Sweet Maria's Weblog

Nearly Time to Head to the Mall!

Whew - the holidays are rapidly approaching and we are reaching that critical time...you know what I mean, it's time to head to the dreaded mall, people. The window for mail order holiday delivery is quickly closing. We are shipping orders as quickly as possible.  Just a reminder: We are closed December 21st through 25th. Happy Holidays everyone! -Maria

Natural Ethiopians

There is no un-natural coffee. I am sure there will be some day, depending on what the decidedly watery term "natural" means to you. But in this context natural coffees are the dry-processes kind, also called unwashed coffees.

In this method the coffee fruit is picked from the tree and laid out to dry in the sun until it becomes a hard, dark brown pod. In most cases the pod dries slower than coffee that had had the skin removed and the fruit mucilage fermented or scrubbed off, wet-processed or washed coffees. The slower drying in the presence of the fruit and skin changes the flavor of the roasted natural coffee. There are also theories about other chemical differences in the seed of a natural coffee since the biological trigger telling the seed that it can start to germinate is not set off in a natural coffee. But that's not something I can go into since I am posting this from a phone!

The cherries picked for natural lots are no different from washed lots. But in the wet mill there are methods to remove unripe or defective fruits that do no exist in the simple "lay it in the sun to dry" method. That means an extraordinary amount of hand labor is needed to remove bad cherries from the drying beds.

You would think that making sure only ripe cherries were selected for drying, to avoid all the subsequent labor to pick them out later. But in Ethiopia and many other places this is not the case. A huge spectrum if unripe to ripe fruits are included, largely due to local culture and business practice. If you turn away farmers who bring in a mix of cherries then they won't return. They will go to the mill down the road. Even paying more wont ensure getting better quality fruit. Small holder farmers in Ethiopia are set in their ways. The only way to control fruit picking is to own the farm, and their are few large estates in the best coffee areas of Ethiopia.

I include above a picture of cherry sorting just beginning on a set of raised beds at the privately owned Aricha mill in Yirga Cheffe from my visit last week. When this was owned by Abdullah Bagersh the top coffees here were called Idido Misty Valley. They maintain some of the Bagersh practices, in the most part because they are the same local workers who learned by his standards. -Tom

Problem Solved...Whew!

A few of our customers let us know that they weren't able view their order history in our shopping cart. The problem's been resolved so everyone can now see what they have ordered in the past. Thanks for your patience.

Taste Testing: Sweet as Sugar

 One of the most common types of flavor descriptors that we use are different types of sugars. The sweetness in the coffee can be the result of many things; the green coffee quality, the age or storage conditions of the coffee, the roast, the rest, or even the brew. We're not going to so much get into what leads to what type of sugar sweetness, but I wanted to speak to the differences in some of the sugar types that we use so that when you see them in a description you can have a better idea of what we're talking about. 

The sugar refining process is all about taking the raw material and taking as much of it away as possible through boiling, centrifuging, filtering and drying until all that's left is sucrose. Refined white sugar can be 99% sucrose, and may have additives used as well to whiten it. Sugar in the Raw is not raw sugar at all. It's refined, but not as much as white table sugar and also hasn't been through a whitening process. Molasses is a liquid by-product of the sugar refining process, and in the case of brown sugars is added back to refined sugars to create a deeper flavor.

For this test, I looked at granulated sugar. I did caramelize some refined white sugar so I can speak a little on that, but I'm saving honey, syrup, and other sweetners of that nature for another test. I did however look at Molasses granules in this test. 

I tasted:

Refined White Sugar



Dark Brown Sugar

Molasses Granules

and Light and Dark Carmelized Refined White Sugar

Turbinado is produced in the first pressing of the sugar cane and is refined just through boiling and then cetrifuging in turbines. This sugar retains much more of it's molasses and can be used as a substitute for brown sugar but is distinctly different. Sucanat is a kosher sugar that is produced just from dehydrated sugar cane juice, with no refinement. This is a similar sugar to muscavado, panela, demerera, or jaggery which are all geographically specific sugars, but sucanat is actually a brand name. What was especially intersting was the difference between the sucanat and the molasses granules, which many sources identify as being the same, but from my understanding the granules I tasted were produced from dehydrated molasses, not pure cane juice.

What I tasted:

Refined white - Intensely sweet, but only on the tip of the tongue sweet, not long lasting. Only really sweet right at the point of contact. This kind of immediate sweetness without any lasting effect can be...

Two Reasons Why Sweet Maria's Coffee Rocks

Today, Maria got the troops together for a few minutes to congratulate Jose and Keli, whom have tirelessly helped us fulfill your orders for the past 9 years. Wow!...9 years! Thank you Keli and Jose! You guys rock!