David Schomer, one of Seattle's premier coffee experts, is the only person I know who taste tests his beans using an espresso machine.
Most people taste (or in coffee parlance, “cup”) by pouring hot water over coffee grounds, removing the grounds or “crust” from the top and using a spoon to slurp from what’s left. (If you’ve never seen it, this video might help.)
Schomer, who owns Espresso Vivace, prefers the precision of Synesso espresso machines. On Fridays, he and head roaster Dan Reid (pictured in reverse order) meet at Vivace in the Brix building on Capitol Hill to make sure their latest beans and roasts are up to snuff.
He also doesn’t spit after tasting, like most coffee and wine connoisseurs. The result is more flavor and a fairly hopped-up day.
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Here are the coffees that go into Vivace’s blends (“Vita” for coffee drinks with milk and “Dolce” for those without milk including their small Americano drink called “Mitch”):
Brazil: A mix of citrus, pine, fresh alfalfa and salt. “I want to call it grassy, but if you’ve ever tried green grass, it’s bitter and dank,” Schomer said.
Sumatra: Typically “deep, dark, brooding,” he said, it was sour this morning, possibly because of how cold the beans were before they were roasted this week.
Ethiopian Sidamo: Dark chocolate with a blueberry aftertaste. An enjoyable aftertaste is important for coffee because it lingers so long, Schomer said.
Indian Malabar: I’ve never tried or even heard of coffee from India, but there it was, sweet as Schomer promised. It also lacks complexity, he said, “like a Christmas tree with one-color lights.”
It’s important for northern Italian roasts — which are lighter than Starbucks, Peet’s and others — not to have acidity, Schomer said. Acidity works with brewed coffee but not espresso, where it turns sour.
Side note: If you’re in the market for an espresso machine, someone has been trying to sell a La Marzocco GS-1 that Schomer used to own. The post on Craigslist begins, “Come on, you geeks…where are you? This machine is gorgeous!”