Posted Sun Aug 15, 2010, 4:22pm Subject: Re: Espresso 2010 by Mark Prince
I find myself in rare partial agreement with Mark. There are many, many single origin coffees out there that should never be brewed straight as espressos. The flavour extraction and concentration involved simply overwhelms the finer taste sensations that may be present when other brewing methods are used. On the other hand, there are a very, very few single origins that make exceptional espresso coffees; Yemen and Haiti come to mind.
Alan, I agree regarding very few, Yemen and a wonderful Brasilian (OK, and an El Salvador) I pulled last year certainly come to mind. Regarding cost of blends v SO's, several roasters I've spoken with confirm they often use less expensive beans, but work really hard to create the taste profile they desire. I've certainly paid lots more for both greenSO and roasted than commercial blends.
My personal opinion (this week...lol) is that the RIGHT SO for MY pallet, pulled properly in my Cremina lever have enough flavor elements to be interesting, and when it's right, give me a much more satisfying taste experience than most blends.
However, it's the curiosity that keeps me coming back to blends, and often enough I find one that provides beautiful layers of flavor. Being an amateur, I often miss the sweet spot. Comes with the territory
I can't imagine the work and dedication it takes to produce a superior espresso blend, especially one that has a somewhat "universal appeal." I admit to being occasionally part of the "chocolate/berry" crowd, but try when blending my own (risky!) to obtain a more adventurous taste experience. As I mostly fail, in my mind, this further elevates the professionals.
I guess what I'm trying to say is "doesn't it make sense that if a judge determines a competition shot to be delicious, wouldn't it be?" If it's an SO (not a melange, co-op, etc) is that the end of the world as we know it?
But, as Mark points out, if the "easier" rewards of roasting as SO discourages Master Roasters form digging deep to develop and re-develop their blends, are we taking things out of balance?
Posted Sun Aug 15, 2010, 4:23pm Subject: Re: Espresso 2010 by Mark Prince
It isn't a religion; it's a beverage. If a trustworthy barista recommends a new SO, I'll usually try it. If I like it a lot, I'll buy a bag. It's that simple. At least 80% of my home espressos are blends, but I'm constantly rotating through the offerings of my favorite local roasters. I'd give up espresso from boredom, if it were always the same.
Posted Sun Aug 15, 2010, 4:58pm Subject: Re: Espresso 2010 by Mark Prince
I usually enjoy your articles mainly for the reason they either provide great information or spur great conversation. While I don't necessarily agree with what you've written, this is yet another article that is sure to raise the hackles on many a roaster and barista, and fingers will point and people will bellow... but in the end, we will all return to trying to figure out that elusive demoness that is espresso.
One issue I have is with the statement, "If the coffee is from the same farm but roasted several ways and post blended, it is not single origin."
How the hell is that not single origin? To me it makes as much sense as saying El Salvador Bourbon isn't El Salvadoran coffee or that Gesha is really single origin Ethiopia.
As Jesse pointed out, most Single Origin coffees are not likely from the same lot and perhaps not from the same harvest. This being the case, while the micro-climate may be similar, coffee grown on hill A is going to have a different profile from coffee on hill B, and certainly coffee from Spring harvest will differ in nuance or even more, depending on weather conditions, than that of Winter Harvest. So you are already starting out with coffee that isn't really all identical in profile if you separate out all the micro-lots that comprise this Single Origin offering.
I've recently roasted both wonderful seasonal lots, and micro-lot offerings from Finca Matalapa and I've enjoyed both as a singular roast, and roasted to different profiles and post-blended. It really depends on the coffee. Being from Intelligentsia, I know this is a farm that Jesse should know well. Melon, peach, and butterscotch/caramel from a singular roast of the Puerta Zapa, and even more layered complexity when tossing in a bit of another profile. The same reason that many add another bean is the same reason I may (or may not) choose to use the same exact bean at a different profile. Maybe putting Single Origin into such a restrictive box is what is hampering you from discovering something truly enjoyable.
We roast both blends and Single Origins. Some coffees kick ass as a singular espresso offering and others do well when paired with another. We're small, really small, and we change blends an average of once every week to week and a half. We buy small lots. I choose something that speaks to me. I roast it. We enjoy our moment with THAT coffee in THAT season. And then we move on. I've done a singular profile for a couple of years and for me it was boring. Coffee is ever changing from season to season, farm to farm, lot to lot, and it's a joy to experience as many different taste profiles as you can. The only qualification each espresso blend or SO needs to have is that it be good and that it represents the coffee or coffees that comprise it.
