What espresso blend to start with?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
gordonm

#1: Post by gordonm »

Hi everyone,

I have been lurking on this site and the other usual suspects for a couple of weeks now in the anticipation of receiving my Expobar Pulser and Rocky DL (hopefully in a day or two!). I've learned a whole lot of theory (and a bunch of new jargon and acronyms! HX, DL, cooling flush, crema, burr grinder, dose, ristretto, portafilter, the list goes on!), and I can't wait to put it into practice when my first "real" machine gets here. I already, however, have a question for the masters . . .

If you can remember back far enough . . .what blend of espresso, and how much of it, would you recommend for a beginner with new toys? Remember, I'm going to be learning how to dial in a grinder, as well as pulling shots, for the first time. I suspect I might be "burning" through a bit of bean at first, so maybe the $30/lb gold medal winner at caffe fresco wouldn't be the best choice?? I would, however, like to be able to have a nice enough blend to impress my wife with my new skills (and then tell her how much money I spent!).

I live in the Phoenix area, and I've already placed an order for the espresso sampler from Rocket Coffee. But, that's only 1/3 lb for each blend, and I suspect that's not enough to get dialed in before I have to change blends. I will be placing another order for more at a later date, but until then what about something generic and corporate like Illy's espresso blend? Or, should I just go ahead and burn the good stuff that's been slaved over at Rocket?

Thanks for any suggestions and advice,

Cheers,
Gordon

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cannonfodder
Team HB

#2: Post by cannonfodder »

A third of a pound is not enough to even get your grinder dialed in. Keep in mind that coffee has a short optimal life span, so you may want to order a couple of pounds or one pound then three days later order another. That way you can string the freshness along. I would keep with one blend for a little bit, keep the variables to a minimum.

You wont find any bad roaster advertising on this site. Tony has a summer special going right now Fresco's Cure for The Summer Time Blues. Miguel of Paradise Roasters has a buy two 14oz bags and get a 7oz free. There may be others that I can not remember.

Remember, good espresso takes time. Don't expect anything magical for the first few weeks. Read the Is making good espresso really hard? thread for a good synopsis.
Dave Stephens

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HB
Admin

#3: Post by HB »

gordonm wrote:I will be placing another order for more at a later date, but until then what about something generic and corporate like Illy's espresso blend? Or, should I just go ahead and burn the good stuff that's been slaved over at Rocket?
You've spent over a grand on equipment. Even though it seems wasteful, don't "economize" on the freshness of the coffee during the getting-to-know-you phase. You may burn through $50 in coffee, but what you'll learn will make subsequent orders of the good stuff more worthwhile. Coffees with an unknown freshness date could be difficult to worth with and you'd be blaming yourself or your new equipment.

See the Coffees forum for suggested blends, e.g., Forgiving beginner's coffees? And of course the site sponsors (Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters, Counter Culture Coffee, Caffe Fresco, Paradise Roasters) are among my top picks. Intelligentia Black Cat, Counter Culture Toscano, and Caffe Fresco Ambrosia are frequently cited as crowd pleasers that are reasonable to work with.
Dan Kehn

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HunkaBurninLove

#4: Post by HunkaBurninLove »

Ha ha....I had the same question and I had the best results using the "Ambrosia" with my Anita/Mini.

Heed the advice of those above :-)

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Marshall

#5: Post by Marshall »

gordonm wrote:If you can remember back far enough . . .what blend of espresso, and how much of it, would you recommend for a beginner with new toys?
A cheap blend. Seriously. Go to Trader Joe's and buy a couple of pounds of one of their espresso blends (try to find one that's not too oily). Beginner espresso sucks, no matter what blend you use. Your object at this point is to get your technique down: to become reasonably proficient at setting your grind, filling your basket evenly and tamping.

It's going to take some practice before you can regularly produce a stream of espresso that begins to resemble the "espresso porn" videos on the Internet. I'm not writing this to discourage you, but to prevent you from giving up too easily. Keep notes on your grind settings, basket filling and tamp pressure, and just vary one of them at a time. Count on wasting several pounds (that's why you're starting with cheap, but drinkable beans). You don't want to add to your frustration by wasting $18/lb (shipped) espresso. When you get your 1/3 lb samplers, toss them in the freezer. You won't learn anything at the beginning from such small packages.
Marshall
Los Angeles

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Compass Coffee
Sponsor

#6: Post by Compass Coffee » replying to Marshall »

I disagree. If at all possible makes more sense to me to start with something known. For instance if someone was local to the Portland, OR area I'd suggest they go to Stumptown and taste shots of their Hairbender and buy a couple pounds. And watch their baristas build the shots. And ask what the suggested shot temp is when buying it. Why? So there's a target to shoot for, a baseline for comparison. Pulling shots of an unknown bean of unknown roast age may be cheaper, but not nearly as good a teacher IMO.

