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Tasting coffee on the La Marzocco GS3
Tasting coffee on the La Marzocco GS3
Posted November 30, 2005 1:10pm
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I've had the La Marzocco GS3 for a couple of weeks now (read the previous update), and it's time to get some tasting notes out the door.

Coffees used.

Black Cat, Intelligentsia
Kid-o, Intelligentsia
Palamino, JJ Bean
Hairbender, Stumptown
Paladino, Zoka Coffee
Streamline, Victrola Coffee

And a few others (including two coffees that I found damned near impossible to get great shots with on other machines).

Parameters and Circumstance
These were all seriously casual tastings. No real notes save for a roundup at the end of my testing sessions. Most done by myself. No blindness involved. I had several goals

  • see if I could screw up a shot pull on the sly - ie, do almost everything right but underdose, overdose, pull too cold, pull too hot, pull into cold porcelain, no flush, flush, yada.
  • see if I could get the proverbial god shot from each blend.
  • check repeatability of shots when I keep my barista'in really tight but go real fast.
  • see if I could find flavours I've not experienced previously in these blends.

My game plan was basically to find out if the machine could deliver the best shot I've ever had, but also stand up to real casual, automaton barista skills. I also wanted to find out how coffees were over a range of temperatures. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough of each sample to really test it out, and I was only doing 2 coffees a day - that's a hella lot of caffeine intake. Aftertaste is a vital component to me - I rarely spit lol!

So, my day end roundups (nb - I wrote these at the end of each testing session, with some additional comments added today).

Black Cat and Kid-O, Intelly.
Black Cat's been pouring very good all summer long, and seems to have gotten some what muted this fall. I've spoken to Doug about this already. Pulling it on the GS3 shows that it has legs - right down to 197F, the shots were only showing tinges of sourness. At 206F, it was evidencing the dark outer ring in the cup and had bitters in nose, taste and after taste. In between, it was pulling very good, evidencing the caramel chocolate that BC is supposed to have when it's on. I just wasn't able to get it to god shot status. Doug has told me that the blend, constantly being finessed, is showing better in the roast batches from last week and this week (mine was from two weeks ago). If anything, BC is much more crystalline "clear" in flavours off the GS3, though somewhat muted as compared to how it was on my Linea earlier this summer. Screwing up shots slightly (underdosing, overdosing) seemed to not show up in the cup much (it's relative - less so than other machines).

Kid-O - I've been having great luck with Kid-O all this year. On the GS3, it is absolutely shining, and probably top 3 out of this test group. Going for the god shot was easy enough, though I didn't totally get there yet - but I was just amazed at how clean individualized flavours jumped out over the course of a shot - initial taste and scent of black currant - then a nice wave over the tongue that was like a cream pie, finished off by a very creamy aftertaste and again hints of some blackcurrant or another similar fruit. Aftertaste was a phenom! Kid-O did show less "range" than Black Cat though - it seemed to like about 201F the most, and got bitter only a few degrees above, and definitely sour notes anything below 197F. Ran out before I could really test this one.

Verdict - the GS3 was really highlighting notes in both coffees. Black Cat's been somewhat muted the last month or two on a variety of machines, but less son on the GS3.

Palamino, JJ Bean and Hairbender, Stumptown.
Palamino's being morphed over at JJ Bean - they had this killah Panama as part of the blend and it made it shine, but they ran out of that, so they've been foolin' and toolin'. I had an amazing shot of it at JJ (by Angie), so that was my baseline. It's a tempermental blend, doesn't like a lot of variance in the brew temps. I found 202F to be giving me the best luck with it, and I pulled a shot that gave me... what's that orange-chocolate confectionary - the one you slam on the counter? At its best, I was getting that on the GS3 - but got pale shades of it when Angie was pulling it at the shop. Again, it was like the flavour notes were amplified. I also got a very interesting finish on the GS3 that was somewhat different from the shop-shot. I'm struggling for words - best say it was a developing aftertaste that was very pleasant. Just for kicks, I pulled shots on a Rancilio Silvia that I temperature surf... and got a very plain espresso - pleasant, nice tongue feel, but none of the flavour amplifications the GS3 gave me.