One problem I do have with Single Origin is that many a would be roaster or barista thinks that having a Single Origin offering means they are doing something cutting edge, something only the coffee Illuminati do. And this is hardly the case. I am convinced much of your disappointment comes from those who are high on style, and have a list of friends in the community that would wow most of us... And they can surely talk even the shrewdest maestro under the table when it comes to all things coffee and espresso. But when it comes to the actual execution the roast or the espresso itself, they fall woefully short.
In my opinion, Single Origin is, on average, a harder beast to tame. I would make it analogous to discussions you've had on pulling a normale vs. pulling a ristretto. I think that it's as difficult, or more difficult, to dial in a Single Origin than it is to find the sweet spot on a blend. (EDIT) What I mean to say is that it's really not that difficult to get a good tasting shot from many SO offerings, but to get one with complexity takes a bit more tweaking and perhaps a bit more skill. (End EDIT) A great espresso should be about clarity of flavors as much as it is about a cacophony of flavors. Different animals, but both beautiful to behold.
Thanks again for creating meaningful discussion. Can't wait for part two.
Posted Sun Aug 15, 2010, 7:15pm Subject: Re: Espresso 2010 by Mark Prince
The buzz on SOs is driven by a very small segment of professionals and a miniscule slice of consumers. The press and WOM SOs have received are way out of proportion to the number of SO cups consumed. Fact is that Jesse's point about baristas having been mostly accustomed to Starbucks applies just as well, if not more, to the general population of consumers.
The industry in general is years away from the point where even 5% of the coffee-drinking population will seek out a straight espresso, let alone a good one, let alone an SO. If we get to 5% by 2015, that would be a huge win. Baristas within the SO bubble probably have a difficult time understanding and accepting this as their experiences are far different.
I am just starting with espresso so I am a lot closer to the "outside looking in" crowd than the members weighing in on this discussion topic. This poster nails it though concerning the average espresso consumers - at least in my part of North Carolina. I know a lot of casual coffee drinkers who really turn their nose up at espresso without even trying it because the little brown cup has a bad rep - most think it is like a coffee version of crack - saying it is too strong without ever even tasting what good espresso can be in a single shot. I think it would be a miracle if 5% of the coffee drinking population around my area is drinking straight espresso by 2015. I know people with Nespresso machines ( I have one too) who enjoy making espresso based drinks, but not single shots. The perception from the outside looking in is that espresso is an ingredient in some tasty coffee drinks and if you sweeten it up with enough sugar, chocolate syrup, or whipped cream it will taste pretty good.
I like another poster's analogy comparing single origin or microlot coffee to single malt scotch. That is another market sharing the same uphill struggle - If the customer/consumer is adding enough sweetening syrup to mask the taste of the booze in a drink, then convincing them to take a straight shot is not going to happen often enough to make a difference.
Many of our espresso regulars seem to enjoy the comfort of having a consistent taste. We want to lock those folks into habit before pushing further.
I applaud the job Nespresso does with their core selections - keeping the flavor consistent is what grew their market - the same purple capsule today tastes the same as it did in 2006 when i first tried that system. It might not be the best espresso available but it tastes decent enough to keep my interest in the format strong enough to want to learn more about the espresso experience. The single malt whiskey people never won the battle for my heart, mind and wallet but those capsules did. AldoCoffee, your coffee shop probably offers a lot better quality to your customers than Nespresso but like you they understand how to play to win too. Keeping it simple isn't always as easy as it looks.
I chew coffee beans with my teeth while gargling with 195 F water to enjoy coffee. What is this "coffee brewing" device you speak of?
Posted Tue Aug 17, 2010, 10:50am Subject: Re: Espresso 2010 by Mark Prince
Hey Mark, great article and I suppose (from my very limited perspective:) ) you're most probably right! If you allow one remark though, you miss it completely on single origin espresso in one point... :D that is, the market is not only US, and out of US it is easy to get a single origin beans, but hard to get blends (not to mention - the good ones). The hasbean is the nearest to me yet I haven't yet tried his blends. And that's the reason for me drinking almost only SO espressi. If I could get easily the raved excellent americans blends fresh, ... yay then I would, of course. Would I drink them - shame - I don't know. Hopefully - I don't know YET. :) Best, Pawel
Posted Tue Aug 17, 2010, 12:41pm Subject: Re: Espresso 2010 by Mark Prince
I'm pretty much in agreement with what Jesse posted the other day, but I'd offer a few observations from my own perspective...
