Counter Culture Coffee's roasterie is located in Durham, North Carolina; it's a 15 minute drive from my house and 5 minutes from my office. For the last five years, they've welcomed local espresso enthusiasts from around the Triangle to join them in their espresso lab, every Friday from 7:30-9:00AM (public cuppings are scheduled at 10AM at the same location). I've enjoyed many Friday mornings at Counter Culture socializing with locals, learning from the staff, and sharing coffee.
One part of this experience I enjoy the most is watching the development process behind their blends. Although many consumers assume that blends are developed in secret and never changed, the truth is that blends must constantly be reworked as the season and crops change. What Counter Culture Coffee calls Espresso Toscano isn't a formula, it's a defined characteristic the coffee director (Peter Giuliano), head roaster Tim Hill, and other staff members strive to fulfill each week. For other artisan coffee roasters, the same process repeats itself, which is why this thread is named "Favorites Espresso Blends 2010
" in recognition of the seasonal nature of coffee.
The Toscano blend I've known over the years is best represented by caramel notes, creamy mouthfeel, and a sweet finish. Depending on the type of pull (ristretto, normale), other flavors like chocolates and bitters in their various degree emerge. In the dolce vita
tradition, Toscano is a simple, forgiving blend. It's ideal for those developing their skills as a barista.
With that preamble, yesterday and today I revisited this blend, using the Compak K10 WBC grinder and Elektra Semiautomatica. Following Tim's advice, I let it rest a full 7 days, updosed slightly (16 grams for this particular espresso machine), and pulled at a temperature around 199F. The first extraction had a brew ratio
around 80%, yielding rich crema with sharp overtones of bitter sweet Baker's chocolate. I adjusted the grind coarser through successive extractions, ultimately arriving at a brew ratio closer to 70% and the simple, smooth, chocolate and marzipan espresso I expected (higher brew ratios were marred by bitter chocolates, smokiness, and lacked sweetness).
In addition to raising the brew ratio (16 grams dry ground coffee to produce 23 grams of liquid espresso), I also experimented with declining brew temperatures. Unlike the flat brew temperature profiles extolled by La Marzocco and similar double-boiler espresso machine manufacturers, this technique intentionally exploits the malleable nature of heat exchangers. The technique has to be adapted to a given machine, but in general the barista can produce a declining profile by setting the steam boiler pressure at its upper range, overflushing, and allowing a very short recovery (see How I Learned to Love HX - Temperature Profiles
for more details). When done correctly, the result is a brew temperature profile that spikes momentarily, then falls slowly, similar to the profile of many level espresso machines.
Toscano is one of the three Counter Culture Coffee espresso blends. La Forza is their "big milk" blend with more punch and Aficionado is their straight espresso offering. Toscano straddles the line between these two, delivering an uncomplicated flavor profile and high tolerance of barista errors. In small milk, the bitters of darker chocolate balances well with the sweetness of milk, but be careful not to pull it too tightly, otherwise an undesirable ashiness sets in, marring an otherwise enjoyable macchiato.