What constitutes a "tail end" sample set, you say? These are the small amounts that remain when we sell out a particular lot. It's not enough coffee to put on the website. They are great coffees, often from our smallest micro lots that sell out rapidly, but an administrative headache for us! We see it as a mutually beneficial exchange, one where we supply you with nice coffees of our choosing, and in return you benefit from a slightly deeper discount than our other sample sets. Why? Because coffees at the tail end are on their way out so to speak, down to the final 30 or 40 lbs and so no chance to return to the site to purchase more. These aren't "old" coffees, but rather tail ends of really good coffees.
What coffees will you get? It's a surprise, but you will definitely get single origin caffeinated coffees that won't be available otherwise (no decaf or blends). Due to availability, we won't always have this sample set available, so strap on your sense of adventure and get it while you can!
We selected this lot from Fazenda Sítio Senhor Niquinho, the farm of Luiz Paulo, one of the founders of the coffee intermediary based in Carmo de Minas, who are responsible for organizing the farms in the region we buy coffee from. The farm is located in Carmo de Minas in the Mantiqueira Mountain area, and is named in memory of Luiz' grandfather. Sitio Niquinho is situated on a sloping hillside that spans 1100 - 1500 meters, and has a mix of varietals, though this is a separation of Yellow Bourbon. It's a dry-processed coffee, meaning the whole coffee cherry is harvested and laid to dry for roughly 30 days before being run through dry hulling machinery in order to remove the outer layer of dried fruit and skin. This is the oldest processing method, and when done well, can yield big fruited sweetness, as well as weighty bodied cup. Fazenda Sítio Senhor Niquinho is as fine an example of dry process Brazilian coffees as any we've tasted this season, fruit forward in comparison to the pulp naturals we selected and a great option for blending as a sweet fruited, bodied coffee component.
Sítio Niquinho stood out as a fruit-forward Brazil when put on the cupping table with the other arrivals. It was not alone, but when tasted in context with pulp natural offerings from some of the other neighboring farms, this coffee's cup profile seems 'wild' in comparison. The dry fragrance has a complex web of dried and dehydrated fruit smells, and the wet aroma pushes dark, dried berry to the forefront, along with a palm sugar, rustic sweetness. I don't always recommend light roasting with Brazil, and I'd still say that medium roasts of this coffee are probably my favorite, but unrefined sugar sweetness tasted developed, and dehydrated fruit notes showed nicely in the City roast I cup tested. Still, City+ and Full City roasts are where I think you capture the highest level of sweetness, and balance of sweet and bitter tones too. Dark berry notes come through when the cup is hot, and are even more present when the coffee's cooled a bit. The underlying sweetness is on the rustic side, like rice syrup and date/palm sugar. A ribbon of earthy cocoa runs through Full City roasts, and at this roast level, will make a nice blend base for a fruited espresso (or try on it's own). I would avoid taking the roast too dark as there's a chaffy/roast bittering quality that is just below the surface at Full City, that I think will be much more dominant if taken into 2nd cracks.
This coffee comes to us from the region of Pedralva, in the Mantiqueira micro region, an area that boasts over 2000 "small holder" farmers. I'm using quotes here, as we don't usually consider farmers with 30, 40, even 50 hectares as "small holders". But this is quite small for Brazil, home to massive estates with fully mechanized harvesting operations. Many of the farmers in Pedralva still do some manual picking, allowing for better separation of ripe and underripe cherry. This particular lot is from Pedra Branca, a processing facility that was erected as part of a quality-focused initiative, providing the local farmers state of the art processing infrastructure where they can process smaller batch sizes. The facility is equipped to produce both pulp-natural and dry-processed coffees, this being the former. The farms are located around the Pedra Branca mountains, plantings in the 1300 meter range and planted mainly in Yellow Bourbon and Catuai, although this is a Yellow Bourbon separation. We found that the cup profile tastes the most settled with at least 48 hours.
We're pleased with this Pedra Branca coffee, a cup that strikes a balance between unrefined sugar sweetness and roasted nut tones typical of the region. I think City+ is a good starting point in terms of roast level, the dry fragrance offering glimpses of dark sugar and nut smells, much like sweetened peanut sauce, and subtle dry spice notes. Adding hot water draws out a smell of dried banana and raw sugar, a nutty sweetness lifted in the steam. Our Full City roast showed a fair amount of cacao/roast bittering tones too, offset by rustic sugar sweetness, and a faint green melon accent. The cup has bittersweetness you expect from Brazil, underlying cacao-like accents with countering molasses sugar sweetness. The pulp natural process definitely tones down fruit flavors, though I do taste hints of banana cooked with dark sugars (think banana bread loaf). Full City cups offer layered cocoa expressions, roasted almond and peanut flavors accentuated in the finish. This coffee cups with body and heft at City+ and Full City+ and will make a great SO espresso, or blend component.
