Follow-up Review: Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic Espresso (Chicago, Illinois)

I hope you all enjoyed reading my friend David Cooper’s excellent guest post on Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Classic Espresso back in April. This espresso blend is a celebrity as far as espresso blends go, and for some reason I didn’t buy a bag of this for myself on that trip (oh yeah, now I remember why – I spent $27 on this bag of Intelligentsia’s Burundi Bwayi!). Reading David’s review made me want to experiment with this blend myself, so when I saw fresh bags at West Oak Coffee Bar in Denton, TX, I jumped at the chance.

My previous experience with Black Cat has been limited to a visit to one of Intelligentsia’s cafes in Chicago. On that trip, I had a doppio espresso and a latte to compare and contrast what I thought of it vs. the offerings at Metropolis Coffee. My impression of Intelligentsia’s espresso that day was that it tasted a bit one-dimensional; more akin to comfort food vs. the rather more complex and challenging Metropolis Redline blend. Both blends were a little bright for my taste, but both cafes served well-pulled shots with plenty of crema.

Whole beans: These smell AWESOME. I loved the buttery richness and the sweet toffee-like fragrance coming from the bag.

When I am experimenting with a new bag of espresso, I adjust the following parameters: temperature, grind size, dose (amount of beans in the portafilter), extraction time/volume. Here’s my log for Black Cat:


(FYI – all of the 2-I, 2-K, 2-M codes refer to the grind setting on my Baratza Vario.)

As you can see, I played around with the parameters for 8 doubleshots. I may continue to play, but thus far the shot that I thought was the best was #7, at 200 degrees F, 19 gram dose, 27 sec extraction (which, probably not coincidentally, is quite close to Intelligentsia’s suggested parameters). It still only got a “hey! not bad!” comment from me, but that was definitely better than “lemon” or “WINCE.” This espresso is quite bright, verging on sour to my palate, even in its “best” rendition. I don’t think this blend can reach the sweetness of my current favorites (Stumptown or Vivace) no matter how I change the dose or temperature. #7 tasted much like the shots of Black Cat that I’ve had out at cafes, by baristas that presumably know how to work with this blend and get the best flavor out of it. Not bad, but it’s not the general flavor I personally prefer in an espresso.

However, does this mean I hate this coffee? No, and let me elaborate! I also opted to try this blend in the AeroPress and WHAT A DIFFERENCE. All those rich, toffee/caramel/buttery aromas from the whole beans definitely took center stage when I brewed this in the AeroPress. No sour/lemon notes here; my mouth was shocked by how much this tasted like english toffee + chocolate with just a little bit of cherry flavor on the finish. The AeroPress extraction made this coffee taste how it smells. If I could find a way to get THIS flavor in my espresso shots, I would be a very happy camper. Perhaps I don’t have a good enough grinder/machine combo at home to do it, but even the shots of Black Cat that I’ve had at coffee shops have been overly bright for my taste.

Summary: I have a hard time getting along with this espresso blend with my espresso equipment. However, it tastes terrific in an AeroPress!

From the roaster: This syrupy and sweet espresso blend has been the staple of our lineup since the very beginning. It is a product of intensive lot selection and close, direct work with the farmers who produce its components. The Black Cat Classic Espresso’s hallmark is its supreme balance and wonderful sweetness.

Dark chocolate. Ripe cherry. Brown sugar.

Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic Espresso

One Reply to “Follow-up Review: Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic Espresso (Chicago, Illinois)”

  1. Phew! Glad to see I’m not the only one who found this espresso a little too bright. Also agree that the Aeropres brings out the best in this blend…a complete contrast in flavor profile from my recollection.

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