coffee

  • Semi-Automatic vs. Superautomatic Espresso Machines

    If you are coffee connoisseur (or at least a budding one) by now you’ve probably heard about semi-automatic and superautomatic espresso machines. You’ve likely also heard that there are some differences between the two when it comes to operating them. However, you may have wondered, “What really makes a semi-automatic different than a superautomatic?” To clear up any lingering questions, we decided to explore these two types of machines in a little more depth, so you can see what factors make these machines unique. And of course, ultimately determine which is right for you.

    Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

    Semi-automatic machines are generally the most popular choice for consumers who are looking for a “traditional” home espresso machines. These machines feature a boiler, portafilter and a switch to activate/deactivate the pump to perform the extraction. It is this last feature that puts the “semi” in automatic, if you will. While the other features are automated, you have control over when the extraction begins and ends. There are also semi-automatic machines with programmable doses that allow you to program the extraction to stop after a certain length of time.

    Brewing

    As we discussed above, whether you flip a switch or program in when you want the extraction to end, with a semi-auto you have control of the water flow for every shot you make. Why is this a good thing? It provides you with the opportunity to perfect your shot. For instance, if you create a good looking shot but it’s pouring slowly, you can let your pump run longer to provide more time to complete the shot. On a superautomatic you usually don’t have this option. Superautos usually have a preprogrammed time for shots that determines when to end them, which could potentially cause shots to end too soon.

    Portafilters and Grinders

    Another key component of using a semi-automatic machine is using a portafilter to insert the coffee into the machine. There are a couple of different styles of portafilters that can come with a machine, but the two basic types are non-pressurized or pressurized.

    Non-pressurized portafilters are usually larger (58 mm) sized and made with chrome or chrome plated brass. This provides the heftiness that is necessary for temperature stability, which makes it possible to create a better shot of espresso. However, this design requires that you have a very precise grind and tamp. This can make non-pressurized portafilter harder to use, since it is more technical, but many people claim it is worth the effort since you can get a really great shot – if you have the right equipment. For this reason, we recommend that you get a good grinder (which we’ll discuss more later) if you get a semi-automatic machine.

    Pressurized portafilters use either a valve or special filter basket that will not let water out of the portafilter until the right amount of pressure has been reached. This allows the portafilters to compensate for an imperfect grind or uneven tamp, which make them a good option for people that don’t have a grinder or who are using pre-ground coffee.

    Finally, if you want to get into ESE pods you’re in luck, since many semi-automatics accept them. You can purchase baskets that will allow pods to fit into pressurized and non-pressurized portafilters or can even find portafilters that are designed specifically for pods.

    Most semi-automatic machines do not come with a built-in grinder. We won’t say all, because there are a few that do, like the Breville Barista Express, but most do not. This means that you will either have to get a separate grinder or use ground coffee beans to dose your portafilter. If you want to be able to play around with your grind and tamp to achieve that perfect shot, you will want to get a non-pressurized portafilter and a really good grinder. In fact, it’s best to start out with a high-quality grinder that you can afford, since the grinder is more important than the machine when it comes to getting good shots. On the other hand, if you don’t want to get a grinder or have to tamp your coffee, a pressurized portafilter will be the best option for you.

    Frothing/Steaming

    There a couple of different types of boilers you can find in semi-automatic machines and, depending on which you choose, it will impact whether you can brew and steam at the same time. Generally, smaller and less expensive machines will contain a single boiler. This helps keep the machine’s footprint small, but it also means that you won’t be able to brew your coffee and steam your milk at the same time. However, mid-range or higher end semi-autos will usually have a thermocoil, heat exchanger, single boiler with a thermoblock or a dual boiler. All these options, with the exception of the thermocoil, have a bigger boiler or even two boilers allowing you to brew and steam simultaneously.

