Pucker Up Espresso Lovers

When creating the overall tone in an article, a few key points are generally worth repeating. Put together, these can either weave a fabric of opinion or a shroud of negativity. On occasion I am not really sure which it is – for example this recent piece in The Observer, titled Hot Shot: the story behind the great global coffee revolution, by Jay Rayner, which begins:

Coffee shops have taken over our high streets, supported by a never ending supply of connoisseur addicts. Jay Rayner meets some of the major players taking the revered bean to even greater heights, and asks whether they are ruining his favourite espresso

Early in the piece Rayner describes a beautiful looking espresso, which tastes a little, let’s say, less than perfect:

The taste, however, is wrong. Very wrong. It’s fiercely acidic, a sour hit that makes my lips pucker up like a cat’s bum

That initial impression was London in 2012, with the article published in June this year. It would appear many sour espresso’s have been consumed by the author between then and what is sitting squarely in front of him now. Further, we hear how the burgeoning speciality coffee industry with it’s lighter roasting profiles is (perhaps forever) changing the way our beloved beverages taste across the board.

I don’t believe this is unique to London, given the changes I have seen across Brisbane’s cafés in the past 12–18 months. Although, within a two block radius of my CBD office, there are 3 such cafés, whereas 5–6 times as many (at least) serving “traditionally” roasted espresso. Those serving more traditional style espresso are not going away as far as I can tell (and good for them), and you only need look at the ongoing patronage of the bigger name chains to see that. You may wish to avoid the throngs queueing at these newer cafés, walk right up to the counter at one of the others and order (though possibly a little harsh, message intended in that sentence).

I’m a little curious as to why the author paints a picture of ‘espresso ruined’ across virtually an entire city. I would have thought a city the size of London perhaps may have a few cafés to choose from, many of which would serve espresso with a more “traditional taste”. Perhaps I am wrong on this point.

As far as this ‘new taste’ is concerned? Personally, I enjoy it, along with the variety of espresso now offered not only between different establishments, but also within the same café – often weekly. The more ‘typical’ darker roasted espresso? I enjoy that too – mostly. If espresso can be too acidic, there is just as much (if not more) being served that is more bitter than I care to describe. The continuum works both ways. I can however, see the author’s point of view, as there have been times where I have found the amount of acidity present in some espresso to be perhaps be a little high for my taste. Ironically, the most striking example of this came from one of my own roast batches, which you can read about in my most recent What’s Brewing post.

When it comes down to personal taste, as with anything – food, drink, art, comedy… all a matter of opinion is it not? Why does all scotch not taste the same? I assume it’s because there are those who enjoy flavours of smoke and peat, others sweetness and honey. Or am I missing the point? Are sweetness and honey flavours ruining my favourite scotch? Oh, that’s right, I just buy the one I like. Great to have choices.

Although Rayner makes a valid observation, I question whether the overwhelming negativity and gloom ensure it comes across as too much of a whine to really be of value.

~ PD.

What’s Brewing #11 – Costa Rica Terra Bella

Terra Bella LatteIt has been a little while since the last What’s Brewing post, however back we are today, having roasted another batch of Costa Rica Terra Bella (Honey) last weekend. Having picked up a kilo of this coffee from Ministry Grounds a few weeks ago, this was my second roast batch, which seemed to do a better job at bringing out the flavours than the first attempt.

On with the review:

Costa Rica Terra Bella Villa Sarchi
– Altitude: 1450–1500m
– Crop Year: 2013
– Varietal: Villa Sarchi
– Processing: Honey

 Terra Bella Estate is located in the West Valley region of Costa Rica, about 35km west of the capital city of San Jose. This is one of the most classic coffee regions of Costa Rica and the one with the highest coffee production in the country nowadays. The reason for this is the excellent conditions to produce coffee that are prevalent here: deep, rich volcanic soils, high altitudes, moderate and well-distributed rainfall, cool temperatures, etc.