Hairbender... ahh Stumptown. Love it when it's "on", disappointed when its not. It is a tricky blend to pull on many machines I've used, including the Linea. It seems to have a drastic downslide around day 8 or 9 off roast too. Would this be the same on the GS3? I pulled shots when it was 7 and 9 days old. Day 9 was me trying to do everything perfect. Day 7 was toolin' and fooling. On both days, I did taste kind of a 74% chocolate (more bitter than sweet), but here's the cool thing - I could distinguish a different kind of sweetness from the blend that seemed separate from the chocolate. I want to say honey but it was more like maple tree sap (the liquid that eventually becomes maple syrup). Finish was a muted acidity, kind of like a crystal pear. All of these flavours came out on the GS3. On the Silvia (set up for the day), I got some bitter chocolate and a mild acidity in the aftertaste, but no specific tastes I could identify - and three (of the five) shots on the Silvia were not pleasant. I found Hairbender was fine between 200F up to 204 or 205F. Day 9 - yeah, the coffee is dying, but still drinkable. Didn't pull comparison shots on another machine.

Paladino, Zoka
I had lots to play with including competition and show blends. The competition blend was kind of dead (past roast) when I was pulling shots with it, but it seemed some of the flavours I got to taste from Jen Prince's winning round in the finals were still coming through. I almost got a sense that the GS3 was doing its damnedest to make this blend still shine, but it was one of the lowest "scoring" blends during these tastings. Looking over these notes now, I think having extremely stable temps through the entire brew is what made this shot drinkable.

The show blend was younger, and still showing life. My comparison was a shot that Chris Davidson pulled me at the show - my best espresso shot of the weekend at the show (or competition for that matter). My best attempts equaled the shot Chris gave me. (notes: strawberry-white chocolate middle, light body, not much mouthfeel compared to others, finish was a bit ashy but had a acidic twinge that got better as it dragged on (and the ash went away)). I did find however that out of all the coffees tested, this one had difficulty whenever I tossed a curve its way (underdosing, low temps, cold cup). Sour and a lack of body were dominant. The GS3 struggled a bit.

(caveat - I pulled this coffee the day I got back from Seattle on the Vibiemme Domobar super, and it was doing very well).

Streamline - Victrola.
Ahh, the star of the GS3. I'd say I had a string of pulling four "god shot caliber" shots one after the other at one point. I'd almost call it savoury. My comparison shots were pulled at Victrola (by me woot!) on a Synesso. I'd say the GS3 equalled and probably surpassed the Synesso in consistently great shots. For such a complex blend (many, many components), it was shining at a variety of temperatures and volumes poured.

I also pulled shots on the Silvia. Stuff that was eyepopping on the GS3 were barely visible on the Silvia. It's a real eye opener to see just how much the GS3 is amplifying and individualizing certain flavours. I am more and more convinced that the extremely stable temperature curve through a shot, plus the rotary, plus the saturated grouphead, plus gawd knows what else are contributing to this. I'll say this - it was darned near impossible to pull a bad shot of Streamline with the GS3.

(tasting notes: very multilayered espresso - what I love in espresso. Starts off with molasses-caramel wine taste - hard to describe with words that's the best way I can - it's like a port almost. Nose is very winelike with some hint of a spices. Very meaty on the tongue - luscious. Finish is an amazing linger of spices and almost a merlot style wine.)

Conclusion.
Wow, this reads more like a tasting report than a report on how the La Marzocco GS3 pulls shots.

I'm coming away with a brand new respect for how extremely tight temperature controls contribute to an amazing shot of espresso. The GS3's curve through a shot looks to be less than 0.5F on my calibrated fluke testing (I don't have a Scace device) - Chris reported a 0.3F or less variance. Rock solid pressure from the rotary pump is a factor I'm sure, as is a well designed hybrid grouphead. I believe on shot quality, this is the ultimate factor on this machine. The preheater, the big brew boiler, the other things lead to great back to back shot ability. The coffees tested for this report were, for the most part, tasting the best they ever have, or the best they've ever tasted currently. This machine's got the goods.

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