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Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
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Discussions > Espresso > General > Rumour - Tacy's...  
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MarkPrince
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Posted Sat Feb 18, 2006, 1:06am
Subject: Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
 

Heard today from reliable sources (grin) that Chris Tacy is working on a "joys of the single origin" espresso for Barista Mag.

Got me thinking about something. Well, first I thought about the "he said, he said" point counterpoint between George Sabados and (was it) Wendelboe in two issues of Barista Mag. And I was also thinking it was time to ramp up an article I've been working on half-heartedly for CG for some time - the "evils" of single origin espresso. Probably best since, as one of the more outspoken critics agains SO shots, I wasn't approached by Chris or Barista Mag to give a counterpoint (just joshing, guys... but it is true!)

So... yeah, the article's goina come. Maybe the day Barista Mag with the Joys article is out.

My working Title? It's controversial.

SO Espresso Enthusiasts display a lack of respect for what espresso is all about, and what the process involves.

Okay, so it's a bit long...

But I had a good talk with one of the super-palates in the biz today about this very subject.... one of many I've had in months with many espresso professionals about SO shots. Some don't care. Some don't agree with me. And some, like today's call, get their opinion changed...

For me the true bottom line is one of my own core definitions for what espresso is supposed to be:

It's supposed to be complex.

And not evil.

The evil is kind of along the lines of Google's "do no evil" company motto. In this case, evil could mean "bad" or "leaves a bad taste in your mouth"... yeah, it's that one.

In my call today, I put forward the idea that espresso *must* be complex to be considered espresso today to someone who will be quoted in my article (but for now I'd like to keep them anonymous); and at first, I didn't get an agreement per se. But as I further expanded on how I expect an espresso to surprise me. I expect it to taste different (yet still pleasing) from the first taste as compared to the last. I expect an espresso to linger and develop an aftertaste that will also suprise me and make me not want to eat or drink anything else.

Then I explained the reason *why* I expect this is because I've experienced this. And that's become the epitome of a great espresso, to my palate.

And my phone buddy's thoughts on the subject wavered a bit.

I then went on to talk about the art of the roaster / blender. The master espresso blender. I made a bold statement - I don't believe there's more than a dozen or two true master blenders who get every single aspect of what goes on in a blend to achieve a truly great (read complex, pleasing) espresso blend. Again, I got shock. And I explained.

We often hear about blending for costs. That's (if I had to guess) 90% of the coffee industry. Then we hear about blending for tastes. That's 8%. But do we hear about blending to mute / morph / modify / enhance specific flavours? Very rarely do we hear about it, and even more rare do we witness it. And I got agreement on this, after explaining I was talking about true complex food modification, not just covering excessive brightness with some body.

A true master roaster blender looks at his coffees. Pulls them as SO shots as well as cups them. Pulls SO shots every day after a roast getting a feel for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 days after roast taste development. Pulls SO shots to evaluate the robustness and "repeatability" of major taste profiles (the good and a bad) in a particular coffee. Gets an intimate, intuitive, "master chef" like ability to know how these flavours work, how they interact with other flavours, and how they contribute to the overall recipe, or "meal".

Then they do the same with other coffees in their stable. And they identify flaws, strengths, brightness, body, you name it in each coffee. Only then are they ready for the next step - making the parts come together as a whole to create something totally unique and suprising - something complex, something to showcase the pinnacle of what coffee can be today.

They create the blend. The blend where coffee ONE's flavour A and B will stand out. Where coffee TWO's contribution is making its own flavour A shine, but its flavour B is primarily in place to block out coffee ONE's flavour C, which is a detriment on its own. Coffee THREE is added so its flavour A will stand out, and have its flavour B morphed by coffee TWO's flavour C into something different, something maybe never experienced in coffee before.

True master chefs craft, toil, create, enhance, experience how individual flavour components come together to create something special. Master roaster blenders do the same.

