Blended Out.

While I was in Portland, I heard several comments from people that got the gears turning a bit more about single origin espresso vs. a blend. A few times I heard people make comments about how a particular single origin had maybe been sweet, but now is spicy… but how it’s always delicious. Follow that up, though, with how it’s great, but how it isn’t too universal because it’s not as complex as a blend.

At the new Intelligentsia store in Venice, there are two grinders for every barista. One, hold black cat, and the other, holds a single origin coffee. The single origins haven’t been coffee that was roasted in any special way for espresso, rather, they are production roasts. We’ve followed that now in the Silverlake store. I held a tasting, the other day, with a few of the guys that I work with. We tasted all the coffees that we were serving as brewed coffee, but we pulled them as espresso.

As we went through the line up we discussed each coffee. Talking about where the coffee comes from, how is it processed. What about the origin of the coffee was affecting the flavors we were experiencing. We talked a ton about temperature and its effect on flavor.

I chose to set the machine (A Synesso) at 201.5 degrees Fahrenheit. My dose was low, as I was aiming for around 18 grams in a (Synesso) triple basket. The espresso ran between 21 and 29 seconds (varying between the 4 coffees). Each coffee had such unique character. So many flavors emerged throughout the experience, from craisins, red delcious apple, maple, figs, smokey bbq, meyer lemon, bubble gum, watermelon candy, and the list goes on…

The thing that was consistent about the tasting what how easily perceptable the flavors were. The layers of flavor were absolutely lovely in each coffee. Nothing tasted bad. The espressos that were rough, we held discussions around how we could improve the extraction (be it temperature, grind, dose, etc. ).

It got me thinking more about what I had heard before… Does an espresso need to be complex? What’s wrong with a coffee that is easy to explain? It’s almost like a barista competition, where I’d rather have one coffee to fill my customers in on than to have 3 or 4 to try to share about. There’s a part of me that is a constant coffee evangelist… and that’s the part that goes crazy for single origin espresso. I get tired of the conversations where I ask someone what’s in their coffee and I get the standard response, “It’s a Brazil, a little Sumatra, and an Ethiopia.” Okay… well, what Brazil? Where’s that Sumatra from? and where’d you get that Ethiopia? I wanna know!

In the end, the biggest reason why I love single origin coffee so much is because those are the espressos I remember. Call me Morrissey, but if there are only 10-15 good espressos I’ve had in my life, then probably 3 have been from a blend.

Portland, June, 2009

Just a quick word on my recent trip to Portland… after a few days of reflecting on it all. Definitely the most stressful trip home ever. What was supposed to be a 15 minute vehicle emissions test, turned into 48 hours of running around, back to the mechanic, back to the test, driving to get the on board diagnostic system to run it’s test, and then running back to try to retest. I got to know the people at the emissions test well. I never passed… They just told me to call their offices and fill out a form. I felt very defeated on the trip back to Los Angeles.

I had some pretty epic cups of coffee during my time there. Notable was the first espresso I had on the trip. I stopped on the drive up to say hello to the wonderful crew at Verve. Chris Baca seems quite happy, and I’m stoked for him. He pulled me an SO El Salvador that set me straight.

On the drive up, I debated whether I would have time to hit my old home turff at Lava Java. Ironically, I ended up there every morning. All week long they were pulling Stumptown’s single origin Panama Carmen Estate. Each morning I had a 5 oz. americano made with the stuff, and it was interesting to see how the coffee developed. Lime citrus, brown sugar sweetness, all the while, maintaining a clean finish on the palate.

My first day in town, I made my way to Coffee House Northwest. Possibly my favorite barista in all of Portland, Daniel Gunther, made me several drinks, all using a coffee from the Muraba Coop in Rwanda. Sweet black cherry sweetness, and a molassis finish made both the espresso and a cappuccino terrific.

Honestly, I think my favorite part of this trip was the lack of hairbender. Don’t get it twisted and think I’m hating all over the place… I would say the same thing about black cat if I was in Chicago. It says something about how the coffee scene is maturing when I can go to several coffee bars and get good espresso that is not the same thing. I had black cat, I had coffee from Rwanda, I had coffee from panama, I had a coffee from Bolivia, and I had hairbender.

I had coffee with friends and old customers whom I hadn’t seen in quite awhile, and in the end, that was what made the trip. I’ll probably forget what single origin it was that I had with that 5 oz americano, but I won’t forget the three ladies I was sitting with.