I feel like I’m going to develop a music analogy theme on these bean reviews that I may not be able to dig myself out of. Nonetheless for the purposes of this review it’s all too apt, but I’ll try not to overplay it. Here we go. Was there ever a band or an artist that people kept telling you to listen to, but through a mixture of either lack of effort or preconceived notions you didn’t get around to it? For me that artist was Bruce Springsteen. My impressions of Bruce Springsteen (before I really listened to him) were of a bombastic, catchy songster, occupying the same creative space as say… Garth Brooks. I , like many before me, had fallen into the trap of thinking that his best known song Born in the USA was a vulgar pro-American pop tune (not helped by Ronald Reagan using it in his 1984 campaign). Of course if you listen to the words of Born in the USA it is an indictment of the USA in Vietnam. When it comes to Ristretto coffee in Co Down, people had been suggesting it to me for some time, but I never got around to it. Also a part of me probably thought that this until then unknown (to me) roaster in Northern Ireland probably hadn’t much to offer me. Bruce Springsteen now ranks among my top 5 artists of all time.
I like the gold valve bag. You don’t see gold very often and it looks cool. More to the point, however, is that the
roast date is bang slap on the front and it was roasted to order and shipped on the same day. As of now that is a unique selling point on this island. A £4.95 flat shipping rate to the Republic is nice if you’re going to order a few bags, but for a single bag it’s a bit steep. For me, a 250g bag of beans won’t last long, so I could happily order 4 bags safe in the knowledge they’ll all be devoured within 2 weeks. For others though the shipping cost needs to be weighed up against how long it will take to consume the beans to get that cost vs. freshness balance just right. Of course you could always freeze the beans. The Ristretto website says all the right things for me. Emphasis is placed on freshness, seasonality, organic practices and a mature discussion of ethical trading that doesn’t kowtow to the Fair Trade bandwagon.
My consumption of the 250g bag took less than 36 hours. I was cognisant that they were still very fresh, and maybe a rest of another couple have days may have allowed the flavours to settle. Throwing caution to the wind, however, I started pulling consecutive shots that led to a gluttonous consumption of the bag. The style of the blend is very much traditional Italian. Despite the lack of a robusta component that is common to most Italian blends (Illy being a big exception) the Ristretto blend would sit comfortably in the motherland. Low acidity coupled with big sweetness defines this style. The sweetness is the first thing that hits you, followed by a deeper cocoa type, slightly astringent flavour, fading into peppery tobacco note developing into the aftertaste. The crema was abundant (almost bottomless) and dark, and the body and mouthfeel were thick and syrupy. There’s no filler in this blend, the three components that comprise the mix are all single origin lots from Brazil, Guatemala and India. All three origins contribute to the flavour, and all are allowed make their presence felt without one dominating. At the same time it feels like an album rather than a compilation (there’s that analogy again). In milk the peppery tobacco note really shines through. It could easily be an everyday espresso, delivering a balanced espresso that is at home straight up as it is in milk. I’d favour the shots pulled slightly ristretto, but definitely not lungo.
That this coffee comes out of a small speciality roaster in Banbridge, Co Down is quite remarkable, and speaks to the hidden gems out there in Ireland. It’s actually quite difficult to find criticism with this blend. If I absolutely had to say something negative it would be that there are no particularly bright notes in the blend, no fruit or floral notes. Then again none of the Italian blends I’ve come across go down this route either. It would be like criticising Bruce Springsteen for not being Bob Dylan. Of course I’m not going to stop listening to Bob Dylan either but Bruce has become a regular feature of my playlists.