It is the absolute, arcane, sometimes mystical art - an intense knowledge of flavours and their reactive components to other flavours that make this an art form. (and I'm talking much more in depth here than taking an acidic coffee and balancing it with a heavy body coffee - I'm talking about taking something like a scant vanilla trace in one coffee, matching it with a strong caramel flavour in another coffee, and getting perhaps a toffee result from the two, that, who knows, maybe has the additional benefit of softening the acidity level in a third coffee used in the blend).

It is this art form that makes espresso what it is. For me at least. Complex. Surprising. Pleasing. Never ending.

SO shots. They are rarely, (and I'll be as bold to say never) complex. They are rarely surprising. Read the cupping report for the coffee, and you'll taste the same in the SO shot, just magnified. They are never truly pleasing to me either, because they are boring. They are espresso, since espresso to most is a method.

But the ain't espresso to me. Because the art is gone. And there's some lost (or neverhad) respect for what espresso is about: A lack of respect for the process used to brew (the thing that does so much amplification of all tastes, the good and the bad), and especially, the missing respect for the art of the master roaster and blender.

I make these bold, brash, "bug people" comments because you know what? SO espresso shots do not, in my opinion, ever come close to showing the final complex product I have come to expect from espresso when it is at its best.

At best, SO shots amplify the (relatively) limited flavours, or "taste profile" of that SO coffee. The good AND the bad. And I have yet to meet a coffee that does not have any bad qualities. It's all relative. Some are minor (the acidity level could be a bit higher). Some are bigger (real sour finish through the entire cupping). And they generally taste the same through the shot - the nose, the crema lift, the first taste, the middle tastes, the finish, the linger, the aftertaste, the mouthfeel. Same flavour notes carry through... with very little modification (again, relative to a great blend) from start to finish. In a word, boring.

Because they're boring, it is one of my pet peeves when I see them trumpeted as "the next big thing" or next big trend. SO shots are not the poster child for espresso, and what it is all about - at least not in my opinion. They're more like the poster child for how much the brewing process is a magnifying glass, an amplification program. It exposes flaws cupping won't. It sometimes over amplifies (and thus ruins) flavours that in a cupping or a press pot, are pleasing. To think that a coffee that cups great, wins the CoE or whatever, will just automatically be a candidate for an awesome espresso pull is, to state again, the showing of a lack of respect for the brewing process that is espresso. I have yet to experience any single origin coffee, same bag, same single roast, that tasted better to my palate when pulled as an espresso (vs. cupping or press potting it). At best, similar tastes. Amplified (yet still pleasing) tastes. But never better.

Yet I've tasted many, many blends that, when brewed as coffee, or cupped, or pressed, or vac potted, don't even come close to the magic that happens in the cup when it is pulled as a shot. Why? Because these artisans who craft these blends "get it". Get that the amplification, which would hide tastes in the cup, come out in the pull. Get that flavour a may balance out flavour b. Get it all. Get the art.

SO shot pulling has its role: evaluation of a coffee. It's crucial. I don't consider any roaster / blender a "master espresso roaster / blender" unless they pull shots with their individual blend compoenents. And not just after roast, but 2, 3, 5 days after roast. SO shots as an evaluation tool is paramount.

As something you serve up to the general public as a showcase of what "coffee can be"? A big, big mistake.

Anyway, I could go on, and believe it or not, this ain't the article. It's the spirit behind it. More meat and potatoes if I get this one out the door soon.

Mark

 
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kingseven
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Posted Sat Feb 18, 2006, 3:01am
Subject: Re: Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
 

MarkPrince Said:

It's supposed to be complex.

Posted February 18, 2006 link


And this is where it all falls down for me.

Espresso is in trouble if we decide to confine it.

We often forget where espresso came from.  I don't mean Italy, but the socio-economics surrounding it.  For a long time it was poorly understood, though greatly used.  The coffee going into a machine wasn't blended to taste good enough.  Italy didn't have the money or the colonial growers to get the better coffees of the world - hence a lot of robusta and Brazilian naturals (simply - the cheaper coffees).  This set a kind of global taste benchmark that many still aspire to.

