So this is the first espresso review for tjthefooddude and other than my own ravings about what I think is a great or terrible cup of coffee, this is also my first “official” espresso review. Now, the qualifier – I am not “qualified” to do this in any official way. This review is only my opinion and it is probably going to be wild\ly inaccurate according to the laws/guidelines of coffee cupping http://coffeegeek.com/guides/beginnercupping. But I love coffee, espresso and pretty much anything having to do with it from the machines to the recipes. So here we go…
I am reviewing the Black Cat Espresso by Intelligentsia Coffee. Coincidentally, Geoff Watts, a director for Intelligentsia, wrote the cupping guide I mention above.
When I opened the bag, the initial waft (“waft” is not an official cupping word) was acrid, like maybe it had been on the shelf too long. But the roasting date was December 23/08 so it was well within freshness range. The beans looked very dry and appeared to be a medium roast.
I ground the Black Cat on a re-calibrated Baratza Virtuoso Grinder at the smallest grind setting. I find for my Francis Francis X5 espresso machine, the less oily looking the beans, the more fine I need to grind for good espresso. I have no idea if that is typical of dry looking beans…it just seems to be a general rule for my system. I ran about 5 water shots through the machine to bring it to the temp I like for brewing and then did my first pull. On this first pull, the crema looked like burnt cinnamon, which for me indicates some over extraction. Interestingly enough, I expected, based on the crema, a “kick in the head” bitterness that usually goes along with said over extraction. But there was very little bitterness, slight acidity and not a bad flavor. It was thick, heavy on the tongue, syrupy, with a slight sweetness. As it cooled it got an interesting smokiness to it, almost like a freshly lit cigar…not unpleasant but perhaps not something I would want in an everyday espresso.
I adjusted my grind settings to 2 clicks coarser and did a second pull. The crema head color was much lighter but still very thick. This one was incredible! Discovered a beautiful citrus tone, almost like a tangelo orange (which just happen to be in season:) As well, as the shot cooled, a distinct chocolate taste came, reminiscent of a bitter Callebaut chocolate. This time there was hardly a hint of bitterness and the sweetness mixed with the bitter chocolate was fantastic.
I tried it out in a cappuccino to see how the Black Cat would hold up to the steamed milk. The espresso transformed into something almost ultra sweet. By way of comparison, there was none of the extreme dark roasted bitterness most people associate with a Starbucks drink. What was interesting is that the espresso seemed to change the flavor characteristics of the milk. The espresso coaxed out the incredible sweetness you get from fresh milk right from the dairy. It was almost buttery. I don’t know if any of you have ever gone to an ice cream shop located right at a dairy farm, but the flavor in the ice cream is much different when it is that fresh. There is a buttery, creamy aftertaste that you don’t get from ice cream made from pasturized milks. The milk in this cappuccino had the same flavor and texture taste – pretty awesome in a standard cappuccino!
Final thoughts – an excellent espresso, a high quality coffee bean, perfect for those who like an “easier” very approachable espresso. For those who prefer the bitterness associated with a darker roast, definitely look elsewhere. But for me, this is the first espresso I have had in a long time that I truly enjoyed and will go out of my way to purchase again. You can get Intelligentsia coffee at deVille Luxury Coffee and Pastries, Art Central, 100 7th Avenue SW in Calgary.