Sweet Maria's Weblog

Oh So Clever

 Last Friday, Oct 26th, I participated in a brewing event at the SCAA headquarters in Long Beach, CA. There were 7 stations/brew methods and 2 coffees. The coffees were a Costa Rica from the Helsar mill roasted by Verve Coffee Roasters and a Washed Ethiopia Yukro from Portola Coffee lab. The brew methods were: Chemex with Able Kone filter, Press Pot, Aeropress with paper filter, Hario V60, Clever, Fetco batch brewer, and Espresso. The discussion was less about a straight up comparisson of the brewing methods, but rather was centered around the sweetness of a coffee and how the different brew methods delivered the sweetness of the coffee. The people working each station also talked about the pro and cons of each method and what was necessary to brew well with them at home, excluding the larger batch brewer and espresso machine.

For me personally, I felt that for the Costa Rica that the Fetco batch brewer really did the best job of showing the sweetness of that coffee. For the Ethiopia, I was very pleasantly surprised at the brew in the press pot! The press pot has been getting poo-poo'd quite a bit these days in specialty coffee circles, very unfairly if you ask me. The common misconception is that you can't brew a "brighter" coffee with the device, that it will become much too aggresively acidic. In this brew there was tons of the honey-suckle floral notes of this coffee present, and a really lovely and long finishing sweetness. If anything, I found this brew to be the most balanced of the set except for one other method.

The Clever dripper was most everyones' favorite brew out of all of the methods for both coffees. Most people also found that the Clever brew was also the sweetest iteration of both coffees. I mention this because there were a handful of folks who's favorite wasn't what they considered to be the sweetest cup. 

During the discussion following the tasting there was really just a little bit of talk about comparing one method to the other, outside of talking about what the favorite cup was. The conversation that was more actively participated in was about the moods of the different methods. This was really interesting, with the Chemex having a social mood, and the Aeropress was both technical yet playful at the same time. We also compared methods to different shoe styles, with the Clever being a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors, the Fetco being a steel toed work boot, and the Aeropress being those sort of creepy toe shoes!

These kind of conversations can be really fun...

Two New Balanced Additions

El Salvador Majahual Tablon La Montana is a balanced cup with cocoa roast tones, rich tapioca flavor and creamy mouthfeel.


Colombia Narino Taminango is loaded with sugar browning/creme brule notes, wildflower honey, green grape and Asian pear.

Taste Testing

There are a number of flavors that can found in a cup of coffee. Read the coffee reviews on this site and you'll see the mention of various types of nut, fruit, cookie/biscuit, etc. etc. These flavors are the result of the presense of organic acids and compounds and certain chemical and physical changes that happen during growing, harvesting, processing, and roasting.

One of the best ways to teach yourself to be able to discern these various flavors is to sit down to some very purposeful tastings where you can compare and document the differences and similarities between 3 or more types of nut, or apples to oranges to apricots, or even apples of different varieties.

Today I am going to start a regular blog feature where I will do some of these tests and document my findings. I'll look at 3 or more items and compare their sweetness, fattiness/mouthfeel, and acidity or astringency. I'll also talk about some other foods where these similar flavor descriptors might be found, and list some coffees that have those flavor attributes. I encourage everyone to mimic these tests and/or to do their own and pretty please post their findings over in the Sweet maria's Forum.

There's some greater detail about learning to taste in the Teaching to Taste article in the Sweet Maria's Library, found here - www.sweetmarias.com/library/node/2931

Todays tasting will be: Almonds, Peanuts, & Walnuts

I've chosen 3 types of nut/legume, roasted and NOT salted. Nuts/Legumes are astringent foods, and when used as a descriptor in another product is usually accompanied by a dry or astringent mouthfeel.

- Almond: sweetest out of the 3, a bit of fattiness and dryness in the aftertaste, but in tasting the familiar almond flavor it's hard not to think about cakes. There is a liquor-like quality to the sweetness that isn't as pronounced in the other 2 nuts here. There's more flavor throughout the palate as well. The Java Sunda Pitaloka has some toasted almond notes at most roast levels from City through Full City: www.sweetmarias.com/coffee.indonesia.java.php

- Peanut: This is the fattiest of the 3 with a creamy mouthfeel and long lasting aftertastes. There is a sugary sweetness underneath all the fattiness, more sugary than liquor-like. One thing that the fattiness really counters is the dryness. There is a much less bittering dryness in the peanut compared to the other 2 nuts....

New Coffees: Four of 'em

Costa Rica Finca Salaca Las Brisas has crisp red apple and white grape notes along with creamy body and baker's chocolate finish.


Nicaragua Acopio Suyatal has semi-sweet chocolate malt, concord grape, ginger spice and caramel biscuit notes.


Ethiopia Bedele Sota Cooperative with beautiful effervescence, date, raisin, prune and supple mouthfeel.


Kenya Nyeri AA Ngunguru with black currant, rindy citrus, white grapefruit, pungent spices; complex yet articulate acidity.

What is Acidity in Regards to the Taste of Coffee?

 We say time and again that the term "acidity" is used as a descriptor of positive attributes in coffee. Convincing folks that acidity is a positive characteristic and that we're not talking about the kind of acidity that makes a stomach sour is one of the core dilemas of of the purveyor of fine coffees. Acidity, the good kind, is responsible for a number of characteristics in coffee including many of those fruit notes. Knowing a little bit about which specific acids are responsible for certain fruit-like flavors can prove to be really helpful for learning how to identify these flavors, help you identify the coffees that you're really going to be the most happy with, and how to roast and store a coffee in order to promote or diminish specific characteristics. So here's a quick little primer in just a few of the acids found in coffee and what flavors they lead to.

- Citric Acid: Found in high grown arabica coffees, these acids lead to citrus flavors like orange and lemon or sometimes grapefruit in a coffee. Some research shows that citric acid is responsible for most of the acid flavors in coffee.

- Malic Acid: This can provide more of an apple or pear-like flavor to a coffee, sweet and crisp, but can also have stone fruit properties.

- Phosporic Acid: Not an organic acid, and can really push sweetness in a coffee. Tropical fruit flavors like grapefruit or mango are generally attributed to phosporic acid

- Acetic Acid: This is the main component of vinegar, so this can be an off flavor at higher levels. At lower levels in can have a pleasant sharpness or lime-like flavors.

- Tartaric: Tartaric acids are common in grapes and can lead to some winey or grape-like notes in a coffee, but can also be sour in higher levels.

- Quinic Acid: These are the bad guys, and these are indeed responsible for the sour stomach. Quinic acids increase in production the more and more the coffee degrades. Dark roasted coffees are hight in this while low in other flavor contributing acids, and also stale coffees, either coffees that were roasted a good while ago or that were brewed a long time ago (especially if left on a hot plate).

 - Chlorogenic Acid: Responsible for a good deal of percieved acidity in the cup. For a long time it was simply said that roast level was responsible for the breaking down of some of these acids, but more accurately it is exposure time to the heat during the roasting. Prolonged exposure time can result in a reduced perception of acidity even if the final roast level is fairly light.