At some point however, people began to explore espresso - we now experiment heavily with dose, temperature, brew pressure profiles etc.

We also experiment with coffees.  I have a great many books which say that you shouldn't put single origins through an espresso machine.  These are the same books that tell me what ALL Brazilian coffee tastes like, or what ALL Ethiopian coffee tastes like.  I think we can all agree this is ridiculous.

We've gone further.  Single origin is now a pretty useless term, because most of the shots we are talking about here are single estate, single mill, or single region shots.  

I've had great sole coffee shots.  I've had some great blends.  I've also had so-so and terrible examples of both.

If I have expectations of what espresso should be I will often be disappointed, and at best merely satisfied.

Espresso is going to change again in the next ten years, be it taste profile or machinery.  What it will not loose, I hope, is its range and versatility.

James

 
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MarkPod
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Posted Sat Feb 18, 2006, 5:57am
Subject: Re: Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
 

Is it possible that the difference between blends and SO is primarily one of level of analysis?  Couldn't the same things that you are saying that go in to making it an art form (or of crafting a blend through varying the flavour profiles) be said of SO, using different variables?  With SO, there is the growing and processing, through to brewing and aging post roast.  With today's closer relationships between growers, roasters, and brewers, and machines that can make fine adjustments of temp and pressure, each coffee can be tailored to bring out different aspects of a single coffee, from fresh blueberry, to blueberry jam, to wine, to custard, etc. Same stuff, just another level of detail.

I'm not disagreeing with you - I thought I would throw this out so that you might cover some of this off in your article.


Mark
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MarkPrince
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Posted Sat Feb 18, 2006, 12:44pm
Subject: Re: Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
 

Good point Mark... maybe I should talk about what I think SO espresso is...

It's using one roast, from one bag, from one farm.

If you source say, 3 bean samples from the same farm, but from different areas / growing conditions of the farm, have those coffees in their own individual bags, and roast them to maybe even different levels or different "profiles", then craft a blend. That's a blend. Call it a microblend, a SO origin blend, whatever, it's a blend where you're working to a) represent that farm well, and b) make a complex, intriguing espresso.

That's how (afaik) Howell does it with his Daterra blend.

Ecco Cafe does something similar, but with the same bean used - just taking the bean to different roast levels and profiles.

There's only one SO shot I consider "worthy" of being such, and that's a Yemen, or perhaps any other wildly unsorted, defect-laden, sizes all over the map coffee. Why? Because everytime you scoop out 250, 300 grams of Yemen Mokka Ismaili or Raime, your sampling is "all over the place" - bean sizes are all different, and when roasting even in the most even roaster, you'll get some beans that come out City roast, some Full City, some a light, light French. Every shot pulled tastes different. Pleasing to my palate, but different.

If a roaster wants to take one coffee... let's say the 2nd place Brasil CoE coffee. And they decide after doing a long cupping routine that there's intriguing flavours brought out at various profiles (different flavours), and they decide to do an origins blend with it, roasting three samples with three different roasting profiles, and it ends up producing an intriguing shot that displays a range of flavour nuances that don't show when only one of the roasts is pulled as a shot, then they are blending, they are "showing respect for the process", and they're definitely displaying respect for the art. They're crafting a recipe that makes the sum greater than the parts.

Mark

 
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RapidCoffee
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Posted Sat Feb 18, 2006, 1:11pm
Subject: Re: Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
 

I also prefer blends (even my own unrefined ones) to SO espresso, so on one level I wholeheartedly agree. But I would never suggest that SO espresso is not espresso. In fact, Mark, your argument is already beginning to show cracks. Two exceptions have cropped up: Yemen and SO's blended with themselves. What's next?

There's nothing wrong with the traditional definition of espresso as a method of coffee preparation. Despite individual taste preferences for lighter or darker roasts, doubles or triples, ristrettos or normales, blends or SOs - IMHO it's all espresso.

Regardless, I'm really looking forward to reading your article - John
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Posted Sat Feb 18, 2006, 3:03pm
Subject: Re: Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
 

I agree with James in that we should not confine espresso to any sort of specific paradigm.

