A couple months ago, we kicked up a bit of dust when we dressed down the Gibraltar, an espresso beverage created by accident when Blue Bottle Coffee Co. was opening their first SF café in 2005. We called it the fool’s cappuccino — essentially the same beverage, but poured in a cheap restaurant supply glass and gushed over by those who questionably valued faddishness and faux exclusivity over beverage quality. Blue Bottle’s follow-up act in the restaurant-supply-glassware-as-drink-name category is the SG-120, and we put it to the CoffeeRatings.com sensory test.

As many a curious customer asks, what is an SG-120? And why does an espresso drink have a name that sounds more like a license plate number, a Soviet rocket launcher, or a brand of synthetic motor oil? Searching for “SG-120” on Google, we found that it is also the name of a single door steam jacketed gravity sterilizer and a rotation mill for “viscous or sticky products”. More to the point, as with the Gibraltar, the SG-120 is named after a restaurant supply glass the beverage is served in — this time a shotglass from Japanese glass maker, Hairo.

The SG-120, from the Hairo Glass Web site

The SG-120 sensory test

Unlike the Gibraltar, Blue Bottle Cafe actually lists the SG-120 on their coffee menu. They typically offer it for about $3.50 from their single origin Bosco machine — along with the options of the less-milk macchiato ($3.25) and a straight double shot ($3).

Blue Bottle Cafe had been producing SG-120s from their Misty Valley Ethiopia beans until their Bosco had to be sent out for repairs. The machine returned from the shop this week — along with their Chapada Diamantina Brasil as the featured single origin coffee (which shares its name with a national park in Brasil’s state of Bahia). On Wednesday they served us an SG-120 with a smooth, integrated, and well-blended emulsion of coffee and frothed milk. Oddly, it was so smooth it almost didn’t taste much like coffee — more akin to a liquid candy bar.

Blue Bottle Cafe's Bosco lever machine is back in service The Blue Bottle Cafe SG-120

Despite its non-coffee-like qualities, it was an impressive beverage. But given the SG-120 it came in, it begged the obvious question: would we have enjoyed it more if it were served in a demitasse? Our answer was a definitive “absolutely”. The SG-120 detracted from the experience with some poor glass aesthetics: the SG-120 is thin-lipped, much flimsier than the Gibraltar, it felt “cheap” and almost disposable, and its thinness and materials added no real thermal properties. So once again, we were convinced by the beverage — but not the suboptimal serving format.

(As an aside, Ben, an Apple employee from Vancouver who was visiting the nearby Apple developer’s conference, showed me photos of Chapada Diamantina national park on his iPhone while sampling the same coffee in a siphon pot. His take was that it was very clean, bright, and straightforward — lacking any buttery characteristics, etc. We picked up some beans to test the home version ourselves.)

Blue Bottle's Chapada Diamantina beans