Just when we think we’ve got handle on how to make espresso tasty a new coffee throws a wrench in the cogs. Most recently, that coffee was Finca Genesis Black Honey from Costa Rica.
This particular coffee is pretty special for a lot of reasons. Finca Genesis is actually the first producer that Phil ever directly sourced coffee from. Also, “black honey” refers to the type of processing method the beans undergo before they are shipped. Specifically, after the seeds(beans) come out of the coffee cherries, they are laid out to dry in the sun on raised “beds” which are basically elevated screens. The beans have extra mucilage(coffee fruit goop) on them at this point which takes longer than usual to dry which is what the producers refer to as black honey process. It adds a tart complexity and sweetness to the final roasted beans.
Now, roasters generally have a particular style when it comes to roasting their coffees. Corvus has always had a modern approach which aims to amplify and highlight nuances inherent in the beans themselves rather than just roasting lightly or darkly for the sake of doing so. This brings some level of consistency to the table when it comes to trying to dial in coffees on the espresso bar. Most of the coffees we serve have a bright pleasant acidity, so we brew them at “longer” ratios to bring the acidity more in balance. For example, on the retail bar we would usually pull at least 40 grams of brewed espresso out of 18 grams of dry, ground espresso. Tiny adjustments are made throughout a shift, but this is in the ballpark of most shots we serve at Corvus these days. Life is good. Then, Finca Genesis.
To begin with, a traditional espresso recipe for an Italian-style roast would probably look something like “20 grams in and 30 grams out” as we say sometimes. That just means you get 30 grams of espresso out of 20 grams ground coffee (or a 1.5x ratio). This is almost exactly the first recipe I learned and never deviated from for two years. Some in the industry would call us at Corvus crazy for hovering around a 2.5x ratio like we do now. And if anyone told me that a particularly coffee tastes best as an espresso at a 3x ratio (18g in, 54g out), even I would be suspicious.
But this was indeed the case. Finca Genesis was so bright and sour at our regular recipe that it was almost undrinkable. It wasn’t until we pulled the shot much longer that the acidity was muted and we finally got at the brown sugar sweetness that was hiding in those beans. This is one great example of how continuous advances at coffee origins are forcing us to constantly rethink how we brew. New processing techniques (black honey and pre-fermentation to name a couple) demand us on the roasting/brewing end of the chain to adjust our methods to make these coffees as delicious as possible.
We have five new small experimental lots arriving from Guatemala any day now which we are very excited to try. As we continue to search for the “exceptions to the rule” out there when sourcing coffee, I’m sure we’ve only seen the beginning when it comes to thinking outside the box. To that end, game on!