Going off the oft-quoted wine comparison, isn't a SO shot to a well-made blend analagous to, say a cabernet savignon to a Burgundy? What I mean is, Mark, that you clearly describe two components to this debate, the process and the end product, and I think they actually represent two very different, but ultimately complimentary, outlooks on espresso.

All opinions aside, the SO shot represents a pure expression of the origin, all flaws included. For someone like myself who likes to discover new regional tastes and new regional personalities, this is right up my alley. A shot doesn't have to be "good" on a binary scale of quality based only on how pleasing it is to the palate -- it can be a learning experience, much like how a master roaster will taste SO shots incessantly to achieve and optimal blend. I think many coffee geeks enjoy them for this reason. Sometimes you need to eat a raw tomato to remember why it tastes so good with pasta.

Blends are, as you imply, a carefully calculated, finished product that represents a pure expression of the artisan roaster. An example from the wine world is Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, which is famous not only for its "premier grand cru" status, but also for its winemasters who manage to create a powerful, expressive wine year after year. Here is where they establish their signature that transcends the grapes' origin -- as with Terroir's Daterra or Intelligentsia's Black Cat.

In the end I think origins inspire the blends, which return to fuel the pursuit for more and different origins. Evil or not, both have their place in the espresso world.
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SL28ave
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Posted Sat Feb 18, 2006, 3:31pm
Subject: Re: Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
 

I'll pore over your post further later, but I'm fighting the clock right now..... So I didn't read your whole argument yet.... but,

Things are not as simple as SO vs blends to me... both -can- taste divine....

I approach "complexity" with caution. What are you looking for in espresso? What NEEDS to be there? Do you need some "strawberry"? Some of that strawberry  fruit smell I get when I pour an accidental moldly drain bucket down the sink? A pure flutter of jasmine that sweetly dissappears doesn't do it for you? Sweet jasmine is too simple?

How many blends out there have every component being of super quality anyways?  Some aim for it, I'm sure most of you do. But it's a little absurd given the lack of super qualities that are even on the market at one given time. You know, with green age and all. I'm sure some people have a well crafted coffee that's really pleasant, and then add rough robusta because there's some preconceived notion that coffee needs a "macho" taste. These are the artistic traditions I need to be respecting? Sure I'll respect someone whose trying to craft good blends, but I have no desire to respect the CONCEPT of blending that has an absurd foundation. It's like asking me to respect the tradition of dark roasting too, and not have a passion for light roasts because of that respect.

Long aftertaste? I don't get this, which is disagreeing with Chris T too. I enjoy espresso when it's in my mouth, not when its residue is fermenting on my bitter circumvallate tastebuds. Some coffees have a pleasant aftertaste for a short while and are better for it, let's not romanticize it any further than that.

Robert Parker tasted a 100 point wine the descriptor, "sex in the mouth". Rosengarten loves wines with high quantities of Brett, which most disagree with... These are endless debates... Do you have such a preference for blends over SOs that it's pointless to debate? Because it's unanswerable. Both blends and SOs can taste wonderful.

Generally the people who will understand coffee most are the ones who taste lighter roasts of SOs. Who explore well crafted SOs with open minds, otherwise you're an expert on a preconceived notion of "sex in your mouth", and not an expert on coffee... especially in these early days of the industry, when coffee can be made to taste like ANYTHING, except it's usually not its clean/ripe self. Because complexity is often generic.... and very often boring.

No one is wrong to like the way something tastes. But I urge people to start approaching coffee with as much cerebrum as desire for the coffee to take you to heaven.

BTW, I have a super complex SO espresso we'll be roasting for the first time next week. Will you receive and taste it? Obviously if you approach it with an "exclusive" attitude it won't be your godshot. But it FLOORED me last week. The sweetest espresso I've ever  had that also had a balanced palate.... and this SO was DEEP. And through exercises like this, I probably understand the El Injerto farm's coffee better than almost anyone out there, because I decided to not dilute it because it lacked "earth" and "complexity"....

