Favorite Espresso Blends 2011 - Page 4

Behind the scenes of the site's upcoming equipment reviews.
User avatar
Sherman

Postby Sherman » Jun 21, 2011, 11:06 am

Gimme! Leftist
Roast date: 6/14/11, frozen on 6/17, thawed on 6/19
Effective roast date: 6/16
Test window: 6/20-6/22
Image

Initial Preferences
Temperature: Medium or Low
Dose: 16g
Output: 19g
Ratio: 82%
Time: 30s

First shots on 6/20, starting at 15g, 70% at 30s, medium temperature. A little thin, but promising. Easy to dial in. Updose to 16g (leaving everything else alone) and the ratio moves to 80%. Here I encounter rich and creamy bittersweet chocolate. "Chrome-velvet" texture, as labelled, is nowhere in sight, but definite comfort food territory. The bitter note is noticeable but not unpleasant. Rather, it's a nice distinguishing characteristic, like a beauty mark on a pretty girl's face.

Exploration
Baseline established, time to start dose hunting. Returning to 15g and running longer (60% ratio) left me flat. The interesting bitter notes were gone, replaced by a washed out "blah" shot. Any remaining chocolate flavors were wishing they had gone to the mall or something. Whatever.

Moving back up to 16g, dropping temperature (80% ratio, 25sec) brought out a tree nut aroma (maybe this is the "walnut" in the descriptions) and a nicely rounded sweetness. Continuing on this path, I raised the brew temperature. Predictably, the sweetness and chocolate left again, maybe this time for a movie. Bitter, acrid, unpalatable.

Updosing to 17g brought out an imbalanced shot; the chocolate was there but had turned to an uninteresting Hershey bar. Low acid, low bitter, low fun. Time to shake things up a little. What about a 180°F?

Temperature: Low
Dose: 14g
Output: 17g
Ratio: 82%
Time: 26s

Not entirely expected, and very nice. A cleaner presentation, crisp aroma, lighter chocolate notes and stronger nut flavor. This is my equivalent to the Hazelnut Latte. Clean, clean finish left me smiling.

No surprises in a cappa. At 16g/80%, the bittersweet chocolate mellows out and I get a slight hint of citrus as the cup cools. A gentle entry into specialty coffee, IMHO. "Chrome-Velvet"? Maybe not, but I did experience a "verdigris brass" moment while tasting the cappa.

Leverage
After tasting the 14g and 16g shots at 80%, medium temp, 10s preinfusion, they were unsurprisingly in line with the pump shots; chocolate-dominant with a clean finish, low acid and low bitter. Recognizing the temperature difference, I settled on 16g dose, applied the kitchen sponge heat sink and pulled a few more shots at 3s and 10s preinfusion. Whoa, there's a neat trick! Deep bittersweet chocolate, a little leather, something close to a Dominican robusto with a maduro wrapper and a round tannic Bordeaux finish. Instead of tasting bracketed pairs, I pulled single shots at 3, 6 and 10 second preinfusion and kept notes during each cup. My preference was for the 10s preinfusion; the 3 and 6 seemed a little weaker and less punchy.

Temperature: Low
Preinfusion: 10s
Dose: 16g
Output: 20.7g
Ratio: 80%
Time: 26s

And in this corner...
Comparing the nuttiness, rounded sweetness and overall pleasant nature of the pump shots, I was surprised to taste the richness in the lever. Cremina wins the head-to-head this time around with a low-temp 80% @26s TKO.

Conclusions
Leftist surprised me by presenting a couple of similar faces and kept my interest as I searched for the sweet spots. Medium dose, medium temperature ristrettos are an easy favorite, but a lower dose, lower temperature ristretto pulls out some tree nut flavors. I couldn't isolate between hazelnut or walnut, but it hits somewhere in between those two identities. The sweet spots are narrow, but they do exist. Acid hounds and fruit hunters beware, these aren't the droids you're looking for, but if you want a solid comfort food shot that has a trick or two up its sleeve, Leftist fits the bill.

