Sweet Maria's Weblog

fruit or ferment

I thought I had a good idea of what a fermented taint was but with discussions here and some of Tom's latest coffee descriptions I am just confused now. So the question is: when does Intense Fruit cross the line into a Fermented Taint? Thanks, David
Not an easy question, and exactly the point of offering these 2 coffees that push that limit: Ethiopia FTO Lekempti Dry Process and (to a much lesser extent) Juan Francisco El Salvador. Partly, it is subjective ... on the other hand, a truly fermenty coffee will fade within a few months, and just taste dirty. I just cupped a Sumatra today that is another "challenging" cup profile in the same way; very fruity, but remaining more on the clean side (when I taste mustiness or mold, that IS, by all standards, over the line). Take this same debate over into the realm of food and you find a lot of parallels. For me, the analogy is between very refined food (for example, white sugar sweetness) versus more "natural" food (for example, raw unfiltered honey, sorghum syrup, unsulphered blackstrap mollases). The later contain sweetness with other flavors many would consider earthy, herbal, groundy, vegetal, woody, etc. Now, I don't know where the line is between them: I don't want to subsist on a diet that tastes like fungus and rotting wood, but I also don't want to have a sanitized, boring diet of clean-flavored, homogenized food. The same goes for coffee. There are coffee cuppers who reject even the slightest suggestion of unorthodoxy, of the unexpected, in their coffee. Seriously, it is true ... they want "clean, sweet, floral, citric, slight chocolate note" every time. Even flavors like nuts, cedar, and spice can cause them to suspect a coffee of uncleanliness. Most on the other extreme (in my experience) accept really marginal flavors because they roast coffee heavily ... "west coast roast" types who can't live without DP Ethiopias and DP Sumatras. My opinion: we should try to be flexible, and open to new tastes. We want coffee with character, something surprising ... but not a coffee that can't be stored for 6 months green and still cup with the same quality. That IS important. But in general, the question you raise is something that is open-ended and should always be a matter for debate. And in a way it is good that cuppers don't agree on this; just another way the coffee trade is heterogeneous; that we don't all offer the same thing because we don't agree! -Tom

is it coffee?

robusta coffee marked xxx There are laws concerning the maximum number of defects per 300 gram sample of coffee is allowable to import into the U.S. I guarantee you this exceeds the maximum, but it happens anyway. Who is out there sampling and checking all the incoming lots? nobody. this sample was something i pulled from a bulk sack (a giant pallet-sized poly bag that crap coffee, unworthy of the expense of burlap 60 kg bags) down at the annex coffee warehouse. it was marked xxx! i wouldn't care except for this: if there was no market for this coffee, if it could not be exported, if it was forcibly destroyed, there would be an sea-change in the coffee market, benefiting every farmer from those with a backyard of coffee to those with many hectares. banning below grade coffee and triage coffee (the coffee that even the best mills produce as a byproduct from unripe cherry, broken beans, everything the density sorter removes, etc), then bottom-feeding buyers of this crap would be forced to purchase low-grade-yet-wholseome, non-defective coffee, and competition would increase at the lower-rungs of the coffee supply ladder, buoying the middle and upper end too. It has been suggested before by people (unlike me) who actually understand the global coffee commodity trade, but as long as this level of coffee is allowed, there is no incentive for big crap roasters to behave any better.

the boat came in, again.

The boat came in, again. While we continue to run out of early-season lots, later arrivals (and a new crop Indonesia Java) have emerged. I know there's a lot of coffees coming in but I would I would loathe "pacing out" these arrivals artificially, since what we do here at SM is simply a reflection of the coffee crop cycle, and what small, outstanding lots of new crop coffee we can source. Guatemala FTO Quiche - Maya Ixil is a milder, lower acid Central with a really nice milk chocolate and fruit character. A sleeper "generic" Colombia Excelso 13356 ... hey, cup quality is wherever you find it, with or without estate or micro-regional pedigree. Here's a completely wild and even questionable coffee, but I had to put it out there: Ethiopia FTO DP Lekempti. The review explains why. And on the flip side, that heavy-body, tame-flavored new crop Java Government Estate Djampit is here. If you are overstocked on green, just put down the credit card and roll back from that computer ... these lots will be here at least a couple months. - Tom

yemen sana'ani was my secret

i got caught trying to add a coffee to the list and not telling everyone. the fact is i wanted to re-roast and recup the new yemen sana'ani again, maybe tweak the review a little, and make the flavor quality analysis graph. anyway, the review is true, the best yemen i have found in a long time. the fact is, we shipped this lot with a mattari, and with an ismaili (a very hard to source coffee), and we had to reject these two. the mattari was okay in the dark roasts, but i just could not get excited about it. the ismaili had faded a lot from the pre-ship samples i cupped, and it would have disappointed you all. i mean, i could have offered it with a big asterik by the name, and explained it was mild, and had just a trace of that ismaili spice to it. but i wouldn't feel good doing that. the name connotes something for you all, as it does for me; this lot just missed the bar. anyway, on a better note, the sana'ani works really well as a tangy, fruited light roast, or full-city+ to vienna with chocolate and spice abundant. it definitely did make the bar... -tom

where are we at with harar?

a question from the home roast list
>Anyone know when the Ethiopian Harrar is obtainable (in season)? I’m
>interested in seeing if I can pull the blueberry notes out of the
>bean… - Kevin
It’s late in the season now, and basically it was only the first arrival that had over-the-top blueberry. Our special prep lot was balanced, but didn’t have extreme berry notes. I commissioned that special lot preparation on the Green Stripe as an experiment, but also because I had a feeling it was a “down year” for Harar in general. I think it was, overall, because I cup a lot of lots and throughout the season they just kept dropping in quality, and so many were simply dusty tasting, hay, dry earth.
Anyway, you can get blueberry from the Ethiopia Dry Process Sidamo lot we have now. This is from a new exporter I am trying to work with (he’s a pain because he can’t get anything done on time…) however the coffee he shipped was outstanding. Obvious second recommendation is the Idido Misty Valley which is an unbelievable coffee in terms of fruit. Wet-process Ethiopias have been great this year but those don’t have berry notes in general, more citrus and floral. I start to look at incoming new crop Harar in January and February (pre-shipment samples). The problem with Pre-Ship samples from Africa is they never arrive tasting the same- huge flavor shifts. So you can’t count on knowing much in advance of arrival lots, and you just have to source them widely and roast them all to find the gems.
Tom