Sunday, September 10, 2006


tracy allen's zoka espresso paladino & decaf

lemme say right up front -- and this's bold i know since the people at zoka have won so many baristi championships -- that i have a slightly different understanding of coffee tasting than they do.

long-time readers know that i always cup, taste, and describe coffees strictly according to my understanding of the scaa flavor wheel as taught to me by now-cqi-chief ted lingle, as well as my experiences cupping with various pros.

thus my description of the coffee is going to sound different than that seen on the zoka website. for example, there zoka describes the paladino as having a caramel finish.

this i disagree with; i think it has a cocoa finish.

the elements of the scaa wheel on the aromas side are listed in terms of weight. the compounds towards the bottom of the wheel with the darker colors are physically heavier than the others; they are the ones that stay around longer and usually are the last to be experienced in the mouth.

again, the wheel isn't a rorschah test; it's based on the actual stuffs that are found in coffee. these are real physical entities, actual chemicals, not metaphors, just as the light that hits your eyes and which our brain translate into color are real photons.

the properties inherent in these compunds govern to some extent the way our human body experiences them. that's nature, and it's beautiful.

since the dark dutch cocoa feeling that nearly everyone agrees exists is present in the espresso paladino is a heavy compound, it's going to be found in the aftertaste. the caramel and walnut-y feelings, according to the coffee bouquet diagram, are part of the nose -- they will generally be experienced before the cocoa, because they weigh less.

in short, i'm going to use pretty much the same descriptors zoka does, just in a slightly different order, and i'm going to assign them to different parts of the bouquet. but basically zoka and i are on the same wavelength, it's just that i think i may have a more structured way of speaking about coffee.

when i first opened the paladino, roast dated aug. 29, and buried my nose in the bag (with coffee you can't be shy; you've just gotta get right in there) i swore i detected a little blueberry feeling among a general nutty character. long-time readers know i love blue coffees, so i was very happy to experience that.

zoka says it roasts this coffee past full-city, and i completely agree. the beans all show large drops but not patches of oil, so i'm calling it a vienna-.

i tasted the paladino as a 30-second triple on silvia. ok, here we go.

at this age, the paladino offers a sweetly spicy fragrance in the dry grounds, and the hint of blue still seems apparent. this coffee offers a wonderful toasted walnut aroma that gives way to a dark honey/caramel candy (think the top of the creme brulee so i might be implying a little tahitian vanilla there) nose. i love the extremely long, slightly powdery dutch dark cocoa feeling.

the taste of this espresso is intriguing. at the visual roast color, you might think the coffee would move over to the bitter part of the wheel.

but it doesn't -- it stays slighty bright, which is a form of sweet, after all. the body is excellent, heavy and syrupy.

zoka compares it to honey, and i'd agree -- if the honey was hot -- hot honey being a little thinner than in the jar. in the mouth it has a great molten butter feel.

long-time readers will immediately pick up the fact that the paladino bears some flavors in common with my husband's favorite espresso the batdorf dancing goat. and they'd be right, there are some points of overlap.

but the paladino is more darkly roasted, paradoxically seems a little brighter, and may have more of what jean le noir in his nez du cafe calls "roasted coffee" notes due to that darker color.

the paladino's a complex blend even at its current age, as you can see. which is why it's an espresso classic.

now on to the decaf. a funny thing about the decaf is that it doesn't seem to be listed in the decaf section on zoka's website, which i assume is just an oversight.

an important thing to remember when dealing with decaf is that the treatment (some would say "abuse") it undergoes makes it roast, taste and behave a tad differently than regular coffee. the flavor's not going to be quite as complex and nuanced.

however, i have to say i loved the paladino decaf as a straight triple. in fact, whereas i might prefer the regular paladino in a classic italian-style cappuccino (but that's my weirdness). the decaf appears to be much darker in color than the regular too -- it's completely oily.

yet it retains most of the notes of the regular, which is interesting. i drank the decaf triple straight, not even a pinch of sugar.

and it was delicious.

have to think about that. but while drinking the decaf this afternoon after doing my home yoga, i keep thinking to myself, "hey this is really really good. it's as good as some other people's regular!"

i know some coffee lovers need to switch, at one time or another, to decaf. if so, i think the paladino decaf might be the best decaf espresso i've tried so far.

highly recommended. mail-order it!

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