As a musician, I’m a sucker for any coffee company that uses music references (the “Brahmsian” characteristics of Blue Bottle’s Hayes Valley Espresso comes to mind). Naturally, Seattle’s Espresso Vivace Roasteria was a must on my list of my cafes to visit. This cafe is a bit different than most in that they only serve espresso and espresso-based drinks; no drip/pourover coffee. Vivace roasts two blends, the Dolce (meant for drinking straight) and the Vita (for use in milk drinks). I chose to try both straight up when I visited the cafe, and the barista obligingly pulled me two shots to compare and contrast the blends.
(The latte was Shutterbug’s. I couldn’t get very good lighting but you can see that my espresso shots are quite concentrated.)
Unlike most cafes, where a doubleshot (1.5-2 oz) of espresso is the standard serving, Vivace’s standard for espresso is a ristretto shot (looked to be around 0.75-1 oz each, pulled from a portafilter with a double basket). Ristretto is Italian for “restricted,” and while there are multiple ways of preparing a ristretto shot, basically the shots are more concentrated in flavor, thicker, and sweeter than a normale shot.
Generally speaking, my only problem with drinking espresso is that it’s gone so quickly. At just 2 oz, I don’t get a chance to savor the drink like I do with 8 oz pourovers, so I sometimes feel like I don’t have enough time to enjoy espresso shots. I think it’s just me wanting to hold on to the beautiful flavors… but I am learning to appreciate them like a strong piano chord; explosive and rich at the start, and spinning throughout the mouth until all I’m left with is the memory of what I just experienced. There’s something so lovely but heartbreaking about loving such ephemeral things!!
When I found out Vivace pulls ristrettos, I was intrigued but also thinking, “Great, so now I have even LESS espresso to drink before my experience is over!” I should have known better than to be concerned about quantity. This was my first time having a straight ristretto shot of any sort, and I was unprepared for the explosion of joy that attacked my taste buds. The Dolce was first, and it was so sweet and syrupy that I was taken aback. The Vita was stronger and harsher in flavor to me; I could see how it would work well in a latte as I bet the flavors could cut through the milk quite easily. It wasn’t bad, but to me it was no contest; I had to get my hands on more of the Dolce. Major props to the two baristas that helped me that day; the first for pulling such an incredible shot for me, and the second for going out of her way to find the freshest bag of Dolce possible (roasted earlier that morning!!).
I started pulling shots 7 days post roast. Since Vivace has designed these beans to work best as ristretto shots, I set about trying to learn how to pull my first ristrettos ever. The first two shots were in the normale range as I was still dialing in the grind (and they tasted fine), but the third was incredible. Vivace recommends the following parameters for their beans: 17 g in a double basket, 203.5 degrees F, 30-40 pounds tamping pressure. My machine will only let me adjust in whole degrees, so I experimented between 200 and 204 degrees. 204 was too bitter to my taste; I actually liked the shots best on my machine at 200! Even my best shot at home didn’t really compare to what I was served at the cafe, but they were still among the better espresso shots I’ve made at home.
This shot, pulled at 203 degrees, had a texture like maple syrup, and was beautifully chocolaty with just a hint of red fruit (raspberry) on the finish.
It was pretty easy on the eyes as well.
I also tried the Dolce in a cortado, just for kicks. Tasted great to me, but I’m not much for milk drinks nowadays… I miss the intensity of straight shots! However, Shutterbug confirmed for me that the Dolce stands up very well in a latte, even if it wasn’t designed for this use.
One oddity about these beans: They made a MESS of my kitchen. My Baratza Vario grinder has a portafilter holder which allows me to grind directly into the basket for brewing. Normally, the grinds fall pretty neatly straight down into the basket, but for some reason, these beans threw the grounds all over the place. I ended up grinding into the grinder’s plastic bin instead and then pouring it into my double basket. An extra step, but I didn’t mind too much when the espresso was of this quality.
Summary: This blend is meant to be pulled as a ristretto shot with pretty specific brew parameters. My machine won’t allow for 0.1 degree temperature changes, so I may not be getting the ultimate out of this bean, but even so, I really liked what I was able to produce. The shot I had at the Espresso Vivace location I visited on Capitol Hill will still stand out as one of the most memorable I’ve ever had, though.
Notes from the roaster:
Our gold cup espresso blend has been created to offer the most complex and balanced flavor possible in an espresso ristretto. Espresso Dolce features a heavy red-gold crema with a sweet floral presence, balanced with a rich note of chocolate, and a complex, sweet aftertaste that lingers on the palate. Espresso Dolce is also available as a green blend for roasting at home or in your shop.