Whether roasting coffee for espresso or filter preparation, the art of the roast is to find the flavor profile that works best for the particular type of extraction. The grind size, water temperature, contact time of water with the grounds and pressure are all completely different for espresso than they are for a pourover, for example. Sometimes, though, with some luck and a lot of skill on the roaster, the coffee works well both as espresso and for filter methods. Hardy Coffee Co.’s Benchmark is one such “dual use” coffee, and we’ll see how it fared as a pourover, straight espresso shot and as a cappuccino today! You can buy Benchmark directly from Hardy Coffee Co. for $16/12oz bag.
Hardy Coffee Co. is based out of Omaha, NE and they’re the coffee roasting arm of the Bliss Bakery/Aromas Coffeeshop empire in that town. I’ve really enjoyed all the coffees the gang from Omaha has sent my way. It took me several rounds of emails with Nick Tabor, Hardy’s lead roaster, to figure out what this coffee even was! LOL The rest of the coffees in the box he shipped down featured Hardy’s usual labels in the upper right corner of the bag. After some “who’s on first” style emailing between Nick and I, he finally pointed out that the diamond at the bottom of the bag had a giant blue “B” in it, meaning it was their Benchmark coffee. I’m so observant I sort of missed that little detail. LOL
Nick said Benchmark is a good dual-use coffee as espresso as well as when you need a, “nice break from the 3rd wave brightness thing.” I can appreciate where Nick was coming from with that, but I wouldn’t call Benchmark a dark roast compared to, for example, some of the D’Amico coffees I reviewed for Dark Roast December! Nick said the current iteration of Benchmark is comprised of several different Costa Rican coffees, but I don’t know where from, the farms, the processing used or any other details. My palate tells me they were all washed coffees, but a natural or semi-washed could’ve been snuck in under the radar, too. Hardy gives tasting suggestions of, “dark chocolate, lime, spice” for this coffee. Let’s see what I found…
I started Benchmark off in the Gino pourover dripper using my usual 1:15 ratio with a 4:00 total brew time. The filters were Kalita 185 white. At first I wasn’t terribly impressed by this cup, but as it cooled it got better and better for me. I know a lot of people like their coffee napalm hot, but this is one well worth letting cool down quite a ways and allowing it to open up. As it did so, the Benchmark blend was a little brighter than I expected based on Nick’s comment in our email, but it was also balanced and sweet. I’d call it a solid “medium” roast, for what it’s worth. There was a nice malic acidity that gave a mouthfeel and flavor like sweet apple juice. The second half of the sip had a buttery flavor and body to it, which was also noted by my friend, Stacey, who I gave half this bag to, and there was definitely some warming spices in the cup tying it all together. I found hints of cinnamon, black pepper and a bit of ginger in there.
As espresso, I liked this coffee, too. After burning up most of the rest of what I had left over to dial it in, I settled on a pull that landed, as it usually does for my palate, between a 1:1 ristretto and a 1:2 normale shot. I was using 19g of coffee and ending up in the 30-ish gram range of coffee in my cup. The shot ended up having a nice profile… sweet, bright-but-not-too-bright with the acidity now definitely landing in the lime category that the tasting notes included and a dark chocolate with pronounced cherry flavor in the finish. The aftertaste had some of those spice notes in it, still, too. It was a good compromise between the enamel-strippers I’ve had on the west coast and a more traditional Italian-style espresso shot, with the best of both styles in the flavor. Nice!
Finally, I had JUST enough espresso left to pull one more shot for a cappuccino. It was, predictably, delicious when paired with whole milk. As you can see in the photo I screwed up my latte art, but I pour fewer milk drinks in a year than a moderately busy barista will do in one shift, so you never know what the result is going to end up like! The Benchmark coffee paired nicely with my 6oz capp. It was sweet, had a nice cocoa flavor and a neutral if not slightly dry finish. It stood up reasonably well to the milk but it also complemented it well. Sometimes too bright of an espresso will give the milk a slightly turned/sour vibe and this was strictly traditional in the cup with the milk. I loved it!
This is a nice dual-use coffee if you’re looking to supply your multi-roaster cafe or you are a home-drinker with multiple needs for espresso and drip. Give it a shot, I liked it all three ways!