A bounty of beans from San Francisco

A few days ago I got to enjoy some great espresso blends courtesy of co-blogger David. He was coming back from San Francisco and asked if I wanted him to bring anything back for me. Beans from two shops came immediately to mind: Ritual and Blue Bottle.

Ritual is a hip new coffee shop in Valencia. It’s been profiled in Wired as a hangout for techies, but it’s also known in the coffee world for having talented baristas, delicious coffee from the Stumptown Roaster in Portland, and style to spare. Blue Bottle is a roaster in Oakland with a charming walk-up shop in Hayes Valley. The espresso and Gibraltar I had there last fall count as some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, period. (I previously wrote up my visit to Blue Bottle on my own blog.)

David brought back three bags of espresso to try: Stumptown’s Hairbender and Blue Bottle’s Hayes Valley Blend and Roman espresso.

David brought the coffee by the shop where I work, Open City in Woodley Park. While I got the equipment ready to go, I started him off with a shot of our house espresso, Counter Culture’s newly reformulated Toscana. The summer batches of the blend had been a bit rough, with a consistent sweet spot hard to locate. The new blend, composed of two Sumatrans and a Brazilian, dials in very nicely with caramely sweetness. The crema-rich photo on the right is the shot I pulled for David. Pretend I airbrushed out the sugar packet; he didn’t actually use it and would be offended if I suggested he did!

Hairbender was the first blend we tried out. As I feared, it became quickly apparent that the beans had aged a bit too much on the journey from SF. They were just over two weeks old by the time I got to them. Nonetheless, the Hairbender’s crema held up well and the flavor came out like dark chocolate. Of the three blends, this one aged the best. It’s the one flowing from the portafilter at the top of the post and in the demitasse at left. It also performed well in the small cappuccino pictured at the bottom of the post.

Next on the lineup was the Hayes Valley Blend. Both of the Blue Bottle blends suffered more from ageing, coming out a bit thin. This is no fault of the roaster. Coffee isn’t meant to age well! A fun aspect of the Blue Bottle beans is the precise brewing instructions they come with. Working on a Synesso espresso machine, I was able to set the group head to the exact temperature recommended for each blend. For Hayes Valley this is 195 degrees. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to pull a good shot of this one, certainly nothing to compare to the sweetness they produce at their shop.

The last blend was the Roman Espresso. They suggest brewing this at a ridiculously low 184 degrees. I bumped it up two degrees to try to coax a little more crema out of the older beans, with mixed results. It still poured thinly, but the character of the coffee came through — lots of brightness and a little bit sweet. People who tasted it liked it. I’m anxious to try this one again with some fresher beans. When I order more from Blue Bottle, I’ll post again to give them a better review at the peak of freshness.

The last two photos are of the Hairbender capp and of the cafe from behind the espresso bar.

Thanks to David for bringing me the beans and taking the photos. We’ll do this again sometime!

[Cross-posted on Smelling the Coffee. This post was originally published on EatFoo(d) on 8/29/06.]