As you no doubt know by now, I am a coffee freak. I like the process of making coffee as much as I like drinking it, and my favorite is, of course, the purest extraction of this wonderful little bean, espresso. After subjecting myself to over a year of using preground Italian canned coffee, I bit the bullet over this past holiday and bought a vintage PeDe wall-mounted coffee grinder with burrs tight enough to do an espresso or even Turkish coffee grind. The good people at Orphan Espresso deserve a shout-out for the wonderful rehab work they are doing on these classic grinders, and for offering them at extremely reasonable prices. My grinder cost $110 to my door, which I think is a steal.
The best local place I have found so far for buying roasted beans has been Whole Foods. They roast every few days and label the beans for their “roasted-on” date, so you know just how fresh they are. The prices are pretty good, too. I drink one espresso or Americano (an espresso topped off with hot water to make a full cup of coffee) per day and $6 worth of beans will last me all week. The next step is to start buying green beans and roast them myself, but that’s another story.
Anyway, the espresso roasts Whole Foods sells here are called Sierra and Bel Canto. I’ve alternated back and forth for the last couple months and am ready to give my verdict on which are better beans, in my opinion. The Sierra blend looks better… they’re dark and oily and beautiful to see with a wonderful aroma in the bin. Sierra is a darker roast than Bel Canto, which is also dark but not oily. Based on looks and aroma alone, I was pretty sure Sierra would win out, but after a couple months of drinking these beans, I think the Bel Canto roast is quite a bit better.
In my opinion the Bel Canto is brighter and cleaner, makes more crema in the espresso machine, and is just a wonderful bean for drinking pure espresso. The Sierra is more of a “Roman style” bean, based on what I remember of espresso in Rome from 7 years of living there. It’s a great bean, but for my tastes the Bel Canto just really wins out. They’re both light years ahead of canned junk, but with home grinding I have noticed they are also both very temperamental to their roast profile in terms of how they grind. Actually, the Bel Canto beans seem very sensitive to this, forcing me to play with the burrs on the grinder constantly in order to get the grind dialed in. Once I do, its good for that batch as long as they don’t sit for too long, but I usually go through 3-4 “chokes” on the machine before getting it figured out.