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In praise of SOS


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There's a movement of sorts in the coffee and espresso business - not news to aficionado's or cognoscenti but some of us in the hinterlands (me!) are slow getting exposed to such things.

The growing emphasis in recent years on recognizing the value of single varietals vs. blends in drip coffee has evolved into recognizing the importance of the terroir concept. This notion seems to have gained popularity in relation to wine but is equally applicable to coffee varietals. For example... in any given year there may be beans or even a specific lot of beans from a particular estate (or even a section of that estate) that have unique and desirable characteristics. Rather than getting shipped off to the growers co-op and getting lumped in/mixed with beans from other growers, subsequently to be sold under a generic varietal name (e.g. Guatemala Antigua or Ethiopian Yirgacheffe), these better lots are more increasingly becoming available in their undiluted form.

Parallel to this development is a growing interest in appreciating the subtleties of such beans by producing espresso shots from a single varietal. There is a long standing tradition of using specially created blends for espresso. Various beans are combined to achieve certain characteristics that may include chocolaty undertones, fruitiness, floral notes, redolence of spices, a certain desirable bitterness etc. More recently there's been a move towards producing espresso from single varietals. If, as Caffe Vivace's David Schomer states it, "espresso should taste the way good coffee smells", we might expect to see enhanced and noticeably distinct characteristics by getting the essence of a single bean in concentrated form.

Having read of these trends but being immersed in a cocoon of constant work (both my day job and my coffee job) and routine, I had not gotten around to trying Single Origin Shots. Last week, prompted by a desire to use up some of the beans in my home green bean stash, I dug out my little 1/2 lb electric Alpenroast drum roaster and did up a batch of Ethiopian Harrar and also some Yemeni Moka Ismaili.

I had fully intended to roast some additional varieties and do an espresso blend but when the weekend arrived and I had a rare Saturday morning at home with no obligations attendant... I turned on the espresso machine and settled in with a good book to enjoy a few shots.

In another happy accident, I found the only milk on hand to be spoiled but had a full container of fresh half 'n half. Rather than making a short cappuccino as is my wont.... I decided to foam some half 'n half and make a breve machiatto. That is... a double espresso shot topped with a bit of half 'n half foam.

Wow. I'm sure that not all varietals will be as appealing in this format but the Ethiopian blew me away. The "blueberry flavor notes" that others describe from this bean but have thus far eluded my less-than-silver-palate were overwhelmingly abundant. Likewise, the sort of winey, spicy wildness of the Yemeni bean was also very distinct.

If you have an espresso machine and have been happily pulling shots with blends -try some SOS for a pleasant surprise.

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