Bad espresso

I went to the coffee shop this morning.  I’m not saying which to protect the guilty.  The regular staff was on duty and it wasn’t crowded.  I could tell the barista was stressed today.  I ordered a double espresso.  I watched as she proceeded to pull a double-shot very half-assed:  slapped the auto-dosed and auto-tamped group into the head, started the pump, and let the espresso splash into the cup.  Never bothered to preheat the cup or anything.  The shot ran wayy too fast and then she let it sit there for about a minute.  Then she just gave me the cup.  No saucer, no offer of a spoon, nothing.  The crema was pale and quick to disappear and the espresso itself was weak and watery.  I could tell she was having a bad day but still.

At any rate, I picked up a bottle of Tisdale Cabernet Sauvignon this morning at Sendik’s.  I was wavering between that, their Merlot, and their Pinot Noir.  I know I like the Cab. Sauv., because I’ve had it at Table Lodges.  Could Chad maybe tell me what Merlot and Pino Noir taste like compared to Cab. Sauv.?  Thanks!



  1. #1 by Chadwick on July 21, 2010 - 10:58 AM

    It can be kind of a tricky answer, ’cause of variations between different wines of the same type. Taste would be hard for me to speculate on, but I can try for a generalized experience in your mouth. God that sounded terrible.

    Anyway: Merlot is a wine with basically no complexity. Cab tends to have a couple layers to it; some fruit, some leather or smoke perhaps, a bit of vanilla in the finish (these are just possibilities, depending on the particular cab). Merlot is just completely straightforward; whatever flavors it gives you come in at the start, and are still there at the end. It tends to stick to one or two big flavors, and that’s about it.

    Pinot Noir on the other hand is a wine that feels lighter in the mouth than a cab. It tends to have a bit more fruit in it, sometimes while still being drier. It’s also is a more complex wine, often with a good lingering finish. Oak is a common flavor to come through, though usually nowhere near Chard levels, as well as vanilla, berries, and something I can only think to describe as a dark leathery redness.

    • #2 by Joshua on July 21, 2010 - 11:00 AM

      Sounds like I would like Pinot Noir. That may be the next one I’ll try. Thanks!

      • #3 by Chadwick on July 21, 2010 - 11:16 AM

        It’s my favorite. Easy drinking without being boring.

  2. #4 by Joshua on July 22, 2010 - 7:36 AM

    I pulled an excellent double shot this morning. After playing around for a bit with different grinds and tamp pressures, I finally got the right technique for getting a very good shot out of Alterra’s Blue Heeler. Fine as hell grind, overdose the filter, tamp until your knuckles pop. The flow rate is lower than usual for espresso but the color, timing, and aroma tell me it’s right for this coffee.

    • #5 by Joshua on July 22, 2010 - 7:40 AM

      If I use the same technique as a traditional three origin espresso blend, I end up with light-colored crema that, while thick with air, dissipates quickly, leaving a bitter, watery cup. Doing it my way, I get a reasonable amount of tan crema that hangs around for a while (not nearly long enough but that’s just part of this coffee’s characteristic) on top of a nice, rich cup with a buttery-sweet finish, not unlike pure Brazil Traditional Dry.

      • #6 by Joshua on July 22, 2010 - 7:57 AM

        Blue Heeler is made up of two roast points of the same origin: Sumatra Gayoland. Similar origins are one of the staples of North American espresso blends. Sumatra Gayoland made an appearance in Alterra’s old espresso blend. (It’s NOT in their new Espresso Toro but it is in Stone Creek’s espresso blend.) It has the effect of adding an overall balance and sweetness.

        In fact, a good recipe I’ve found for making my own espresso blends (post-roasting) is 50% Brazil Traditional Dry, 30% Medium Roasted Guatemala, and 20% Dark Roasted Sumatra Gayoland. The Sumatra and Guatemala balance each other. Adding more Sumatra gives more balance and sweetness. Adding more Guatemala gives more fruity esthers and very clean, sharp acidity. Sulawesi can be used in place of the Sumatra. It gives an interesting ephemeral fruity sweetness but with less balance.

        Two other coffees that come up in some espresso roasts are ones I don’t care for in mine: Ethiopia (Harar Horse is the most common) and Yemen. Ethiopia gives a very dry, earthy, dark brown and pungent aroma and adds astringency to the cup. This is a hallmark of continental espresso blends. Yemeni coffees add vegetable spiciness (think the subtle sharpness of dandelion greens). They’re popular additions to East Coast espresso blends. Bigbucks uses Colombia in place of Brazil Traditional Dry, mainly because it’s cheaper. It produces less crema and has less boldness and character than Brazil does. They also overroast their espresso blend.

    • #7 by Chadwick on July 22, 2010 - 9:52 AM

      Well I’m glad you got it to work finally.

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