 26 seconds for 1.5 oz by weight. Again, that fills a 2oz demi to the brim, yielding a brown sugar sweet cup with some oak, peat, hint of leather and some monsooned funk. At lower temperatures it went tongue numbing funky, at higher temperatures it developed a bitter edge. Longer extractions at higher doses yielded a salty roasted peanut flavor with the monsooned funk; think moldy salted peanuts.

The sweet spot is relatively tight with this coffee. It demands the attention of the barista and a machine with reliable temperature control. Pulling shots with something like a Silvia and a Rocky grinder would be a challenge. Not a novice coffee by any means. The monsooned funk was not agreeable to me. Even when the flavor was minimized, it was still objectionable. Some people are simply more sensitive to some tastes and while I like Gorgonzola cheese and Shiitake mushrooms, I don't like them in my espresso.

In milk, I found the drink much more palatable. I also kept back a half pound to let it age more. My limited experience with Monsooned Malabar was that the older it was, the less funky it became. I pulled some shots today (9 days post roast) and the funk had tamed down a bit. I also dosed a little more, close to 19 grams, and pulled a near 2oz drink. I had to switch to a 3oz cup due to the huge crema. It was actually the most palatable of all the shots I have pulled with the monsooned flavors being much reduced.

Dolce is all about the body. Very low acidity and big booming body with crema that makes for eye popping photos. It is a unique coffee and I appreciate it for what it is.
Dave Stephens

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HB
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#65: Post by HB »

When I tried Dolce years ago served from David Schomer's hand at the SCAA conference, it was harsh, medicinal, and bitter. In contrast, Vivace's lattes were excellent. From the first shots of this review, I had no trouble at all dialing in a good espresso with Dolce, some very good. This revised blend reminds me of an earthier version of Counter Culture's Rustico blend. I agree with the earlier comments about the taste profile including some funk/earthy notes, but whereas before it dominated the profile, it's background in today's rendition. There are no origin notes, simply a melange of chocolates/caramels.

As a cappuccino, it was very good. Loads of caramel, body, and a crema cap to die for. Maybe I'm missing something, but I would not brand this as an "edgy" blend as some of my co-reviewers have suggested. If you are a regular cappuccino drinker with occasional forays into straight shots, you're almost certain to enjoy this blend.

The brew parameters that work best for me are combination of Jim's recommendations, Chris' recommendations, and a bit of tweaking. The extractions were ultra even, continued to end of tiger striping plus 3 seconds (stop earlier if you don't mind a bit "rougher" profile). In short: Latte/cappuccino drinkers will certainly enjoy this blend. Unlike the Vivace Dolce of the past, today's rendition is classic Northern Italian of heavy chocolate/caramels, though some espresso drinkers may dislike its earthy background notes.
Dan Kehn

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HB
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#66: Post by HB »

Belle Espresso by Klatch Coffee

Well represented in the member poll and at US Barista Competitions, Klatch describes their flagship Belle Espresso as having "intense, sweet aroma of brandy, chocolate and caramel as well as a smooth taste and understated complexity. Described by coffee review as 'crisply pungent yet caramelly sweet.'"
Dan Kehn

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RapidCoffee
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#67: Post by RapidCoffee »

Klatch Belle Espresso (roasted June 10, tested June 17)
coffee dose: 15.6g
brew ratio: 67-75% (shot volume 45-50ml, espresso weight 21-23g)
shot time: ~30 sec after appearance of espresso on bottom of basket
temperature range: 87C-94C (189-201F) in increments of 1C

Protocol
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 15.6g.
Very brief WDT stir with needle, then tamped to ~30#.
Pulled shots into prewarmed shot glass on tared digital scale, stopping at 45-50ml/30sec/blonding.
Visually, all pours were good to excellent.
For tasting, poured shot glass into prewarmed demitasse cup. Sampled straight, then with 1/2t sugar, then with small amounts (1-3oz) of microfoamed milk.

Tasting notes
87C
Sour but surprisingly drinkable, especially with sugar.
Caramel flavors with milk.
Some distillate aftertaste.

88C
Still slightly sour.
Fruit (sour cherry) emerges with sugar.
Tasty caramel cappuccino.

89C
Sourness gone. Good, mild, balanced shot.
Nice fruitiness (sour cherry) with sugar.
Tasty caramel cappuccino, some dark chocolate making an appearance.

90C
Good, mild, balanced shot.
Nice fruitiness (sour cherry) with sugar.
Excellent caramel cappuccino, more dark chocolate flavors.

