From Google image search for Trifecta MB -- this does my heart proud.
As the wee hours ticked by since my first taste of coffee on the Trifecta MB Friday evening, I could barely wait until breakfast time, when I would brew the same coffee from the same opened bag on my CafeSolo. I've tasted practically every microlot of Brazil that Jeff Dugan (Portola Coffee Lab) has roasted. As he tried different coffee farms, I'd try to keep up with the changes in flavor profile. Jeff's batches started to show orange zest, in addition to the milk chocolate he noted on the bag label. Sometimes I'd be able to reproduce a strong note of orange on my equipment, sometimes not. It had to do with the date since roast--or so I was convinced, as the elusive flavor would come into focus days after I'd bought the coffee. From time to time, Jeff would tell me he'd found an even better Brazil. He was never wrong. And for all of these SO lots, apart from the occasional Bali, these were my coveted chocolate bombs. These were the coffees I had so much experience drinking that their characteristics were etched into my brain.
So when Jeff and I planned to meet at his shop to try his home Trifecta, we agreed on the coffee in advance. It had to be the Brazil.
"I've got a new one--Roney Villela. You're gonna like it."
"Ok, let's make sure it's at least 6 days since roast--all of your Brazils seem to peak for me after close to a week."
So it was that I attempted to compare the Trifecta MB to the Sowden SoftBrew on Friday evening. But unfortunately, the Softbrew result was a disaster. Although we used precisely heated water to pre-heat the SoftBrew, it still wasn't hot enough. The result tasted like a dimly floral scented, washed-out chocolate in comparison to the Trifecta. I turned to Jeff and mumbled, "cardboard". There were several other things wrong besides the temperature. The grind was too fine and seemed to be underdosed. Neither of these made any sense, given how carefully Jeff measured and the fact that a finer grind would yield some sort of overextraction--until you factored in the temperature. Bingo. I took this as proof positive that the temperature was way under what it should have been. The problem with the SoftBrew is that you have to nuke it to boiling and get that porcelain really hot.
Yeah, that's the reason. Had to be. Just wait until I get those beans into the CafeSolo at home.
An Exceptional Roast
On Saturday morning, April 14, I took no chances. I followed my own brewing tips to the letter. I waited 40 seconds off boil, used my fines separator, added only 150g water before stirring, presoaked for 30 secs., added a full pot (900g) of water, brewed for another 3:30, oop, maybe went over by 25 secs., decanted into a thermal carafe, shook it up, and called the missus for coffee. I had gone out earlier to a local bakery and brought us two plates of florentine omelets and croissants, just to prime our taste buds.
I tasted the Brazil...
Ah, Jeff had brought in a ringer.
The latest offering from Portola Coffee Lab has got to be the boldest Brazil I've ever tasted. See the first two flavor notes on the label? That's exactly what you get--and lots of it. This is now my favorite medium roast, because it is the definitive milk chocolate bomb. With my CafeSolo, I could taste the caramel in the finish, with a strong chocolate flavor throughout the tasting. But what really impressed me was the hazelnut, which becomes increasingly prominent as the coffee cools down. In fact, the next day, as I write this, I'm sampling the coffee I've saved in the fridge. To my amazement, the chocolate is so strongly infused with hazelnut that one might think this coffee had hazelnut flavoring added.
In comparison to the other Brazils I've had, this coffee has a much more solid flavor rendering--well balanced, bold, and persistent, with lots of cocoa in every sip. At least, that is how my brew turned out using my CafeSolo at home. Needless to say, I was pleased that my efforts showed this coffee to be truly exceptional, and clearly Jeff's best Brazil to date. This validated my own brewing technique, after the failure using the Sowden.
"So now how does that make you feel?"
"More potent? Bigger?"
"I said better!"
For me, this result exceeded anything I'd ever produced before on the CafeSolo. Sure, I wasn't quite tasting the acidity I had hoped for, but that would certainly come out with more experimentation. Meanwhile, the other flavors were so over-the-top that I could be happy knowing this was just about the best tasting brew I could have ever hoped to produce, using my current home equipment.
Which is why I immediately emailed Jeff and placed an order for the Trifecta MB.
Bunn Trifecta MB
It's Friday, April 13. I'm sitting at the counter at Portola Coffee Lab, overlooking the huge roaster, with its many chrome accents. Jeff arrives, carrying the Bunn Trifecta MB that he's been using at his home. He plugs it in and in a very short time the internal boiler is ready for our first cup. Jeff opens the Roney Villela Brazil he's been holding for me--it's six days since roast. He grinds a small amount and it looks like he's chosen a drip grind. I ask him to make this first brew a little stronger, because I'm convinced I like it stronger than Jeff does. Jeff agrees, so for 12 oz. water, he uses 30g coffee.