    Semi-automatic machines usually come with a traditional steam wand, which requires you to “work” the milk a bit in order to get a good froth. While there is a slight learning curve to frothing milk, it isn’t as hard as it seems. In fact, some people prefer having a traditional steam wand, since it again provides them more control over how to the final product turns out. Some semi-autos do come with a panarello wand that injects air into the milk, making the frothing process easier.

    Superautomatic Espresso Machines

    Often known as the machines that “will do everything but fold your laundry,” superautomatic espresso machines are great for people who like the convenience of being able to make their drink of choice in just a few minutes. While it may be hard to believe, these machines do indeed do almost everything for you including grinding, tamping, brewing your coffee and even steaming the milk for your espresso shot. As a result, these machines are incredibly easy to use and will produce a consistent shot every time, with no muss or fuss.

    Brewing

    Part of the magic of superautomatic espresso machines is that they make creating your favorite drinks a breeze. The machines all have varying levels of programmability, but some of the most common features on these machines are the ability to adjust your brew temperature, brew volume, extraction time and water hardness. Many machines also have an auto-on function, so your machine will be warmed up by the time you get up in the morning. In addition, some superautomatic espresso machines have one-touch pre-set espresso drink options, others have you manually enter your drink selection while others still let you save personalized drink selections.

    Most superautomatics come with a built-in grinder, so you don’t have to worry about grinding your beans yourself. Yet this doesn’t mean you don’t have any control over the results. Many superautos will allow you to adjust the fineness and the dosage of the coffee so you can get the flavor and strength you desire. The downside of having a built-in grinder is that while you have the ability to it, there are a limited number of changes you can make. Thus, there is some advantage to having a semi-auto machine that allows you to have a separate grinder, which provides you with an infinite number of grind settings.

    Another caveat is that they do not do well with super oily or dark roasts. The oil the beans produce can cause the grinder to clog over time, often doing a number on the machine. Finally, if you want to brew pre-ground coffee, some machines also feature a bypass doser. This feature provides you with the opportunity to brew something besides the beans you already have in the machine’s bean hopper, such as a decaffeinated version of espresso.

    Frothing/Steaming

    Not unlike semi-autos, there are a variety of options when it comes to what type of boiler is inside your superauto. The most common options are thermocoil heating systems (which don’t give you the ability to brew and steam at the same time), thermoblock heating systems and dual boilers (which do allow for simultaneous brewing and steaming).

    Superautomatic espresso machines also offer a couple of choices when it comes to frothing milk. There are machines that use a standard steam wand to froth milk or ones that have a panarello. Some superautos make the process even easier and will automatically froth your milk in a separate carafe or even have a steam wand that will come down and froth your milk right in your own cup.

    So, Which is Better?

    When it comes down to purchasing a machine, some people use how much maintenance is required to decide what type of machine to get. While this is not a bad factor to keep in mind, you should be prepared to do regular maintenance on either a semi-automatic or superautomatic machine. It’s true that semi-automatic machines do require a little more maintenance, since you will have to clean the portafilters, baskets and shower screen. However, superautos need TLC too, and there are some steps like cleaning the brew group, steam valve and steam wand that are important to perform no matter what type of machine you have.

    Ultimately, what is most important when picking out a machine is determining what you want to get out of your machine and what features are most important to you. Now that you know a little more about each type, hopefully you can figure out which will work best for you.

    Check out our new series, Gear Guide: Finding The Right Espresso Machine For You. We created this simple buyer's guide to help people learn what kind of machine they're ready to take home.

  • Brew Tips: How to Store Your Coffee Beans

    Coffee BeansYou’ve found the perfect espresso machine or coffee maker for you and gotten some tasty coffee beans to brew with. However, now you’ve started to use your beans, you may be wondering how to store them so that they retain their flavor and stay in the best shape possible. This subject can be quite confusing, as there almost as many ideologies on the best way to store coffee beans as there are roasts. In the hope of clearing things up, we completed a variety of tests to determine the best way to keep your coffee fresher longer.

