HomeRoast Digest

Topic: Bitter espresso (61 msgs / 1133 lines)
1) From: Paul Goelz
OK folks,
I have been pretty happy with my espresso until now....  I almost always
drink it in steamed milk with some Hersey's syrup, and that tends to mask
the basic espresso.  But I have been paying more attention lately to the
actual espresso taste, and I find that it is a lot more bitter than I like.  
I am currently using some Sulawese that I accidentally roasted a bit too
far, but the bitterness is there in other beans I have tried.  
I'm using the Estro Vapore, and my usual brew method is to steam the milk
first, then do the espresso.  I try to leave the portafilter on the group
for a while to heat it up, and I let the pressure build up for a few
seconds before opening the portafilter.  I'm grinding with a Gaggia burr
grinder, and the grounds are pretty fine.  I get decent crema... it's just
Paul Goelz
Rochester Hills, MI
pgoelz at eaglequest dot com
Videoastronomy, model helicopter and music (UnFest) web site:http://www.eaglequest.com/~pgoelz

2) From: Prabhakar Ragde
Try Tom's Espresso Monkey, roasted just into second crack. If that
tastes bitter to you, then you need to realize that espresso is an
acquired taste, and you either need to learn to love that flavour or
use another preparation method. Bitterness can be caused by
overextraction (is your shot taking more than 25 seconds including
preinfusion time?), but some is always present. --PR

3) From: Paul Goelz
At 12:14 PM 10/30/00 -0500, you wrote:
I've got some Monkey Blend.  Tried it and had the same bitter taste.  This
is considerably more bitter than what I have tasted at other commercial
I'll go back and roast some more Monkey Blend and try it about 1/3 of the
way through the extraction to see if I am over-extracting it.  It takes
about 15-20 seconds for a shot.  
One thing I am not sure of is the brew temperature.  With the ready light
on, I start the pump and about the time the shot starts exiting the
portafilter, the ready light goes out.  But then bitterness would be caused
by too hot, not too cold??
Tonight I'll try a shot after leaving everything on for a half hour, with
the portafilter on the group head, and see how it tastes.  
Paul Goelz
Rochester Hills, MI
pgoelz at eaglequest dot com
Videoastronomy, model helicopter and music (UnFest) web site:http://www.eaglequest.com/~pgoelz

4) From: Michael Vanecek
You may be over-extracting the espresso. Try shorter pulls and see how
that works.
Paul Goelz wrote:

5) From: Prabhakar Ragde
Not necessarily -- the thin stuff I get when the shot goes too quickly
also tastes bitter to me. Think of espresso as extracting all the
desired elements in balance. If you throw off that balance it won't
taste as good.
Do you pass hot water through the portafilter before packing it with
grounds? You can use that water to heat the cup, just remember to dump
it out before the shot is pulled! --PR

6) From: Paul Goelz
At 01:41 PM 10/30/00 -0600, you wrote:
Yeah, that's what I thought too.  But I tasted some of the first portion of
the pull and it was just as bitter.  
I know it's me, just have to figure out why!
Paul Goelz
Rochester Hills, MI
pgoelz at eaglequest dot com
Videoastronomy, model helicopter and music (UnFest) web site:http://www.eaglequest.com/~pgoelz

7) From: Michael Allen Smith
I don't know how similiar your machine is to Starbucks Barista.  Below is a
link to an almost finished article that walks through a brewing cycle.http://ineedcoffee.com/content/2000/11/barista.aspIt sounds like your not priming the pump.

8) From: Paul Goelz
At 01:19 PM 10/30/00 -0800, you wrote:
That could be.  I'll try "priming" tonight and see what happens.  
My machine appears to be essentially identical to the SB Barista.... and
was sold by Starbucks back three or four years ago.  
Remember, my machine has the pressurized portafilter..... I'm wondering if
the same rules for tamping and shot timing apply.  
Paul Goelz
Rochester Hills, MI
pgoelz at eaglequest dot com
Videoastronomy, model helicopter and music (UnFest) web site:http://www.eaglequest.com/~pgoelz

