Italiamo Espresso Magnifico—an honest Italian espresso

IMG_20191118_090711 (1)

Like Caffè Tradizionale 100% Arabica, which I reviewed (and enjoyed) last year, Espresso Magnifico is part of the Italiamo line of Italian products marketed by Lidl, the German grocery store chain.

On the bag it says ”Arabica & Robusta”, ”Produced in Italy”. Other than that, there is little information on the contents. But that’s fine. Let the product speak for itself.

As you open the bag, you can instantly tell that there is Robusta in it: the bag aroma is  sweet, but earthy and pungent at the same time. The roast seems to be medium dark, around 3/5.

The aroma of the ground beans is naturally sweet and very chocolatey. Many of the classic Robusta elements are there as well—earth, flowers, and vanilla. However, dark chocolate is definitely the main feature. You get the impression that this is going to be a very full-flavored blend.

How does it taste, then? Well, it is quite flavorful indeed. Surprisingly, though, the dry earthiness takes center stage, while the chocolatey sweetness takes the supporting role. Overall, the flavor is not as full-bodied as one might expect. But then, this is not a high-end espresso blend anyway—it costs one third of the price of my beloved Pascucci Golden Sack.

So, is Espresso Magnifico ”magnifico”? Well, not exactly, but it’s definitely not bad, either. In my opinion, it is a reasonably fine grocery store espresso blend, made the Italian way. Quality-wise, it doesn’t seem to be far from classic espressos by companies like Lavazza or Segafredo Zanetti. I actually liked it better than many Scandinavian made ”espresso” blends. For me, it worked well as a dessert coffee after a big and spicy meal.

To be sure, I would prefer a full-bodied Pascucci blend over this, something like Mono Origine GuatemalaCaffè Bio, or (you guessed it!) Golden Sack. But considering the low price, Espresso Magnifico is definitely worth checking out.

Segafredo Zanetti Espresso Casa—the Italian powerhouse

I love Italian coffee. I’ve always had a special affinity for Segafredo Zanetti products. In 2010, as I was just starting to get into coffee, their classic Intermezzo was the first espresso blend I truly fell in love with. Soon after that, I tried their Espresso Casa. I remember liking it a lot, but the huge caffeine kick was the one thing that really stuck in my mind.

Recently, I noticed Espresso Casa was available at my local supermarket. I wanted to find out whether I would still feel the same way about it. I was kind of suspecting that now, after all these years of drinking coffee, it would feel like any regular espresso blend.

Man, was I wrong.

First, it was delicious. Of course, Espresso Casa is not gourmet coffee. But it was really good. The Arabicas were nutty and slightly sweet. The Robustas were earthy and bitter, but not overly so. They were slighlty floral and vanilla-like, but not so much as in, say, Lavazza Crema e Gusto. The whole thing was reminiscent of Intermezzo, but it was not as earthy and dry. It was full flavored, but very creamy and smooth. All the different flavors were in perfect balance.

Man, it was almost as good as my beloved Pascucci Golden Sack.

Secondly, the caffeine. Oh boy, the caffeine. I’d like to think that I have a pretty high tolerance for caffeine. Even then, two moka pots of this after a big breakfast made my head spin like no other blend.

If you want some hair on your chest, this is the deal.

I really like Espresso Casa. In my opinion, it is one of the best Italian espresso blends you can find in your local supermarket. That said, I don’t think I could have it every day. It is just too strong in the caffeine department. But if you need a quick pick-me-up in the morning, or if you want to feel like Marlon Brando, this is the perfect choice.

Top 10 coffees of 2019!

Top10coffees_2019.001

This is my last post for this year: the Black Coffee Journal top 10 coffees of 2019!

During the past year, I finally managed to get better acquainted with some of our local Finnish artisan roasteries. I did get to enjoy at least 74 different coffee blends or single origin coffee products from 9 different countries and 28 companies, but our domestic roasteries swept the board. Their offerings were just so good! That said, two blends from abroad made the ”honorable mentions” section.

Just like last year, all of the products that made my top 10 list were high-end coffees with no detectable added flavoring. This time, however, they were so different from each other that it wouldn’t have been fair to try to compare them with each other. Therefore, instead of ranking the coffees, I decided to organize them into three categories according to the approximate roast level (light, medium and dark) and present them in alphabetical order according to the company name. The resulting list can be best thought of as a pool of fantastic coffees, from which you can pick any product you want and end up enjoying a truly memorable experience.