Gahahe Station is a coffee cherry collection site located in Kayanza, Burundi's northern province that borders neighboring Rwanda. Farmers grow mostly older bourbon types, the original coffee cultivar introduced to the area in the 1930s by Catholic monks traveling from the island of Reunion. Gahehe sits at just over 1800 meters above sea level, and is a collection site for roughly 600 local farmers who are also station members. As members, they are organized into small groups who receive training in best agricultural practices, seedlings to continue to help increase coffee production, and benefit from access to the global specialty coffee market. Gahahe was built in the mid 1980s, a time when the World Bank was investing heavily in Burundi's coffee sector, building out washing stations like this one to serve the surrounding coffee communities, outfitted with a eco-pulping Penagos for processing coffee cherry. More recently they've come under the direction of a Burundi coffee investment group who are able to offer this coffee, as well as a few others we've purchased (Yandaro, and Kibingo to name a couple), agronomical assistance to station members, regular maintenance of washing station equipment and drying beds, and management teams who follow the coffee deliveries from cherry selection, to keeping lots separated by quality tiers. Since partnering with this group, several of the stations have seen top placement in Burundi coffee competitions, including Gahahe placing 4th in the 2015 Burundi CoE, and 7th the year prior.
A sweet honey smell exudes from the ground coffee, and dark spice accents that I think are unique to Burundi and Rwandan coffees. City roasts smell like dark honey, with cinnamon powder and all spice notes, and wafts of loose leaf tea. Closer to Full City and you're met with vanilla caramel and roasted nibs. The wet aromatics have a smell of warmed sweetened condensed milk, a saturated sweetness that gives way to creamy honey, and spiced tea smells when breaking through the crust. The cup is fantastic when roasted light and dark, but I think my favorite brews were at the City end of the roast spectrum. When roasted light, citrus flavors and acidic impressions ring out in the cup, notes of mandarin, and orange marmalade, and both flavor and brightness like orange herbal tea. Gahahe has such a clean finish, honey and fruited sweetness are both persistent in the aftertaste, as is a spiced accent that reminds me of Darjeeling tea. I was surprised at the level of chocolate in Full City roasts, that along with a dark berry flavor, come together like dark chocolate-covered blueberries. Citrus remains central to the cup character at this roast level too, coming off like pulpy orange juice in the finish. What a fantastic cup this coffee from Gahahe Station makes, and doubles as chocolate-centered espresso too, with a lovely floral blueberry aromatic note as well.
Kibingo Station is a coffee cherry collection site located in Kayanza, Burundi's northern province that borders neighboring Rwanda. The washing station acts as a central delivery site for a few thousand small holder famers who occupy the 18 hills that surround Kibingo. Farmers grow mostly older bourbon types, the original coffee cultivar introduced to the area in the 1930s by Catholic monks traveling from the island of Reunion. Kibingo sits at just under 1900 meters above sea level, and many of the farmers have coffee planted much higher than this. Kibingo is named after reeds that are growing in the river running alongside the station site, planted in order to help keep the soil at the banks from eroding. They've been around since the mid 1980s, and this year Kibingo took 1st place at the Burundi Cup of Excellence competition, no small task. Kibingo roasts easily, very little roast color variance as you move from yellowing, to browning, and onto first crack. It helps that the sort is so good, with little to no trace of underripe coffee in the few hundred grams of coffee that we roasted.
Glimpses of floral tea notes and sweet baking spices are sensed when grinding up light roasts of Kibingo, a cup complexity alluded to early on. Fruited accents come through with a shade more roast development, my City+ roast concocting allusions to elderberry tea and orange essence, with clean, raw sugar sweetness. The wet aromatics smell delicious at both City and City+ roast levels, the sweetness spanning a range from raw honey to raw natural sugars like sucanat, and breaking through the crust you're hit with a heady sweetness of maple icing and brown sugar candies. Kibingo brews up fantastic, pour overs of our lightest roast showing aromatic tea notes like chamomile and blackberry leaf, giving way to deep raw sugar flavors, like turbinado, and panela. An orange aspect rings through too in terms of both flavor and acidity, mandarin orange and honey tangerine notes, along with a lemon-like brilliance that livens up the cup. Flavors in the finish include tart berry, caramelizing sugars, whole all spice, and tannic black tea. City+ roasts also proffer bright citrus and layered sweetness, as well as red fruit accents like cherry juice, and cascara tea. I recommend staying in the City to City+ roast range, not taking roast development too far beyond the end of first snaps. These roasts will make the most complex cups, offering the most "showy", competition-level brew.
Yandaro Station is a coffee cherry collection site located in Kayanza, Burundi's northern province that borders neighboring Rwanda. The station itself is in the Kabarore Commune, which it serves, but also is a central coffee cherry delivery site for 22 of the surrounding villages. Farmers grow mostly older bourbon types, the original coffee cultivar introduced to the area in the 1930s by Catholic monks traveling from the island of Reunion. Yandaro sits at just under 1800 meters above sea level, and many of the farmers have coffee planted much higher than this. Yandaro was built in the mid 1980s, a time when the World Bank was investing heavily in Burundi's coffee sector, building out washing stations like Yandaro to serve the surrounding coffee communities. More recently they've come under the direction of a Burundi coffee investment group who are able to offer Yandaro, and several other Kayanza stations (Kibingo is another), agronomical assistance to station members, regular maintenance of washing station equipment and drying beds, and management teams who follow the coffee deliveries from cherry selection, to keeping lots separated by quality tiers. Since partnering with this group, several of the stations have seen top placement in Burundi coffee competitions, including Yandaro placing 7th and 19th in the last two Burundi Cup of Excellence competitions.
