Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Taste Of Seattle

The usual suspect webpages are dominated by posters from the USA and Canada, who wax lyrical about some of their top roasters. As an Australian, I'm always left wondering what these blends actually taste like and how they stack up to our own. Does the predominance of drip coffee mean that more acidic coffees predominate? Or is there some truth to the name "Charbucks"?

Every now and then, friends of mine or wonderful customers bring in some of these much-hyped coffees. One such person is Mark, who recently returned from a trip to Seattle. (To digress quickly, it's worth noting that Mark's attitude is the complete opposite of the "know-it-all" arrogance that is quite common in the coffee industry. This is not the first time that he has gone to the SCAA conference and he is always tasting, asking questions and experimenting. Gossip: expect some interesting things from St Ali over the next few months.)

Without further ado ...

Victrola Streamline

As you can see, this coffee was in an unsealed brown paper bag. After three weeks and a plane trip, it was not in good shape and it would be completely unfair to expect it to perform up to scratch. The purpose of this post is just to give some impressions.

This was a surprisingly light roast; the beans were very wrinkled and didn't seem to have expanded much. I don't think that this came anywhere near second crack. As an espresso at about 92C at the group on the FB80, the acidity was overwhelming. This would have to have the temperature bumped up, and I really should have tried it at 95 later. Nonetheless, the sole impression that I want to get across is that this is a lighter roast than I think many Australians would expect for espresso.

Ecco Caffe's Traditional Northern Italian Espresso

Image from barismo

Not only is Andrew Barnett a WBC judge, he is the judge with the highest score on the sensory test! So I was expecting something pretty amazing. Well, it was a case of unsealed paper bags and three week old coffee again, but notwithstanding that, the coffee was impressive. I wouldn't think to try and describe tastes from espresso that poured black for the first few seconds, but what came across was a whole heap of sweetness, backed with a bit of body. The roast was darker than Victrola's and probably at the lighter end of the Australian espresso spectrum, but by no means unusually so.

Vivace Vita

The iconic image from the Vivace Webpage

David Schomer has quite the reputation in the espresso world. I won't elaborate, but if this is news to you, you would probably be very interested in his collection of archived articles. There's usually something interesting in there; the most recent article on latte art (the link is directly to the pdf) provided me with one tip that I have been trying out. Pour slowly at the beginning so as not to break the crema, then start the rosetta when the cup is half full. Seems to result in greater contrast.

David's coffees seem to have quite the reputation for being finnicky and difficult to deal with. I dialled the FB80 to more or less the recommended 203.5F at the group, opened the plastic valve bag and my first pour looked similar to the one pictured above. Dark red, with thick crema that you could stand a spoon up in. The blend actually reminds me a bit of the blend that David Makin took to the WBC last year. Dave's blend was actually also ludicrously easy to pull a great shot with. I suspect that the crema factor comes down to robusta and monsooned malabar. This would be consistent with the uneven looking roast of the beans, which was slightly darker than the Ecco Caffe and about on par with your average Australian commercial espresso blend (for my US readers).

Well, there were four or five double shots worth in the bag and every single one got drunk. After three weeks in the valve bag, the coffee was probably at it optimum. We also found that Dave Makin's WBC blend took quite a bit of time to settle down. Vita is Vivace's milk drink blend. I had a cappuccino with Vita as the base and I have to say that it wasn't overwhelming, although the shot was a little fast. The thick, full-bodied, slightly sweet and quite toasty shots were more satisfying.

No post about Vivace would be complete without a photo of their floor:

Tiled rosetta pattern; photo by Scott Beale

Closing Thoughts

The legends of US coffee are doing some quality work, but it certainly doesn't blow away the cream of the Australian crop. I'd certainly love to get my hands on some fresh Ecco Northern Italian Roast and I'd love to try out Vivace's espresso blend, Dolce. I'm a bit more ambivalent about Victrola's Streamline, but it would be interesting to try it fresh.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Coffeesnobs Brown Launch/Guatemalan Huehuehtenango

I haven't taken particularly detailed notes for this review, but I thought that I should post it simply to celebrate the launch of "CoffeeSnobs Brown." For those of you that don't know, CoffeeSnobs is a group of home roasters who buy green coffee together. The webpage is also home to the most active Australian-only coffee forum, albeit one that caters more to roasters than gear-heads and has quite a culture of supporting the site sponsors.

Andy Freeman owns CS and has recently set up a roastery, "CofeeSnobs Brown," as a commercial venture. To buy beans, you must be a member of the site, which enables you to post in the forums and exchange personal messages with other members. CS members also get access to good deals from the site sponsors. Beans are sold through "Bean Bay," which is basically a poll that is run. The green bean polls take place monthly, whereas the brown bean polls are always open. I presume that Andy is yet to work out the details for the brown bean polls, but it looks like he will roast and post when his roast batches are all polled out.

Anyhoo, work sponsors CS, so last week Andy drove a carload of green beans down to us so that CS members could pick them up. In doing so, he brought down my 1/2kg of Huehueh. I told him that if it was bad I'd eviscerate him on this blog and he asked me to do so, so here goes nothing ...

Actually, it was quite good. I picked it up as something to use as a base for numerous cappuccini to keep me going through the exam period. It delivered clean and chocolatey milk based drinks throughout. I have noticed that home roasted coffee tends to have a very short lifespan, so I subjected Andy's stuff to the "torture test" of producing espresso a week after I got it, which would be about two weeks out from roasting. The result was a pleasant clean cup with some decent acidity and not much else going on. This is not a criticism at all; last year's batch of huehueh was identical. It would make a fantastic ingredient in an espresso blend, but isn't a stand-alone star. The take-home message is that Andy's roasts, executed on a 10kg Has Garanti roaster, seem to have the lifespan that one would expect of a commercial roast.

Overall, an interesting experience. I'm wondering if CS members will start buying a 200g pack of CS brown when they buy their green, just to give them a frame of reference. I'm also looking forward to Andy offering some blends.

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