Deluxe: Building a Blend from Memory
I often think about a sentiment from Stephen Morrisey, one of the real specialty espresso OG’s back in the day: “I’ve had 15 to 20 good espressos in my life.” It was such a funny thing to hear from a World Barista Champion. Everyone in the industry had a good laugh about it, and I think Ben Helfen from Octane even made it into tee-shirts with Stephen’s face and the quote on them. The thing is, I think I would agree with that sentiment (if not the exact number). While it might seem like a ridiculous statement from someone who’s enjoyed thousands of espressos in their life, I think the idea behind the hyperbole makes a lot of sense to me.
How many espressos have you had in your life where the sweetness and complexity fully balanced out the strength and intensity of such a concentrated beverage? How many espressos have you had that a non-espresso drinker could taste and find genuinely enjoyable and delicious? How many espressos have you had that tasted objectively better than a filter brew of that coffee could have been? I would say not many. I think it’s more that we as spro junkies are acclimatised to espresso, and tune out the intensity and sourness/bitterness to a degree that allows us to enjoy what I would say are just acceptable espressos.
Now, it’s not that we design all of our blends to only be tasty as espresso, but we do try to make them soluble enough for easy spro brewing. The amount of residual sugar in our blends (due to being made primarily with natural coffees) aims to make it easier for baristas to get closer to that target of a genuinely good espresso with less muss and fuss. I would say that perhaps the best representation of this is our Deluxe blend. Deluxe blend is the all-natural big juicy boy. For me, it’s actually an amalgamation of several different espresso experiences. One of an espresso I made myself, and 3 I tasted in formative moments.
The first memory was a shot of Cafe Grumpy’s Heartbreaker blend that I had on one of their locations back in the late 2000’s before I was really even ‘that’ into coffee. I’m not sure if it’s because of my own inexperience at the time, a dollop of nostalgia, or if the Heartbreaker was way better back in the day, but I remember it as being a fruit-bomb. I haven’t had a Heartbreaker shot since then that was anywhere close to as delicious, but I still remember that one fondly… Heck, I think we all remember Grumpy fondly from those days. One of the true originals in this game.
One of the strongest sensory memories I tried to re-create in Deluxe was my first-ever experience with Sweetshop from Square Mile. I tasted it on my first visit to the UK back in 2014. I had a shot of it at Look Mum No Hands which was my 2nd favorite stop on a proper London coffee crawl that spring (just recently closed, very sadly)… The other being Bulldog Edition at the Ace Hotel, which had just recently opened. I don’t actually know for certain what coffee I was served at Bulldog, but I’d be willing to bet it was Sweetshop as well. It tasted like the same beans, just pulled with more care. I had a similarly memorable experience of the Sweetshop at our own Florence Road Market in the summer of 2020: I served it to a local lecturer, who said it was one of the best espressos he’s ever had, and when we randomly saw each other again a few weeks ago, we remembered each other by the experience of drinking that Sweetshop rather than anything else. Our Deluxe is first and foremost a funkier knock-off of Sweetshop, really…
The tasting notes for the Deluxe came from competing in the US barista championship in 2016 or so with a naturally processed coffee from Sumatra. That was one of my favourite years of doing the competition. I could immediately see the judges switch off mentally when I said “Sumatra” (expecting an earthy, savoury espresso), and then come back to life again when I announced my tasting note on the cappuccino course: Neapolitan ice cream. The Neapolitan ice cream credit goes to my old boss Ricardo Pereira… He had a talent for evocative tasting notes like that. Everyone loves ice cream, and everyone loves the individual flavours of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. Combining them all into one tasting note was genius. I didn’t win the USBC that year, but I did come away with the best tasting note, without a doubt.
The third memory was an espresso from Andrea Allen at Onyx that I had when I was judging an America’s Best Espresso competition at one of the US Coffee Fests (circa 2018). This shot was a naturally processed Costa Rica… I had it in round one of the competition, and it was one of those ‘god-shots’ that you just think is unbeatable. It tasted like melted-down raspberries and chocolate. Sweet, full-bodied, completely delicious in every way. Sadly, it never tasted that good in subsequent rounds, and it didn’t end up winning the competition. I’ve remembered that shot from round 1 for almost a decade though, and I have no sensory memory at all of the geisha that won.
That’s all a rather self-indulgent trip down memory lane in order to say that the Deluxe blend is borne from memories of the best natural espressos I’ve had in my life. Give it a try though… I think all singing all dancing natural blends need to have their glory day in the hot sun.