The dry fragrance of Yandaro at City roast level shows unrefined sugar sweetness of demurara and palm sugar, with dark vanilla bean and subtle tea-like accents. I roasted this coffee to three different roast levels, and with a shade more development a sweet dried cherry note is noticeable. Pouring hot water brings out more of the sucanat/turbinado raw sugar smells, and with a candy ginger accent, presents a ginger snap cookie aroma. The cup of City and City+ roasts are lightly fruited, cherry flesh and the fruit skin, an orange pulp note, and add a nice contrast to the dominant, underlying sugar browning sweetness. Caramel sweetness flourishes at a wide roast spectrum, and brewing a City+ roast through a filter cone, you're presented with a wide range of molasses sugar flavor notes as the cup cools in temperature. Fruited accents are understated but leave a lasting impression as you move through the cup, yellow cherry, satsuma orange, and a floral Meyer lemon note. Acidity is best at City and City+ roasts, a citric vibrance bringing structure to the cup, as well as having a mouth cleansing effect in the finish. At Full City sweetness has is more molasses-toned, with bittersweet dark chocolate flavor providing a nice counter balance, and a dried blueberry note accenting the finish. Full City roasts will work great for espresso too, a distilled citric snap up front that gives way to syrupy chocolate flavors that fill out the middle and finish.
This decaf version of Kivubo coffee is a real highlight of our most recent batch of decaf coffees that just arrived from the Swiss Water plant in Vancouver, Canada. Sweetness, acidity, cup clarity, and subtle top notes, Kivubo SWP Decaf holds it's own, and on a table of decafs, tastes much more like a "regular" brew. Kivubo Station is located in the Mutambu area of Bujumbura Province. The station acts as a collection site where farmers from the surrounding hillside can sell their whole coffee cherry after it is picked, and where that coffee will then be blended, wet processed, and dried on raised drying beds. Kivubo is one of several stations under an umbrella association that currently serves around 3,000 farmers, small-holder farms who on average are growing 200 coffee shrubs cultivated land adjacent to their homes. Like most of the region, Bourbon is the dominant varietal grown.
With the dry fragrance and wet aromatics showing smells of sweet raw sugar, dark caramel, bittersweet cocoa, and berry and stone fruit hints, this cup of decaf smells so much like the non-decaf Kivubo that's been such a hit around our warehouse (and with customers). I know we really hammer this point home, but it's a point worth hammering! "Decaf" does not have to equate to a cardboard-flavored brew, and with Swiss Water processing, the flavors and aromatic profile of the original coffee are still very much a part of the decaf'd coffee. Brewed, this is one sweet decaf, City+ roasts yielding layers of caramelized sugars, and a note of toffee malt. A ribbon of dark chocolate weaves through this, and I'm reminded of Rolo candies. As the cup cools, you're presented with a clean and clear flavor picture (especially for a decaf), acidity that's on the snappy side, and top notes that include accents of lemon rind and cinnamon stick, as well as a faint pumpernickel bread note that is probably a result of decaffeination, but does not detract from the cup. This is a versatile decaf, delicious at a fairly wide range of roasts, and with focused sweetness that shows well from City roast level on up to about Full City. I wouldn't go beyond Full City, as bittering/ashy flavors will take over. But anywhere north of Full City, and you're rewarded with a densely sweet cup!
This cascara tea comes to us from Finca La Vega, a small farm in the mountains of Antioquia, in a town called Amagá. La Vega is a family-run operation, started by husband and wife, Jairo Taborda and Stella Rojas (that's them photographed with their three children in the 2nd image). They have around 13,000 trees planted - mainly Catimor and Castillo - on their 1900 meter farm, and are using fully organic farming methods for their coffee (thought not certified). Cascara is historically a bi-product of coffee production, and in the past processed in a way that lacks intention outside of the drying phase. But interest in the consumable coffee cherry product has grown, and we're seeing more and more care put into the production process, farmers creating a much more stable product, and paying attention to variables such as ripeness of cherry that will affect the end result in the cup. The folks at La Vega start by using the coffee cherry from their first quality ripe cherries. They clean the cherries with fresh water before pulping, run them through a depulping machine to remove the coffee seeds, then send the wet skins to large drying machines where they are dried over low heat to remove all of the moisture. The microclimate in this area tends to be wet, and so drying wet cherry would normally take too long on raised beds in the sun along, or in parabolico drying rooms. Drying is a very important stage of cascara production, and too long on the drying beds with all that moisture in the cherry can mean mold. The mechanical dryer is one way to navigate this hurdle, and other farmers have experimented with other methods including dehydration with some success. Like our cascara product from Costa Rica's Helsar micro-mill, La Vega Cascara Tea ships in 3 oz. bags, which is roughly the volume of 1/2 lb of green coffee. We've tried all sorts of preparation methods, and with a long steep time, we've found cascara to be pretty forgiving. Try starting with 12 grams cherry to 300-350 ml, steeping for 10 minutes and adjust from there. If you don't have a vessel that will hold 350 ml (canning jars are great for this), throw a dozen cherries in a coffee mug with some hot water (just off boil) and steep for 8-10 minutes.