(first). Mark's construction of a strict definition of single origin espresso really strikes me as the equivalent of what the tech press calls Artie MacStrawMan. It's building up a non-existant boogie-man that is easy to argue against and tear down because it is really non-existant. "One type of bean from one area of one farm (sometimes called a microlot) roasted one way." Really? Other than home enthusiasts roasting from specific micro-lots or CoE selections, who is selling SO espresso that fits that definition with any regularity? It seems to me that the reality is much less clear. When the bigger roasters are selling a coffee as SO espresso, they most definitely are not including a purity pledge that the coffee isn't a mix of same-farm lots. When Intelligentsia pulls SO shots in their shops, they are using production runs of the farm-named coffees, but I'd be willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of these coffees are built from multiple lots from single farms. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to cup 18 different sub-lots that were evaluated for this year's Honduras Finca La Tina, La Tortuga. It was staggering to discover the differences between lots of the same variety from the same harvest year at the same farm. Some of the lots were used in the final version, some were selected specifically for other blends, and most were not purchased at all. Knowing that the La Tortuga is built from multiple lots, am I not allowed to offer it as a single origin?
I'm buying thousands of pounds a coffee a year from all over, and our shop features both a primary blend (Black Cat or Ecco, occasionally others) and (as often as possible) a second SO offering from a range of roasters. I can't remember a single time in the last year when a roaster specified that a SO offering was a unique microlot, roasted one way. They'll name the farm and the variety, but never mention that the coffee is from one-- and only one-- lot. Or that it wasn't roast-date blended. Or roast-level blended. I'm not going to require an ideological purity test before I sell something as SO, as long as it pulls a superior shot of espresso. My customers really couldn't care less. Really. Couldn't. Care. Less. They are not going to argue with me that the Kenya Thiriku espresso that I'll be offering this week as a SO espresso isn't really a SO espresso because it probably doesn't come from a micro-lot. They'll only care that we've taken the time to figure out how to pull an amazing, unique shot of espresso that doesn't taste like anything else that they've ever tried before. And I trust the roasters that we've selected to cup their coffees through the roasting process and be able to make calls about what they can do to produce exceptional espresso out of a given lot or mix of lots.
What about in competition? Keep this in mind: the espresso in competition is getting better every year, and each year baristas are working with roasters to develop much more sophisticated strategies to bring out the best from their coffees. If you have not been an active sensory judge in 2009/10, you'd better be able to back up what you are claiming about how the coffees are used with facts and taste experience. In my own experience, I found that baristas were using single farm espresso (absolutely not to Mark's strict SO definition, but using SO as a descriptor) not because it was "easier" to score higher but because they were pushing the boundaries of their own experience with the possibilities of espresso. It helps to build enthusiasm in the barista. They used single farm coffees because they were amazing, and they most likely used every trick in the book (multiple lot/single farm coffees, roast-date blending, roast-level blending) to try to win. And single-farm coffees are still not a golden ticket. Ask anyone at the US SERBC, where Lem took the regional with CCC's with Espresso Rustico.
I probably scored close to a hundred espresso sets for sensory in the US competition in the last two years, and I really don't remember a single person using Mark's "strict" definition of SO to describe their coffee. Lots of people described their espresso as single origin, but few--if any-- were claiming "single originness" because their coffee wasn't lot-blended from one farm, or not date- or roast-level blended. Perhaps people _were_ using SO coffee prepped that way, but I don't recall any who went out of their way to describe their espresso like that. I can't speak to what happened on the floor while I was in calibration, but my guess is that few would use such a strict definition for SO because nobody else requires such a strict definition of single origin espresso. This idea of a strictly-defined SO espresso is, as I mentioned earlier, a strawman hoisted up to be knocked down. Or, to put it another way, if all of these competitors and roasters are producing amazing single-farm espressos that don't adhere to Mark's strict definition of SO, does that mean master blenders are not rare at all? That, in fact, there might be a new generation of master blenders that have broadened their horizons to include much more than just multiple-origin blends? Or that it takes as much mastery of blending to hit the sweet spot of a seasonal (always changing) blend as it does to make one blend taste the same year round?
(second). As for Rich's comments, I can offer no better commentary than what Tim Styles recently quoted: It's the difference between creating the market and merely responding to it. I can't even begin to answer to your claim that "the industry in general is years away from the point where even 5% of the coffee-drinking population will seek out a straight espresso, let alone a good one, let alone an SO." I guess that we both run shops that sell coffee, but we must be in different industries-- straight espresso sales average over ~30% of our total espresso drink sales. Day in, day out, week to week. When regulars see coffee in the second hopper, the first question asked of us is whether the new stuff is best as a straight shot, macc, or capp. It's taken nearly three years, but our customers now expect us to push the boundaries of what they know about brewed coffee, and that same attitude has washed over to us pushing what they know about espresso. This business is what you want to make of it; if you think that it would be a huge win to have espresso sales at 5% after eleven years in business, change the game. Rich, you are a smart guy. I'm sure that you could figure out how to build a model so that espresso is more than 10% of gross without sacrificing margin or total sales volume. If espresso is hovering at 3%, change the context to convert 7% of the business that is internally competing for straight espresso sales. I'd bet you could be at 10% straight espresso sales in one year, not five.