91C
Hint of bitterness. Still a nice, balanced shot. Fruit flavors diminishing.
Good cappuccino, caramel and dark chocolate flavors.

92C
Definite bitterness, fruit continues to diminish.
Still good with sugar.
Good cappuccino, caramel and dark chocolate flavors now in balance.

93C
Increasing bitterness and diminishing fruit.
Increasing dark chocolate flavors, with and without milk.
Good cappuccino, caramel and dark chocolate flavors.

94C
Bitterness becoming unpleasant. Fruitiness is gone.
Strong dark chocolate flavors, with and without milk.
Still makes a decent cappuccino.

Conclusions
I have enjoyed Belle Espresso in the past, and it was a pleasant experience to revisit this blend. To use Dan's terminology, this is a classic "comfort food" espresso: mild, balanced, dominated by sour cherry brandy fruitiness, caramels, and dark chocolate. Perhaps a bit boring for the expert, Belle makes an excellent beginner's espresso blend, with a wide range of acceptable doses and brew temperatures.

I preferred to pull this blend at somewhat lower brew temperatures than most, around 89-90C (my Spaz S1 settings).

Although Belle was very drinkable after 5-7 days of rest, there was a hint of leather/tobacco acridity at all temperatures. Another day or two of rest would probably be optimal.
John

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another_jim
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#68: Post by another_jim »

KLATCH COFFEE BELLE ESPRESSO REVIEW

Heather Perry, twice USBC champion and once runner up World Champion, is famous, or perhaps notorious, for letting her espresso shots run on until well beyond blonding point. I've heard them called Heather Specials. In practice, they are espresso shots that run 5 to 10 seconds longer than usual, so that normally ground coffee gets stretched to a lungo weight shot, and a ristretto grind a normal weight shot.

What does this have to do with Belle espresso? Heather Perry is the daughter of Mike Perry, the roaster and blender of Belle espresso. Together they run Klatch coffee, which although small and tucked away in the suburban hinterlands of LA, is a giant in the world of US 3rd wave espresso.

Klatch makes several espresso blends; Belle is their laid back store blend, with a darker roast, lower acidity and less fruit than their competition blends and SOs. It is, I believe, a blend of Ethiopian, Brazilian and Sumatran coffees and advertises a chocolate and fruit brandy profile. It has won numerous accolades, including winning the espresso blend survey on Ken Davids' Coffee Review site.

Ken Davids, in his write up, notes that Belle is pungent. If you love the in-your-face roast flavors of Sumatra, like Ken does, pungency is a good thing. If you prefer this note in the background, regular shots of Belle can be quite disconcerting. Running the shot long, as a Heather special, controls the pungency, and brings out the softer chocolate and caramel flavors.

So here's my recipe for Belle.
-- Keep the temperature dose appropriate, medium for medium doses, higher for high doses (you are always aiming to control the overall puck temperature, not just the entering water temperature, so you need to start hotter if the puck is deeper).
-- Keep the grind at ristretto flow levels.
-- Medium doses accentuate the softer chocolate and caramel flavors, high doses the brandied fruit and smokey distillates.
-- Running the shot around 28 to 30 seconds to get a 67% percent brew ratio will get you a great deal of pungency at higher doses, and a soapy alkalinity at lower doses. Running the shot around 37 to 40 seconds will remove all the pungency. Work it according to your taste.

To me, Belle is quite similar to Toscano in overall taste. Both are comfortable, chocolate dominant blends; both are very nice in milk. Chances are, if you like one, you'll like the other. But they each have their own individual touches and quirks, so you may end up with a strong preference, if some of their many small differences are important to you.
Jim Schulman

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shadowfax

#69: Post by shadowfax »

My experience with Klatch's coffee offerings prior to this review was limited; I'd ordered their WBC espresso blend before and tried a single origin or two at Jon Rosenthal's, but Belle Espresso was a first-time experience for me.

I started out pulling shots with Belle four days post roast with a quite high dose (~21g), medium-low temperature (~197-199°F), and a real tight brew ratio (>100%), then meandered down to a lower dose around 17.5g and near normale brew ratio of 75%. These shots were dense (especially the higher doses), chocolatey, woody shots with subtle dark fruits. However, they had a funky, slightly medicinal, cough-syrupy lingering aftertaste that was mitigated at lower doses and higher temperatures. A lower dose and higher temperature shifted the espresso's taste profile towards drier, earthy flavors and a finish edging towards ashiness. None of these shots were quite free of mild defects, either a funky aftertaste or a touch of ashiness in the shot. The best shots that day were at a fairly high 19.5g dose at ~198°F and pulled to about 25g brew weight. Nice sweet caramel, subtle fruit leaning towards sour, and a chocolate bottom with diminished wood tones. However, even at its best, the day 4 post-roast shots exhibited a unpleasant lingering finish of mildly fermented lime.