Unlike whole coffee beans, smelling the whole cascara pre-brew does give you some indication as to what you'll find in the cup. At the very least there is a raisiny, dried fruit smell, like putting your nose in a bag of unsweetened dried apricots, or dehydrated green apple. It's that blend of light pectin sweetness, mixed with a sweet and slightly sour smell of drying organic matter (similar to compost in a way). But the flavors in the cup are so much more than this, as are the wetted cherries after having been steeped for several minutes. There's a light and fresh "greenness" in both that reminds me of wetted green tea leaves, and even seaweed salad to some extent, and is quickly followed by a tart floral note of hibiscus tea. Fruit flavors that emerge include dried apple and tamarind, prune, unsweetened dry cranberry, and orange essence water. There's a I enjoy cascara without sweetener, as the level of natural sweetness is light, refreshing, and clean like simple syrup on it's own. That said, we've added table sugar, honey, and other sweeteners in small doses, and the cascara really pairs well with any number of sweeteners. We've found positive results with long steep times, 12 grams in 350 ml of water for about 8 - 10 minutes, or for single serving try throwing 3 grams (roughly 12 cherries) in a mug with hot water, cover and steep for 8+ minutes. There's no need to worry about longer steeping bringing out overly tannic flavors, as this is not the same as black tea. Cascara also has bigger body than most herbal and black teas, on it's way to apple juice in weight. Fool around with steep times, ratios, and additives to find the combination that works best for your taste. As the cup cools in temperature, the silkiness and weight of the liquor becomes more and more apparent, as do sweet to tart fruited flavors like apple, yellow cherry, and ripe cranberry.
One of two Gesha lots we purchased from Finca La Bohemia, this is the honey-processed version. Honey processing involves leaving some of the sticky fruit intact with the coffee seeds during the entire drying period, and tends to result in fruited sweetness, but at the risk of muting a coffee's acidity, and clarity. The latter is part of the reason we buy so few honey processed coffees, and it can be particularly troubling when you see a potentially great coffee like a Gesha compromised by bad processing technique. Needless to say, we were a little skeptical when this sample was put in front of us, but were totally floored by the cup quality shortly into our assessment. We think you will be too! Finca La Bohemia is located in the small town of Buenos Aires within the greater Department of Nariño. The farm is owned and operated by the Lasso Family, the first to grow coffee in this particular region. La Bohemia is 28 hectares planted in mostly Caturra as well as some Gesha, and sits on a sloping hillside reaching just over 2000 meters above sea level. Siblings Racquel and Hermillas Lasso started a foundation in Buenos Aires about 25 years ago with the purpose of helping local women gain financial independence, often from abusive husbands (that's Racquel and Carlos Lasso, another family member, in the first photo). The Lasso family identified a domestic violence problem in their town, women often dependent on violent husbands for financial support for their families, who without work of their own felt trapped by their dependence. So they started this program with the idea that the work will afford these women financial independence which in turn puts them in a better position to make decisions for themselves. The program started with a blackberry business that didn't really work out due to a fungal problem, then they moved into supplying cows in order to sell milk (which is still going), and also a coffee association that is still going strong. The association has since moved to the nearby town of La Union where it can serve a wider population. Right now we have both honey and wet processed Gesha lots from Finca La Bohemia available, which you can buy individually, or as a duo sample set at a slightly discounted price here.
This is the honey processed companion in a Gesha duo, the other wet processed, both from the same farm in Cartago, Nariño. Of the two, this is perhaps the more showy in that fruit and floral notes are more easily sensed from hot to cool, and fruit-forward characteristics tend to show in high volume at a wider range of roast. Be that as it may, I still highly recommend sticking to the lighter end of the roast spectrum here, as too far south of City+ will squash much of the floral and fruit intensity. Don't worry about developing sweetness with this coffee, as there's so much to be tasted even at City roast level. The aroma is super floral, jasmine flower, and floral fruit notes like yellow cherry at peak ripeness, along with a tart fresh cranberry note. That fruited aspect becomes winier the cooler the cup gets, revealing a wine-like tang that you would expect from slightly fermented cherries. This is probably an affect of process method, and comes off nicely atop deep sweetness that imparts flavors of fresh pressed cane juice. This is such a sweet coffee, body is big too, and the finish is quite clean compared to many other full honey coffees we've tasted. A brisk, tea-like acidity cuts through the complex profile, and mouthfeel is like the tannic side of fine black tea. There's alot to unpack in this coffee's cup profile, so make sure to sip as it cools, and enjoy the array of juicy fruit flavors that unfold.
This blend of coffee from Inzá, Cauca is made up from the small producers from towns, or "Veredas" as they're called in Colombia, that lie in the shadow of the monolithic mountain ridge named "El Hato". El Hato roughly translates to "herd", like a herd of cattle, a term actualized in this ridge as a steep mountain face, whose vertical striation is a physical representation of cattle (the first photo is of the ridge at left). The province of Inzá is located in Southwestern Colombia within the greater Department of Cauca. As you make the drive from La Plata to Inzá, you follow the Rio Páez, and an eventual crossing over a suspension bridge lands you on the road to the the villages whose coffees make up this blend. Like much of Colombia, Cauca is home to some very high altitude farms, many breaching the 2000 meter mark, the coffee from this lot harvested from an altitude range of about 1500 to 2000 meters. The way we make up these regional blends is by cupping several samples from the individual farms, separating out those that meet a certain cup criteria, and then blending them together. It's a great benefit to us (and not to mention the cup) having this level of quality control with our Colombian blends. This is a wet-processed coffee, most farmers using old style hand-cranked pulpers, fermenting and washing in the same tank (the first pic is of a dual-use tank), and then drying out on raised, covered beds. Most farms have a healthy amount of Caturra planted, as well as some Timor hybrids (like Variedad Colombia and Tabi) in response to the major leaf rust outbreak in the 1980's.