Personally I read everything I could find on PF building, temp surfing etc. and even practiced tamping at 30# on a bathroom scale before my first espresso machine even arrived. (That was Miss Silvia going on 5 years ago) Consequently was pulling half way decent crema laden shots the first day. Looking back definitely not great shots, but all weren't sink shots either even by my today's standards. Different people will progress at different paces of course, but a lot of it depends on teachable attitude, studying then practice applying with the best tools available including the beans IMO.
Mike McGinness, Head Bean (Owner/Roast Master)
http://www.CompassCoffeeRoasting.com

LeoZ
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#7: Post by LeoZ »

Compass Coffee wrote:I disagree. If at all possible makes more sense to me to start with something known. For instance if someone was local to the Portland, OR area I'd suggest they go to Stumptown and taste shots of their Hairbender and buy a couple pounds. And watch their baristas build the shots. And ask what the suggested shot temp is when buying it. Why? So there's a target to shoot for, a baseline for comparison. Pulling shots of an unknown bean of unknown roast age may be cheaper, but not nearly as good a teacher IMO.
i agree. if youre fortunate enough to live near a good shop, or one that you like, go in, order a shot, watch how they make it and how it pours, and buy their coffee. youll have a goal to shoot for.

i was shooting blind until a few weeks ago when i went to chicago and tasted the black cat first hand. the good news, i was doing something right, my at home shots were identically as bitter :D the bad news, months of being frustrated thinking ive done something wrong since i had nothing to go by except an old krups machine and friends superautos, which impart a completely different taste on coffee.

rpirong

#8: Post by rpirong »

I agree with Compass Coffee, especially since you are fortunate enough to have a excellent roaster like Rocket Coffee in your neck of the woods! I don't know about the decision to buy only a 1/3 pound of espresso blends, just starting out. I'd most definitely buy it by the pound. I called Rocket when I was having trouble figuring out my new La Pavoni and grinder. I can't remember the owners name but he was really helpful! He spent probably close to a half hour on the phone with me giving me tips and advice on how to get the most out of my lever machine. I didn't even buy my equipment from them. My espresso shots improved by leaps and bounds after that conversation! You should give them a call or email them if you have questions - very friendly and helpful. I can also highly recommend their classic espresso. I find it very easy to work with not to mention delicious!

It stinks for me since the only halfway decent shop is a two hour drive for me and yesterday the wife and I were there and I figured I would buy a bag of espresso to take home until I asked the guy working there when the beans were roasted and he didn't know. But he said they had to be fresh since they were delivered a month ago. If I wasn't happily retired, younger and knew what to do - I'd open a coffee joint in town - we sure can use a good one!

Richard

gordonm

#9: Post by gordonm »

Thanks for the replies, everyone. This is a great resource for us rank beginners!

It seems to me to make the most sense to start with a coffee that you at least have some familiarity with, and know what it should taste like. Unfortunately, the only coffee shop that uses Rocket here in Phoenix is on the other side of town from where I live. So, I've bought a couple of pounds from a shop much closer that uses another local roaster (Espressions), and who serves excellent doubles made from said coffee. I also know the roast date as well. It was roughly the same cost as buying Starbucks or Illy, so there wasn't an economic reason not to do it.

Regarding Rocket Coffee, Larry is the owner's name, and he does seem to be very helpful, and seems to take coffee and education very seriously here in the Valley of the Sun. This is a good thing, and I'm definitely going to be ordering more beans (by the pound, this time) from him very soon.

So, now the question is . . .will Fed Ex be delivering my Expobar today or tomorrow . . . ARRRRGHHHH!

Gordon

kemrt23

#10: Post by kemrt23 »

HI Gordonm -

Have you since received your Expobar and mastered technique? If so, I would be interested to hear how things are going, the grind and the coffee you found optimal. Also, since the Expobar runs hot, I assume you may have mastered by now the timing for a cooling flush. In any case, please let me know - I have an Expobar and honestly, I have had very much trouble attaining a shot that is not bitter. my lattes are 'OK" but always a bit "off" in sweetness and nowhere near as enticing as those I used to get at Starbucks.... and I am convinced the care is used by them in the prep of their shots is hit or miss.

Would love to hear back so I can pick up any tricks you may have mastered -

Mark