Information courtesy Ministry Grounds via The MTC Group

A little more on the Honey processing method, courtesy of The Coffee Review:

“Honey” is a relatively new term describing coffee that has been dried with all or some of the sticky fruit pulp or “honey” (miel in Spanish) still adhering to the bean. Those familiar with coffee processing methods will, of course, recognize this practice as a kind of compromise between two more familiar processing methods: the dry or “natural” method, in which the beans are dried while entirely encased inside the fruit, and the wet or “washed” method, in which all of the soft fruit residue, both skin and pulp, are scrubbed off before the coffee is dried.

Latte, V60 Filter, Aeropress, Espresso

Through milk in a latte or flat white, this coffee performed extremely well and resulted in a creamy, sweet brew with subtle apple and caramel flavours. When brewed as an espresso, I couldn’t help but think perhaps I should have let the roast run a little darker, as the acidity overpowered things a little. Not undrinkable by any stretch, however not quite as pleasant as some of the other varieties I’ve roasted and tried recently.

Which brings us to the V60 filter and Aeropress methods, which seemed well suited to both the coffee and the roast profile, producing a very well-balanced cup from either method. The V60 probably outshines the Aeropress slightly, with a cleaner, brighter cup, again containing sweet apple and a caramelly, honey like layer, with a nice long finish.

Conclusion; Know This
I really enjoyed the Costa Rica Terra Bella, with my preference being either as a milk drink, or on its own through the V60. As I mentioned above, this was my second roast batch, and definitely an improvement on the first. Looking back through my notes, the second time around was a slightly larger batch (450g vs 300g), which probably slowed the roast down a little, although I used the same heat ramp profile. In any event, if you get the chance to try this coffee, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 3.75/5

What’s Brewing – Guatemala Finca la Maravilla CoE

Although now out of stock at Ministry Grounds, I was pleased to get my hands on one of the last remaining bags of this particular coffee. Although I had sampled similar Cup of Excellence offerings at various brew bars around town, I had yet to roast my own CoE. In retrospect, though not a conscious decision, I suspect the slightly higher green price made me a little hesitant to throw it in my home roaster.

Perhaps this suspicion was warranted, as it was not until the second roast batch a couple of weeks after the first did I feel I did the coffee justice. The evolution of my roasting to a lighter roast with more gentle heat increment seemed to better suit the flavour profile of this bean in the cup. Variations in roast batches aside, in the end things turned out pretty well – let’s see how it tasted.

Guatemala La Maravilla CoE Lot 17 2013
– City / Region: La Libertad, Huehuetenango
– Altitude: 1,650–1,800 metres above sea level
– Variety: Bourbon, Caturra
– Processing: Fully Washed and dried on patio
– Farmer: Mauricio Rosales Vasquez
– Farm size: 24.68 hectares
– Cup of Excellence score: 85.83
– Lot size: 42 cartons

The harvest season at La Maravilla is from January to April. For quality control purposes they monitor traceability from handpicking right through until final delivery, and cup individual day lots. The coffee is processed by traditional wet mill and is sun-dried on patios,and then stored in a wood warehouse.

Information courtesy Ministry Grounds Coffee

Latte, V60 Pour over, Aeropress

Latte – When combined with milk, the resulting drink was a creamy, buttery, medium bodied, malt apple concoction. Probably not the most refined description, however those were the words jotted down in my Field Notes tasting record at the time. Overall, quite an enjoyable milk based drink first thing in the morning. Due to slight daily variations in my espresso based brewing, some days I end up with all of these flavours standing proudly – other days not so, and therefore was little hit and miss for me (my technique variation the culprit here I’m sure).

V60 – Probably the pick of the bunch as far as the brew methods I experimented with. I note many recent What’s Brewing posts lack an espresso tasting component. As mentioned in another post which seems like an eternity ago, I consume these coffees as espresso somewhat less than I used to, preferring longer form brewing methods a little more these days. Back to the V60 and how this Guatemalan fares through the filter.