What's wrong with subtlety and grace too?
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Posted Sat Feb 18, 2006, 4:48pm
Subject: Re: Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
 

I'm with King Seven here, that coffee is far to complex to put in a box, and to say that all single origins are not good in espresso, I think is unfair. Surely coffee is about different adventures and tastes thats all part of blends and SO shots. I admire Chris Tacey's balls to approach this, when there is an army of people who will line up to knock him down. Its way to easy to say blends are best.

SO shots can be complex, and not only pleasing on there own, but give an understanding of what a coffee truely is. By ruling them out completely your limiting the joy and experience's of coffee.

Aside from this

Mark Said

I don't believe there's more than a dozen or two true master blenders who get every single aspect of what goes on in a blend to achieve a truly great (read complex, pleasing) espresso blend.

How can you say this Mark, when there are thousands of coffee professionals all around the world whos blends you have never seen let alone tried (by the way I'm not putting myself up there just questioning the argument).
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Posted Sat Feb 18, 2006, 4:53pm
Subject: Re: Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
 

MarkPrince Said:

SO Espresso Enthusiasts display a lack of respect for what espresso is all about, and what the process involves.

For me the true bottom line is one of my own core definitions for what espresso is supposed to be:

It's supposed to be complex.

I expect an espresso to surprise me. I expect it to taste different (yet still pleasing) from the first taste as compared to the last. I expect an espresso to linger and develop an aftertaste that will also suprise me and make me not want to eat or drink anything else.

Posted February 18, 2006 link

(1) Though I've learned to expect it from you :-), it's remarkably arrogant to say that your core definition of espresso should be everyone's core definition of espresso. I know you like to make statements like this to stir up controversy, but still, it's remarkably arrogant. :-)

(2) Seems like everything in your argument pretty much carries over to other brewing methods, too, implying that single origin drip, french press, etc aren't complex and surprising enough, and are therefore similarly unacceptable.

(3) As you know, we have a terminology problem: "single origin" may or may not include blends of coffee that have been processed and/or roasted differently, although they may all originate from the same farm.

(4) Since the "art" of SO espresso is very, very new, perhaps your problem with it is simply that the roasters and baristas haven't had enough experience to create SO shots that might please you. Rome wasn't built in a day, and SO shots weren't perfected in twenty months. Maybe in a few years you will have to "do a 180" on this. Not that that could ever happen. LOL!

 
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Posted Sat Feb 18, 2006, 6:30pm
Subject: Re: Rumour - Tacy's working on a "single origin" article for Barista mag.
 

MarkPrince Said:

SO Espresso Enthusiasts display a lack of respect for what espresso is all about, and what the process involves.

Posted February 18, 2006 link

The only thing I could think of when reading this was conversations I've had with people who say you -need- robusta in espresso or the people saying single origin drip coffees are not as balanced as blends.


My 2 cents because I am sick today and neither feel like arguing against you(too much) or defending George/Peter's philosophies(whom I personally disagree with enough as is).  I would like to hear Nick Cho's opinions on this.  He has heard both sides and I sat through a lecture with him in Boston that touched on this very topic.  Especially your reference to the Moka as a single origin that is unique every time you pull it.  
Shouldn't we be analyzing the use of poorly harvested/processed coffees in so many 'great' blends and SO's such as the Moka?
There needs to be a line for what good coffee is before we can argue the nuances of espresso.  I don't see much of that in this industry yet.  I still see people jumping on the horse of what is trendy(yes, even SOS).  I won't even get much into my rant about dependence on Indo coffees as a substitute for robusta because people are still chasing that perception of what espresso is instead of making something that tastes good.
I simply agree with Tacy more often than not lately.  It's in the cup.
Espresso is a brewing method to most, not a philosophy as you pointed out.  I am in that camp, that espresso is another method for bringing out the nuances of coffees.  There really doesn't seem to be any more than your own personal taste preferences and your predispostion towards blends.  I can't agrue your personal expereiences any more than you could argue mine.  

-Jaime

 
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