For the leverhead in search of chocolate bombs, you'll find a target-rich environment. Pull cooler medium-to-high dose, high ratio shots complemented in short milk drinks and be satiated.
Your dog wants espresso.
LMWDP #288

User avatar
malachi

Postby malachi » Jun 21, 2011, 4:52 pm

People who have been around coffee for more than a few years talk about an espresso style often called "old school Pacific Northwest." This was a style of espresso common back in the 2002-2006 timeframe, that came out of the Seattle / Portland region and spread rapidly across the US. For a while it was perhaps the dominant style in the progressive high-end coffee bars in the US.

Since then this style has faded in popularity, and as a result is rarely seen anymore.

It was a style that could be described (in terms of flavour) as big and heavy and dense - dominated by flavours of dark chocolate and leather and tobacco and spice and some dried fruit. It was characterized as commonly being heavily updosed and heavily restricted. While often good (if a bit "over intense") as a straight espresso, it was best consumed (and often optimized) for use in milk drinks. In the case of some roasters, it was best as a macchiato - while with others a longer milk drink brought out the best in this espresso style.

A lot of us old-timers look back at those espresso with some degree of fondness. In reality, I'm guessing most of us would now find them wildly flawed - often comprising inferior (and sometimes defect ridden) coffees, wildly under-extracted and heavily unbalanced.

Tasting the Gimme Leftist blend was - for me - a very interesting experience. Because in many ways this espresso is a very strong attempt to take this classic (but flawed) style and update it for the modern coffee palate. It has most if not all of the positives of the original style - while being comprised of much (much) higher quality beans and exhibiting far better balance and polish.

Given my experience with this style of coffee (and with some guidance from the folks at Gimme) I found the coffee relatively easy to work with.

Rather than starting with some sort of personal "universal baseline" set of parameters, I simply went with what the folks at Gimme suggested - but adjusted based on what the "old school PNW" parameters were like.

Exploring from that starting point rapidly got me to two distinct "sweet spots" (for my personal taste). The interesting thing is that the difference between these two extraction profiles was entirely flow rate and extraction ratio based on dose change. There was no change to brew temp or grind. In other words - you can set up your gear and without any changes to it (simply by altering dose) you can get two different good profiles. As one of these profiles is (IMHO) best for milk drinks and the other I preferred for straight shots - that makes this a very valuable and flexible blend.

The constant in the two profiles is the brew temp. I found that temps below 197f brought out strong sour and alcoholic notes and temps above 199f brought out very bitter woody and tar-like notes. The optimal temp for my taste was 198f.

Profile 1 (I like in short milk drinks):
- 19.5g dose
- right on the edge of ristretto
- slow flow and perhaps under-extracted a bit

For me the key to this profile is making sure that the flow never "opens up" during extraction. It shouldn't just drip, but should quickly (within 8s) establish and un-broken stream but that stream shouldn't become fast part way through the shot.

This yielded a shot with tons and tons of chocolate (dark chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, processed cocoa, even a little sweet milk chocolate). The spine of the coffee was on a foundation of leather and cigar tobacco - entwined with the ever-present chocolates. While there is little to no acidity, there were some nice hints of dried stone fruit as well as some tropical spice. The finish is rich and coating and long-lasting and (again) massively dominated by chocolates.

Profile 2 (for straight shots):
- 18.5g dose
- about half way between normale and ristretto
- moderate flow

The idea with this shot is to take the general parameters of the prior shot, decrease the dose slightly and let the flow (as a result) increase. Obviously shot time comes down a bit. With this shot, the extraction will actually start out just like with the prior parameters, but then will open up slightly about 2/3 of the way through the shot. The key is "slightly". If the flow gets too fast, the shot will end up thin and wildly under-extracted tasting.

This yields a shot that is still heavily dominated by chocolate, but where the cigar tobacco, leather and spice notes go away to be replaced by strong notes of eau de vie and a more dominant dried stone fruit note. The only real negative of this profile is that the aftertaste is far less chocolate and instead there is a strong "hot" distillate flavour that persists throughout.