    The Freshness Factor

    You may have heard that coffee has a short shelf life, which is mostly true. After the beans have been roasted, they outgas carbon dioxide for about 72 hours. As such, many local roasters will package their beans in bags that feature one-way valves that allow the carbon dioxide to escape while protecting them from contact with oxygen, which can make the beans go stale. While this allows you to experience the coffee’s peak flavor, but it will start to lose its freshness once its bag has been opened. Thus, as a general rule, we have found that it’s best to consume your coffee within one or two weeks after opening the bag.

    If coffee wasn’t already complicated enough, it is important to keep in mind that every coffee has it’s own sweet spot for when it tastes the best after it has been roasted. Thus, if you ask a number of different roasters when you should drink your coffee beans by, you will get a variety of different answers. Since everyone has different tastes, so we highly recommend that you experiment with your coffee and find your own sweet spot for your roasts.

    Storing Your Coffee

    Due to the reasons mentioned above, we have found that is best buy your coffee in small quantities, as you need it. Likewise, if you are using whole bean coffee, you should only grind your beans as you make your coffee or espresso, instead of grinding the whole bag all at once. This will ensure the coffee keeps more of its flavor.

    However, if you buy your coffee in bulk or need to store it for some other reason, you do have options.  For starters, you may want to divide your coffee supply into a small container for daily use, and a larger container for the bulk of the coffee (which will only be opened to refill the small container). This will allow you to reduce the amount of air the larger container of coffee is exposed to, enabling you to keep it longer. Another thing to keep in mind is generally whole beans will have a longer shelf life than ground beans, which go stale at a faster rate since they have more surface area. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t store ground coffee, you may just not be able to keep it quite as long, depending on how sensitive your taste buds are.

    In fact, this same rule applies to how long you can store your coffee in general. In short, it depends on you and how you like your coffee to taste. Some people will notice a change in the flavor of the coffee after a week and want to replace it, while others won’t notice a difference in the coffee until it has lost most of its flavor.

    When it comes to storing your coffee, the best environment to keep it in is an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. Why is how you store your coffee so critical?  If you don’t store your coffee in this manner, you risk exposing your coffee to the five “coffee killers” listed below, which decrease the lifespan of your coffee and cause it to go stale.

    • Air: When roasted beans are exposed to air, the flavors in them are oxidized, causing the coffee to go stale.
    • Moisture:  One of the worst things for coffee, moisture taints the oils in the beans, causing off flavors or even making the beans deteriorate.
    • Heat: Exposing the beans to heat before they are brewed will cause them to lose flavor.
    • Light: Direct light can cause the beans to go stale and lose flavor.
    • Odor: Coffee is porous, which means if coffee is near other fragrant items, like fish, it can absorb these flavors. As a result, your coffee could end up tasting like seafood instead of coffee.

    Luckily, there are some pretty nifty containers on the market that you can use to store your coffee in and keep it out of harm’s way. We have found that the best options are metal, ceramic or even darkly colored plastic canisters. In addition, it is important to use coffee containers that are airtight, which will keep out air and can prevent moisture and odor from contaminating your beans as well. One of our favorites is the Airscape Coffee Bean Canister, which has a specially designed lid that you push down to remove air from inside the can.

    What about glass or clear plastic containers? While these options do look pretty on your counter and let you to see the contents inside, they also allow in one of the biggest coffee killers – light. If you really want to keep your beans in a clear container, make sure to store it in a pantry or drawer where it won’t be exposed to sunlight. Another alternative is to use a polarized canister that will allow you to see its contents while keeping light out.

    Is it Ever Okay to Freeze Your Beans?

    Freezing beans is a contentious topic in the coffee world. Some people adamantly oppose ever freezing your beans, while some claim it’s okay in certain circumstances. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), “It is important not to refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee because contact with moisture will cause it to deteriorate.” This is a valid point, since every time you open the bag of coffee, which is likely at least once a day; you will be exposing the beans to oxygen and whatever humidity is in the air. Neither of these things is good for coffee and can impact the coffee’s flavor. This effect is even worse when open bags of coffee are stored in the freezer. The humidity forms ice crystals, which essentially freezer burns the beans and causes them to go stale even faster.