To quote Joe Strummer, the future is unwritten. The coffees just keep getting better. We must push ourselves to understand the limits of how we can work with the best coffees from these dedicated farmers-- definitions or marketing terms or industry buzz be damned.
jadesky11 Senior Member Joined: 17 Aug 2010 Posts: 1 Location: Milwaukee Expertise: Pro Barista
Posted Tue Aug 17, 2010, 2:24pm Subject: Re: Espresso 2010 by Mark Prince
I enjoyed reading true's perspective above from a USBC judge, here's my perspective from working at a cafe that offers single origin espresso every day. One reason single origin is so popular in competition, in my opinion, is that is SOOOOOO much harder to produce beautiful single origin shots. It takes skill. so, yes, those of you who don't like single origin espresso are kind of right. It's tricky. Shots of the espresso blend I use every day at work taste delicious at 22 second and 30 seconds, and everything in between. Each extraction rate lets a different origins shine, while the other origins in the blend back it up and round it out (at least that's how i interpret the phenomenon). Single origin espressos are much more finicky. There's only a tiny window of dose and extraction time for each coffee that will produce a well-balanced, complex 2oz of liquid. I've been the one to set up the new week's special on Sunday night or Monday morning several times. The shots can taste awful; anywhere from tinny, to bitter, to a beautiful, to an encouraging first sip with a rancid finish. They can require countless minuscule grind and dose changes (even with detailed specs. provided by our barista trainers beforehand). Sometimes I can get it quite close - drinkable - and give up. Inevitably, someone else tastes, suggests one more change, and it's perfect - at least for one day. We're using a Mazzer electronic doserless grinder, which provides extremely consistent dose-weight and grind. Once it's perfect, it's perfect. In theory. We started out roasting featured espresso once a week, but the coffee requires attention as it ages, even in a few days. Even roasting every three days, single origins need tweaking and adjustment every morning, and taste different every morning. Though, this is true of any espresso to some degree.
So, what I'm saying is, with blends, the roasters put a lot of care and attention into the blend so the baristas can sit back and brew some beautiful shots. With single origin, the roasters put care and attention into the roasting process, but the barista must also take responsibility and put care and attention into each ounce poured because there is less room for error. Many good baristas may like pulling consistent shots of the same blend day in and day out, but I like a challenge. I've been frustrated by single origin espresso before, but when you get it perfect, all that hard work makes it taste sweeter (or more savory, or juicy, or chocolate-y, or . . . . anything-y).
I feel single origin espresso is a great exercise for baristas. It's a communal thing for us. I adjust shots, ask my colleagues to taste. We are constantly thinking critically and improving our skills at talking about shots, tasting shots, looking at shots, and pouring great shots as a result of the featured origin espresso program. It keeps things interesting. It expands, and challenges the way I think about espresso. Instead of thinking, does this taste like good espresso, I ask, is this drinkable? does this taste good (at all)? does this highlight everything good in this coffee? These questions are similar to the questions roasters constantly have to ask.
harrymanback Senior Member Joined: 15 May 2007 Posts: 219 Location: slo*cal Expertise: I live coffee
Espresso: expobar brewtus ii Grinder: la cimbali md6, baratza... Drip: nah...bodum press(es) Roaster: modded wear•ever popcorn...
Posted Tue Aug 17, 2010, 6:27pm Subject: re: espresso 2010 by mark prince
question: do you drink "single origin" drip / press / siphon / chemex / pour-over. . . or "blends?"
almost no geek i know of drinks blends in these forms as a matter of default, but we never give it a second thought. i realise espresso is a much different beast than all other methods of brew, but per chance the "haters" out there just don't recognize their own prejudice in this arena: espressos initially had to be blends to be palatable. the old-schoolers out there have developed their palate on the need to blend. yet i think we're in the golden age of coffee, where processing has been raised to such a level and where these amazing lots are still relatively cheap. s.o. espresso is just one more goodie in the bag given the times in which we live.
but i second the notion that blending well is a very difficult thing, even with high-end lots. finding roast profiles that work well together at the same temperature -- let alone the same grind -- can be quite a daunting task. trying to keep that blend as a brand over the years (to the discriminating palate) is crazy hard. as a testament, i've been home roasting for a few years now and usually leave the espresso blending to the pros.
"i should pull up the hardwood to see if there's carpet underneath! . . . no, that's never the case."
Harry, I might be mistaken, but I'll assume that MANY pro roasters roast each of their espresso blend elements separately then post-blend. Thus the problems with roast temps/profiles would not be an issue with a post blended espresso blend as would be with a PRE-BLENDED espresso blend
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