Review: James Coffee Company Night Owl Espresso Blend (San Diego, California)

I’ve considered getting a hand grinder for making coffee when I travel, but I have yet to do so because for me, part of the excitement of traveling is trying things I can’t get at home. In the case of coffee, this means trying local coffee shops and seeing what roasters they carry. On my recent trip to the San Diego area, Shutterbug and I found ourselves in Escondido on a Sunday morning and hopped on Yelp to find a coffee place that was open. One particular place, called Culture Craft Coffee and Espresso, caught our eye. Interestingly, we discovered it is located inside of a Lexus auto dealership! Yelpers gave us very detailed instructions on how to find the place, for which we were grateful (what floor to park on, what floor to take the elevator to, etc.).

Once we were in, we were helped by a friendly man who seemed very happy to talk coffee with me once he saw me eyeing the bags of James Coffee Co. beans that were out on the counter. I ordered an Americano to go, as we had someplace to be shortly. What I wasn’t prepared for was the explosively sweet, comforting flavor that filled my mouth when I took my first (and second, and fourteenth!) sips from the cup. Oh my goodness. The cup was filled with the aroma and flavor of caramel and brown sugar. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn someone snuck a bit of toffee into my cup. I don’t typically drink Americanos, but it definitely was the best Americano I’ve ever had!

After arriving home the next day, I called the coffee shop to ask what beans they had used in that magical Americano, and the person on the other end told me it was the Night Owl Blend from James Coffee Company. He didn’t seem fazed at all when I said I had the best Americano of my life at their shop – made me wonder if it’s something they hear a lot? 😉 In any case, I made an order from James as soon as I was able.

Whole bean: Rich, chocolaty, toasty aroma.

Espresso: I wasn’t quite able to replicate the brown-sugary flavor I had at the shop, but my equipment (Baratza Vario grinder + Quick Mill Silvano machine) created some delicious shots that were heavy on the chocolate, and were very tasty in their own right.

Favorite parameters: 17 g in, 32 g out, 203 degrees F, 24 second pull. I wrote in my notes, VERY CHOCOLATY!

With milk: This got a thumbs-up from Shutterbug. Chocolaty espresso + steamed milk = can’t go wrong.

AeroPress: Smooth result in the cup. The flavor was not particularly distinctive or interesting, but it was pleasant.

French Press: Just for fun, I tried this in a press pot. Like the AeroPress, it was smooth, but rather bland brewed this way compared to how it tastes as espresso.

Summary: This is a pretty terrific espresso if you enjoy chocolate/caramel/toffee flavors. It’s great straight or in a latte! I think these beans shine best when brewed as espresso; it’s perfectly pleasant though brewed in an AeroPress. This would be a great bean to use if you don’t own an espresso machine but would like to make a coffeehouse-style drink at home.

From the roaster: Organic blend of rich heavy bodied coffee with dark notes of hazelnut and maple syrup.

James Coffee Company Night Owl Espresso

3 Replies to “Review: James Coffee Company Night Owl Espresso Blend (San Diego, California)”

  1. Hi Margaret,
    Is there a procedure you follow to find your favorite parameters? There are so many variables, I wouldn’t know where to start.

    1. Hi Woody! I keep a log of all the variables and generally try changing one at a time until I find what I think is the best result for that particular espresso, in this basic order:

      Grind size
      My Baratza Vario grinder has a bunch of “steps” (macro and micro settings) and I have a general idea of where espresso tends to work best on this grinder. I start in the middle of the range with an average dose (for my portafilter basket, 17-18g) and see how the grounds look. If it looks like I need more or less coffee, I go again. Then, I pull the shot at 200 degrees F, keeping tabs on how quickly the espresso is flowing and how quickly my cup is filled. I aim for a normale ratio between 25-30 seconds for this first shot, just to have a baseline for comparison, and I write down what it tastes like.

      Once I’ve figured out how much coffee to use per shot and what setting I like on my grinder, I change the temperature up and/or down depending on what the flavors in the cup reflect. Lower temperatures tend to bring out more fruity flavors and higher temperatures more chocolaty/nutty flavors, verging on sour or bitter if it goes too far.

      Grind size part 2
      If I feel like the espresso has potential as a ristretto shot (typically, if I feel like it’s bland at a normale ratio), I’ll adjust the grind size further and experiment until I get a ristretto ratio in roughly 30 seconds.

      I do my best to keep the tamping pressure the same throughout – I have a light hand when I tamp.

      I also keep an eye on the crema during all of this, to make sure that it’s present and not too light, though I only use fresh beans so this is typically not an issue at all.

      You can see how espresso testing can stretch to take a whole morning! Sometimes I get lucky and get an optimal result in one or two shots, but more often I end up pulling 6-10 before settling on what I think works best for that particular bean.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Thanks, that helps a lot.

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