A lot of people think I’m too uppity when it comes to coffee.
They say I’m a coffee snob.
This may be because of the chapter I wrote all about good and bad coffees in The 10-Hour Coffee Diet.
A friend Robert recently told me about a coffee his family enjoys called Intelligentsia Coffee. I’d heard of Intelligentsia before but never tried it. So I figured Robert’s recommendation made it worth a try.
We’ve now had Intelligentsia two days in a row.
Below is the message I sent to him with a tiny bit of explanatory notes here and there. I think we can now close the case.
Obviously, I’m not a coffee snob. I’m just a regular coffee guy.
My Quick Take on Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Classic Espresso Beans
Okay, Robert, well we’ve now had two days of Intelligentsia!
Yesterday was rough, as getting new coffee always is. Before one can get an optimal cup, one has to go through a process of “dialing in the grinder.” (Getting 20 ounces of ground beans into the portafilter in 18 to 24 seconds for example, or whatever your preference is or whatever the coffee roast demands.)
Dialing in the grind is much easier in a high-quality coffee shop where they make 100+ cups a day. Making four to six daily here in our home, way out here on the dirt road in the middle of nowhere, with our 2-group La Marzocco Linea commercial machine means dialing in a fairly good grind takes a day or two.
Note: Did I mention we use a commercial machine? I don’t want any of you to think I’d allow a coffee maker in our home that was as boorish, common, unsophisticated, ill-bred, unrefined, unmanly, lowly, inferior, proletarian, and vulgar as one that the unwashed masses out there would use.
It’s raining here this morning which always makes everything easier when it comes to coffee. (That’s probably why Seattle is America’s coffee mecca, its routine humidity might make achieving drinkable coffee easier.) (Of course, that doesn’t explain how Starbucks originated there.)
So with yesterday’s start, today I was able to get a proper grind on the first try.
Now I suspect you and Jennifer make drip or pour-over or French press and not espresso/cappuccinos, so keep in mind we prefer the latter initially although we love the other too.
But first things first…
I was surprised at the relatively low price of Intelligentsia. Its espresso beans are about $4 under that of other specialty espresso beans which was a welcome change for my wallet.
The Coffee Beans:
When I opened the first of two bags yesterday to pour into the grinder (whose hopper I cleaned thoroughly as always whenever a change of bean brand or type is about to occur), I was disappointed at the number of beans that were broken and partially present.
One of the jobs of the person roasting beans is to manually sift through the beans as they roast, removing the broken and partial ones.
Nobody gets them all, but the number of cracked, broken, and chipped beans I saw in each bag was far higher than normally found in top-quality coffee.
Note: Can I say, I think this is why Intelligentsia can charge less. It’s my suspicion the time and wasted beans they save in this step allows them to sell it for less money.
Cracked, chipped, and broken beans typically mean the beans will be rancid and sour. But the proof is in the pudding. (Er, the crema.)
The Espresso Shot:
I liked the crema that appeared when I pulled the espresso shot into the espresso measuring shot glass. It consumed at least the top 40% of the glass which is on par with what we want.
Note: I obviously use a squared espresso shot glass. We’re not animals out here. The acclaimed Brian Franklin of DoubleShot Coffee Company, which an international documentary team accurately declared serves the Perfect Cappuccino, told me in a coffee seminar one time that the squared shot glass produces a slightly more accurate crema. I suppose it’s just Good Science.
The color of the espresso was a little browner than red. This doesn’t always mean much, and sometimes the roast or bean origin means this is the way it is and taste won’t be affected by the color. But often, I find that without a reddish tint, the coffee comes out a little sour or bitter and not sweet.
This concerned me a little. A lot – even if not a majority – of broken, chipped, rancid beans out of the bag means the coffee has a high probability of being bitter and/or sour. The color is a first hint to a bean’s quality.
Note: I literally mean rancid when I say that. This isn’t an instant mark against the Intelligentsia coffee. But the goal is always to use beans that are roasted two or more days ago but not less than 14-20 days ago. Any older, and even the highest quality beans on earth begin to go rancid. The problem with the Intelligentsia is the high percentage of broken and chipped beans in the bag. (They were shipped well, I don’t think this was the fault of the mailing.) The broken beans will always cause rancidity to occur sooner, starting the moment a bean cracks. That’s precisely why a low percentage of broken and chipped beans is so crucial.
The only thing that matters is taste.
Yesterday, the espresso was sharp and sour. Sharpness is not necessarily a bad thing. Think of cheese – people who love good cheese often like sharp sharp cheddar. Sharpness means a rich, strong flavor. So if the base flavor is good, a sharper one often means even better for many people.
Yesterday’s Intelligentsia espresso’s sharp flavor was sour. Not a great start, but I chalked it up to the grind not being dialed in yet. Alas, this morning’s perfect grind also produced a sharp, sour, flavor. Not a good flavor. Bitterness and sourness abounded in the flavor.
How bad? Certainly not bad enough to throw it out! Oh, we’ll finish the two bags of Intelligentsia beans in the hopper. And if they were not fit to drink, I’d toss them out right now.
But the sour, sharp flavor I think comes from the problems I addressed above, most notably the high number of broken beans in the bag.
Intelligentsia Coffee Conclusion:
We probably won’t order the espresso beans from Intelligentsia again.
Still, I really want your reaction. Do you make espresso/cappuccino or do you primarily make a more traditional coffee? Do you think my findings are unique and perhaps I just got a bad batch?
I trust your judgement. If you’ve found the opposite of what I say above, I’d be open to giving Intelligentsia another try when we run out of these beans.
At the same time, if you do make espresso drinks and find Intelligentsia to be much richer in flavor, it may be that you’re trying boring, name-brand roasts and perhaps should venture out to some more specialty ones such as Espresso Vivace in Seattle or even better (it says a lot if you’re even better than Espresso Vivace), DoubleShot Coffee Company just down the road from us in Tulsa.
Still, Robert, this is really all that matters – if you love Intelligentsia and want nothing else, that’s great too! Personal flavor choice always overrides everything else.