One last thing before we get to the actual list: I used two different methods to brew these coffees. The ones that were intended for espresso were brewed in my three cup Bialetti Moka. Those that were intended for other brewing methods I prepared in my AeroPress, with one of my favorite inverted methods and a steel filter. Also, I enjoyed all of them straight, with no additives.

So here’s my top 10:

Light

Medium

Dark

Honorable mentions

  • Ogawa Coffee (小川珈琲) Blend 3 Original (the best grocery store coffee, Japan)
  • Pascucci Colombia (the all-around morning blend, Italy)

You could not go wrong with any of these coffees. Also, you would do well to check out any products that these great roasteries provide. They really know their stuff!

Extra special thanks to everyone at Cafetoria Roastery, Kaamos kahvipaahtimo, Kahiwa Coffee Roasters, Kahwe and Turun kahvipaahtimo! Also, many thanks to all of my friends who gave me all kinds of coffees to try!

I’ve already got some fantastic coffees in store for 2020. I can’t wait to tell you about them!

Lucaffé Classic—the quintessential espresso

Oh wow. I’m in love.

I’ve wanted to try Lucaffé blends for a long time. For some reason I never got around to ordering them. Until now.

The first one I got is this: Lucaffé Classic. I seems to me that this is their flagship blend. It’s made of 80% Arabicas and 20% Robusta.

This blend is so great that I’m at a loss for words. But let me at least try.

It’s

  • pungent
  • big
  • bold
  • masculine
  • full flavored
  • smooth
  • a lot of dark chocolate
  • some vanilla
  • cigar-like
  • earthy
  • bitter
  • savory, and yet
  • naturally sweet
  • even some raisins or figs (in the finish).

Lucaffé Classic is the quintessential Italian espresso, just made better than most—oh wait, it’s right up there with my beloved Pascucci blends. If that’s what you like, you’ve got to try this. In Finland, you can get Lucaffé products from the good folks at Crema. Their Helsinki store is great, and also their online service is fantastic. Now, go go go!

Galliano Caffè al gusto di Rhum—a great dessert blend

Are you looking for a good Italian style coffee with some added flavoring? Something that would work well as a dessert coffee after a good meal? I don’t think you could go wrong with Caffè al gusto di Rhum from Galliano.

I found it quite pleasant.

The coffee itself was the same 100% Arabica blend that Galliano uses as a base for their other flavored coffees. Granted, it’s not a mind-blowingly fantastic gourmet coffee blend. But it is sure to satisfy your craving for a cup of good Italian moka. The taste was very ”medium” in every sense of the word: not too dark, not too light, not particularly sweet, but not extremely bitter, either. In my opinion, however, it was more bitter than sweet. I really liked that.

On top of this, the company adds a rum flavoring. I don’t know how they do it, but in the pre-ground coffee (perfect for your moka pot) I could actually see these tiny particles of something else, like microscopically small crystals. I assume that’s where the added flavoring came from.

Now, I’m not exactly a rum expert, so it’s a little hard for me to tell whether this tastes like a quality rum or not. I could tell, however, that the topping was detectable in the bouquet, and all the way to the finish. And yet it definitely acted as an additive, not the main player: at no point did the topping overpower the actual coffee flavor. It had an alcohol-like aroma/flavor, that added a nice high pitch to the midrange tonality of the blend. It was not sweet, really, but it felt like it brought some sweetness to the overall experience, and thus balanced out the natural bitterness of the coffee. Really nice!

I drink coffee because I like the natural flavor of high quality coffee. That’s why I don’t think I would reach for a flavored blend like this very often. But if I wanted to have a good Italian style after dinner coffee, Caffè al gusto di Rhum would definitely fit bill. Recommended!

Galliano Caffè al gusto di Nocciola—try if if you dare!

Caffè al gusto di Nocciola, hazelnut flavored coffee from Galliano.

This was one funny blend.

As I opened the bag, the first thing that came to my mind was a memory from more than 30 years ago. Let me tell you the story.

When I was a kid, my dad was the parish pastor in a tiny countryside village in the archipelago of Southwestern Finland. It was a beautiful village with around 800 inhabitants, many of whom were farmers, fishermen or elderly citizens. My dad knew each and every one of these people personally (he has a brilliant mind), and everyone knew him.

When he was running errands around the village, dad—always the pastor—often decided to stop by some congregants’ houses to ask them how they were doing. Many times, I happened to be with him as he did these ex tempore house calls. Now, many of the villagers lived in those little wooden houses that were built en masse in post-WWII Finland. I always followed my dad as he climbed the crumbling concrete steps to the front door. The second the door was opened, I smelled it: the musty, moldy odor of an old wooden building, dirt from the farmer’s boots.

