"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
412/23/01 - It's amazing how your tastes can change along with your ability to discern various tastes and their differences.
The Blending Continues
As you read in the last couple of chapters I have been experimenting with my own blends. Today we missed our morning cappuccinos. Wifee went to town early with Mom and I had some neswpaper work to get done out of the house at our local schools, so no time for cappas. After dinner I fired up Miss Silvia and we had our cappas, but as it was an evening drink, we try to eliminate late-night caffeine consumption, so I pulled a couple of doubles with Donkey, the decaf blend from Sweet Maria's.
We have consumed quite a bit of this blend in the past. Mostly my wife drinking them, but I have had a few in the evening as I just mentioned. Well, after partaking of my house blends, which overall have been rich and deep in taste, the Donkey cappas tonight tasted dull and lifeless. Not bad, mind you, There was no bitterness or nasty acidic tones. No foul or burnt tastes. It was just that there was nothing to distinguish it at all. My wife called it "neutral" in taste. It begged for some flavored syrup (Not by me, mind you, but it did need something.).
I think we learned something here tonight. If you go out in search of something richer, deeper, darker, stronger, mor flavorful, or whatever else you want to call it, you need to be careful, because you most likely will find it. When you do find it and sample it. All that was left behind will fade away into the dust of the past and you will be spoiled. I have even found this to be true of Monkey blend. I did enjoy this blend at first, but it pales in comparison to what I have been able to create here at home with my own simple blends.
So, if you go down that road, let me warn you here and now: carry a handbasket. That road only goes in one direction, and once you start, there's no return route!
3/9/01 - The blending goes on and I think I may have merged onto an endless one-way road. The scenery isn't bad, but there is no end in sight. Every time I hit a blend that seems decent I try something new, or a new bean comes my way and off I go. Then it becomes a matter of tweaking- One roast and blend is a little too dark. Another blend is a little too thin. Finally you hit a roast and blend that you think is "just right," and just when you think you are there, along come the Three Bears. "Who's been drinking MY cappuccino?"
I mentioned previously that I had visited a local commercial roaster (That's all they do. The owner has about 40 years experience in the coffee business, and these folks know what they are doing). He gave me three pounds of aged Yemen Mocha. I used this to create "House 8," my latest blend. We had this blend yesterday and it was so-so. A little on the bland side. Today I pulled using a hotter temperature for the water out of Silvia, timing it for 40 seconds (*1) of heat-up time instead of the 30 seconds I had been using, and the cappas were delicious. I think that the 30 second pulls were a little underextracted, covering the over-roasted flavors of the previous blends to some extent. The blend:
This blend has an incredible aroma in the jar and in the grinder as well. The taste is smooth and flavorful without being overpowering. It has a rich taste that lives happily on the tongue. I would say that if you want a fuller, heavier, or darker taste add one or two parts of dark-roasted Colombian or substtute a dark-roasted Colombian for the Sumatran. I might try substituting Ethiopian Harrar Horse for the HueHue.. If this keeps up I'm going to have to seek professional help!
For "House 8" the first two beans, one full HWP batch each, were roasted for about 11:00 to 11:15, well into but not through second crack, to just where some of the beans were showing some oil spots, mostly at their ends. The second two, one HWP batch made of 50% of each of the two mixed together, were roasted just into second crack, about 9:15 with little to no oil showing. I use a digital scale to be sure that the mixed batch is 50/50.
I have found that once I started paying close attention to the roast in terms of listening and watching, that I am more able to fine-tune the roast to match the taste that I am looking for. At first I was using the control knob and trusting that. Now I just turn the thing all the way up and manually stop the roasts by hitting the cool-down button and then manually cooling the beans using a colander and a pasta pot. My first "auto" roasts were around 6 to 8 minutes as I remember. Later, when I went manual, I was all the way up at as high as 13:45 which was way too dark. It wasn't burnt, and if you like a predominantly dark taste you would have loved it, but it was too dark for us. It gave a taste that not only cut through milk, but I think would have cut through a cup of white latex paint ("I'll have an interior semi-gloss cappa, half-caf, half decaf with FRESH ground nutmeg").
So I went from a bit under-roasted with some sour tones coming through, to over roasted where the dark tastes dominated. I am now zoning in on something in between. If I haven't found it I am very, very close. This last blend was wonderful for our cappas.
Let me conclude this chapter by once again saying that if you roast at home there is no reason not to experiment with blending. Even blends using just two, three, or four varieties of beans can produce wonderful results.
*1 - The timings here are not the time of the pull, but the "cheat" used to control the temperature of Silvia. It is done by pumping water through the steam wand until the heating element light comes on. At that point the switch is turned off and the water valve closed. The instant the switch is turned off the timing starts. The brew switch is turned on at a pre-determined amount of time after the light comes on. Heating times of around 20 to 40 seconds seem to work best. This process gives the user control over the temperature of the water used to pull a shot thus eliminating a major variable, or at least controlling it to a reasonable point. This method seems to produce very consistent pulls from this machine. Experimentation will show you the best time for you. I have found that about 30 seconds works well for me, but I am still testing.