Traditionally, the reviews include a group taste test. Once again, the good folks at Counter Culture Coffee in Durham
hosted an informal shootout. They have an excellent training center filled with the latest and greatest coffee and espresso equipment. Penelope Hearne, our training center host, initially suggested pitting the Lelit Bianca against the La Marzocco Linea Mini. That would make sense since it's a popular high-end espresso machine among the HB membership. The other choice was the La Marzocco Linea PB, their primary espresso machine for training. Since we've paired the latter with review contenders in the past like the Profitec Pro 800
, we settled on the PB.
The grinders were their usual training setup, two Nuova Simonelli Mythos. In past shootouts, we often chose single origin espressos, reasoning that they'd be more revealing of differences. This time, we decided to go with Hologram
as the test coffee, since it's a popular blend with modest fruit notes:
Counter Culture Coffee wrote:Hologram is our update of the classic Mocha Java flavor profile. Fruit-forward and chocolatey coffees combine to create something distinctly complex.
Our thinking was that teasing out a difference for a mainstream coffee would be more revealing since the assessments of brighter, fruiter coffees may be more prone to reflect strongly-held taste preferences than actual equipment differences.
Penelope and I agreed to a basic brew recipe of ~19 grams in, ~36 grams out. Since the Bianca features pressure profiling, I followed a modified lever espresso machine-like brew pattern: Start at 4 bar until 6 grams has poured, increase to 6 bar until 12 grams have poured, increase to 9 bar until 24 (ish) grams. Then slowly reduce to 4-6 bar, depending on how it's pouring.Lelit Biana with manual brew pressure profiling via handle atop the grouphead
My thinking was that this brew pressure profile would produce less body, but could eliminate astringency in the finish without crushing the fruit-forward taste. I used their fancy Acadia Pearl scale and Penelope used the Linea PB's built-in scale to monitor the beverage weight as it poured.Penelope Hearne, barista on the La Marzocco Linea PB
Prior to the tasters arriving, Penelope and I had about 30 minutes to dial in the coffee. We didn't compare each others espressos, but had no trouble dialing in to our satisfaction. The blind taste protocol was simple: Each cup was discreetly marked with an "L" or "B" on the bottom. Tasters were presented the two cups simultaneously and asked to place their preferred drink on the left ("winner") and the less preferred drink on the right ("loser").
The turnout was light (5), so most tasters had time for two rounds. This photo was near the end of the shootout:Heads you win, tails you lose
At the end of the session, we turned over the cups to reveal the win/lose count:Lelit Bianca wins over La Marzocco Linea PB, 5-3
A very close competition! Of course, as with nearly every shootout, some will question our methods (e.g., "Did you measure the TDS? Were the two machines calibrated to the same temperature? Was the same grinder used and if not, were the burrs similar?"). I'll simply say that it's not meant to be taken as the final word on how these two espresso machines compare, but rather another data point to consider.
In my opinion, what this informal test does demonstrate, for the n'th time, is that spending more on the espresso machine doesn't necessarily move the needle, taste-wise. While it certainly wasn't a WBC-level calibrated test, it was a blind comparison, so I think it was fair enough to be considered meaningful to home baristas.
Below are comments from some of the participants:
Ian wrote:Both shots were excellent. Both shots tasted like they came from the same roast. One shot was brighter on my first try. One shot was slightly astringent on my second try. Easy to tell the difference on a side by side but I couldn't have done it 15 minutes apart. Enjoyed it!
Jesse wrote:I thought both shots were delicious each time and honestly it came down to choosing the shot with a touch more sweetness over acidity. I'm not clear exactly which machine my preferred shots were off of, but I enjoyed all the coffee I tasted off of each machine.
Penelope wrote:I completely agree with Jesse and I would like to add that I actually preferred the shots from the Bianca. I was surprised to find that the shots were very similar. I'm of course a huge fan of the PB, so I was shocked that the Bianca shots had a slightly less acidic finish. However, I do think the crema might have been more pronounced from the PB.
In addition, I would like to note, each shot had a variance of sweetness and acidity, so the taste test wasn't based on comparing all shots against all shots but more so based on comparing the individual pairs. It would be interesting to mix up the pairs and see if we could tell the difference between the shots from the Bianca and from the PB.
Lastly, it would be cool to do the test again and have one barista pulls shots from both machines and I wonder how other coffees would hold up against the test.
Anyhow, it was a fun exercise and I'm a new fan of the Bianca.
Thanks again to Penelope and the other participants!