You see - due to the combination of thanksgiving chaos and work chaos I screwed up recently and didn't backflush my machine for a couple of days. Those who know me have heard endlessly about the importance of a clean machine - and about how I backflush with detergent daily. In this case, however, I didn't have the chance. Sure, I rinsed - but no full clean.
On the third day, I pulled a shot of Ecco espresso and got a very unusual flavour profile. The shot was incredibly chocolate-dominant. I realized that the shot tasted the way home baristas on the internet keep describing "comfort food espresso" tastes. Various folks have described espressos ranging from the Four Barrel to Stumptown to even Ecco in this manner. I never really got this profile and assumed that it was either due to different prep or just the subjectivity of taste.
Home baristas also seem to clean their machines rarely.
Hmm... I wondered... could there be a causal relationship here?
So I've been experimenting with a dirty machine. And the results are very interesting.
First of all, almost all the espressos I've tasted end up tasting similar. They mostly turn into chocolate dominant shots with very little clarity or separation of flavours. Fruit notes are preserved although often translated into darker (or dried) versions of the same flavour.
Secondly, while I think that in milk drinks this profile is often very nice - I feel like the uniqueness of the espressos is lost (the coffee is "dumbed down" in a sense). I could see how someone coming from a coffee background that is based on roast flavours might like this.
Third, the results are pretty much universal for blends. For single origin shots, however, the results seem to be more positive with some regions (Brazil and Ethiopia for example) and far less positive with others (in particular with more delicate central american coffees).
Finally, this seems to work best with lighter roasted coffees. Darker roasted coffees seem to "foul" the machine more quickly - yielding shots that taste dirty and "fish oil" nasty.
I think this is a good example of needing a similar context and perspective in order to share opinions. I know understand why a lot of home baristas describe some coffees the way they do. I understand why most home baristas feel cleaning daily is a waste of time. I even understand (a bit better) why some coffees are so prized by home baristas.
Personally, I'm glad to have the experiment over. I'm looking forward to a nice, transparent and clean coffee tomorrow.