9) From: Michael Vanecek
For safety sake, be very careful when you pull the porta off after
running a clear shot to be sure you don't get sprayed with hot
water/steam. Scalded hands don't hold the espresso cup very well... :)
Espresso has to be one of the most complex ways of preparing coffee. You
just have so many variables. Amount of coffee, grind level of coffee,
pressure of tamp, pre-heating the porta, priming the pump, duration of
draw, pre-heated cups, etc - sheesh, going through a pre-flight
checklist is easier. With that in mind, be prepared to pull a lot of mud
before getting those perfect shots. Always test the espresso black with
nothing added. When you get it tasting perfect black, then rest assured
that the additives like foam/milk/chocolate will be for enhancement.
Many places try to use the foam/milk/chocolate/syrups to hide a bad
espresso and it generally tastes that way. 
Paul Goelz wrote:

10) From: Robert Kirkland
Paul, sorry if someone has posted this, when was the last time that you ran
a espresso machine descaler through the machine?  Milk based espresso drinks
can hide the fact a machine needs to be descaled.
I talked with Saeco (the maker of the Rio Vapore/Barista) awhile back and
you could still order the regular portafilter for a few dollars.  Saeco
designed the portafilter that orginally comes with the Vapore to compensate
for a wide variety of tamping pressures.  The tech that I spoke with said
that only a light tamp was required.  Its a great machine, but quite hard to
pull those 25-30 second pours that everyone talks about.
Robert Kirkland

11) From: Mike Liu
Paul Goelz wrote:
Here is my experience,
I roasted (Sumatra Blue Lintong Grade 1, Sulawesi Toraja Rantapao 
(Monsooned) quite long time ago, for around 10 minutes just hit 2nd 
I drink espresso streightly from both roasting without milk but the 
brewing temperature is as low as 91C (196F). It was a balance of acidity 
& bitterness. Not strong to either side. I find if the temperature is 
higher, more bitter.
Yes, my Rancilio is heavily modified for the brewing water temperature.
Hope this help.
Mike Liu - Taiwan

12) From: Spencer W. Thomas
Try making an "Americano" with your shot.  Add twice the espresso volume of hot
water to the shot. This will dilute the coffee back down to the "normal" brewed
coffee strength.  If it's then not too bitter, the "problem" with the espresso
is just that it is more concentrated, and thus more bitter per swallow.

13) From: Paul Goelz
At 08:53 PM 10/30/00 -0600, you wrote:
It's been a very long time.  What is the current recommended descaler?
I don't tamp at all.  I didn't think you needed to with the valved
portafilter.  I do have a tamper, though....
BTW, I tried preheating and priming and it helped.... but still a bit
Paul Goelz
Rochester Hills, MI
pgoelz at eaglequest dot com
Videoastronomy, model helicopter and music (UnFest) web site:http://www.eaglequest.com/~pgoelz

14) From: Dog Lovers
We just made some espresso coffee that came out bitter.  What could cause
this?  We thought it might be either we had ground the beans too fine or
should have brewed on minimum rather than maximum.  The coffee was a whole
bean Aged Mocha Java roasted on 11/1/01 and had been stored in the freezer
in its plastic lined bag.  Any ideas?
B&S Beans
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15) From: Steve
No matter what method you try you will never get the same flavor as fresh,
especially anything stored that long. Glass jars with vacuum seal are better
than plastic but anything frozen is going to have a different flavor.

16) From: Isabel1130
Yea, several of of them.  Too loose a pack, too coarse a grind.  Too low a 
water temperature.  Too long a pour,  using a single portafiller basket 
rather than a double. Too little coffee in the basket.  Having an espresso 
machine that won't hold temperature or does not have sufficient pressure or 
hasn't been pre heated properly.  Any one of these things or all of them can 
cause bitter espresso.  Espresso will be bitter unless the shot is a very 
good one.  It can take months to learn how to do consistant shots even with a 
very good machine.   Isabel
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17) From: john
Amen Isabel!  Even if the equipment is perfect and the grind is correct many of us (I'm their leader) still produce a shot now and then that will cross your eyes.  It happens most often to me when the dose is wrong.  I spit it out, go brush my teeth and then really pay attention.
John - now going to go pull a shot
On Fri, 08 February 2002, Isabel1130 wrote:
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18) From: Steven Dover