Based on the first day's experience, 4 days of rest doesn't seem like enough for Belle. The next day, with the coffee already dialed in to the best shot from the day before (19.5g dose/~198°F/25g brew/28-30s brew time), the unpleasant finish was eliminated through the extra aging: Tuesday's shots were similar to the best from the day before, but cleaner overall and really improved in the aftertaste. The espresso had a nice soft body and excellent balance; what it lacked in dimension and uniqueness, it made up for in approachability and consistency—a classic comfort food shot. In a macchiato, these shots left lingering fruit in the cup, a subtle limey citrus flavor; in a cappuccino, though, the fruit was consumed and Belle made for an extremely classic profile: sweet-toothed and supremely smooth with not a hint of acidity, dominated by a very pleasant, uncomplicated coffee flavor.

Over days 6 and 7 post roast, I tried upping and dropping both the dose and temperature again, including trying higher temperatures in the 202-203 range with big-dosed, tight-pulled, slow shots as per Jim's suggestion (the "Heather Special"). These hotter shots didn't work for me, even at the higher doses; they turned harsh and ashy; they consistently failed to hold a candle to the 19.5g shots at 198°F.

Belle is a low-acidity espresso with a penchant for funky flavors. While for me it has a narrow range for producing a very nice espresso, after a few days more rest, it developed a wide 'sweet spot' for good shots that provided great clues for honing it in to taste as described above. Given this, I would recommend Belle as a good beginner espresso blend.
Nicholas Lundgaard

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cannonfodder
Team HB

#70: Post by cannonfodder »

Belle Espresso is not unknown to me. I have had several pounds of it, but that was a couple years ago when Heather Klatch was off to the WBC. I remember the coffee quite well. Back then it was chocolate covered dried cherries with some light smoke background. It use to remind me of eating a cherry cordial about an hour after having smoked a good cigar. The blend has gone through some changes and the current iteration has evolved a bit.

Klatch recommends the coffee be pulled at 201F from a 20+ gram dose with just under 2 ounces in 24-28 seconds on coffee with 9-10 days rest. On my kit (Elektra A3 and LaCimbali Max grinder), 20 grams is difficult due to the limitations of the gear. I went with a LM straight sided triple basket and a bottomless portafilter. That is my go-to mix for very high doses. I found Belle to be a relatively dense coffee. I could get 20 grams in my basket with just a bit of headspace. The coffee was roasted on the 10th, so today was 9 days post roast. I had opened one bag early to see how the coffee was earlier in its life. I found it to be a bit too edgy and unbalanced early with some off dirt and peat and even rubber flavors, especially when pulled as a tight ristretto. The blend improves with more age and mellows out.

I found Belle Espresso to have a relatively narrow of acceptable temperatures on my equipment. The best shots were coming at a lower than recommended temperature. At the higher temperatures, I was getting an off bitter note. My sweet spot was with a 20 gram dose pulled at 198-199F for 30 grams extracted in 27 seconds. This gave me a caramel/brown sugar subtle sweetness with light acidity and heavy body and some tropical fruit. The predominant flavors being a earthy slightly peaty and smoky bakers chocolate with a fruity background. I had a hard time putting my finger on the fruit; it was a more lively fruit, like something tropical. Possibly grilled pineapple but the fruit was much more muted than the Belle I remember. At other doses and temperatures I was not able to get the same fruit and acidity out of the blend.

At higher temperatures, the fruit was all but non existent and the earthy peat and dark chocolate was dominate along with a bit of that odd, almost rubber bitter note I noted when the coffee was younger. The flavor was objectionable to me. At lower doses, the body was reduced and the flavors were off. In my notes, at 18 grams at 198-199F pulled for 25 grams in 26 seconds I wrote "light sweetness, earthy, low body no acidity, smoke, bitter." At lower temperatures, the bitter was reduced, but the balance and appearance of the fruit was never quite the same as higher doses.

In milk, the fruit and acidity was all but gone but the chocolate came forward in a cleaner fashion. I pulled Belle as espresso a good 95+% of the time only making a handful of milk drinks from it. I would say Belle works best at high doses, cooler temperatures with a coarser grind and a higher flow rate. It had a narrow sweet spot for me but it worked better at cooler temperatures than it did higher.
Dave Stephens