Sweet Maria's Weblog
Ugh! It's not the quantity of coffee samples you cup each day ... sometimes it's all about the way you cup them. When coffee is really good, it demands your full concentration. I started this morning at 9 AM, but by 4 PM (with no breakfast or lunch, just some fruit and bread between rounds) I am flat out finished. In the early cuppings, I noticed the bowls were about half empty by the time the 4 cuppers were finished (Francisco Mena, the exporter with Exclusive Coffees; Tim O'Brien of Cafetin San Martin, one of the best farmer groups here, Myself, and Mary of Electric City coffee, from the hometown of Michael Scott). Anyway, by the time the last round came around, the bowls look barely touched. Everyone was "conserving their slurps". I have cupped way more samples than this in a day, but not with the intensity we all brought to this cupping. It's such a physical feat, and somewhat exploitative to use your palate this way. It becomes like a tool, like a hammer you are pounding all day until your wrist is sore. But the coffees this season are so good from Costa Rica, well, the boutique little micro-lots specifically. The crop volume is down, but some of these coffees are just spectacular. It could be the cumulative affect, but I think I scored more cups over 90 day than any I can remember. To keep it real, I will take green samples home and recup them in the comfort of my own lab, to make sure I wasn't suffering from traveler's euphoria (or caffeine-induced exuberance). On the flip side, it is great to be excited about CR again. To put it in perspective, this is an origin that had industrialized it's production, all coffees sold under generic mill marks, so much land planted in the awful super-productive Costa Rica 95 Catimor cultivar, that I had given up hope a few years ago. Anyway, be prepared for us to through a bazilion amazing Costa Rica micro-lots at you again this year, my apologies in advance. Helsar Del Zarcero Micro Mill:
Nutty Coffee! Are nuts good? Sure, but in coffee? Are nut flavors just a function of a lighter roast? Well, partially, but it's about the coffee too. And lots from very different origins have different types of nut flavors. For this selection, we chose two extremes, even though they are neighbors. The frigid, highest reaches of Bolivia (remember, La Paz is the world's highest capital city) are so extremely different than the warm, rolling plains of Brazil's Minas Gerais state, but both coffees have nutty character. And yet they display it in completely different ways against a completely different backdrop of flavors. This week we roasted Bolivia FTO SHG EP Caranavi and Brazil Cerrado DP Fazenda Aurea. Both coffees were kept light, in the City+ range. Each batch took about 15 minutes to roast and we used a profile that builds heat steadily through the first 2/3 of the roast cycle and then dialed it way down to ease through first crack. The Brazil was finished when the thermoprobe read 427-430 depending on the batch and the Bolivia finished a tad earlier around 425 degrees via thermoprobe. We were definitely trying to keep these coffees on the nutty side and stay away from the chocolate flavors that admittedly add a nice balance to both of these coffees when roasted to FC+ or therabouts. But we are nuts for light roasted coffee here at SM's (hee hee) and wanted to highlight the lovely, malty nuttiness in the Brazil, and the more floral, vanilla bean nutty flavor in the Bolivia. Hope you enjoy it; if you don't, you're nuts.
I am off for an action-packed pre-ship cupping trip of Central America - Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua in 7 days. Whew. Mostly, this is to select micro lots and cup coffees that are nearly ready to ship. It will be a lot of cuppings with farmers we already work with and coffee "projects" we set up before the season. One thing I can note here, we are going to cut back a bit on the dry-process Centrals this year. That was "so last season" as the kids say. We'll have them for sure, just not to the degree of 2008. It was fun to have that little dance with the devil, to cross the line into bright, clean, fruity, unconventional coffees, but I think we need to put the DP Central thing into it's correct place. We look to these countries for their beautiful, clean, bright wet-process coffees, not to compete with Harar and Yemen. Unless I can get some internet on the road, I leave you with this youtube gem, a student video from Syracuse U. reimagining coffee cupping as a kind of "Woody Allen in Sleeper/2001 A Space Odyssey" quality assurance lab flight-of-fantasy. It's a hoot: ... and check out the "video responses, hee-hee"
I had some interesting footage of the Kenya auction, and the amazing sampling room upstairs. Yes, those auction sound effects are real! I did not dub in sound from a '70s PONG video game! -Tom