What Your Dark Roast is Hiding from You

At M5, we take customer feedback seriously. Thus, when we received a note from a customer saying that they enjoyed their coffee, but that they wished the coffee used in their long black had been roasted darker, we felt that a public explanation might be helpful. 

Many different things affect the final cup of cup of coffee. Origin, processing, roast, age, brew method, grind size, water to coffee ratio, water quality, agitation... all these things come together to create the cup of coffee we serve you at M5. Thus, there are a huge number of paths to get to a good "strong" cup of coffee. While individual tastes and preferences vary, our preference at M5 is for coffees roasted to full development, but not past that. 

The initial trend towards roasting darker occurred for many reasons, but a major one was consistency. Coffee is a seasonal crop, and as such you can't have the same awesome Guatemalan crop all year round without it losing some of its freshness. Beyond that, up until fairly recently, there was very little effort being made to grade and improve quality of crops at the farm and processing levels. On our bar, we respond to this by working with roasters to bring in only fresh and incredible, specialty grade crops, and rotating our menu each month in other to highlight fresh coffees from different origins. Many roasters, rather than rotating their menus or investing in higher quality crops, increase their roast levels to mask crop imperfections and old coffee.

This is especially the case in the world of commodity coffee, where coffee is bought in bulk at the (universally low) market price from farmers, creating no incentive for farmers to grow higher quality crops or improve their processing. Our coffees are bought at many times the price of commodity coffee and even the fair trade standard. Our roasters work directly with farmers and processors to improve quality at the source, and roast light to highlight the unique beauty of the crops they import. A dark roasted coffee can only ever taste like roast, whereas, with a light roasted coffee, you can experience delicate citrus and floral notes, thick flavors of nut and caramel, and earthy or grassy undertones. Each region tastes unique, and every coffee has a story that is apparent in the cup. 

Heart Roasters are one of our incredible partnered roasters pushing high quality, flavorful, lightly roasted coffee, such as the incredible Guatemala El Amate, currently on our brew bar.

Coffee is not a uniform, bitter beverage, and each bean has a history that ought to be celebrated and honored, rather than roasted away. If you prefer a fuller bodied cup, I'd recommend a slightly fruity African coffee with a lot of body, or perhaps a Colombia Caturra with notes of chocolate and caramel. We can promise you that it will be brewed by the cup with a balanced recipe hand-tailored to showcase each coffee. 

If you'd like to chat more about roasting styles, crop sourcing, or anything else, feel free to email us or stop by the cafe for a chat - we'd love to explain why we do things the way we do, and hopefully learn something new in the process. 

Why Slayer?

Firstly, welcome, everyone, to the new M5 Espresso Lab Blog. It is my hope that this page can be used to talk about new coffees and roasters I'm bringing into the shop, new techniques for brewing, and other coffee-oriented news. 

For my first post, I've decided to hone in on the most striking feature of our bar - the black two group Slayer espresso machine. Anyone who's taken a good look at the bar in most coffee shops will recognize that this is a fairly uncommon piece - in fact, ours at M5 is the first in Cincinnati. Slayer is a relatively young company in the world of coffee, and sets itself apart for a number of reasons. Firstly, the majority of espresso machine manufacturers are Italian, and their designers come from an engineering background. The same minds who brought you any number of Italian sports cars also bring you machines from Faema, La Marzocco, La Spaziale, Nuova Simonelli, etc. Slayer is different. Our Slayer was designed in the USA by Jason Prefontaine - a lifelong coffee roaster who found himself frustrated with the limitations of every commercial espresso machine on the market. He was not on a quest to create some feat of engineering - he simply wanted a high quality cafe machine that would bring out the body and complexity of filter coffee in a shot of espresso. 

In order to understand the Slayer, you must first understand the basic mechanics of a standard, dual boiler espresso machine. Finely ground coffee is loaded into a portafilter basket - this basket has thousands of tiny holes, which, when hot water and 9 bars of pressure are added to the coffee bed, will allow espresso to flow through into the cup below. Standard machines (such as the La Marzocco Linea) have one boiler dedicated to espresso, and one at a higher temperature dedicated to steam. These machines are fairly simple - they operate at one, consistent pressure all the time, and the pump can simply be turned on or off. In more recent history, baristas discovered that allowing the coffee to "bloom" or preinfuse made for greater consistency and flavor from shots. Many companies responded to this by adding a preinfusion setting on their machines, which would briefly activate the hot water pump, flushing the coffee bed at full pressure, shut off, and then begin the normal ~25-30 second extraction.

While this standard "preinfusion" certainly helped, Prefontaine felt that it could be pushed further, and thus set out to develop a machine with a longer, low pressure preinfusion. On our Slayer at M5, our shots preinfuse for nearly 20 seconds, allowing the coffee bed to expand and release Carbon Dioxide, increasing the viscosity and body of the espresso and suppressing much of the acidity that many people associate with lighter roasted coffees. This is a result of the Slayer allowing the barista to dial in their coffee grind much finer than on a traditional machine. Smaller particle size results in greater extraction yields and a huge increase in flavor - espresso on a Slayer is not the red hot, bitter liquid many people have become accustomed to - it's sweet, refined, and exceedingly palatable. 

Our goal at M5 is to showcase every part of our coffees' journeys from farm to roaster to the cafe. The Slayer allows us to highlight the beautiful flavors our roasters and farmers worked together to cultivate, and is just one step in chain of elevating your coffee experience. 

A Slayer Shot of Heart Roaster's Stereo Blend 

A Slayer Shot of Heart Roaster's Stereo Blend