So who would like this espresso?

Well... there are probably three key factors in determining your satisfaction with it.

    You generally drink short milk drinks or you prefer shots that are big and intense and chocolate bomb dominant.
    You like tuning shots based on flow rate and are skilled with managing dose and flow.
    You don't have issues with Sumatra coffees.

If you look at those three points and can honestly say Yes to all three... then you should absolutely give the Leftist a go.

Notes:
- all shots pulled on a rebuilt 70s La Marzocco GS
- grinder used was a Mazzer Robur
- baskets used were a Strada double and an Espresso Parts laser etched double.
- all shots were pulled using a bottomless portafilter
- coffee was cupped as well using standard cupping protocol
- all weighing was done using a 500g digital scale
- GS was temp calibrated using a Scace and Fluke
- brew pressure on the GS was slightly below 9 BAR
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

User avatar
HB
Admin

Postby HB » Jun 26, 2011, 10:07 pm

Quite a few years back, the most popular espresso blends featured booming chocolates, low (almost zero) acidity, overtones of caramelized almonds or walnuts, and a lingering finish of roast notes. More recently "fruit forward" blends have gained popularity, especially among those who drink espresso without milk.

I expected Leftist to be a dark roast, but that was based on my memory of what they served in the SCAA conference in 2006. Evidently they've since moved to medium roasted espresso blends along with the majority of marquee coffee roasters. Leftist was a welcome reminder of these chocolate-dominated espresso blends. Usually heavy chocolate espresso blends have equally weighty finishes that linger on the tongue, but not Leftist: surprisingly, it has ultra clean finish.

Initially I started brew temperatures around 195°F thinking that would reveal interesting fruit flavors; instead it produced a bland nutty espresso. Drafting off some of the findings of the other reviewers, I bumped the temperature up to 198°F. As promised, Leftist delivered tons of chocolate, which made for some of the best cappuccinos in recent memory. As a standard bar blend, I don't doubt Leftist would be popular: The small milk aficionados will love its easy-going chocolate milk character and the espresso purists will appreciate its simplicity and clean finish.


This concludes the formal review of Leftist Espresso Blend by Gimme! Coffee. Questions/comments are welcome...
Dan Kehn

mitch236

Postby mitch236 » Jul 23, 2011, 1:41 pm

I loved Apollo but as I went to reorder, they are now up to 5.0!! They've replaced the previous blend with 100% Organic Shilicho, Sidama, Ethiopia (I don't know the details). I haven't received my order yet so can't offer any opinions.

Maybe a revisit to Apollo is in order?

User avatar
HB
Admin

Postby HB » Jul 23, 2011, 9:14 pm

Jim said it well:

another_jim wrote:Counter Culture Coffee has developed a winning strategy for managing the blend. They are not wedded to maintaining specific tastes. Instead, they seem to switch coffees whenever necessary to maintain the gestalt of the blend, that of a strongly fruited shot where the sweetness greatly outweighs the acidity.

To date, I think they've done a good job of being "consistent in spirit" and our review reflects that intent.
Dan Kehn

User avatar
HB
Admin

Postby HB » Aug 01, 2011, 11:38 am

Espresso Classico and Espresso Nuevo by Paradise Roasters

Paradise Roasters Classico was among last year's nominees, but wasn't reviewed until now. While perusing their website, I read about their darker roasted coffees, including Espresso Nuevo. This blend is intended for cappuccino/latte lovers; since the Favorites to-date hasn't had any dark roasted coffees, I asked Aaron if they'd sponsor two blends. He thoughtfully agreed. :D

Espresso Classico is described as having a "pleasant, fruit-forward aroma with notes of berries and flowers. In the cup, crisp but smooth with intense flavors of lush citrus and apricot that settle to tart berry and chocolate in the finish."

Paradise Roasters says Espresso Nuevo "boasts a sweet aroma of brown sugar and aromatic wood. Full-bodied and smooth with a mild, pleasing acidity. Complex notes of sweet spices, Maraschino cherries, lemon zest, and vanilla carry from cup to its lingering, smoky finish."