The dry fragrance has more than it's share of brown sugar sweetness all the way up to Full City (and probably beyond), that with a red fruit and muffin-like smell reminiscent of raisin or blueberry muffin. The wet crust too has a quality that's like baked goods, pancakes with berry syrup, and a sweet honey-wheat scent on the break. City roasts show a persistent sweetness in the hot cup, going from simple syrup like flavor up front to unrefined, and toasted sugar flavors as you progress through the cup. A dried apple note comes up as the coffee cools, as does a tart to bitter accent of lemon rind. The acidic impressions in light roasts are like blackberry, a pleasant tartness that marks the cup and gives a palate cleansing effect in the finish. Full City roasts have berry fruit flavors intertwined with bittersweet chocolate, which in the finish comes off like chocolate/berry liqueur. Wonderful at a wide range of roasts, and for those who desire a Colombian espresso option, our shots of a Full City roast boasted loads of chocolate with dark fruited hints, viscous mouthfeel, and lasting bittersweetness.
A custom Swiss Water decaf from one of our fresh Colombia arrivals. We built this small producer blend from the coffees of small farmers in the La Union area, northwestern Nariño Department. They belong to a local farmer's association in the Vereda Buenos Aires, most of them situated in the hills not far outside of town, and a couple of the farms also in the neighboring Vereda La Jacoba as well. Their farms are planted in Caturra and Variedad Colombia (F4 and F6 types), and most farmers manage a few hectares of coffee (generally speaking, there's 3 - 5k coffee trees planted per hectare). This coffee was also sold as a non-decaf coffee when it arrived in late July, and like the non-decaf sibling, the decaf version tastes great at a wide range of roasts, and makes for a balanced brewed coffee, as well as a bittersweet espresso.
City+ roasts produce a nice balance of sweetness and cocoa roast bittering qualities, that come off in the dry grounds like caramel and chocolate mousse, an intense bittersweetness. Adding hot water only intensifies the effect, and I find wafts of high % dark chocolate, and sugar browning smells in the steam. There's an unexpected pear note too that is released when breaking through the crust. That latter aspect is a precursor fruited side found in the brewed coffee too, and the layers of cup flavors are pealed back in an order similar to the aromatic impressions. Dark chocolate notes play a heavy role in the hot cup, a bittersweet mix of sugary sweetness and roast tone that come off like dark chocolate brownie, or torte. As the cup cools a bit, the flavors shift toward fruited dark chocolate, dried pear and apple laced through chocolate truffle. This coffee really is all about balanced bittersweetness, and with big body, makes for an excellent option for milk drinks, especially when used as espresso. This would make an excellent decaf cappuccino.
Nilson Lopez is one member of a farmers association in Buesaco town, northwestern Nariño Department. We had the pleasure of visiting the association end of last year, and were able to cup several tables of samples which built out a good chunk of our late December container of arrivals. Most of the lots were so small that we blended them by region and score in order to have sizable offerings for our green coffee list. Don Lopez on the other hand, presented us with a delicious sample of a 20 bag lot of coffee and so we were able to bring in as a single producer. Unfortunately we were not able to visit his farm in Vereda Las Cochitas, but plan to during the 2018 harvest. The association he is a part of are relatively new, but the leadership are not new to running an association, and they've set up a well organized warehouse in town. They are also experienced cuppers, which helps when working to calibrate on a quality target. Association membership is growing, and we tasted some truly impressive coffees when cupping at their warehouse on our last visit. Farms are typically planted in Caturra and Variedad Colombia (F4 and F6 types), and this is a fully washed batch.
The dry fragrance pushes fruit tea and cider smells fresh from the grinder, raw sugar sweetness that has a rustic side like rice syrup, and citrus rind. Full City roasts have a dark berry smell, along with a blast of dark cacao. The aromatics coming up off the wet crust are very sweet, more of a caramel side to it, along with an essence of cooked fruit and butterscotch. The citrus rind note comes full circle in the hot cup, a tangy/bittering note that's like orange rind comes through when drinking hot, and as you move through the coffee, a lemon note also pops up amidst dried fruit flavors. At City, the level of sweetness is intense and akin to raw sugars like palm or date, which holds up to darker roasting too. My Full City roast had attractive dried fruit notes that were hard to put my finger on under the weight of dark cocoa that's ushered in with roast development. Pulling a shot of espresso after 4 days rest produces compact bittersweet chocolate flavor comparable to flourless dark chocolate torte, and velvety mouthfeel. The fruited qualities tasted in the brew don't really come through in flavor, though there's a berry-like brightness. All in all a versatile brew, and great single origin espresso.
