Unblended espresso

March 14th, 2009

Forgive the ugliness of the title, but I think talking about SO (Single Origin) espresso does a great disservice 1 to what people are beginning to achieve and push for.  I am aware that in a way every lot of coffee is a blend on some level but that isn’t what I want to talk about.

Nick Cho highlights the potential advantage of the simplicity of using a single estate or lot in competition over on Portafilter but what is most interesting about all this is that I think we can acknowledge how far we’ve come in coffee recently.

I think for a long time conventional wisdom said espresso was bad for anything but blends, and I think for a long time it was right.  There weren’t a great deal of incredible coffees around then, our understanding of espresso was limited as was our understanding of roasting.

More recently – and I haven’t been in coffee long enough to know the chronology – lots of coffee have become increasingly traceable and increasingly delicious.  I’ve said it before and I am sure I will say it again but coffee has never been as good as it is today and it will only get better.  Add to that our increased understanding of espresso and of roasting coffee to work well as espresso and I think that unblended espressos can be great.

Perhaps they still don’t fulfil certain criteria that people have for espresso that blends do fulfil.  However, I used to see bad single estate or bad single origin espresso as a failure of the espresso machine or our barista skills.  The coffee itself was certainly good and yielded a great cup very simply and cheaply. Yet through our incredibly expensive machinery the result was disappointing – so we (quite incorrectly I believe) blamed the coffee and not the process.  Mike Philips’ win was particularly interesting because he showed an understanding of his coffee and of espresso brewing to deliver a range of great drinks from a single lot of coffee.

Mike Philips coffee (stolen from Brent Fortunes flickr)

Mike Phillips' coffee (stolen from Brent Fortune's flickr)

What I am trying to say is that I think it is time to let go of the notion that SO espresso is any different from blended espresso when it comes to expecting and delicious, nuanced and balanced cup of coffee.  I don’t think we’ve reached any kind of pinnacle, but I think we are definitely getting making some good headway.  As producers continue to craft ever better lots of coffee, and we learn to roast them better I think now more than ever espresso is a suitable and good way to brew them to celebrate the flavours, aromas, tastes and textures that make that particular coffee so special.

  1. as well as diverts away from the traceability we often want to highlight  ↩︎

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