Not since members of Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds and The Hollies came together has so much been expected from something so new. Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Graham Nash each a superstar in his own right, came together to form a supergroup, redefined music for a generation and spawned countless imitators. Hoffman, Moldvaer and Morrissey like CSN have individual legacies prior to their union under the banner of Square Mile Coffee Roasters. Stehpen Morrissey: buachaill Éireannach, 2008 World Barista Champion. James Hoffman: 2007 World Barista Champion. Anette Moldvaer: 2007 World Cup Tasters Champion. Impressive awards, but they only underline the years of industry experience each member brings to the table. The newly opened webshop offers access to the fruits of this ménage a trois. Will it be a Déjà Vu masterpiece, or a Live It Up debacle? I took delivery of some of the WBC espresso blend to find out.
Reviewing a now sold-out and not to be repeated espresso blend might seem like a fool’s errand, but I hope it might lend insight into what is to be expected from this fledgling company.
This is the blend Stephen used to win the World Barista Championships this year, a simple 50:50 ratio of Rwandan Nyamagabe and Guatemalan El Bosque. At the time of order the blend was being sold until the stock of the component parts was exhausted (this has now come to pass). The packaging accomplishes originality and a sense of design that many roasters overlook. They come sealed in the requisite one way valve bags, and also have tie-clips for use once the bag has been opened. The roast date is stamped on the front, which is great, it’s prominent, it’s important. Square Mile roast to order, so beans going stale on shelves, and the pressure to ship off slightly older beans is removed from the equation. Orders are shipped and roasted (same day) on Mondays and Thursdays. I’d recommend for Irish customers to get the orders in before 12 noon on the Monday to avoid the beans sitting in a post depot over the weekend with a Thursday order. My order took 2 days to deliver, the shipping rates were very reasonable (£7.50 for a 3 bag order), and a delightful selection of stickers, badges, and information was included in the package.
The roast is quite light, maybe surprisingly so for those accustomed to darker roasted espresso beans. Opening the bag reveals quite a sweet aroma with fruity notes aplenty. The dry smell from the ground beans was similar, intensely fruity with lots of high notes. Over about a week I pulled various shots using this blend, with a varied dose of coffee and brew water. In most cases the high fruity notes hit me first; I placed these notes somewhere between apricot and blackcurrant. Then next a malty toasty flavour follows, bringing you down from the high notes to a rounder sweet mid note. This finished with a deeper cocoa powder bass note. I found a 40ml/18g/30s double ristretto to get the balance best for me, lower volumes made the high notes overly intense, while higher volumes muted these notes (of course this may be particular to my machine setup). In milk, the stars of the show – those high berry flavours are hugely diminished. The mid and low notes do carry though, and are very pleasing. The sweet milk and the malty toast flavour seem to combine well particularly, giving the sensation of butterscotch. For me the best of this blend is in the straight up espresso, it will give a good performance in milk, but I’d feel like I was masking some of the defining flavours.
There you have it, a quite interesting blend, but now sadly no longer available. What conclusions can be drawn about the future direction of Square Mile based on this? Certainly I would say the style of this blend places it closer to Norway than Naples. I found it at times a little tricky to get the right brew settings to get the best out of it, but that should not be taken as a criticism. No doubt it would be all too easy to create a forgiving, please-all blend. The WBC Espresso blend though is joyously unforgiving and even the most unbalanced of the shots I pulled were hugely interesting. I wouldn’t necessarily expect the next Square Mile Espresso blend to resemble the WBC blend. The whims, curiosities and moods of the Square Mile crew will be too changeable to be limited to one flavour profile. I do expect the next blend, however, to be fascinating. Perhaps it won’t be to everyone’s taste, and may not be the blend you always want to have in your grinder, but it will probably be one you want to play with, one you want to make 3 or 4 shots of in a row to try to recapture and define that one flavour you can’t quite place.
The history of CSN is fractious. Many factors contributed to the break-ups: the introduction of Neil Young to make it CSNY, David Crosby’s legendary drug use, Stephen Stills’ megalomania. For a time, however, they were untouchable. They were new, fresh, original. Pioneers. In these terms you might say Square Mile are still in the first studio rehearsal sessions, but I expect great things.