This was the picture that came back to me every single time I had Caffè al gusto di Nocciola. Yes, I could tell that the coffee itself was (probably) the same 100% Arabica blend Galliano uses in their other flavored products. As I’ve said before, while there is nothing spectacular about the blend, it works well enough. It was the added flavoring, however, that made Caffè al gusto di Nocciola stand out from the other Galliano coffees. The topping was not overpowering (the label tells us it’s only 3% of the ingredients), but it was there in every sip. I honestly tried my best to connect this added flavor to hazelnut, but all I could think of was that musty, old wooden house.

Not very pleasant, in my opinion. Try it, if you dare!

Galliano Caffè al gusto di Cacao—a basic Italian with a twist

I usually don’t like to add anything into my coffee. No milk, no sugar, nothing. I drink coffee because I love coffee. That’s also why I haven’t been a big fan of flavored coffee products.

Last year, however, a friend gave me a bag of vanilla flavored coffee from Galliano. I really liked it. It was not like many of those flavored coffees you can find in the supermarket—you know, low quality coffee, with tons of added flavoring to cover up the actual taste. Caffè al gusto di Vaniglia was all about the classic Italian moka/espresso flavor, with just a little hint of something extra from the vanilla.

So when I recently found some of the other flavored coffees from Galliano, I jumped at the opportunity.

Here’s the first one of them: Caffè al gusto di Cacao. The company doesn’t give any detailed information about the product. They only tell us that it is 100% Arabica with 4% flavoring, pre-ground for macchinetta.

That’s exactly what I smelled as I opened the bag: Arabica. Almost exclusively Arabica. Medium roast. The cocoa was there as well, but it definitely remained in the background. The bouquet was very similar, too: basic Arabica, blended in Italy, with just a tiny hint of cocoa.

The flavor was precisely what I expected: The familiar straight Arabica taste that you get from many Italian grocery store espressos. So nothing spectacular, perhaps, but a perfectly enjoyable all day every day moka flavor. In my opinion, the cocoa wasn’t integrated into the overall flavor profile as well as it could have been, but it worked well enough as an additive. Also, it was definitely cocoa, not chocolate. It didn’t taste like the sweet cocoa that kids like to drink, but more like baking cocoa. Even so, the added flavor wasn’t very deep or dark, but rather light or ”high”.

All in all, I didn’t find Caffè al gusto di Cacao quite as fantastic as its vanilla flavored sibling. But if you want to fill your moka pot with a basic Italian coffee with just a little added cocoa flavoring, give it a try! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Pascucci Caffè Bio—chocolate and cigar leaf

IMG_20190308_082817

One of my good colleagues hooked me up with this: Pascucci Caffè Bio 100% Organic Coffee.

As is customary, there’s no real description of the ingredients on the bag. However, the company website offers the following information: This is a blend of ”Colombia ’Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta’, Ethiopia ’Sidamo’, Guatemala ’Chiquimula’, India ’Wayanad’, Mexico ’Chiapas’, Papua Nuova Guinea, Peru.” They also say this: ”The aromatic acidity of good washed Arabica prevails on everything. It is a primitive coffee, sweet, delicately rough, with a very fresh aroma and a dark aftertaste. It’s composed of natural and washed coffee; the fruity notes of apricot, avocado and green almonds emerge above all.”

OK, if you say so. I, personally, would have described this quite differently. Like this:

The bag aroma seems very similar to many good Italian Arabicas, so there’s nothing particularly remarkable there. When you grind the beans, though, the familiar Pascucci aroma emerges: the sweetness of confectionery and dark chocolate. Very nice!

What about the bouquet? Dark chocolate confectionery, obviously, but also vanilla. Oh yeah, and some nuttiness in the background, too. So maybe that would be interpreted as green almonds? On top of it all, however, there’s definitely a bitter smokiness of cigar leaf.

The flavor profile is very similar to what you sense in the bouquet: It’s sweet and chocolatey. At the same time it’s quite bitter and cigar-like. The vanilla and nuts/almonds stay in the background, but are definitely there from start to finish. Just as the company states, the overall feeling is kind of primitive and ”delicately rough,” but in a good way. This is probably the most delicious ”organic” coffee I’ve had. But apricot or avocado? At least I couldn’t detect them.