19) From: jim schulman
On 8 Feb 2002 at 11:03, Dog Lovers wrote:
Hunting the bitterness:
It's either the coffee, the machine, or your technique:
Coffee: try it brewed by some other method
Machine: the culprit here is mostly stale coffee oils - try pulling a 
"shot" with everything in place except coffee. If there's any strange or 
foul taste, clean and descale your machine and portafilter.
If you're using a manual machine: Is there crema? Is it a 25 to 30 
second 1 oz (single) or 2 oz (double) shot? If not, something's out of 
whack. If yes, but it's still bitter; try a "ristretto" pull. That's about 2/3 
the volume with a slightly finer grind so it comes in at 30 to 35 
seconds. Ristretto shots are generally sweeter and less bitter than 
regular shots.
If you're using a super-auto: you're on your own.
Happy hunting,
Jim Schulman 
all shots now guaranteed 100% HTML free
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20) From: Jim Friedlander
I remember a funny quote I read once about coffee; when asked if
freezing coffee was a good idea to preserve freshness, the response was
(something to the effect of): "By freezing coffee, all you end up with
is stale coffee that is very cold." :)

21) From: David Jewett
I think *months* is little exaggeration. The tough part is figuring out that 
you need a good grinder and finding the correct information in order to get 
a decent shot, assuming that you have a good machine. It took me about a 
week of work, once I got my grinder, to get decently consistent. But even 
with my Pavoni and being careful, there is the odd shot that goes down the 
drain. For my wife, who drinks cappucino only, every shot is wonderful!
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22) From: Isabel1130
The reason that I say months is that for me the learning curve on making 
espresso has not been a stright line.  I thought I was getting pretty good 
shots after a few weeks of owning my espresso machine.  My Mazzer Mini came 
and things got better.  Then I got into home roasting and the coffee got 
better yet. I started experiementing with different beans and roasts and the 
coffee go mostly better. After that I started learning the quirks of my 
machine and how to correct for them so that I got fewer bad shots. At some 
point after that I learned that 6 day old roasts require a finer grind than 
two day old roasts.   I had a period when I had trouble getting a good shot 
with a new bean and had to make a few more adjustments.  It has been two 
years now of never ending tweaking and adjusting.   An art more than a 
science.  :-)  Isabel
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23) From: John - wandering Texas
I have to stand with Isabel on this one.  I've been "refining" my process
for years. And, like Isabel, every change in the system from bean to roast
and grind puts me back a couple of squares. The recovery tweak is much
faster now because I realize the problem faster and generally one or two
tweaks and I'm fine again. I'm sure that when my wife breaks down and lets
me get the piston machine I really want, that it will take a couple of weeks
to settle into it too. It would be a bit arrogant of me to claim that I now
could guarantee a perfect shot every time.
John - wondering how you can leave beans for six days :O)

24) From: Isabel1130
In a message dated 02/09/2002 8:58:53 AM Mountain Standard Time, 
john writes:
<< John - wondering how you can leave beans for six days :O) >>
John to answer that, you roast your coffee on Wednesday.  On Thursday you 
take your kid to a tennis tournament in Vegas or Denver for four days.  
Monday you drive home and Tuesday morning a six day old roast looks pretty 
good considering what you had to drink on the road.....:-)
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25) From: DeCambre.Peter
I will be out of the office starting  11/26/2002 and will not return
until 12/02/2002.
I will respond to your message when I return.
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26) From: John Abbott
Paul, IM-CSA-O it can and does make a big bad drink.  But I'd be more
concerned about the cold than the hot - not that far out of range - but the
cold is.

