Tiny Joy

Jun - Jul 2003: Costa Rica: Can a Coffee Be Too Perfect?; On the Flip Side …; Just One More Inscrutable Detail …
Sample and roasting room of S. Cassinelli and Co. San Francisco. Circa 1920

Costa Rica: Can a Coffee Be Too Perfect?
There's a few of us in the coffee trade… overopinionated, obsessive, bi-polar green coffee buyers. We like an underdog, and will champion a great, under-appreciated coffee ad nauseam. And conversely we will hurl invective with enthusiasm at an overrated coffee. There's nothing in-between, greatness and
nothingness. We are grumblers and curmudgeons. We really, really like coffee. For years, Costa Rican coffees have been a stick in my craw, because so many of them offered in the U.S. market are precisely that thing in between. They occupy a space on the margins of Specialty Coffee; too balanced and mild to be banished to the Quickie-Marts of the world, too quietly boring to inspire me to give a rat's behind about them. In past years, I can't express the kind of stupor that cupping 20 lots of SHB Costa Rican coffees will induce. And they are so popular! Everyone asks for them, everyone buys them, every coffeehouse serves them. They sell if they are good, if they are bad; they would sell if the bag was full of sawdust. That's why we went with the La Minita coffees when nothing else could measure up. What could a cupper expect from the Costa Rican cup? A clean, mildly sweet, mildly bright, mild-bodied cup of mild coffee. For me, it was like a cup of stripmall Suburbia. It was a cup that was ubiquitous, inoffensive, didn't say where it came from, didn't have character. And character is my modus operandi as a cupper … even if it's not a perfect match for my palate; I will always have respect for a coffee with character. While particular Costa Rican farms (fincas) receive an undue amount of attention, coffee drinkers are wise to remember there are 130,000 large and small farms. The problem in Costa Rica is they have promoted a system where coffee is sold as "brands" developed by the mill (Beneficio) rather than by distinct lots of coffee from particular farms. We evaluate every coffee by the cup quality, not the route to market ... but I personally would like to see this Beneficio "brand" notion abandoned. In most cases our coffee is designated by farm. Another problem: Catimor, the coffee varietal that has great yield per tree but inferior cup quality, and Costa Rica bought into the Catimor re-planting craze in a big way. About 10-20 years ago farms systematically ripped out Caturra from the 1950s and planted the Catimor types called "Costa Rica 95" and "5175." Catimor is actually a cross between Caturra (a medium-yield, quality varietal with citrusy character) and Timor Robusta, hence the name Ca-Timor. It's this Timor Robusta that taints the cup character, producing a particular unpolished, rough character in the cup. It actually does little harm when it is 10% or less of the coffee in a cup, but above that it can be foul. We try to avoid it, if I can detect it is present.

On the Flip Side …
Okay, enough complaining: This year the Costa Rica samples have been a real treat! The traditionally mediocre coffees were okay, the okay coffees were
good, and the good coffees were great. And since only the last category has anything to do with Sweet Maria's, you are going to see an expanded selection of Costa Rican coffees. Old-timers know the La Minita Tarrazú is the benchmark not only of Costa Rican coffees, but also for Central American wet-processed coffees in general. It is excellent, as always! But the other offerings from Tarrazú have ascended to the same rung, or at least close to it. The Llano Bonito isn't prepared to the same high level as the La Minita but the cup has a remarkable high-toned bright snap in it, and considerable depth in chocolate midrange flavors. The La Laguna from Tres Rios has a raspberry fresh-fruit flavor. The Conquistador is ripely fruited; the La Magnolia has spice and lemon zest. And coming in late July we have our Auction Lot we won in the 2003 Costa Rica auction (called Cosecha del Oro or Golden Crop). The El Legendario coffee from South Tarrazú is a deep cup, with raisiny fruit, blackberry, spice, and an overall deep cup character that is rare in the range of coffee flavors that come from Costa Rica. In short, these are coffees with character, coffees that inspire adjectives galore! Read the online Coffee Cupping Reviews for our Costa Rican coffees on the web site for more information.

Just One More Inscrutable Detail …
Just what exactly is Tarrazú? It's a valley, but there's an ongoing problem with Tarrazú coffees … the name has received such attention that coffees are being sold as Tarrazú when they are 100 miles outside the region. (The same problem arises with the Antigua name in Guatemala). Since the coffees are Beneficio-branded, there's a great temptation to blend in outside coffees at the mill. True, the verity of an origin is of great concern, but the cup character is of greater concern. I have definitely cupped many Tarrazú coffees that do not live up to the name, and many non-Tarrazús that are better. This is the benefit of the blind-cupping process. As coffee tradespeople and consumers, we need to seek truth in the regional differences, and also avoid getting hung up on "brand names" as the ultimate determination of quality ...its a tough balancing act but singular attention to cup quality will prevail!