The Rio Juanambú is a tributary originating high up in the Cordilleras Central where several of the growing areas we are currently buying from are located. Buesaco, Taminango, Tablón de Gómez, and others, are a few of the localities where we are connecting with local coffee associations and buying coffees from their allied producers. We visited last Jul and cupped through a few hundred samples in order to make up the 285 bags of coffee that filled out our container. In total, we came up with 15 lots, this particular lot being a blend of coffees from 14 producers, lot sizes ranging from 11 kilos to 200 kilos on the large side. We generally organize the selections from these trips by location, flavor matrix, and of course producer if there's a coffee we feel needs to shine on it's own and is sizable enough to where this makes sense. In this case, we felt these 14 coffees complimented each other as a whole, and the final lot came out to 18 bags, which means more people get to try it. As for the farm statistics, we visited several (a few from this blend), and most are planted in a mix of Caturra, Variedad Colombia, and you also see Typica trees peppered throughout. This area is in close proximity to the equator and it's normal to see coffee grown at very high altitudes (2000 - 2100 meters above sea level). This is a wet-processed coffee, most farmers using old style hand-cranked or small machine-ran de-pulpers, fermenting and washing in the same tank, and then drying out on raised, covered beds.
The dry fragrance of Juanambú has a butter toffee nut smell to it, City+ roasts offer caramel/toffee overtones, with roasted almond and black walnut smells underneath. The wet aroma of these lighter roasts is like cinnamon rolls with white icing, a smell of pastry beads cooked with brown sugar and raisin. Raw sugar sweetness dominates the brewed coffee in this lighter roast application, which is about the lightest treatment I would give this coffee. It produces a clean sweet cup, moderate body, surprisingly vibrant acidic impressions, and a light cinnamon hint accents deeper chocolate tones that come into focus in the aftertaste. This bittersweetness becomes more of a focal point at Full City roast level, a bittersweetness reaching it's apex, and layers of rich chocolatey flavors are presented. Chocolate taffy, high % cacao bar, and fine Dutch drinking cocoa come through at Full City, and this is a roast level that furnishes a dense chocolate-focused espresso shot too. A real crowd-pleasing bittersweet cup at a fairly wide range of roasts.
This blend of coffee from Nariño is made up from the producers of neighboring towns, or "Veredas" as they're called in Colombia. Hence the name, "Veredas Vecinas", or "neighboring towns". The Department of Nariño lies in southwestern Colombia, hugging both the Pacific Ocean and Ecuadorian border. Unlike most other growing areas in Colombia who have two harvests each year, Nariño generally has one single "main" harvest. The middle harvest, or "mitaca", is very very small, and does not generally produce exportable volumes. The veredas we are buying from are mostly in the northern part of the region and include La Union, Beusaco, Taminango, and more. Nariño is in close proximity to the equator and it's normal to see coffee grown at very high altitudes (2000 - 2100 meters above sea level). The way we make up these regional blends is by cupping several samples from the individual farms, separating out those that meet a certain cup criteria, and then blending them together. It's a great benefit to us (and not to mention the cup) having this level of quality control with our Colombian blends. This is a wet-processed coffee, most farmers using old style hand-cranked pulpers, fermenting and washing in the same tank (the first pic is of a dual-use tank), and then drying out on raised, covered beds.
The dry fragrance has more than it's share of raw sugar sweetness all the way up to Full City (and probably beyond), candied in middle roasts, I noted smells of candy corn, and honey sticks in the ground coffee. The wet crust has a sweet quality that's like warm cookies baked with butterscotch chips, a sugary sweetness that verges on floral. There's persistent sweetness in the hot brewed cup, going from unrefined to pectin sugar flavors as you progress through the coffee. A flavor of cooked fruit and sweet baked goods comes to mind as the cup cools, and I find flavor parity with raisin bread pudding - raisiny sweetness, almond, and sweet spongy cake. Full City sees an increase in dark chocolate tones as you might expect, and body is near the weight of fruit juice. A wonderful brewed coffee at a wide range of roasts, and for those who desire a Colombian espresso option, expect chocolate syrup and berry tones at Full City roast level, viscous mouthfeel, and cocoa bittersweetness that endures.
Urrao is unique for many reasons, one being the average altitude of this mountain town. The Valley of Penderisco where Urrao lies in northern Antioquia sits at 1800 - 1850 meters, this valley floor being higher than some of the mountain peaks in other areas we buy. Many of the farms we're buying from in the region top out at 2100 meters, healthy Caturra plantings abound. This area is quite cold too, however the coffee farmers have benefited from an uptick of a couple of degrees C over the past decade, now a climate more suitable for coffee production. This lot from Don Giraldo is a first for us, a newer producer to the buying program we are part of in this region, the number of contributing farmers now upwards to 50. Most farms are less than 5 hectares of coffee, and planted in Caturra, Variedad Colombia, and a local heirloom of Caturra. The coffee is wet processed at home, depulped, fermented, and dried in raised solar dryers. Because of the cold weather, fermentation times are longer on average than many southern coffees we buy. This lends to more fruit-forward notes, and somewhat muted acidity. We enjoyed City+ and Full City roasts of Don Giraldo's coffee the most, where dark fruit notes are paired with bittersweetness, and body is dense and weighty.
