When I first started out my espresso journey, the first coffee that I tasted was a Starbucks brand ground coffee, that was advertised as X-tra bold and smooth. At that times, I thought it was pretty good and it has a certain coffee dry aroma that captivated me. Despite the evidently bitterness and lack of flavor dimension (that I didn’t know exist at that time), I convinced myself it was good.
Then, I slowly get into the rabbit hole of the whole espresso scene, like many of us do, and was finally convinced that fresh coffee would make a huge impact in my espresso experience. And so, the first leap of faith that I took was ordering a 5lb of Red Bird Coffee from Jeff Pentel. It was regarded as the best bang for the buck coffee. WIth freezing, it could last me many months while staying fresh. It had garnered so many salivating reviews from the fellow coffee lovers, often cited as snickers bars, nutty caramel, milk chocolate and etc etc. It was good enough to make me take that leap.
And as promised, it did make a huge impact in my coffee experience. It was indeed very nutty and sweet. No prominent bitterness like Starbucks had. And it has many layers of subtle flavors and complexity that the Starbucks lacks. My bar of expectation and perception for a good coffee was raised. As I was experiment along the way, I got a bag of fresh Intelligentsia coffee, Black Cat, from my local cafe. It was very expensive at that time, about $16 that time for a 12oz bag. But I was convinced that it must be even better because of the glowing reviews by home-barista.
However, what I found out, was that no matter how I tweaked it, the resultant taste is always extremely sour, which I later learnt it was referred to as brightness. The Red Bird was very sweet and nut chocolatey, even to my undeveloped palate. But at comparison, the Black Cat was so sour, to the extend of offending my tongue. I can’t take it as straight shots albeit the seemingly perfect pour appearance. It always ended up in a cappa/latte. I attributed that to the deficiency of my machine at that time, a lowly Gaggia Carezza. I did give it a few tries in the local cafe with La Marzocco machine and Robur grinder. Each time, the shot punched me in the face with its extremely bright profile without failing. Though, the shots were pretty good in the sense they left a very desirable aftertaste that keeps me craving for more. That was the reason why I gave it so many attempts albeit the extremely sour taste I despised.
Since then, I’ve moved on so much and I am always sure that I dislike brightness in my cup because of that experience. I moved from Red Bird espresso, stayed there for a while with Jeff’s other offering, then to Metropolis Redline that has slightly more brightness. After that, I kept trying the coffees on ROASTe. Most of the coffees I’ve tried has certain brightness to them to balance the flavor and very often, the next one always have more brightness than the former.
Eventually, when I go back and try the deep chocolate blend such as Dolce’s Vivace and Espresso Nuovo, I actually doubted about my preference for a while. Somehow, it shocked me that they seems to be lacking the brightness factor that I actually thought I wouldn’t miss.
And then, I went back to my local cafe and give Black Cat another try. I am not sure if Intelligentsia has again changed their blend composition, surprisingly, the extreme brightness that used to offend my palate, actually seems absent and is pleasurable now. So, I have come to a small but indefinite conclusion that, one’s palate and preference could be changed and grow more accustomed to the certain characteristic that was unacceptable previously.
One wild thought came to me too: that if one keeps trying and drinking bitter Starbucks preground coffee, and convince themselves that it’s the best coffee, eventually, 3rd wave fresh coffee might actually be offending and undesirable to them, because it lacks the “desirable” charred bitterness. Haha! Just a wild thought. It’s amazing how our brain could be conditioned to accept certain things though.
Am I alone in this experience or did you have some opinion to share? Glad to hear it out!