Barismo, blog and coffee roaster, is one of the only two importers I’ve found for the Hario “Skerton” hand mill (the other is Brown Coffee Company). I’ve written about this hand grinder before with some excitement and anticipation, but it has been back-ordered since December. When I finally placed my order for one a few weeks ago, I figured I should also order some of Barismo’s coffee.¹
In case you aren’t familiar with Barismo, they are a small, but growing outfit out of Arlington, Massachusetts that offers the possibility to drink coffee directly from their shop, although I believe it’s closed for renovation at the moment, and when it is open, it has somewhat irregular and limited hours. You can also find their coffee at a sizable and growing number of cafes in the Boston area. Much of their roasting expertise was developed under the tutelage of George Howell of Terroir coffee Simon Hsieh (see comments below) although I’d probably most closely associate their style of roasting with bay area local, Ritual. In part because of Barismo’s lighter roasting style which mirror’s Rituals approach, but also because Barismo purchased their lot of Kenya Kiandu (one of of their three coffees) in conjunction with Ritual. Barismo hopes to be getting some new shipments of coffee over the upcoming months.
I was probably most excited to try the Linnaean St. Espresso, partly because I had read the least about it. I was also intrigued and captivated by their excellent and attractive packaging, which includes very simple, pictorial-based origin information as well as detailed brewing instructions. While espresso always takes some dialing in, the starting point provided by these written instructions really helps. Intelligentsia provides similar instructions in the preparation section of their new website and Square Mile Coffee Roasters does something similar, but few other roasters provide such instructions in such obvious and helpful ways.
That said, this espresso doesn’t win any points for user-friendliness. It took my quite a few tries to get the Linnaean to where I was happy with it. The first setback was that my bag listed the ideal brewing temperature as 198, but online the Linnaean is listed at 200. I emailed Jaime at Barismo who explained that my label indicated the preferred settings for the client cafe for which it was bound. His personal preference, listed on the blog, was 200. I apparently liked something closer to Jaime’s preference with the 198 degree shots coming out sour. Beyond that, thought, it seemed like this espresso was simply hard to hit and required frequent tweaking, especially from day to day.
For the few shots, I think I got right, I found that I admired it for its complexity and uniqueness, but wasn’t entirely sold on the vision. I would recommend it to folks because it represents an unusual approach. It’s less a breakfast espresso and more of after dinner drink: I got a slightly viscous shot with some vanilla, currants and a perhaps a bit of cocoa or stout, but the flavor that came through for me most was of a very nice port, full of rich sweet, but tangy, alcoholic grape. I’m assuming this is the Kenyan bean in the blend. It works, but seems to be an acquired taste.
The credibility the Linnaean lost in user-friendliness as espresso, it did somewhat make up in versatility. This coffee is the rare espresso blend that I would recommend brewed. I drank several cups as a French Press which I thoroughly enjoyed. It brewed a medium to full-bodied cup with lots of chocolate and plenty of brightly acidic notes: cranberry, currant with a touch of fruity red wine. I also detected some more mellow sweeter notes like vanilla and cherry.
Overall, I was happy with this coffee, but lamented the difficulty it took to get it to that point. Espresso is a craft and I expect it to take some work, but this much, and I want it knock my socks off. That said, the Barismo team has crafted up something unique an interesting here that deserves some real attention.
¹I hope to write-up the grinder in the future, but my initial impressions are somewhat mixed. It is far more attractive than the multitude of wooden box mills out there, easily washable, doesn’t absorb coffee odors to begin with and it’s ceramic burrs should stay sharp indefinitely. The grinding seems great at the tight end but somewhat irregular at the coarse end due to the wobbling of the burr as described here. French Press is possible, and better than a whirly-blade, but seems to require a finer grind (to get an even one) that I would ideally like. But espresso seems doable, especially with the fine adjustment possible with the small nut under the burr. Of course, there is also the amusement factor of imported products where everything but the name is printed in Japanese.