Jeff fills the Trifecta reservoir with good mineral water to the bottom of the 12 oz. mark, and pours the coffee grounds into the clear cylinder. The cylinder easily connects to the air socket in the back as you slide it in, and the top latch closes smoothly. I've removed and reattached the water reservoir and brewing chamber, and my immediate impression of the mechanical fittings is that this is a refined yet robust product--one you need not worry about treating with kid gloves.
Jeff uses the middle "C" setting for turbulence and the highest recommended setting for time -- 50 secs. The water enters the chamber and there is no pre-soak pause to speak of. As the air bubbles agitate the brew, it seems to take a long time for the floating grounds to finally break-up and become saturated. This had concerned me. Jeff mentions that you generally won't want to use the lower settings for turbulence if you're brewing 12 oz., because there doesn't seem to be enough force to quickly break-up the grounds. But it turns out I need not be concerned, because the results speak for themselves.
Before we get to the tasting, one final note about the operation of this appliance. I'd seen comments by people in the past that concerned possible unpleasant spurting noises emitted by the commercial Trifecta when it is ejecting its liquid. I am therefore ready and listening intently when the Trifecta MB pours its contents into the waiting glass receptacle. All I hear are pleasant pouring noises. No spurting or spraying, spritzing, or blatting.
"Did you get that?"
I turn toward the lounge just outside the coffee bar where a team of highly qualified sound engineers sit hunched over recording meters, hands clamped over huge earphones. Craning my neck past the five microphones positioned near the Trifecta brewing chamber, I see one of the engineers giving me an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Jeff pours the brew into several tasting cups and I hold mine close and inhale. I can detect more aroma going on than is typical of most coffee I've consumed. I sip. Again, there's more going on here, but as always I need my sugar. After adding a small amount, the acidity jumps out at me amid a melange of rich, complex flavors--chocolate, caramel--a broad spectrum from light to dark. But clearly, the lead flavors I am tasting comprise a plump, succulent fruitiness.
Let's break this down.
I've tasted lots of different manifestations of acidity. I've had slightly sour cups of Sumatra that were not offensively sour, but not exactly fruity. I've had coffees that tasted of cherries or blueberries or orange or peach. I've had coffee made in my SoftBrew that slowly gave rise to a full juicy cherry/blueberry delight near the bottom of the cup. And then I've had just plain sour coffee that was brewed at the wrong temperature or sat too long. The Trifecta had managed to pull from this Brazil a ton of acidity, and it was all fruity--a dark, bold fruitiness that well-fit Jeff's description of plum. But I've never had acidity this strong before and called it pleasant. It changed my mind about what was possible.
As for the rest of the flavors, there was so much going on that the complexity itself became palpable. As I started to add some half and half, I began to perceive more of the chocolate and hazelnut--the dairy dampens down the acidity to some extent. As a full note that persisted right to the end, I'd have to say the hazelnut was perhaps the dominant flavor for me that day, even though my later attempt with the CafeSolo brought out mainly the chocolate. That's not to say there wasn't ample representation of chocolate and caramel. No one flavor stuck out very far--there were too many competing for my attention.
Regardless of which flavors I could taste most prominently, one thing was clear. I had never tasted so much flavor in a cup of coffee. Ever. And I most certainly have never tasted so much flavor right from the first sip. Typically, I have to wait longer for my own brews to develop their full potential in the cup. In any case, that full potential was merely a shadow of what I tasted from the Trifecta MB.
I asked Jeff to let me try cleaning the Trifecta. My fondest hopes were confirmed--it's a snap! I simply unclamped the brewing chamber, tapped it over the waste basket, and then ran a spray of water into it to flush out the remaining grounds. Jeff recommends wiping the inside with a paper towel to remove oil residue. You can also run another brew cycle using just water to clean it further. But either way, it's a lot less clean-up than any other system I can think of.
Another question I had for Jeff concerned the reliability of this product. He told me the Bunn representative had spoken to him about the quality of parts used in the home version. Apparently, Bunn simply uses the same parts from their commercial model. Exactly to what extent this is true needs to be clarified. I would be extremely pleased if I knew, for example, whether they use the same boiler with the air tube running through it. But the big picture is that you're getting industrial quality, because Bunn hasn't taken the time to reengineer the whole thing to be made more cheaply. And that's good news, indeed.
Remember those 14 points from Part 2? Remember all the tweaks you learned to try in your quest for refinement? Here's one more tweak to add to the list:
15. Buy Bunn Trifecta MB