There was something about this CoE that became apparent with repeated brews through the V60. To my fairly varied yet still amateur palate, the complexities of the flavour profile took a little while to become apparent to me. To explain a little, from the very first cup this was a very, very enjoyable coffee, however not the instantaneous – oh boy! moment that often occurs with great tasting brews. My initial thoughts were that I was missing something – and couldn’t quite describe to myself what I was really tasting. Until one day sitting drinking yet another cup, it was suddenly – there it is.

A feature of my still developing coffee palate? Just a better day? A better roast? A better brew technique? I certainly have no idea which one is responsible – perhaps all of the above. Whatever the key factor was, it certainly had me thinking – I still have a lot to learn about this coffee roasting and brewing game.

For some reason the subtleties suddenly became more obvious, with a bright citrus acidity, cherry and apple flavours combining to form almost a wine like flavour, with a hint of bergamot as the brew cooled. Similar flavours, though infinitely more refined than the dump and bash of the Aeropress (see below). The flavours just seemed to compliment each other much better, and although more subtle, with a little thought were probably more apparent all along than I had realised (characteristics of a Cup of Excellence perhaps, though more likely related to my position a very small way along a considerable learning curve).

Aeropress – Given this is my mid-afternoon office brew, I prefer not to be fiddling about too much and prefer to get in and out of the communal kitchen as efficiently as possible.

As a result, I had shied away from the inverted brew method (fearing disasters and incurring the wrath of those perhaps annoyed by a coffee snob in their midst), until learning the following method in a Brew Class at the Cup Coffee Roastery in December last year. The entire process is mess free and pretty quick, at 1:15 total time:

  • 12–14g coffee (slightly finer grind than usual); 200g water
  • Aeropress inverted
  • Shot of chilled water, then hot to fill chamber (swirling as fill)^
  • Add rinsed filter paper and cap
  • gently squeeze out air
  • flip Aeropress onto cup
  • 30 second press time
  • enjoy the brew after minimal clean-up

^ As I am limited to the “always boiling” hot water urn rather than a kettle, the shot of chilled, filtered water cools the overall brew a little and avoids dumping boiling water directly onto the ground coffee.

The result is a refreshing bright cup, with a hint of apple, along with a citrus orange acidity, and also seems a little herby. Somewhere in there was also a hint of cherry jam (hey! – that’s what my notes said). A bright clean finish made for a very enjoyable brew.

Conclusion; Know This
Despite my initial roast batch not reaching the heights of the second go around with this coffee, as you may have gathered, this has perhaps been one of my favourite varieties so far. Its one thing to taste a coffee and note down a few flavours and tastes that show through, however entirely another to suddenly sense how they all fit together. Eloquent is not a word I would use in describing how well I have written about this particular coffee above, however have given it my best shot.

In summary, let’s just say it was like one of those albums that upon first listen you think is OK, then by the fourth or fifth run though it becomes one of your all time favourites. Whilst there are many more varieties yet to sample, and this may not end up as one of my all time favourites, it is certainly up there in the mix.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

What’s Brewing – Keeper’s Blend

Keeper's BlendAlthough we are now well and truly into January and the new year, to complete things from 2013, its time to write the about how my Keeper’s (Christmas) Blend fared in the cup. As I mentioned in a previous post, this blend was given to family members, and for the first time, some friends and work colleagues also, which is another reason this review is being written now – to allow time for some feedback from those who sampled the offering.

As an aside, given he provided inspiration for the naming of the blend, it was nice to see Aussie wicketkeeper Brad Haddin’s form continue at such a high level throughout the Ashes series (particularly as the original roast was undertaken after only two tests). In retrospect, the only thing better than this blend was the Ashes result itself!

Thankfully, the feedback I did receive about the blend was overwhelmingly positive, however to allow for the politeness of those who sampled, it would be best to have a stab at objectively assessing the blend myself.

