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coffee@home: Battle of the Brandmeester

brandmeesterespressofrontbrandmeesterespressoback

Beans: Espresso Aficionado (click here for a serviceable translation)
Roaster: Brandmester’s Koffie
Rating: 2+

Through no particular principled decision, Man Seeking Coffee has, until now, remained an entirely domestic endeavor. It’s not that I haven’t consumed my fair share of coffee in other countries. It’s simply that my trips abroad all occurred prior to this blog. It therefore gives me great pleasure to announce Man Seeking Coffee’s first international entry, with the – ahem – possible exception that I didn’t actually leave the country. The closest I have for you so far is this Dutch coffee, consumed domestically, but gifted to me by a friend who went to Amsterdam.

Brandmeesters is a genuine cafe – not one of Amsterdam’s slightly more infamous “coffee shops” – and by all accounts is one of the better places to get an actual cup of coffee in this city. The company has three cafes and their website lists quite a number of places where you can pick up their coffee around the country. It held some real promise as the first-to-this-blog foreign espresso.

Pulling shots of the stuff proved exceedingly difficult, however. My shots kept gushing forth producing only the tiniest traces of crema. I played with my grinder settings, tightening the grind over twice the distance between my typical regular and decaf placements (about 10 notches past my typical espresso starting point on my Mazzer Super Jolly). Even with that, I still couldn’t stall the lever on my espresso machine. This fine of a grind would typically stop the lever cold.

Eventually, I found two settings that seemed to more or less work: a large dose (around 20 grams in a double basket) with the grinder set tight (about 5 stops tighter than my typical espresso starting point) or a smaller dose (around 12 grams in a double basket) ground a couple of notches even tighter. Neither produced much crema and resulted in slightly different drinks (the latter being quite long). Both seemed something a bit closer to the quality promised on CoffeeGeek’s forums, although they far from the ristretto shots those forums also promised.

As stated on Brandmeester’s website, the eventual espresso shots I settled on came out resembling a Northern Italian style: fairly rich and dark – lots of molasses and hints of oak, not too sweet and slightly syrupy. I couldn’t escape a trace of harshness no matter how I pulled the shot. I also couldn’t shake an overly roasty quality when I brewed these beans as a French Press (which didn’t cause any particular brewing conundrums).

While I have a few thoughts as to why this coffee behaved so oddly, I’m mostly at a loss. It certainly wasn’t my equipment or the weather; other espressos continued to work just fine. It’s possible the coffee was old. The bag wasn’t roast dated. But while it probably wasn’t at its peak I’d be surprised if it wasn’t reasonably fresh based on the claims being made on the website.  I suppose it could somehow not simply work well on a lever, but that doesn’t explain the odd behavior. The best I can describe it was as if the beans were simply incapable of absorbing water. If you have a theory, please share. Likewise, I’d love to hear from others who have been to Brandmeester’s in person.

So regardless of the near impenetrable user interface, the resulting shots this coffee produced were not half bad. However, I can’t ignore the difficulty in getting there. Espresso shouldn’t be this hard to brew – even if it is from abroad. I do love a challenge, but sometimes I just want some coffee.

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3 comments to coffee@home: Battle of the Brandmeester

  • I, too, had only had been “chasing beans” domestically until Christmas when we ordered from Square Mile. I would say it only added to the cost of what we usually pay by about $8 USD for five pounds, which is .62 per pound. It was well worth it and the coffee was in the top three that I have ever had.

    I am committed next to by from HasBean in London, as well. From there, I could really see buying some from Klaus Thomsen at the Coffee Collective. http://coffeecollective.blogspot.com

    We shall see

  • I agree. Shipping costs aren’t really that bad. Of course, I’m still hoping to organize a trip to Copenhagen and some other wonderful Scandinavian coffee meccas at some point in the future!

    The big deal for me – being on the west cost – is shipping time. My understanding is that it takes roughly 8 days for me to get a shipment from London. Not sure about these other places. While I think I’m backing off my dogmatism around ultra-ultra-freshness (especially if I’m going to drink it up quickly), it’s still painful to think that for the effort I’d go through that the coffee would be over a week off the roast. That doesn’t give me a lot of time to hit the peak for espresso.

  • I was at the Brandmeester’s Koffie store/café just this week and I agree, the coffee is excellent! However, as you can see in my latest blog entry, don’t go to Amsterdam just to visit their café… There are numerous nice coffee houses to visit in the city though, so as one in the sea of good ones it’s worth it I guess :-)

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