I started writing this as a comment on ben.szobody.com's blog, but decided to post it here instead.
This was in response to his statement, "also, plenty of room for improvement on the espresso round. maybe too bright for the judges?"
It wasn't too bright... my pull sucked.
My espresso course came 2nd sequentially, but because my sig drink preparation took so much time during the front-end, I didn't pull espresso shots from the El Salv Blend grinder until like 11 or 12 minutes into the 15. I skipped an important step: grind out the "chute" coffee and dump, then grind all-fresh and dose and pull. I just ground, dosed, and pulled. As a result, with those dried-out chute-grounds taking up about 5-8 grams of my 20 gram dose, the shot ran fast. I had to wipe up one of my capps a couple minutes earlier, so re-pulling was out of the question.
Also, the blend has a shockingly clean finish. I mean, after a minute or two, the espresso flavor is virtually gone from the mouth, unlike any espresso I've ever personally had. My theory is this: what causes the flavors to typically linger so long? Answer: oils. What is crema made of? Answer: emulsified oils. It's my belief that the same thing that causes such a clean finish also hurts crema retention.
In talking to the judges later, a couple mentioned that the espresso flavor was almost too fleeting, and they wished that they could have asked for another shot. While they were evaluating it, the flavor vanished out of their mouths. It reminded me of the simple fact that everyone tastes things differently (I don't mean perceives it differently... I mean the way they interact with it is different). Ben, that's why you saw me slorp-slorping during setup. That espresso is best tasted by taking a moderate sip, then rolling it around the mouth before down-the-hatching it. It's something that I started doing without really realizing why.
Three out of the four judges had giant black liquid holes staring up from their demitasses. They couldn't understand how my technicals could be near-perfect, my execution visually confident and skilled, but result in such a shitty looking shot. Well, I guess I showed them how.
The funny thing is, the crema on my sig drink was perfect. I pulled those sig-drink shots (same espresso... the all-El-Salv) into flat-bottomed glasses (about 2.5 inches in diameter) and the crema held firm through the pulls, through me serving each glass (with just the espresso in them) to the judges, and through when I poured in the rest of the ingredients (from the Eva Solo).