Grinding the coffee gives a pleasant, if not accurate, preview of what to expect in a brewed cup. Molasses and other dark sugar sweetness dominate, with understated dried fruit and herbal notes accenting the ground coffee. The level of sweetness builds in the wet aroma, a creamy smell of brown sugar and chocolate milk, accents of banana bread coming up in the steam after breaking through the wetted crust. These fruit tones carry weight in the cup too, especially as you pass City+ roast level, which I think is a roast level minimum for this coffee (lighter and I found sweetness to be lacking). Fruited notes are on the subtle side when the coffee is hot, but a bittersweet core flavor matrix is anything but. At City+ the bittersweetness isn't so chocolatey, but more like corn muffin with honey and a peach skin bittering. Once cooled down a bit, dried fruit notes come through but are not easily defined with the base bittersweetness more in focus, and a hazelnut flavor fills the aftertaste. Full City roasts build up layers of chocolate roast tone, like baking cocoa and high % cacao bar, and dark berry undertones add a layer of complexity. At 48 hours rest, cup characteristics of City+ and Full City roasts find harmony, and make for a nice brewed coffee. Full City and Full City+ roasts make a fantastic chocolate-toned espresso too.
This is the wet processed counterpart to our Gesha duo from Finca La Bohemia. Wet processing involves fermenting freshly de-pulped coffee for 12 - 24 hours in order to remove all of the sticky fruit before laying out to dry. This is widely considered the "cleanest" processing method, in that by removing the wet fruit layer - something that extends the drying period considerably - you remove one more variable of unpredictability that affects the final cup quality (sometimes negatively). And while we've been nothing but impressed with both honey-processed Caturra and Gesha lots from La Bohemia, this coffee proves their versatility and mastery of both processing methods. Finca La Bohemia is located in the small town of Buenos Aires within the greater Department of Nariño. The farm is owned and operated by the Lasso Family, the first to grow coffee in this particular region. La Bohemia is 28 hectares planted in mostly Caturra as well as some Gesha, and sits on a sloping hillside reaching just over 2000 meters above sea level. Siblings Racquel and Hermillas Lasso started a foundation in Buenos Aires about 25 years ago with the purpose of helping local women gain financial independence, often from abusive husbands. The Lasso family identified a domestic violence problem in their town, women often dependent on violent husbands for financial support for their families, who without work of their own felt trapped by their dependence. So they started this program with the idea that the work will afford these women financial independence which in turn puts them in a better position to make decisions for themselves. The program started with a blackberry business that didn't really work out due to a fungal problem, then they moved into supplying cows in order to sell milk (which is still going), and also a coffee association that is still going strong. The association has since moved to the nearby town of La Union where it can serve a wider population. That's Carlos Lasso at La Bohemia in the first photo, another coffee farmer of the Lasso family.
One of two Gesha lots from Finca La Bohemia, the cup flavors in this coffee are clean and succinct, tea-like characteristics highlighting the cup of light roasts. City and City+ roast levels are about the range I'd shoot for with this coffee. Any darker will result in a nice sweet cup, but without the delicate floral tea qualities found at the lighter end of the roast spectrum, which is what makes Gesha coffee special. The brewed coffee has a sprinkle of clove spice and jasmine pearl tea, as well as a tangerine note that adds a juicy touch to the otherwise delicate profile. Top notes are most discernible when the cup is cooling down, and a bright citric acidity comes through with bracing affect. As temperature dips the citrus flavors develop into more pulpy flavors, like orange juice pulp, and the finish is clean to the point of nearly disappearing altogether shortly after drinking. Definitely one of our sweeter Colombian coffees, the aroma and flavor are loaded with honey and a raw cane juice. This Gesha really stands up on it's own, and makes for an interesting comparison to it's honey processed counterpart. This is definitely the more restrained cup profile of the two, and perhaps best tasted on it's own as not to be overshadowed by the more dominant, fruited cup of the honey processed lot.
Coffee, or tea, or both? When you wet-process coffee, the skin is difficult to save, and usually becomes part of the compost mix for the farm. But in Arabia and Africa, the skin of the cherry is used to make a very potent tea called Qishr (also spelled Kisher). In fact, making a tea from the dried coffee fruit pre-dates roasting the coffee seed to crush and steep in water, coffee as we know it. And even today, the price of Qishr is higher than the price of coffee in an Arabic market. Cascara is the name used in Central America for these fruit skins, and a perfect name for the tea made from them as well. If you like fruit-blend herbal teas, especially those with fruited flavors like hibiscus, rose-hips, tamarind, orange peel, mango, apple, you should like Cascara tea a lot. It makes amazing iced tea as well, and with a very moderate amount of honey can be very pleasant. The best way to make Cascara tea is in a French Press, or you can use any method you would use for preparing herbal tea. Brewing like filtered coffee does not work well as it benefits from a long steep time (5 - 8 minutes), and you can make it a bit strong, then add water (or pour over ice) to taste. Traditionally, Qishr has additions of cardamom pods and sugar while brewing, and that is another interesting preparation with Cascara as well. Does it have caffeine? Yes, since all parts of the coffee plant do ...but we don't know how much, and it will certainly depend on steep time and the amount used to make each cup. What's interesting about this cascara, is that it is dehydrated - part of a joint effort on the part of the folks at the Helsar micro-mill in Costa Rica, and a research team at the University of Costa Rica. They found that cascara has 50% more antioxidants than cranberries, and are using dehydration for drying the cherry to near 0 moisture, making for a crisp and very edible product. Yes, edible! In addition to tea, try using it in place of dried fruit on cereal, yogurt, or even on it's own. Expect to see the occasional stem too, easily spotted and removed. And while the final produce is not certified organic, they are only using coffee cherry from Helsar's three organic farms.
