Today is Labor Day here in the USA and what better way to celebrate a day off from work than with local coffee? Today I’m checking out the latest espresso blend from Kansas City’s own Encore Coffee Co., so without further ado, let’s slurp down some ‘spro!
ENCORE COFFEE CO. CRESCENDO ESPRESSO
I first met Mike King from Encore Coffee Co. last summer. He is a mainstay at the Merriam Farmers Market close by KC Coffee Geek World Domination Headquarters. After years as a home roaster, Mike’s dissatisfaction with his “real” job led him down the path of putting his hobby to work and going full time as a coffee roaster. He bit the bullet last year and went for it! Good job, Mike! Nothing is as satisfying (or as frightening) as being your own boss and taking life by the neck and making it what you want it to be! I love stories like this, truly!
Today’s coffee is Mike’s Crescendo espresso blend. I’ve checked out a couple iterations of Encore’s espresso in the past, too, and the current formula is a blend of coffees from Brazil, Guatemala and Sumatra. It’s all Arabica and Mike has formulated and roasted Cresendo to be a traditional-leaning Italian-style espresso that plays well with milk. An attempt to modify my steam wand went poorly, so I am currently running dairy-free here at HQ, but I did try this coffee several ways and with a lot of different extraction styles. For me, the espresso profiles that are challenging in milk drinks tend to be the very acidic and fruit-forward ones, as sometimes they give a sour-milk vibe to a milk-based drink. Even though I didn’t try Crescendo in milk, I am sure it works great because it has the right nutty and chocolatey flavor profile for it. I could be wrong, but I doubt it on this one! LOL
Encore gives us tasting notes of, “cocoa, nutty with slight sweetness.” My bag was roasted on 8/16 and it was still pulling a little too fresh about 10 days off roast. For me, most espresso hits its peak around 10-15 days off roast. It was pulling with tons of crema that was quite gassy and between the time I’d pull my shot and I’d take a picture of the cup it was losing 25-30% of its total volume or so! By about 13-14 days off roast it was behaving a little more. I’ve continued to pull shots every couple days on it, including this morning (9/4), and it’s still tasting really good. In fact, I think I pulled the shot I’m happiest with this morning. I know there are espresso snobs turning their noses up at this, but hey, whatever, the palate doesn’t lie. I’ve been an espresso drinker for over 20 years and I’ve been making espresso at home for over 10, so if it’s good, it’s good, and every blend ages differently, so arbitrary measures of age are never as accurate as tasting the coffee and experiencing it.
I used my trusty, simple, Gaggia Espresso for my shots with a bottomless portafilter and a precision Decent Espresso 20g basket. I’m using Decent’s precision fit 58.5mm tamper that is also calibrated to a 25lb tamp pressure. I use Third Wave Water’s espresso machine formula in distilled water for the most consistent and delicious water possible. Grinder is a Rancilio Rocky that I use exclusively for espresso and I was pulling my shots at an 8 or a 9 setting.
This morning, I ended up pulling my favorite shot of the bunch, and I simply dropped the dose a little bit, keeping everything else the same. I used 18.1g of coffee in the portafilter and pulled 38g of coffee in 25 seconds. This mellowed out the intensity of the acidity a little and added a bit of sweetness and the bitterness to balance that I love in espresso. It was chocolatey, nutty, had a bit of roast in the aftertaste and had some dark caramel sweetness balanced with the bitterness of traditional Italian espresso that I grew up on. The lemon-lime acidity was still there, but this faster extraction kept it from being as “puckering” as it was in some of my other shots. This espresso was right in the sweet spot, for me, for what I like in a more traditional espresso without being too much of a throwback. I think Crescendo straddles the fence quite nicely between more modern styles of espresso and the traditional Italian flavor profile. It pulled beautifully and the crema is still thick and gorgeous looking as evidenced in the photo below.
When it was still fresher, around Aug. 18-19, I pulled some dial-in shots. My first one was a 20.1g dose and I pulled 30.8g of coffee in 30 seconds. Not quite a ristretto, but something between the 1:1 traditional/ristretto style and 1:2 “modern” style of extraction. This shot was a little overly intense, loaded with bittersweet chocolate and a bit of citrus and even green apple acidity. Immediately afterward, I opened my grinder one step and used 19.9g of coffee to pull 37.9g of espresso in 24 seconds. This coffee ended up with a huge, gassy crema that almost overflowed the cup, but then deflated rapidly. It had a creamier mouthfeel but was a bit muted and had the characteristic slight saltiness of an underextracted espresso. Waiting a while, until 9/1, I pulled another shot just for a quick pick-me-up and I didn’t time or weigh the yield, but that one had a lot of lemon-lime acidity and lime bitterness along with a bunch of semisweet chocolate and pecan/walnut nuttiness. It was a shorter pull and still a little too intense, which is what inspired me to lower my dose a little today, which I think nailed it right into the sweet spot.
So, for this coffee, a little bit of age is a good thing and longer time with shorter yields will ramp up the lemon-lime acidity and intensity (maybe a good thing for some milk-based drinks). A bit of a quicker pull, hitting a 1:2 ratio in 25-27 seconds, is the sweet spot for drinking it as espresso. I also tried this coffee as an small Americano, which was fine. I’m not the biggest Americano drinker… I like the intensity and mouthfeel of espresso and I find that thinning it out in water robs espresso of a lot of what makes it taste so good and ramps up the bitterness a bit unnecessarily. But, it tasted good and if you like Americanos you’d like this, too. I made a Cuban cafecito with Encore’s Crescendo blend and, of course, that was awesome. I mean, a cup of espresso with a couple of spoonfuls of whipped up sugar? Impossible not to like!
In addition, I used a Moka pot once to try this coffee out and it was good. To me, everything on a Moka ends up pretty much tasting the same, but this coffee did have a bit more character than the usual Illy, Lavazza or Cuban-style pre-ground coffee I usually use in a Moka on the very rare occasions I use one. I even tried it in my Midipress, which is a Hungarian version of a Moka pot that makes fekete, or traditional “strong black” Hungarian coffee (the national drink of my namesake!). This was an absolute failure and I shot coffee grounds out of the Midipress’s spot all over the place. These things are really tempermental and a heck of a lot harder to control than a Moka pot, in my opinion.
In any case, this is a nice, well-rounded espresso and Mike has his Cresendo blend really well dialed in, in my opinion. If you’re looking for a traditional-ish espresso that still has some modern acidity to it, this is the one for you! As a plus, I found it to be very versatile and enjoyable using a bunch of different preparation methods. Highly recommended!