27) From: Paul Goelz
OK, I did some tests on my Estro Vapore.  As soon as the ready light comes 
on, the water temperature as it exits the shower head is 99 degrees C 
(210F).  As the shot progresses, the temperature falls to about 80 degrees 
C (176F) after maybe 15 seconds.
I tried the temperature surfing technique and I think I got a slightly less 
bitter shot but still nothing like Starbucks.  Any chance that bitterness 
can be caused by water that it too hot AND too cold?
Paul Goelz
Rochester Hills, MI
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28) From: Dan Bollinger
I agree with John, it sounds like it is cold at the end of the pour.  Is
this a double shot?  If so, try a single shot. It will use less water and
maybe not get so cold at the end. See if the taste improves. If it does you
have found your culprit. Dan
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29) From: Paul Goelz
At 09:32 PM 3/4/03, you wrote:
Thanks guys.  I'll keep at it and report back.
Paul Goelz
Rochester Hills, MI
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30) From: David Lewis
At 9:14 PM -0500 3/4/03, Paul Goelz wrote:
As a general rule, too high a temperature will produce a bitter shot, 
too low a sour one. It's also true that some blends are more finicky 
about this than others. Tom's Classic Italian Espresso Blend is 
fairly tolerant, as I recall; you might try some of that. 99° C is 
going to extract some bitterness, but it depends on how much of that 
hits the puck. If it's down to 95° by the time it's raised the puck 
temperature, you'll still be OK.
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31) From: Oaxaca Charlie
 I hope you figure it out, Paul. I'm still shocked that you know
of a Starbucks with good espresso. There aren't any SB's around
here, but when traveling I've checked out a number of them, and
it's nasty bitter espresso every time. Some worse than others,
but all very bitter.
--- Paul Goelz  wrote:
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32) From: Paul Goelz
At 12:33 AM 3/5/03, you wrote:
And I have had pretty bad espresso from some at places like airports.  But 
dang it, the two I patronize around the Rochester Hills MI area have 
pungent non-bitter espresso..... reliably.  Makes me mad!
Oh, and they also have hands down the best molasses cookies in the world.
Paul Goelz
Rochester Hills, MI
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33) From: Steven Dover

34) From: Prabhakar Ragde
The only good espresso I've ever had at a Starbucks was in the
Vancouver airport kiosk, international departures, in March 1998. It
was served to me by one of two women baristas (they looked Hispanic to
me) working really hard, because there was quite a lineup. I stood and
watched them for a while: not a wasted motion, and the occasional shot
dumped when a timer ran out and they hadn't gotten to it. It
underlined to me how much difference individual effort can make, even
with commercial machines and a standardized roast. --PR
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35) From: Isabel1130
In a message dated 3/4/03 7:34:38 PM Mountain Standard Time, 
danbollinger writes:
I kind of agree with both of them.  It is not necessarily the temp of the 
water at the end of the pour, it is the volume of water that has gone through 
the coffee ( and at what temp)  I would not recommend trying a single shot.  
It is so hard to get consistant results with that small amount of coffee.  
What I woulld recomment is that with the double portafiler you not try and 
get more than an ounce and a half or espresso and the pour should be slow 
enough that getting that amount should take 30 to 45 seconds.  I would also 
recommend that you try a technique that works with the Silvia.  Make sure 
that your drop in temp at the the group head is not being caused by you 
starting with a partially filled boiler at the beginning of the shot.  A good 
way to prevent that is to run water through the machine without the 
portifiller until the the temp light comes on.  Then, wait for the temp light 
to go off before immediately pulling the shot. (I can recognize by the sounds 
of the Silvia when I am starting with a partially filled boiler) Watch for 
the shot going light in color towards the end of the pour.  The light colored 
coffee will generally be very bitter.  Hope these tips help a little.  Isabel

36) From: Brett Mason
I am working to pull better shots...  My espresso's are bitter - not
as bitter as the local coffee shop, but bitter still.  Am I doomed to
never love espresso, or are there some things I ought to be
considering and steps to try to improve this sad situation?
Brett Mason
   _(( )_  Please don't spill the coffee!

37) From: Edward Spiegel
At 7:13 PM -0800 3/01/05, Brett Mason wrote:
I would suggesting finding somewhere that pulls a great shot -- according to someone that is an afficionado -- and having a shot there. That way, you can find out if it is a matter of what you like (some people just don't like the taste of espresso -- I know some people that love coffee but don't love espresso) or a matter of your shot-pulling technique or of the coffee that you are using.
Just my .02,

38) From: AlChemist John
No, you are not doomed.  Gives us more - machine, grinder, coffee, roast 
level, shot appearance...
Sometime around 19:13 3/1/2005, Brett Mason typed:
John Nanci 
AlChemist at large
Zen Roasting , Blending & Espresso pulling by Gestalthttp://www.dreamsandbones.net/blog/http://www.chocolatealchemy.com/

39) From: Les
John is right.  The first time he came to my house it was courage that
brought him to try espresso, now he pulls nice sweet shots with the
best of them.  We are here to help Brett.  Alchemist was pulling some
very sweet shots out of his Delonghi!  So, any machine can do a great
shot as long as you know its limitations and is working right.
That is my opinion.
On Wed, 02 Mar 2005 06:19:48 -0800, AlChemist John  wrote:

40) From: Brett Mason
Starbucks Barista
Zassenhaus Knee Mill, .25 turn open
Guatemala Antigua, City+ roast
Pulled a single, 25 second shot
some crema....
On Wed, 2 Mar 2005 08:35:15 -0800, Les  wrote:
Brett Mason
   _(( )_  Please don't spill the coffee!