What – Keeper’s Blend (Christmas Blend)

50% Rwanda Nyarusiza Washed Buf Cafe

  • City: Between Butare and Cyangugu
  • Region: Nyamagabe district, Southern Province
  • Washing Station: Nyarusiza
  • Altitude: 1,935 metres above sea level
  • Variety: 100% Red Bourbon
  • Processing: Fully washed and sun-dried on African raised beds
  • Owner: Epiphanie Mukashyaka

50% Kenya Karimikui AB

  • Origin: Kenya
  • Altitude: 1700 – 1800mtrs
  • Crop Year: 2013
  • Varietal: SL 28 SL 34

(Information courtesy Ministry Grounds)

Latte; Hario V60 Pour over (Hot and Cold Brews); Aeropress; Espresso

Latte / Milk course – Originally roasted with filter brewing (sans milk) in mind, I was quite pleased with how well suited the blend was to espresso based milk drinks. A nice buttery mouthfeel was accompanied by enough acidity to cut through the milk and allow the stone fruit and citrus flavours to emerge. Some chocolate undertones also came through when consumed in this form.

V60 – Notwithstanding the above comments, this is where the blend really shined. It seemed the combination of the more robust sweetness of the Nyarusiza and the brighter citrus acidity of the Karimikui was a winner, maintaining an even level of sweetness from immediately post brew right through the cooling process. When brewed over ice it really was something special.

Aeropress – Thankfully, this brewing method was utilised the least, for reasons entirely unrelated to taste. My Aeropress is at the office, meaning most of my enjoyment of the blend occurred during a relaxing holiday period. On returning to work and running the blend through the Aeropress, I was certainly not disappointed. Though not quite as bright as the V60, a similar sweetness profile was evident, with the chocolate undercurrent balancing things out nicely. If I could no longer have an afternoon nap, then this was the next best thing.

Espresso – With an acidity that was like a slap across the face, as an espresso the blend is likely to have benefitted from a little more body, however was immensely enjoyable none the less. The smooth buttery mouthfeel gave this one a bright, lasting (if not intense) finish.

Conclusion; Know This
In view of the fact this blend was distributed to friends and family, I was very pleased to find it worked very well across all forms of brewing. I’d have to say that of all the blends I have created (read, tinkered around with), this one has probably been the pick of the bunch so far.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Serving Cup of Excellence as Espresso

When serving a Cup of Excellence[1] single origin coffee, does brewing by espresso undervalue what ultimately ends up in the cup? If we assume lighter roasted, filter brewed (V60, Chemex) methods demonstrate the subtlety and complexity of the overall flavour profile, is espresso a waste of a good single origin?

Of course the answer is no, as indicated by the enthusiasm these types of offerings routinely generate in the establishments that serve them – Strauss in Brisbane’s CBD (Web, Twitter) sparking my thoughts on this with a Cup of Excellence La Gloria, El Salvador #7 currently being served as a single origin espresso.

Should we not look to explore the many and varied ways a single origin will express itself through different brewing methods? Altering the concentration, extraction time and any other variable does nothing to alter what goes into the brew – that is, single origin (in this case Cup of Excellence) coffee and water. The output being a very rewarding drink in the cup. Will this be different to a filter brew? Absolutely. Ever so fortunate are we in having the choice in how we sample these fantastic single origins. I have lost count of the times I have been blown away by the results achieved with a particular method of brewing, when my expectations had prepared me for a completely different (read inferior) result.

Whether or not you are a fan of the higher acidity typical of a Cup of Excellence coffee, or prefer a lower acidity, full-bodied espresso, with more cafés willing to offer limited runs or seasonal changes in blends and single origins, along with real passion in how they are brewed and served, we as consumers can only be better off.

My La Gloria? A fantastic, brightly acidic cup with hints of chocolate and berry jam[2]. Followed of course by an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe courtesy of the V60 – the joys of variety and choice! My advice, get out there and try these when offered – it may only be once if it is not your cup of … well, espresso, but you won’t die wondering.

  1. Cup of Excellence is the most prestigious award given to a fine quality coffee. The level of scrutiny that Cup of Excellence coffees undergo is unmatched anywhere in the coffee industry. The prices that these winning coffees receive at auction have broken records and proven that there is a huge demand for these rare farmer identified coffees.  ↩
  2. I highly recommend you try this but make it quick – with only a limited amount available, at $4.00 a cup it is sensational value.  ↩