    However, when it comes to storing unopened coffee, the NCA states it okay to keep it in the freezer as long as it is in an airtight bag. However, once you remove this bag from the freezer and thaw the coffee, do not put the bag back in the freezer. If you do, you will encounter the issue mentioned above, and will likely have freezer burned coffee. Instead of returning the coffee to the freezer, the NCA suggests that you “move [it] to an airtight and store in a cool, dry place.”

    While we like the NCA, we couldn’t just take their word for it, so we decided to conduct a couple of tests ourselves. While we did notice a slight difference in the taste of the beans and did have to tweak our grind for the beans a bit, overall we found that coffee beans can be frozen, as long as the package is tightly sealed and unopened the entire time.

    Through our research and quasi-scientific experiments, we have discovered a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when storing your beans. While we prefer to use our coffee sooner rather than later, we have found it is possible to prolong the life of your coffee if you take the time to store it properly.

     

  • Tech Tip: Saeco Minuto Test Mode

    Saeco Minuto - Test ModeWhile the Saeco Minuto offers some unique functionality compared to Saeco's other superautomatic espresso machines -- such as brewing coffee at a lower pressure to produce a more drip coffee like flavor -- it still offers a Test Mode to help diagnose and resolve issues with the machine.

    Knowing how to get into Test Mode is important, as it can assist you in determining what a particular error might be and how you can fix it. Since you can run each functional component separately, you can test things like whether or not the pump is working or if the grinder is grinding but not dosing. You can also learn helpful info like how quickly your grinder is rotating, how many drinks you've made and more.

    In this video, Brendan guides us through Test Mode on the Saeco Minuto -- how to get into it, navigate through it and interpret what its telling you. Once again, indispensable knowledge for Minuto owners everywhere!

    SCG Tech Tips: Saeco Minuto Test Mode

  • The Reluctant Barista: Baratza Grinder Groove

    baratzaThere are many reasons why I remain a reluctant barista. Over the past year, my caffeinated knowledge has greatly improved and my skills have marginally improved but there remains a hole in my espresso education: Coffee grinders have me particularly perplexed. I understand the working parts, I have even taken them apart (and put them back together again) for cleaning purposes. However, when I see a fluffy pile of fresh coffee grounds and compare it to another pile, it all looks the same to me. Sure I can tell French press coarse from Turkish fine but the micro-adjustments have me stumped.

    So, here I stand with the full line of Baratza coffee grinders in front of me. This is a quality coffee problem to have, except I only know how to use the Encore grinder! It is a sturdy little workhorse that pairs well with my Technivorm coffee maker. Instead of regurgitating RPMs and clump tests -- which really isn't my style -- let's start with what's in it for you -- which really is my style. How will you get your groove on with a Baratza coffee grinder?

    Entry level/Drip Coffee = Encore. This is my not-so-secret weapon for successful office coffee. The Encore has an on/off knob, a pulse button and an adjustment ring on the collar. This is great for coffee preps like drip, pour-over, AeroPress, French press, Siphon and Chemex. It can also be adjusted finer for espresso grind if you are using a pressurized portafilter.

    Mid-level/Multiple Brew Preps = Virtuoso. The Virtuoso is very consistent. It has an on/off knob, a timer, a pulse button and an adjustment ring on the collar. The particle size uniformity makes it well suited for coffee preps like espresso in addition to drip and manual brewing methods. This versatility is great for anyone who enjoys multiple brew preps.

    Mad (coffee) Scientist/Espresso = Preciso. More fine-tuning options and a little bit faster output make the Preciso a conical burr home grinder with commercial functionality. There are 40 step adjustments multiplied by 11 micro-adjustments within each setting. I can't even do the math or my brain will explode! Suffice it to say, if you enjoy playing around with different coffee and espresso blends, then this grinder is optimized for your caffeinated brewing adventures.

