- 1: I am devoting this number to a new blend from Lavazza, introduced only this year, 2015, partly because the blend is interesting in itself, but also because it illustrates some of the points I’ve made in the previous two numbers of this Review and more systematically in my Philosophy of Coffee-Tasting.
The new blend is called Intenso. This is how it is described on the packet:
INTENSO Medium/dark roast
Lavazza’s experts have carefully selected the finest coffee beans from three continents to offer a distinctive blend: Robusta beans from Latin America, Africa and South East Asia provide intensity, a full-bodied texture and a lingering dark chocolate finish while Arabica beans from Brazil add a touch of nutty notes.
From information supplied by Lavazza UK, I understand that Intenso is made up of 80% Robusta and 20% Arabica beans.
I first encountered the new blend when I was given a sample packet outside the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre in Dublin, which I used on a number of occasions over about three weeks. I then got a full, commercial packet from which, on my first using it, I experienced somewhat different results. I begin with my experience using the sample packet, §2, which I recorded before trying the commercial packet.
- 2: Judging from the colour of the dry grinds and also from colour and opacity of the liquid, and from my taste of it, I would say it is indeed darkish roasted, but not very dark roasted, so about 6-7 on my Taste Line (see Phil of C-T, pp. 16-17), which confirms the medium dark description on the packet.
I would also add that the taste is generic but on the bitter side of generic. Hence it is likely to appeal to Bitterists and to what I call Americanos, i.e. those who like generic or just plain coffee. And conversely, it is not likely to appeal to Sourists, especially to Third Wavers, and for the following three reasons: (1) because being in the generic to bitter range, it is not going to have the sour or acidic taste; (2) nor is it going to have much subtle aromas, such as are displayed on the Aroma Wheel, since much of these would be burnt away by darkish roasting. And this lack of aromas is compounded in this case by the fact that so much of the coffee is from Robusta beans which are known to lack even the potential for aromas as in Arabica beans. (3) And I should also mention that having little or no potentiality for aromas, it therefore lacks the variety, complexity and subtlety of light-roasted Specialty coffees. Moreover this lack is compounded still further, since the Intenso is in the generic range, so the central and distinctive coffeol or coffee flavour is dominant and therefore blocking any subtle aromas, favoured by Third Wavers. In line with this, I did not find the ‘lingering dark chocolate finish’ or ‘nutty notes’ mentioned on the packet.
But for me, these deficiencies count for little, since as a Bitterist, my preference is not for sour or acidic tastes or subtle aromas, but robust bitter tastes and mouth-feels. So I am positive about Intenso, and intend to continue drinking it. I like its concentrated and largely simple character, which, I suppose, is what many understand by intensity and full-bodied. I find it bitter, although a little too mildly and flattishly bitter for my taste. I should prefer if it were harsher and rougher, and so more an assault on the palate, and not as smooth as it is.1
I should also mention that I am positive about Intenso because I have noticed no adverse somatic effects from drinking it; so no change in breathing, for example shortness of breath, nor any sense of inner racing, or any unusual awareness of breathing or heart beating, or any shaking, which I think can come from coffee that is either too lightly roasted or too darkly roasted, because in the latter instance too burnt or carbonized. So I think there is nothing toxic or nasty about this coffee.
I would say it is a fairly simple and straightforward coffee, which I suppose one should expect from Robusta beans, and which I value, but again I have to concede that for the Third Wavers simplicity is not especially valued, as it points to what they would probably say is a boring, Supermarket coffee, and, of course, a Supermarket coffee is just what Intenso is. But I would dispute that it is boring. For drinks can have simple tastes, as water and milk have, without being boring.
So Intenso is not pretending to be what it is not. It is not a specialty coffee in the present, accepted sense; although it is somewhat special in being composed largely of Robusta; since most coffees containing some Robusta have, I believe, vastly more Arabica than Robusta. So it might be of interest to those who want to try something new in that respect.
In short, I am happy to recommend Intenso to bitterists and Americanos, and those interested in trying a largely Robusta based coffee.
- 3: I now move to my first experience of the Intenso from the commercial packet.2 Here I should mention that in preparing my coffee I use the Japanese V60 filter.
Straightaway, I noticed that the coffee seemed stronger and probably more syrappy, also probably rawer (and so more in line with what Robusta is said to be like). I also experienced a kind of mild pulsation, focused in my head and chest, and that the coffee continued more physically stimulating than what I had experienced from the sample and this went on for at least 15 minutes. I would also say that the coffee was also less simple than from the sample pack, and more an assault, but not a welcome one, at least for me. (However, I suppose that others might find what I have described an agreeable buzz.3) On the positive side, I felt that it did get the dark chocolate taste mentioned on the packet.
So what explains the difference? Here are four possibilities. (1) that I was in a different physical and/or mental condition. (2) it could also be explained because I used a greater quantity of grounds than from the sample packet. (3) It might also be that as it was a newly opened packet, the coffee was fresher and more volatile. (4) It could also be that there is some variation between batches. (I note that the dates on the sample packet and commercial packet is different; see my note 2 below for details.) So then the difference in my experience would have come from the coffee itself and not from me or its freshness.
Partly because I was disappointed by the different experience I had in my initial use of the commercial packet of Intenso, but even more because being clear about what I experience lies at the very heart of my philosophical approach, I was keen to taste the coffee again from the commercial packet; which I have now done a few times. My conclusion is that the disagreeable sensations were almost certainly the result- or mainly the result- of my using too much coffee grounds- so reason (2); for using less grounds and so making it weaker has seemed to eliminate those undesirable sensations and possibly also improved the taste by making it less concentrated and syrappy.
From this, I recognize that I should have been more careful in registering more precisely how much grounds I used. But I didn’t know when I first used the sample that I would be writing a formal account of it for this Review. Nor do I see how, even if I had done so, that could rule out variables arising from testing at different times- so reason (1)- or differences that might come from actual variations in the coffee, as in (4), which might arise from the storing or roasting or sourcing of different batches of the same coffee blend.
1: I think that probably more people prefer rough to smooth coffee than is supposed by coffee companies, who seem to take smoothness as evidently and invariably an intrinsically positive feature of coffees. To be sure, I realize that it seems odd to say that I do not like smooth coffee, whereas I like rough and harsh coffee. But I think if one is trying to be clear and objective about one’s experiences, one needs to resist being taken in by the positive as well as the negative emotive force of the operative words; and this seems especially necessary with words about tastes, where there are few neutrally descriptive words at hand, as I think is so with smooth, rough and harsh- the first being emotively positive, the latter negative.
One way to make this point clear is with the following example:
Jack is pig-headed. Jill is stubborn. Mary is firm. I am strong-minded.
Here it seems plausible to say that the descriptive element in all of these assertions is the same, and that it is only the emotive element that is different, going from very negative to very positive.
2: On the sample packet, which is described as not for sale, there is also the following data concerning weight, coding, date:
50g, 1.7602 c/LOPE 90 30 04 2017.
On the packet of the commercial packet there is the following data:
Au 26 Ar 30 12 2016 226.8g Net per Alimenti 9112/09/14.
3: I understand that there are tee-shirts which have printed on the front: If you are not shaking, then you have not had enough coffee.