Note: Some reviewers chose to review only one of the coffees above.
Dan Kehn

User avatar
another_jim
Team HB

Postby another_jim » Aug 05, 2011, 1:00 am

PARADISE ESPRESSO CLASSICO AND ESPRESSO NUEVO

INTRODUCTION Paradise Roasters is a small company, but one of the heavyweights in the world of ultra-specialty coffee. As their web site notes, they hold the record of highly reviewed coffees on Coffee Review, a testament to to the skill of the Meza family in sourcing outstanding coffees. Many of us particularly remember that they introduced the first really high end, raised bed, dry processed Yrgacheffes and Sidamos. Their first, the Bale Kara, has become a legend. In addition, they have introduced us to innovative coffees from Hawaii and India. Finally, they are one of the few roasters to sell their coffees green, so that home roasters can compare their chops (and almost always fail) with roast master Aaron Meza.

Less well known than their exotic SOs and brew coffees are their espresso blends. These also show a very distinctive approach. We review a lot of espresso blends at HB, and they tend to fall into two main genres, the fruit and the chocolate bombs. with occasional in betweeners. The two blends we are reviewing from Paradise do not fall into either category, but have a style of their own. I'll be reviewing the lighter roasted Classico and the darker roasted Nuevo together since, in my mind, they are two variations on a single theme.

OVERALL TASTE My first impression on drinking the shots from both these blends is that I'm sitting in a bar in old Havana, in a white linen suit and a panama hat, doing some shady business, with film noir shadows and a slightly buzzing ceiling fan in the background. A wizened barkeep operates a rickety lever machine, and hands me a little cup and a shot of rum. That's what these Paradise blends taste like.

The impression is created because the dominant taste in both blends is a surprisingly refined tobacco flavor, like a cuban cigar's (ahem, at least according to the rumors). The flavor has a slightly mouthwatering, juicy astringency, and a wet smoke effect that is not at all like the ashy tobacco flavors one gets in poor coffees. In Nuevo, the tobacco combines with a cognac and chocolate flavor. In Classico, it's mostly lime, with a hint of cherry.

BREWING INSTRUCTIONS Paradise recommends high doses, fast pulls, and high brew temperatures. This can work, but if the brew temperature gets too high, or the flow drops, the tobacco flavors dry out, become aggressive, and the blends lose their magic. For the Nuevo, a faster, hotter pull will get a penetrating meld of chocolate and tobacco that I found interesting, but also disconcerting. Lower temperatures and slower pulls get a separation of cognac and tobacco which may be more to some people's liking. The Classico's lime and tobacco flavors clash at high volume, so the shots need to be kept understated. Keep the flow on the fast side, and don't be afraid to to drop the dose until the flavors are at an intriguing whisper.

WHO SHOULD BUY IT Ever wanted to hang out in a Havana bar doing shady deals?
Jim Schulman

User avatar
RapidCoffee
Team HB

Postby RapidCoffee » Aug 05, 2011, 7:58 pm

Paradise Espresso Nuevo (roasted July 27, tested August 2)
coffee dose: 15.0g (53mm basket, equivalent to 18g on a 58mm basket)
espresso weight: 23-25g (shot volume 40-45ml)
brew ratio: 60-65%
shot time: 25-30 sec after appearance of espresso droplets on bottom of basket
temperature range: 87C-93C (189F-199F) 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 15.0g.
Very brief WDT stir with needle, then tamped to ~30#.
Pulled shots into prewarmed shot glass on tared digital scale, stopping at blonding (25-30sec).
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 (1-2oz) of microfoamed milk.