    Pro Version/Multiple Brew Preps = Vario. So where does this grinder fit? The 54mm ceramic flat burrs provide accurate, fast-grinding performance. This is a professional-grade machine with optimal consistency within a very small footprint. It has 230 distinct grind settings from fine grind for espresso to coarse grind for French press. With a digital timer and three programmable buttons, the Vario has accurate one-touch dosing. Small cafes and roasters report a solid track record with the Vario and the Vario-W model, which adds weight-based functionality.

    Cafe Version/All Purpose = Forte AP. While the Vario does a great job, the brand new Forte models are bigger, beefier and have digital touch screens. The AP features 54mm ceramic flat burrs which stay accurate longer than metal burrs and grind finer. The weight and time based functionality provides repeatable grinding results. Designed for long lasting cafe use and abuse, the AP shines for espresso and can grind for coarser settings also.

    Cafe Version/Pour Over Preps = Forte BG. This model features 54mm flat steel burrs. Why offer a choice of burr sets when ceramic lasts longer and grinds finer? Metal burrs reduce 'fines' in the mid to coarse range of grinds. Pour over preps require particle consistency, which is harder to achieve in the coarser grind settings. The Forte BG is a specific solution to a problem that high end/Third Wave coffee bars have had -- they demanded the highest quality burr grinder available for everything but espresso. The BG can still technically 'do espresso' but it has been designed to tackle mid-range particle quality and quantity.

    forte grindsOnce you have selected a grinder for your intended usage, then you can dial it in. This had -- up to now -- been my downfall, then I realized I was rushing it. It takes time, patience and a pound of beans ... and that's asking a lot from an impatient person like myself. I tried the Forte AP since it is new and fancy (and I love new and fancy) and I paired it with the Pasquini Livia G4 Automatic espresso machine because that is also new and fancy. The process involves picking an initial setting and noting the results with each incremental change. Instead of visually inspecting the grind, this is a combination of timing the espresso shots and tasting the results. Word to the wise: Just sip -- otherwise you are in for a sleepless night! I filled a frothing pitcher with discarded espresso shots before I felt comfortable with the right setting for particle size and dosage.

    One final note before I leave you up to your elbows in coffee grounds ... Sadly for me, this process needs to be repeated if you change your beans or the machine you are using. Grinders are not universally calibrated so there is no cheat-sheet to tell you what number or setting will be optimal. This is a situation where trial and error, er I mean to say, highly scientific methodology is the only way to help any grinder find its groove.

  • Tech Tip: Saeco Vienna Plus Test Mode & Troubleshooting

    Saeco Vienna PlusPossibly the hardest working superautomatic in the business, the Saeco Vienna Plus has a long and storied history of home espresso performance. It's the machine that many people started out with, years ago, and it's hung in there for over a decade (in some cases,) dutifully delivering your java.

    But what it offers in a hard working focus on helping you make coffee you love, it lacks in bells and whistles. Some might argue that said bells and whistles are not necessary, and they might be right; but one of the missing bells and/or whistles is an easy-to-read user interface system that tells you what might be going on when the machine isn't working properly.

    So we asked one of our resident Vienna Plus lovers, Brendan, to guide us through two different diagnostic videos: First, he shows us how to put the machine into Test Mode, so that you can bypass functionality and test individual components. Then he talks us through the different alarms and errors that the machine may experience, and how to diagnose which means what.

    If you own a Saeco Vienna Plus and have often wished there was a way to better interpret its rather cryptic blinking lights, these videos will serve as your secret decoder ring!

    SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Vienna Plus Test Mode

    SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Vienna Errors & Alarms

  • Compare: Glass vs. Thermal Carafe on Technivorm

    In addition to the wide array of coffee makers on the market that offer different functionality and technology, when selecting the model that's right for you, you also have to consider the carafe -- glass or thermal? Like most things, it's all about you, darling.

