Already all over this.
Writing about it in an article spaced called State of Coffee - first part is the premise, second part is the payoff (testing the coffees with some of Vancouver's top baristas). An excerpt:
Before I say anything else, I have to say this (and it's so important, you're going to see this mirrored in the actual article testing the coffees):
I admire, nay, revere Ken Davids and his books.
... snipped a bunch of platitudes for Ken ...
I mention this as a preface because I want you to know where I'm coming from for the rest of my commentary here. I respect Ken and what he's done for the industry and especially for consumers - arguably more than any other source, including this website, to advance the appreciation of quality coffee.
With that out of the way... after reading Ken's head to head testing of the Italian Blends vs the US blends, an opinion I've had about Ken for a few years now is even more strengthened: Ken may have forgotten more about coffee, origins, roasting, and cupping than I've ever learned in my nearly 10 years in the specialty coffee arena, but I think Ken should stay away from any critical discussion about espresso and the evaluation of the beverage.
One key indicator of this was some verbage attributed to Ken Davids on the Aeropress packaging:
"When used properly, AeroPress produces a remarkably good straight espresso
and an excellent Americano-styled taller cup. In fact, it produces a better espresso shot than many home machines that cost twenty or thirty times as much."
- Ken Davids
Another is that Ken himself admitted to me that he doesn't consider himself a skilled barista, and tends to utilise the services of others for pulling evaluative shots. And there's been other indications over the years that perhaps Ken.... well, perhaps he just needs to stay away from any critical or evaluative discussion about espresso, at least where espresso is today, worldwide (not just Italy or the US).
When reading the introduction on Coffee Review, I noticed there was no discussion (or to put it more bluntly, "transparency") about how the shots were pulled, dosed, ground, what machine, what grinder, what environment, nothing. Given that there was a wide range of roast styles on the table, from the uber dark (I didn't say charred, did I?) Peets and Starbucks, to the extra medium-light Illy and Segafredos, a skilled barista would know that, at the very least, each of these roast levels would need different brewing temperatures. Dark roasts like cooler brewing temperatures. It's one of the reasons why many drip machines can do okay with a Starbucks roast, because their super-dark levels like brewing life in the low 190s and even the 180s. On the other side of the spectrum, lighter roasts typically like higher brewing temperatures - an Illy level roast (or for instance, Epic from 49th Parallel) likes life in the 198-202F range on an espresso machine.
Add another variable a truly skilled barista or espresso expert would know: different bean types and different roast levels require different grinds and
different doses to get the most out of those blends. And even other variables come into play. If you're an "any coffee, any machine, any grinder" kinda barista, part of your skill set would be to identify what the bean or blend wants most, then adjust your variables to match. No PID controlled machine? Fine - surf the pressurestat or thermometer when pulling the shot. Can't get cool enough for that extra char... er dark roast? Cool the portafilter down first by leaving it out of the machine, and let it become a bit of a heat sink for the grouphead. Etc etc.
Back to Ken and his reviews. If all the coffees were brewed on the same machine, with the same doses, with the same temperatures, and the machine was skewed towards favouring a lighter roast, of course Black Cat (which is roasted darker and darker these days, it seems) is going to fare badly. So is Peets (though it scored higher than BC!!), and for that matter, Starbucks. Any S. Italian style roast will die in conditions that show off a N. Italian blend well.
So basically, knowing what I know about most of the coffees Ken rated (I've tasted and pulled shots with seven of the blends he rates), something seems to be pretty screwed up with his method of pulling shots and tasting.
Rumour has it (totally uncomfirmed): all shots were pulled on a super auto. Meh.
Hey - rumours like this are gonna fly around, unless you're completely transparent with your testing methodology and practices! With the article I have planned out, I'll fully detail exactly how we pulled each test shot (with lots of dial in shots to get there, no doubt). I've already bought $90 worth of coffee for the Italian side of the big battle, from Bosa foods, and via mail order. It should happen in the next week, and hopefully, the article will be up a week or two after....