Tasting notes

87C
Straight shot: a bit sour but drinkable, smoky
Sugar: decent, nice acidity
Milk: good but nondescript

88C
Straight shot: dark, smoky
Sugar: good, nice acidity
Milk: good but nondescript, flavors easily lost in milk

89C
Straight shot: some bitterness emerging
Sugar: good, nice acidity
Milk: good but nondescript

90C
Straight shot: more bitterness
Sugar: still good, some bitterness and liquor aromatics
Milk: good, hints of walnuts and Hershey's chocolate syrup

91C
Straight shot: smoky, bitter, some acridity
Sugar: still good, smoky
Milk: liquor aromatics, still decent

92C
Straight shot: taste profile dominated by smokiness
Sugar: taste profile dominated by smokiness
Milk: smoky but drinkable

93C
Straight shot: taste profile dominated by smokiness
Sugar: taste profile dominated by smokiness
Milk: smoky but drinkable

Conclusions
Paradise Espresso Nuevo is a classic dark-roasted* espresso blend. Despite the dark roast, there is little bitterness or ashiness. The flavor profile is smoky and balanced, with liquor aromatics and adequate acidity, but no obvious fruitiness. The beans have a strong walnut/pecan aroma, but I only tasted only hints of nuts in the cup. This blend is best brewed at lower temperatures, and holds up well to small amounts of milk. My sweet spots were 88-89C for straight shots and 90C for macchiatos. I saw little point in testing temperatures above 93C (199.4F).

To bring out the Hershey's chocolate syrup flavor, updose and pull a ristretto. On my gear, a 16g dose and 30-35s extraction (70-75% brew ratio) at 90C produces a really enjoyable shot.

This blend was ready to drink after 5 days of rest.

* not charbucks dark, but distinctly darker than many other popular microroaster blends
John

User avatar
malachi

Postby malachi » Aug 08, 2011, 7:13 pm

Home baristas have, for years, demanded that roasters provide brew parameters for their espressos. And, over time, more and more roasters have in fact done this. In most cases this has proven to be really helpful in establishing a starting point for exploration of the extraction space and establishment of optimal brew parameters for my taste. In a few cases, it's actually been basically the parameters that worked for me.

This is the first time where I can honestly say that the provided brew parameters were misleading and if I'd not quickly abandoned them would have caused me to either waste an enormous amount of coffee or simply not enjoy this espresso.

The primary issue was brew temp. The suggested brew temp for this coffees was - to my taste - dramatically too high. This resulted in flat and bland and boring coffee with little to recommend it.

This is an important lesson to home baristas. You need to learn how to explore the extraction space on your own. You need to learn how to taste, tweak, adjust, taste, adapt... and how to get to the shot you want from a coffee. This is not color-by-numbers. You cannot rely upon instructions. There are no magic rules.


Okay... to the coffee.

Paradise Roasters Nuevo

The Nuevo is what I'd describe as a "generic American craft roaster's dark-roast espresso." It's reasonably tolerant to barista and machine inconsistency. It doesn't have a lot of "gotchas" to work around. The shots look good. It's best in milk drinks. It's not sour, not acidic. It's familiar and likely to be a crowd pleaser.

The flavour profile is simple and as you'd predict, includes dark chocolate, tobacco, a little bit of leather, a touch of horse-blanket funk and tons of tons of nut (walnut, walnut skin, peanut, pecan). With work you can coax a little bit of citric fruit high end and some almost imaginary seeming stonefruit out of it.

It's straight-forward, non-threatening, easy to consume in milk.

I found it best (on my machine and to my taste) at:
- 197f brew temp
- 18g dose (18g Strada basket)
- moderate ristretto extraction
- pulled on the fast side (24s)

This espresso would probably be a great starting point for someone coming from Peet's coffee for example. It's a reasonably good "beginner" coffee for some folks as a result. If you're looking for fruit or complexity or drink your espresso straight and without sugar it's probably not for you. But if you like easy to work with espresso for lattes, you might like this coffee.