    The case for glass: You want to choose a grind-and-brew or programmable model that would come on and start brewing your coffee in the morning before you wake up. You'll also be drinking that full pot of coffee (or whatever amount you've selected) within the hour. Glass is ideal in these cases as you won't have to worry about pre-heating the carafe and you'll be drinking the coffee before it starts to taste more tar-like than java-like.

    The case for thermal: You're going to be making the coffee yourself and you want to be able to pour out a few cups throughout the day without risking a nasty aftertaste. You'll be around to take the time to pre-heat the carafe before the brewing starts and then to seal it up to keep the coffee up to temperature. Thermal is the best choice for this because it will stick around at the right temperature for a few hours without continuous heating. However, some folks are sensitive to the flavor that is produced using a stainless steel carafe, so if you're in that camp yet you want a thermal, make sure you're choosing a model with a glass lining (like the Bonavita, for example).

    Here at SCG, we use glass carafes in our break room because, quite simply, as soon as a pot is brewed, it's in our cups and the next pot is brewing away. We don't really have to worry about stagnant coffee sitting on a hot plate for hours on end, but we wanted to find out what kind of impact allowing the coffee to sit around for an hour had on its flavor. So we brewed up a batch of coffee in two Technivorms -- one using a thermal carafe, one using a glass -- then let them hang out for an hour before we held a taste test. Watch to find out what we learned!

     

  • Turkish Coffee a la Aeropress

    You asked for it, so we answered! Recently, a viewer suggested that we experiment with the AeroPress when making Turkish coffee. So we asked our resident Turkish coffee expert, Rade, to jump into the 21st century by prepping up some coffee and then putting it through an AeroPress.

    Watch to find out how the experiment turned out.

  • The Lowdown on Distilled Water

    A common inquiry we receive is in regard to the type of water customers should use in their coffee making equipment. Some folks think that distilled water will be their best bet, as they won't have to worry about scale build up or performing descaling procedures for the life of the machine. While there seems to be as many supporters as there are detractors regarding whether or not it's healthy for the human body, we do know that distilled water is not healthy for your machine. Seriously!

    First up, let's talk about your equipment. Putting water that has a lack of ions or mineral content through equipment that is basically composed of minerals (stainless steel, copper, nickel, brass, etc.) means the water will take that opportunity to take on ions from the surrounding space, contributing to a slow breakdown of those materials. It will essentially leach minerals out of the metal components and degrade the machine's performance over time. Additionally, there are several models of machines on the market (such as the Rockets) that use a minor electrical charge to determine if there is water in the reservoir. If there aren't enough minerals in the water to conduct that charge, the machine's sensor will report that the reservoir is empty.

    Now, let's talk about the coffee. The Specialty Coffee Association of America performed extensive testing and found that the ideal mineral balance is 150 parts per million (ppm). Coffee produced with water that contains this level of hardness is better balanced and a smoother cup. A lower mineral content allows for too much available space, often resulting in an overextraction and a bitter flavor. Conversely, water with a higher mineral content won't have enough available space, so coffee will be underextracted and possibly more sour. As distilled water has hardly any mineral content (roughly 9ppm), using it for coffee preparation will result in a bitter cup.

    We often say that you should use water that you like to drink to make your coffee -- after all, coffee is over 98% water. Another option is to use softened water, which encapsulates the minerals, maintaining their structure within the water while prohibiting their ability to adhere to internal components. This can give you the best of both worlds: A smooth and balanced cup of coffee while also reducing the overall maintenance for the life of the machine.

  • Compare: Airscape vs. Coffee Bean Vac

    In the world of coffee bean storage, do either of these devices do a better job of keeping your beans fresher, longer? We asked Gail to throw a bag of Velton's Bonsai Blend into an Airscape and a Coffee Bean Vac, then we pulled shots a week later and two weeks later to see how they held up. Aside from when we opened them for testing, they were securely sealed.

    Watch to find out how they stack up!

