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Sour British Beans

PostPosted: Fri Jul 09, 2010 6:38 pm
by Piero
I know it's a matter of taste... but after a lifetime of being used to italian espresso beans I find it impossible to enjoy the sour acidic arabica singles or blends offered by so many recommended roasters in the UK. (I hesitate to name them on this my 1st posting.)

Is there such a thing as a national taste for coffee beans that taste 'fruity' with 'notes' of lemon, lime, grapefruit, etc. which are for me akin to battery acid? Is the preferred espresso bean in the UK like the sour British tomato that no Italian in their right mind would put on their pasta?

I suppose there are still a few roasters I have to try. Getting fresh beans from Italy is impossible or too expensive. Please help with further recommendations (and please don't suggest I have taste-bud bypass surgery!).

RE: Sour British Beans

PostPosted: Fri Jul 09, 2010 9:24 pm
by Chris
Hi Piero, welcome to TMC :D

Personally I have had very bitter coffee served here in the UK by the major chains for many years so the sweeter more acidic espresso blends on offer here are a breath of fresh air. I actually enjoy a complex balanced espresso which delivers a mixture of flavours and senstations but sweetness and heavy body are two things I always look for. Anything else that offers interest in the cup is always an added bonus.

I think that many UK roasters offer a variety of beans to suit different tastes. I have noticed a lot of Single Estate coffees on offer with fruity acidity but that is something I love especially in pourover and french press etc.

Feel free to mention the beans you have tried and what you liked/didn't like and maybe we could direct you towards something more to your tastes here in the UK.

Also let us know what beans you would reccomend from Italy and also any good cafes so that I can try them next time I am there.

Finally, very important here.... What method are you using to produce your coffee? What equipment are you using?

PostPosted: Sat Jul 10, 2010 1:10 am
by Viernes
Oh! :shock:

I think I have the same problem. Since I bought my Spaziale S1 (my first serious machine) I have had lot of problems with sour coffee, which led to the conclusion of when people describes a coffee as "fruity", for me it means "it taste like vinegar or a lemon".

Very strange...

PostPosted: Sat Jul 10, 2010 8:15 am
by bruceb
Sour taste is almost always caused by too low brew temperatures, especially for espresso. Unfortunately, accurately checking the temperature is not a trivial pursuit, so you might just try turning it up a bit and seeing whether that helps.

I like dark roasts, but often roast much lighter for friends and the coffee never gets sour. Fruitiness and acidity are in no way related to sourness. It might be good to go into this in a bit more detail.

PostPosted: Sat Jul 10, 2010 9:09 pm
by JulieJayne
Piero, tastes do vary from country to country. The high acidity that is generally "prized" in the UK is not what I like, and the average Dutch taste is for a more earthy flavour. What I find that my customers like are Indonesian coffees, Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, with deep full flavours. As Chris said, let us know what you have been drinking and we can perhaps point you in a better direction.

PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 3:24 am
by Gadders
Battery acid espresso sounds like its being pulled badly to be honest. Before you knock the roaster make sure you're doing it justice! :)

PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 6:23 am
by awlred
I would second a lot of what's been said here, there is a definite shift in palette between Italian and British Espresso preferences. I like a very wide gamut of coffee from the fruity to the earthy, but I can understand why people would dislike either side of that.

Out of interest are you drinking coffee in shops or at home?

If in shops then I'd be curious to know their roaster, if at home then what kit do you use?

Also as has already been said an acidic coffee can go sour if it's brewed to cool, but will usually taste more floral if it's brewed at the correct temperature and allowed to cool slightly.

Hope this helps

Re: Sour British Beans

PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 6:53 am
by Jasonscheltus
Piero wrote:I know it's a matter of taste... but after a lifetime of being used to italian espresso beans I find it impossible to enjoy the sour acidic arabica singles or blends offered by so many recommended roasters in the UK. (I hesitate to name them on this my 1st posting.)

Is there such a thing as a national taste for coffee beans that taste 'fruity' with 'notes' of lemon, lime, grapefruit, etc. which are for me akin to battery acid?

Well you're quite lucky then, as there are many roasters in Italy who select coffee, roast and blend to your taste!

Rather than complain about not liking everything out there, take comfort in the fact that there are many Italian blends to choose from.

If you are looking to experiment, there are some lovely dark roasted coffees coming from the west coast of America, the older Seattle based roasters.

Although I would suggest against leaving veiled criticism of peoples taste in coffee, especially as you note, it is your first post here! Welcome!

RE: Re: Sour British Beans

PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 8:23 am
by jossy
Dear Piero

As a half Italian half Turk who a few years ago would have argued that there is no coffee like the "caffe" ordered at a bar in Italy, I sympathise with your experiences. I too used to think that the coffee roasted by, say, HasBean, was far too acidic for my tastebuds. It has been a long journey for me to recognise that some (but not all) acidity adds a component to coffee that is undoubtedly positive and can make a coffee come alive. As I tried more and more coffees and started roasting coffee, I learned to like dimensions in coffee that I originally never appreciated. I had a similar experience regarding music, where I used to hate bebop and free jazz, but as I listened to more and more music and got better at playing, I ended up falling in love with precisely the music that I could not stand to start with.