In my opinion, Pascucci Caffè Bio is a very good all day every day kind of espresso blend. It probably won’t make your jaw drop, but is guaranteed to work every time you need an honest Italian espresso. You might want to check it out!

Pellini Aroma Oro—simply golden!

img_20190208_1127272147032002.jpg

I’m back home. Finally.

After a couple of weeks of trying to cope with the lower quality blends I reviewed earlier, I just allowed myself to have some real Italian espresso.

The blend in question is this: Pellini Aroma Oro.

Let’s cut to the chase: It’s very good. I like it a lot.

It’s funny, though. Initially, there doesn’t seem to be anything that special to this product. Aroma Oro is a typical Italian espresso blend of 80/20 Arabica/Robusta, roasted medium dark. But on the other hand, that’s where its beauty lies.

When you open the bag, you go: ”Chocolate! Oh, and some vanilla, too! Bitter almonds? Maybe?” Mind you, Aroma Oro is not an ”aromatic” blend: this is plain coffee with no additional topping. Even then, the bag aroma is really chocolatey and, as the name would suggest, ”golden” (”oro”). Absolutely mouthwatering. At the same time, however, the bag note is pretty ”medium,” if that makes sense, and not unlike some other Italian espressos.

In the cup you get the same chocolate/vanilla mix, but there’s also a faint hint of that floral thing you sometimes get from Robusta.

The first sip is sure to surprise you: Aroma Oro is so well balanced and silky smooth that—along with the amazing AK Espresso by Black Rifle Coffee Company—it could be the smoothest espresso blend I’ve ever had. There is no bitterness, harshness or edginess whatsoever. Another remarkable thing has to do with the body: the mouthfeel is a lot lighter than expected. And this is not due to light roasting; as mentioned above, the roast is actually on the darker side. But this lightness is not a negative thing by any means. The blend works extremely well as it is.

Just like the bag aroma, the flavor profile, too, is all about chocolate, then some more chocolate, and a hint of vanilla in the background. Only the flowers and bitter almonds are nowhere to be found. Just delicious.

So, what do you make of all this? Pellini Aroma Oro might not be the most unique or full flavored espresso out there, but it most certainly is a flavorful blend. If I only had the money (it’s not cheap), it would always have a place in my rotation.

Aroma Oro would offer a great change of pace for the experienced espresso man/woman who wants something with a little less oomph. Also, it would be the perfect choice for someone who is just getting into espresso, and is not used to the more potent stuff like, say, Ionia or some Segafredo blends.

I’ll say it again: I like it very much.

In Finland you can get it online, or—as I did—from the friendly folks at Roasberg, Helsinki. Check it out!

Pascucci Colombia—It just works!

 

img_20190116_080712My fourth Pascucci coffee for January is this: Colombia, Mono Origine Roasted Coffee Ground. Filter Coffee.

As the name indicates, this is a pre-ground product intended for filter use. However, the grind size is pretty fine for a filter, not very far from what some other Italian companies offer for Moka. So, while it may not be the orthodox way of brewing this, I decided to go with my trusty Bialetti. Why not? It’s my coffee, anyway. Ha!

But wait, what about the bag note? Oh yes, it’s light, sweet and nutty. At first you think it smells like any Colombian Arabica, but then you notice that confectionery-like extra something, the thing that makes Pascucci products so irresisible. Whatever it is, I love it.

All of this is there in the final product, too, even if the bouquet is a little more robust than expected. Now you can also get a hint of medium dark chocolate.

How does it taste, then? Simply put, not quite as sweet as expected. While the mouthfeel is pretty smooth, the taste is dominated by a bitter nuttiness. You could also describe it as strong and masculine, but in a different way than an Italian espresso. It’s complex, but not overly so. Put it like this: If Colombia were a jazz guitar sound, it would remind me of Wes Montgomery. You know the legendary sound of the big man thumbpicking the heavy gauge strings of his Gibson L-5. The whole tonal spectrum is there, but with an emphasis on the midrange. It’s smooth, yet not refined to perfection like, say, the classic Pat Metheny sound. Instead, there’s an organic rawness to it. And that’s exactly where its beauty lies.

Pascucci Colombia is one of those blends that just works. It may not be the most sophisticated dessert blend, but it would be perfect with your bacon and eggs or whatever you like to have in the morning. Very nice!

In Finland, this and other Pascucci products are available at—you guessed it!—Ciao! Caffé coffee shops. Lately I’ve been frequenting their Trio shop in Lahti more than any other coffee shop. You should do the same!