  • Espresso vs. Coffee Beans: Is There a Difference?

    What’s The Difference?

    Browsing the coffee aisle, you might notice some bags are marked as espresso or drip blends. That get’s you thinking: “What’s the difference between coffee and espresso beans?” The truth is, there’s no difference between espresso and coffee beans. A coffee bean is a coffee bean. So, why are bags labeled differently? As it turns out, it's the brew method.

    Labeling beans as espresso or drip is nothing more than a recommendation from the roaster on how to bring out the flavor of the beans. Of course, there are different roasts and coffee beans—two species actually, Arabica and Robusta, as well as varietals bred from these species—but each is still a coffee bean that can be used in a variety of methods.

    We’ll dive into how beans and blends create different flavors and how the recommended brew methods evolved.

    Olympia Big Truck organic espresso blend is a sweet, clean bodied roast shines as an espresso. Olympia Big Truck organic espresso blend is a sweet, clean bodied roast shines as an espresso.

    Coffee Flavor Profile

    Read the label of your favorite bag of beans and you’ll sometimes find food descriptors like oranges or baking ingredients like brown sugar listed on the label. These descriptors are unique flavor notes that the roaster has tasted or smelled in the beans based on their recommended brew process. However, these descriptions do not indicate the quality of brew, but a recommendation based on the background of the beans—such as growing region, process or whether it’s a single origin or blend.

    Try brewing based on their recommendation: What do you taste? Perhaps it’s what the roaster detected—subtle sweet and fruit flavors with chocolate undertones or black tea with a tart, citrusy kick—or maybe you’ll find a slightly different flavor.

    Espresso vs Coffee

    So, how did espresso beans come about? When it was first popularized, coffee farms didn’t have the refinement of cultivating that we see today—and when the lesser quality beans were brewed as espresso it was painfully noticeable. When you put beans under pressure, like you do with espresso, the flavor profile becomes more intense, sort of like the difference between a blueberry tea and a spoonful of blueberry jam. In an effort to create a consistent flavor profile, roasters would use a darker roast to produce smoky, caramelized sugar notes, like we see in an Italian roasts. This roasting method, however, meant that the nuanced flavors were no longer detectable. Nowadays, specialty roasters source high-quality beans to make this method of masking taste not necessary. Roasters can experiment with lighter roasts the enhance the flavor of the coffee and share its complexity.

    Brewed coffee, whether it’s from a standard drip brewer or pour over set-up like Chemex, tends to produce less intense flavors than espresso making it more forgiving when used to brew a variety of coffee qualities. You many also find that brewed coffee is a bit easier to control the extraction and therefore the flavor of the cup you produce. Many find that single origins, beans sourced from one location, are easier to brew in this fashion. Single origins typically have more delicate flavors, which makes it easy to under or over extract making them often difficult to brew with for espresso. Think of it like a target, getting a great cup of brewed coffee is like hitting the board and a great cup of espresso like hitting the bullseye. It’s not impossible, but it will take a bit more time and dedication.

    We believe the writing on the bag shouldn’t influence how you brew. It’s a recommendation meant to guide you, but it’s ultimately up to you to experiment and find that ideal brew. While it might require some finessing to dial-in a single origin for espresso, we think the reward is well worth the effort—add some steamed milk and you’ll get a decadent, dessert-like treat. We enjoy pulling espresso shots that taste like a rich blueberry cobbler using a delicious natural processed coffee.

    Slate Coffee Roasters' Cream and Sugar drip blend brings out notes of dark chocolate and caramel when brewed on a dripper. Slate Coffee Roasters' Cream and Sugar drip blend brings out notes of dark chocolate and caramel when brewed on a dripper.

    Conclusion

    There is no difference between espresso and coffee beans. When specialty roasters write “espresso blend” or “drip blend,” it’s just the brew method roaster's believe will make the flavor profile really shine. Coffee is a matter of personal taste and preference—you do you and make coffee the way you love.

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