I think much of the love for acidity in this country comes from the fact that coffee roasters drink a lot of filter coffee (where only the "good" acidity comes out) but in espresso acidity can be overpowering and taste sour. There appears to be a general consensus on this forum that acidity and sourness are totally different things... but this is formally untrue. There is no formal taste component called "acidity". Sourness is the sense that detects acidity (see for example, i.e., a pH lower than 7. I believe that when acidity is controlled and balanced by sweetness in an espresso, people will call it "bright", whereas when it is overpowering like unsweetened citron pressé, people will call it "sour". A bright espresso, while quite different from our average Italian "caffe", is definitely something that you can get used to and learn to like.

There is nothing wrong with discussing differences in tastes and I deplore the reaction of Jasonscheltus who interpreted your friendly email as a criticism of people's taste in coffee. Your post never suggested that your taste is in any way superior to others, only that it is different. There are more descriptors for coffee than just "good" and "bad", and therefore there can be as many views and appreciations of coffee as there are coffee drinkers.

Welcome to TMC!!

RE: Re: Sour British Beans

PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 8:27 am
by jossy
One more thing: email Steve Leighton and tell him how you like your coffee. I have had HasBean coffee in places where the barista prefers low acidity and Steve roasts a specific blend to fit their tastebuds (and it tasted great!!). I am sure that Steve will find a coffee to fit your preferences, if you really prefer to stick with one "perfectly good " coffee instead of tasting your way through a million coffees and discovering new dimensions as you go along.

RE: Re: Sour British Beans

PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 9:58 am
by triptogenetica
Yes, I'd second that - email Steve (or your choice of master roaster, of course) and ask for a few pointers.

Brew temperature can be a big issue - until i attached a thermocouple to the espresso machine, i would have the odd shot that was appallingly sour. (I still do, but less now).

It took a long time for me to appreciate acidity in a coffee. I started out liking the Sumatrans, monsooned coffees (I still do). Then I had the good luck to try some of Steve's coffee. First ever order was for a Honduran CoE, amazing stuff. Second order included an Aeropress.

Today, Sunday morning, we're enjoying the Square Mile washed Yirgacheffe - something I wouldn't have enjoyed 2 years ago. Great post-breakfast coffee.


PostPosted: Sun Jul 11, 2010 4:51 pm
by Piero
Many thanks for all your kind welcomes & useful suggestions. I should be able to find beans that are perfect for me, which I suppose is everyone's quest (and for which they're prepared to pay an arm & leg for in terms of the ultimate machine & grinder). Asking a roaster specifically, ought to work.

My frame of reference for assessing beans is my trusty Pavoni lever, which after years of trial & error I think I've got right in terms of temperature, speed, etc. When I get close to consistently producing 'god shots' with my favourite italian beans, I (& those around me) inevitably overdose. If only this were the case every day...

RE: Grazie!

PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 11:43 am
by Chris
Hi Piero, I'm really happy the UK roasters that I have tried and really appreciate their ability to produce such high quality so consistently, but please do let us know what beans you reccomend from Italy. I'm really open to trying other styles of roast, beans and blends etc. What are your "favourite italian beans"? :o)


RE: Grazie!

PostPosted: Wed Jul 14, 2010 6:40 am
by CakeBoy
Welcome to TMC Piero :D

Coffees do vary so much around the world, which is a lot of the fun. In fact the styles vary so much even within from roaster to roaster in the same country, it would be unlikely that everyone would enjoy every coffee on the spectrum.

I can appreicate most coffees for the individual attributes they have, though my favourite remains a full bodied central American medium to medium dark roasted, but never to the point that the roast takes over the flavour profile. For my taste, the dark roasted profiles typical of some places rather spoil the nuances of the bean and they are not really for me. However, I do appreciate that others love them and that in itself brings me happiness. I wouldn't seek to criticise either the roast profile or anyone for enjoying them. My mantra is try all coffees and move on if they are not to my taste.

As others have mentioned, high acidity coffee can be quite unforgiving both in terms of temperature control and shot production which may well be giving you a slightly inaccurate flavour profile in the cup.

Happy tasting.

RE: Grazie!

PostPosted: Thu Jul 15, 2010 11:20 pm
by lsjms
What love for acidity,are we talking about good espresso? I have no affection for acidity in espresso, but then I do not understand how anyone could describe, say, a well brewed shot Monmouth espresso as high acidity same for Hasbean perfetio blend. SM's current and last espresso offerings are in contrast to this perhaps, and fares badly if brewed at the same temp as many other blends.

Since joining this forum I have read roasters and coffee recommendations running from Tesco finest Columbian to Supermarket pre-ground re-ground.

The times I have made battery acid shots there have only ever been three causes. Stale beans, crap beans or my own inability.

Is the preferred espresso bean in the UK like the sour British tomato

Yes mate, the preferred bean is actually the sour Italian charcoal on aisle 17.