41) From: Jeff Oien
Yow. Make sure it's bitter and not sour that you're tasting.
That's a very light roast for a single origin Guatemala for
Brett Mason wrote:

42) From: miKe mcKoffee

43) From: Brett Mason
Thanks Jeff & Mike, I will do so...
  "Loved by some on the Homeroast List"
On Wed, 2 Mar 2005 09:21:28 -0800, miKe mcKoffee  wrote:

44) From: miKe mcKoffee

45) From: Les
I ditto Mike and Jeff, but stay away from the Amber blend and go with
one of the others.  The Amber has a learning curve to it too. 
Personally, I have found the Monkey blend to be a very forgiving
blend.  I would also recommend a slightly coarser grind and heavier
tamp.  Make sure you let it rest 2-3 days too.
On Wed, 2 Mar 2005 09:25:38 -0800, Brett Mason  wrote:

46) From: Edward Spiegel
At 9:05 AM -0800 3/02/05, Brett Mason wrote:
What was the volume of the shot?

47) From: AlChemist John
Sometime around 09:05 3/2/2005, Brett Mason typed:
OK, these should/can work
Looks like I may have to bow out - I can't abide Guatemalans, so do not 
know the flavor - that could be it.  Just a single origin flavor profile.
Maybe look at getting Tom's Monkey blend as a "known" and dial in from there.
Again, sounds ok.
John Nanci 
AlChemist at large
Zen Roasting , Blending & Espresso pulling by Gestalthttp://www.dreamsandbones.net/blog/http://www.chocolatealchemy.com/

48) From: Brett Mason
Consensus indicates start at the coffee - so I will.  Thank you all
for your help!
I will try some other beans then...  Gotta check the account, then
I'll be vdriving my Dell to Tom's to vpickup some Monkey Blend...
 Loved by some on the list!
On Thu, 03 Mar 2005 06:05:54 -0800, AlChemist John  wrote:
Brett Mason
   _(( )_  Please don't spill the coffee!

49) From: Jerry Procopio
For almost a year now, since getting my RK Drum, I have been selling 
small quantities of homeroasted coffee to neighbors, friends and 
acquaintances.  I could probably do some marketing and make some real 
$$$ with this, but then I would have to deal with business license 
issues, health inspections, insurance coverage, and legal issues, all of 
which I am ignoring now with my 15 - 20 pounds a month of coffee sales. 
  I choose to keep my operation small and am happy with my current sales 
at $9 a pound but I'm always happy to gain a new "customer" and share 
some of this coffee adventure that all of us on this list seem to enjoy.
Now I have a bit of a dilemma.  They say that word of mouth is the best 
advertising --- but what do you do when someone asks for something 
lousy?  I just got an e-mail from a neighbor asking for two pounds of my 
"special blend" and telling me that he has a friend that wants "a strong 
dark roast espresso that has a bitter taste to it".  Jeez - I don't have 
a clue where to start.  I rarely roast anything beyond FC (on purpose) 
but can certainly roast something to Vienna for him.  But I was under 
the impression that the bitter taste in espresso came from improper 
temperature and/or extraction.  Am I wrong?  Any suggestions what might 
be bold enough to get his attention?  (He's NOT getting any of my Harar 
Lot 30).
RK Drum roasting in Chesapeake, VA

50) From: Ed Needham
He's probably confusing 'bitter' with strong.
Make a good, qualith, well roasted espresso blend and he'll be a customer 
Ed Needham®
"to absurdity and beyond!"
ed at homeroaster dot com
(include [FRIEND] in subject line to get through my SPAM filters)

51) From: raymanowen
Your friend has been taught that he has to want "a strong dark roast
espresso that has a bitter taste to it."
He has learned that much- teach him that a proper espresso brew has no use
for syrups, sugar and cream. Horror Roasters NEED all that stuff to blot ou=
their errors.
I agree with Ed.
Cheers -RayO, aka Opa!
"When the theme hits the bass, I dance the Jig!" - -Virgil Fox at the Might=
Wichita WurliTzer- 1976

