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Espresso Showdown

7 Oct

It must have been some sort of cosmic coffee irony that the day I sat in the Intelligentsia coffee bar in the Chicago Loop and turned to Staciaann and said, “You know, this is good, but I think I prefer the Dogwood espresso,” that Jay Gabler of ArtsOrbit would re-tweet a comment referring to my favored bean blend as, “swine slop.” In the ensuing Twitter melee, Greg Martin of the Urban Bean coffeeshops, which serves up the Dogwood blend, offered to have us all over to his Lyndale shop (old home of Muddy Waters) to get some different tastes of espresso beans and put out tastebuds to the test, CakeIn15 against ArtsOrbit.

Today was the day and in addition to Jay and myself, Dan Anderson of Dogwood was on hand, as well as a group of baristas representing Urban Bean, Dogwood, Bull Run and Blue Ox. Knowing that in the realm of food and drink there is so very rarely a “right” answer, I had spent the preceding week systematically taking notes on all the espressos I drank to get a better feel for what it is I actually do like and you can see the notes here, which are ranked in the totally subjective order of personal preference. As Greg pulled shots, Jay professed his preference for the Dunn Bros. espresso, as a “earthy, full-bodied, solid” blend, as he noted in his own review. I, on the other hand, go for a brighter, more efflorescent and brassy burst, such as the Kenyan single origin bean from the Kiringa co-op that the Dogwood retail location had this week, or the Kenyan in the Dogwood blend with the deeper El Salvador and Brazil notes.

Greg acknowledged as much, that it was all a matter of taste, as he pulled shots of the Intelligentsia Black Cat blend which is universally acknowledged for its smooth mix and bold, consistent flavor. “Some people might even call it sour,” he said of those higher, sharper notes. But one man’s sourness is another man’s blooming, and after some good talk and better coffee, everything came up sweet. Besides, after getting a great Hario pour-over of a Brazilian bean, I guess there’s always single-cups to fight nice over.

UPDATE 10/7/2011: Being in the vicinity of Grand & Snelling today, I decided to swing by and try out Jay’s favorite espresso, the Dunn Bros. blend. Maybe I got a bad pull, as Jay once did at Dogwood, but the drink was definitely not to my liking. I’ve updated the notes, but their were two main issues. First, the over-riding taste in the cup was that of burnt beans, a problem for a company whose main selling point is that they roast their own. Second, the espresso was a 3 oz. pour, which stretched out that burnt flavor over a lot of liquid. Give me my espresso concentrated and explosive, and I’ll go to bat for that any day.

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