Sweet Maria's Weblog

There's No Accounting for Taste

This has been a very challenging week for cupping. Why? I can't taste.

It all started on December 21st when we were flying to my sisters house in Tucson for Christmas. Ben turned to me on the airplane and sneezed directly into my gaping mouth. (I wonder if you can buy those full face shields the dentists use these days, for protection when your kid is sick. It's just a given he is going to sneeze directly on me at some point).

I have had better days and worse days since then, but what I am left with now is a sinus and olfactory as clogged as a storm drain after a hurricane. You don't notice at first. You eat chicken broth with rice and cereal, all the fun sick-person food, but you don't notice whats not there. I had some Earl Grey tea and thought it must have been a bad brand; no bergamot notes came through. But that was my only hint.

First day back on the cupping table and I knew for sure how my senses were lost in a deep fog. I couldn't get anything, I mean ANYTHING from the dry fragrance of the coffee grinds. They might not have been there, and I wouldn't know. Sometimes when I feel smell-challenged, I put my face down into the steam as I pour hot water into the cups. But that didn't penetrate the nasal barricade either. My other trick is to open and close my mouth rapidly as I smell to try to pull something into my olfactory retro-nasally, through the opening in the pack of the palate. Nothing. Zilch. My senses were 100% MIA.

I know this is all fascinating, and you want to know all about my illness (haha). But the point I wanted to get to is how remarkable taste is in the context of having no taste. I spend so much time fussing over the details of coffee, whether an acidity is citric or tartaric, or if red fruits are more apple or berry-like. But it's only under the brutal condition of total taste failure, not even being able to sense if there is a cup of coffee placed in front of you or not (without seeing it of course) that taste seems to matter more than ever.

But what fascinated me is this: What remains when taste is absent? Or perhaps, what remains when the olfactory is totally offline. The fact is, the taste receptors (papillae) on my tongue weren't really firing either. I could get the sourness of acidity, some sense of the bittering coffee alkaloid notes,  but not sweetness or other aspects of taste (salt, umami). What was odd was the physical reactions I could gauge, texture specifically. Each acidity seemed remarkably different in...

Home Roasting for the Holidays

The holdiay season is truly one of the best times for roasters. Maybe we've just been gifted some green coffee and something to alter its greeness and the door has been opened for a new hobby/habit/obsession. Or maybe we've done it for a good while now and all of our friends, familiy, and neighbors get to reap the benefits through gifts or even are calling us demanding some of our home-roasted sweetness. I get sideways glances showing up at dinners at this time of year without some beans in hand, which is rare I would add, rare that I don't have beans with me, not rare that I get invited to dinners!

Some of my very favorite coffee memories are when an uncle or some other visitor first tastes a coffee that I've roasted myself, and wants to know all about how it got to be that way. I really like to share info about the coffee itself which is very important, but what I try to empasize even more is what I did to the coffee, the value that I added. This isn't an ego thing, it's about being able to speak to what is going to be most tastebale and relatable to whoever is drinking it. Also, obviously one of my other hopes is that I just might convince someone else that they should be roasting their own coffee.

The other big thing about this time of year and sharing the fruits of our hobby with others is that this is generally the time where someone who's been roasting for all of their friends and family for years starts to seriously consider what all their friends and family have been saying to them for a while; maybe you should be doing more of this, and maybe even selling it! I can't even count the number of times that I've heard this story from a roaster, and I have to say that it really makes me happy each time that I do. It's so great to get to do what you love for a living, and it's equally great even just to share something that you love/made with someone. Right here, just after the holiday, this is when we're loading those new beans, or maybe plugging in a new roaster, or maybe even getting that call that says "Wow, this is amazing!". Not to sound too corny, but it really is such a sweet gift to give. 

Three Great New Coffees...Happy Holidays!

It's been one wild week here at the Sweet Maria's warehouse. Somehow we found time to add a few delicious coffees. Here they are. Happy Holidays!

 

Java Sunda Pitaloka: with nutty tones, cherries and cocoa.

Brazil Mogiana WP Decaf: a surprisingly sweet cup with apricot and peach notes.

Kenya Nyeri Gaturiri PB: an intense, heavily fruited cup.

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