52) From: b cook
Just roast the beans.  The bitter is up to him!!  If he's a truly skilled
barista then making it bitter should be no problem.  ;)

53) From: Bigskullhead1
Java Jerry. What types of coffees do you sell? I may be interested.  contact: 
 _bigskullhead1 (mailto:bigskullhead1)   Thanks. John B

54) From: Peter Zulkowski
Hi Jerry,
First, if he wants terrible coffee, do not buy any from SM :)
I have a customer who likes supermarket gourmet blend coffee, and Tom's 
coffee is just too good to try to duplicate THAT. (Except for the UGH!)
My advice: Just keep a stash in a separate area (you do not want to get 
the bad stuff near the SM stuff) that you will save for true hold outs 
that really love F**S etc.
Most of that has lots of UGH in it anyway (robusta).
Second, remember the customer is always right.
Not their fault, but folks have been trained to purchase the cheapest 
canned stuff they can get, and enjoy it.
(Ever see the 2# can go on sale for $1.79?)
Take too big a jump toward something decent and they balk.
If you want, try mixing in good coffee with that special blend over 
time, like say a year or more, and see if you can wean them from the  bad.
Good luck!
Jerry Procopio wrote:

55) From: Heat + Beans --all the rest is commentary
Ask a few questions, invest a little time, and develop a new customer.
First, is the customer actually going to pull espresso shots (and what kind
and brand of machine)?  Or is "dark roast espresso" simply a synonym for
very dark roast that will be plopped into Mr Coffee?
Second, how is the customer grinding?  Do you routinely suggest appropriate
grinders for your premium coffee?
Regarding advice that you only provide crappy coffee to such a philistine,
nonsense. Unless this is all about maximizing profit, in which case,
geddoutahere.  :o)
Once you know something about the customer's brewing and grinding, prepare =
few "taste packs."   Assuming that the customer is local, you grind a coupl=
of ounces each of what you think is optimal and a few steps darker.  Offer
these and place the customer in the position of being the expert.
My 2 cts.
Heat + Beans
    all the rest is commentary

56) From: Jerry Procopio
If it is on Sweet Maria's Green Coffee Offering page, I can get it (if I 
don't already have it) and roast it for you.  Sweet Maria's also does a 
Roastmaster's Choice offering each week.  See http://www.sweetmarias.com/prod.roasted.htmlfor details.
Java Jerry
RK Drum roasting in Chesapeake, VA
Bigskullhead1 wrote:

57) From: M. McCandless
Maybe 10% of not-so-dark roasted Kenya.
At 01:10 AM 5/23/2006 -0400, you wrote:

58) From: Michael Dhabolt
I have a friend who explained his wants to me the same way - -
'Bitter'.  I've been roasting for him about a year now, and I've come
to the conclusion that what he meant was any taste that would cut
through the milk.  I've got him to the point of drinking less than
vienna roasts finally, and he thanks me evey time I see him.
Mike (just plain)

59) From: Jim Mitchell

60) From: Jerry Procopio
Thanks to everyone that responded.  Here's what I did.  I made a one
half pound blend of:
      50% Sweet Maria's French Roast Blend
      20% Uganda Robusta Esco Farms 18+ Screen
      30% Guatemala Antigua
I blended prior to roasting, then roasted a full minute into 2nd crack 
with a resulting FC++.  The beans are dark yet not oily.
I gave this to my neighbor (I've never met nor spoken to the guy that
wants the coffee) and told him if the guy likes it, then he owes me $5,
if he doesn't like it, there are three Starbucks within 2 miles of here. 
  Actually, I was sorry that I didn't keep any for myself.  I started
out with 10 ounces of greens and ended up with 8.1 ounces roasted so it
all went into the bag.  Ten minutes after cooling, the roasted beans
smelled really, really good.
Jerry Procopio wrote:

61) From: Les
I think you may have hit on the key for these folks and that is the
20% Robusta that you added to the blend.  I have found that people who
"like" store coffee or bitter coffee it is due to the fact they are
drinking mostly Robusta that has an edge to it.
On 5/24/06, Jerry Procopio  wrote:
ribes) go tohttp://sweetmarias.com/maillistinfo.html#personalsettings<Snip>

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