Notes:
- all shots pulled on a rebuilt 1970s La Marzocco GS
- grinder used was a Mazzer Robur
- baskets used were a 18g Strada double, an OEM La Marzocco Double, a Synesso Triple and an Espresso Parts laser etched double.
- all shots were pulled using a bottomless portafilter
- coffee was cupped as well using standard cupping protocol
- all weighing was done using a 500g digital scale
- GS was temp calibrated using a Scace and Fluke
- brew pressure on the GS was set to 8.5 BAR
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

User avatar
Sherman

Postby Sherman » Aug 11, 2011, 9:05 am

Initial Preferences

Classico

Temperature: Medium
Dose: 15.5g
Output: 19.4g
Ratio: 77%
Time: 27s

Classico is the Japanese salaryman, grey suit, dark tie, matching belt and shoes, going out to the yakitori joints after work to drink himself enough motivation to go home for the night. Interesting aromas in the bag piqued my interest, but I couldn't coax out the flavors listed in their literature. The biggest impression was the first, lending a moderately bodied shot with notes of rum toddy and an apricot finish. Continued attempts with Classico evoked a strong mono no aware.

Nuevo
Temperature: Medium
Dose: 14g
Output: 21.4g
Ratio: 66%
Time: 19s

Nuevo is a more typical darker roast. Admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of anything beyond the edge of Full City. Any coffee that looks like a 15 year old's face after 5 days' rest is going to need a lot of strength in the cup to overcome my prejudice. My reference shot of 15.5g/70%/25 seconds was an annoying one note samba. Roast, roast and roast. Low acid and bitter notes, but decent body. Not much that stood out. I was starting to think that a conductor would be in order, needing muscle to shove this one into the shinkansen along with Classico-chan. Same suit, same tie, slightly nicer shoes.

Wanting to bring out some character, I dropped the dose and ran it longer. Happily surprised, I found some dried apricot peach ambiguous stone fruit and a little bittersweet finish. Shōsha no shōsha no chikindinā! (Winner, winner, chicken dinner!)


Exploration
Trying to find more excitement in Classico, I wandered up and down the temperature ladder. Hotter shots predictably bitter, cooler shots predictably sour. Neither extreme brought me any closer to nirvana. Downdosing with a much tighter grind (14g/58%/30s) gave a pleasantly sour but balanced shot with a cantaloupe finish. I didn't bother with a milk drink here - the straight shots were more mild than bold, and would have been lost.

Nuevo was different. Moving to normale range (15.5g/60%/26s) was better, reminding me of the stone fruit and chocolate that I found earlier. On a whim, I decided to try a longer normale, tightening the grind to produce a 15.5g/60%/43s shot, and found it to be nicely balanced. The chocolate came out a little more and the apricot faded some. Speeding up the shots brought out an unpleasant tannic note and amplified the astringent finish.

Leverage
I was able to pull out some mild apricot notes, but didn't come close to finding any intense floral or berry flavors. Nuevo was a nice surprise, though. Medium temperature 14g/66% pulled gave me some nice peanut skin, bittersweet chocolate and dried fruit, in that order. As a lever cappuccino I discovered liquid Reese's Pieces, nut and chocolate with milk tempering the tannic edge found in straight shots.

Nuevo
Temperature: Low
Preinfusion: 10s
Dose: 16g
Output: 20.7g
Ratio: 80%
Time: 26s

And in this corner...
Nuevo assaulted my tastebuds on the HX. A change of events on the lever, where definite peanut skin and tannic overtones made me reconsider my opinion. 10 second preinfusion, 14g/66% shots made me warm up to Nuevo. Coming back to the HX, I dialed in and found that the error was mine - trying to go too ristretto was the wrong choice. Normale sanded down the rough edges and made the experience palatable.

Given the choice, Nuevo shines on the lever. HX doesn't do it nearly as much justice, even as a normale.


Conclusions
Classico is a comfortable coffee, but I couldn't find inspiration in it. Served as part of a rotation, it would be happy in the cup for a day's efforts. I didn't want to like Nuevo, but found that it grew on me. Of the two, Classico was the more finicky and Nuevo more rewarding. Latte and cappa lovers will find Nuevo to be a satisfying "You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!" experience.
Your dog wants espresso.
LMWDP #288