Sweet Maria’s Coffee Inc.
1455 64th Street, Emeryville CA 94608
web: www.sweetmarias.com
email: info@sweetmarias.com

Sweet Marias Green Coffee Offerings on 6/15/03:
Central American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Costa Rican Dota -El Conquistador $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
$77.00
Costa Rican Tarrazú - Llano Bonito $4.70 $8.93 $20.45
$72.38
Costa Rican Tres Rios - La Laguna $4.60 $8.74 $20.01 $70.84
Costa Rican Tres Rios - La Magnolia $4.90 $9.31 $21.32
$75.46
Costa Rican La Minita Tarrazú $6.80 $12.92 $30.26 $108.80
Costa Rican Santa Elena "Miel" $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $72.38
Guatemala Antigua -La Flor del Cafe $5.10 $9.69 $22.19
$78.54
Guatemala Coban Tanchi $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Guatemala Huehuetenango -El Injerto $4.90 $9.31 $21.32
$75.46
Guatemala Huehuetenango -Huixoc $4.80 $9.12 $20.88
$73.92
Mexican Organic Chiapas $4.60 $8.74 $20.01 $70.84
Mexican Oaxaca - Fino Rojas $4.60 $8.74 $20.01 $70.84
Mexican Organic Oaxaca -El Olivo $4.60 $8.74 $20.01
$70.84
Nicaragua Org/FT Segovia -Miraflores $4.80 $9.12 $20.88
$73.92
Nicaragua Matagalpa Maragogype $5.20 $9.88 $22.62
$80.08
Nicaragua Matagalpa Pacamara 19+ $4.90 $9.31 $21.32
$75.46
Panama Auction Lot -Elida Estate $6.20 $11.78 $26.97 $95.48
South American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Bolivian Organic -Aecar Coop $4.80 $9.12 $20.88$73.92
Brazil "Cup of Excellence" -Boa Vista $7.50 $14.25 $32.63
$115.50
Brazil Fazenda Vargem Grande $4.60 $8.74 $20.01 $70.84
Colombian Huila Supremo Lot 4286 $4.40 $8.36 $19.14
$67.76
Colombian Narino -San Lorenzo $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $78.54
Colombian Organic Mesa de Los Santos $5.10 $9.69 $22.19
$78.54
Peru Org-FT Chanchamayo $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
African- Arabian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Ethiopian Harar Horse Lot 4333 $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Lot 4452 $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $80.08
Kenya AA Auction Lot -Mika 432 $5.70 $10.83 $24.80$87.78
Kenya AA Auction Lot -Rugeju 673 $6.10 $11.59 $26.54
$93.94
Tanzanian Southern Peaberry $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $75.46
Uganda AA Mbale Bugisu $4.20 $7.98 $18.27 $64.68
Yemen Mokha Ismaili (Hirazi) $7.80 $14.82 $36.27 $124.80
Yemen Mokha Haimi $7.20 $13.68 $33.48 $115.20
Yemen Mokha Mattari $6.55 $12.45 $28.49$104.80
Zimbabwe AA+ Salimba $4.80 $9.12 $20.88$73.92
Indonesian- Indian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Indian Monsooned Malabar Coehlo's Gold $5.00 $9.50
$21.75 $77.00
Indian Pearl Mountain Peaberry $4.80 $9.12 $20.88$73.92
Java Government Estate -Blawan $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $72.38
Papua New Guinea Arokara AA $4.80 $9.12 $20.88$73.92
Papua New Guinea -Organic A $4.80 $9.12 $20.88$73.92
Sulawesi Toraja Gr. 1 -Lot 1942 $4.50 $8.55 $19.58 $69.30
Sulawesi Aged Kalossi Toraja $6.00 $11.40 $26.10 $92.40
Aged Sumatra Mandheling $5.80 $11.02 $25.23 $89.32
Sumatra Iskandar Triple-Pick $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $81.62
Sumatra Mandheling DP Lot 8809 $4.50 $8.55 $19.58
$69.30
Sumatra Mandheling DP -SUPER PREP $4.90 $9.31 $21.32
$75.46
Islands- Blends -Etc. 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
Hawaii Kona-Greenwell Farms '02 $15.00 $28.80$69.75 5
lb limit
Puerto Rican Yauco Selecto AA $10.40 $19.76 $48.36 5 lb limit
SM's Moka Kadir Blend $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $86.24
SM's Espresso Monkey Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
SM's Classic Italian Espresso Blend $4.80 $9.12 $20.88
$73.92
SM's Decaf Espresso Blend $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $86.24
SM's Liquid Amber Espresso Blend $5.30 $10.07 $23.06
$81.62
SM's French Roast Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
SM's Roasted French Chicory $4.80 $9.12 $20.88$73.92
Decafs 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 20 lb
African Highland WP Decaf Blend $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
$84.70
Brazil Prima Qualita WP Decaf $4.60 $8.74 $20.01 $70.84
Colombian Santa Isabella WP Decaf $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
$77.00
Costa Rican Monte Crisol WP Decaf $5.10 $9.69 $22.19
$78.54
Ethiopian Harar Horse WP Decaf $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $84.70
Ethiopian WP Decaf -Sidamo DP $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $77.00
Guatemala WP Decaf -Injertal Estate $5.20 $9.88 $22.62
$80.08
Mexican Esmeralda Natural Decaf $4.40 $8.36 $19.14
$67.76
Sulawesi Toraja WP Decaf $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $78.54
Sumatra WP Decaf $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $80.08