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

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2 Responses to “fruit or ferment”


  1. 1 gil

    I live in Kona, where where I know only one small farmer who dries his cherries whole. He has designed special solar dryers to hasten the process. Since I try to roast samples of as many different estate Konas as I can manage, I asked him for some of his gteen coffee. I usually roast Kona to a city roast and stop well before second crack.
    Well, that coffee cupped like rotting coffee cherries, an odor I am very familiar with. Since he always roasts his coffee dark and pungent — West Coast style, the roasting covers up what I considered a glaring defect.
    In contrast, the fruitiness I have tasted is some Konas — not in many of them and not for several years, was pegged by Teri Hope in a cupping demonstration, as black current. If you’re lucky enough to experience it, you’ll be well pleased.
    On another topic: the Kona crop this year is very light. One processor told me it’s only about half of last year’s volume. Today, the price paid for cherry coffee was over $1.50/lb. Order early.

  2. 2 admin

    natural dry process coffee in kona is goign to be hard to control, but somebody should try to truck fresh cherry to a dry area and do some “raised bed” type processing. there are lots of great, flat, dry areas bearby that would be suitable … unless you get stuck in that nasty traffic and the cherry rots right there in transit. interesting comments. i have never tasted currant in a kona. -tom

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