Cascara has a raisin-prune smell, clean and clearly fruited. It shares many light, and tart smells and flavors with dried hibiscus, the flower used to make jamaica tea in Mexico. As soon as you add water you smell tamarind, accompanied by delicate floral to herbal smells. As mentioned, the flavors of many dried fruits come out in this tea: hibiscus, tamarind, raisin, dried apple, dried passion fruit, and mango. The cascara/qishr we've had in the past benefited from a touch of sweetener, but this one is quite sweet on it's own. We steeped 10 grams in 350 ml of water for about 8 minutes and the brew had a simple syrup quality, very sweet, but free and clear of the unrefined aspects of raw sugar. It has bigger body than most herbal and black teas, on it's way to apple juice in weight. Fool around with steep times, ratios, and additives to find the combination that works best for your taste. As the cup cools in temperature, the silkiness and weight of the liquor becomes more and more apparent, as do sweet to tart fruited flavors like apple, yellow cherry, and ripe cranberry. Possibilities for the use of Cascara tea seem endless; cooking, sauces, baking, beer brewing. It's a tea...but it's coffee...and now also a snack? A unique coffee product, to say the least.
This is a separated lot from Santa Lucia farm, one of the three farms surrounding the Helsar micro mill in Costa Rica's West Valley area. The mill and farm are run by Ricardo Perez, who along with his two brothers, each manage a farm and operations at Helsar. The Helsar mill was one of the first in the region to break up lots by individual producer instead of bulking coffees together. Not only do they process the coffee from their farms, but they also process the coffees of a few dozen neighbors (coffees we also tend to buy annually - Miguel Rojas, Magdalena Vega, Asdrubal Chavez, and others). The coffee quality is due in part to the excellent processing methods at this mill. Each year they make improvements, the past few years adding new dry milling equipment, more and improved raised drying beds, warehouse space for improved storage of coffee in the resting phase (reposo). Helsar uses forced demucilage equipment to machine-wash their coffee, an efficient method with low environmental impact that has similar outcomes to traditional wet-fermentation processing. As for the farm, Santa Lucia is planted in Caturra, Catuai, and Villalobos, and they use only fully organic farm practices. This lot is a separation of only the Villalobos cultivar, which is a dwarf mutation of Typica. Santa Lucia was certified organic until last year, when the brothers decided to forego the certification due to cost and bureaucracy, though they continue to operate 100% organic.
Cupping a City+ roast of Santa Lucia, the ground coffee brings a subtle sweetness to the table, bittering core coffee characteristics present with a layer of unrefined sugar sweetness mixed in. The coffee makes quite a transformation from this humble start, wet aromatics giving promise of a bigger coffee than the fragrance lets on to. A coconut and dark chocolate smell comes up in the steam, along with fruited accents that are still a little on the dull side, but their presence is definite. And the brewed coffee gives the final show, a sweet undercurrent of toffee and honey flavors, offsetting central bittersweetness. There's life breathed into the fruited tones sensed early on in aroma, and they take form as accents of dried peach, whole dried banana, and coconut chips. Santa Lucia has lovely apple/malic acidic impression at this roast level too, which adds definition to the flavors in the cup profile. Body is noticeably juicy too, and I think taking a shade darker (Full City) will yield dense bittersweetness and viscous mouthfeel, not to mention make a good option for Costa Rican single origin espresso.
The Malacara Estate goes back over 125 years, when the Alvarez family planted the first shrubs to populate the farm on the slopes of the Santa Ana volcano. Now four generations deep, the Alvarez family continue to manage Malacara, which has expanded throughout the decades into three different plots: Malacara A, B, and C. This coffee is from plot C, which is located on the north side of the volcano at roughly 1500 meters above sea level. The farms are 90% planted with Bourbon and Typica types, and are wet milled onsite at Malacara. This is a fully washed coffee, meaning that the whole cherry is removed with a depulping machine, then the mucilage-covered seeds are fermented in order to remove the sticky layer that remains. The coffee is then dried on patios before being milled by Beneficio El Borbollón, who prepare the coffee for export by removing the layer of parchment, separating screen sizes, and sorting out physical defects. A comfortable coffee to roast, Malacara takes on a uniform color as you move through the stages of roast, and is therefore fairly easy to judge roast level by the changes in physical color.
The dry fragrance has an oat and malt sugar smell, subtle nut accents, which together have a sweet cereal appeal. The wet aroma has a similar malty smell to it, and also honey sweetness, and a pistachio scent comes up in the steam when breaking through the crust. The sweet smells leading up to the cup offer a fairly accurate representation of the cup that follows. City+ is a great starting point roast-wise, a sweetness defined by notes of brown sugar, malt syrup, and a honey graham accent as the coffee cools. Malacara has an understated tea-like perceived acidity, which affords a layer of clarity in a coffee that might otherwise be fairly two dimensional. Full City roasts are chocolatey, and with a sweet wheat flavor bears a likeness to a chocolate muffin, and bittersweet chocolate roast tones last in the aftertaste.
"Blue Forty Two!", an often-yelled quarterback command, signaling a play pattern, and pre-cursing the Center's snap of the football. Yes, believe it or not, we're going to draw a connection between quarter back's play calls and our newest Workshop espresso blend! The blend consists of mostly wet-processed African coffees, 2/5 Ethiopian and 2/5 Rwanda, and as such packs quite the acidic 'punch'. The West Ethiopian coffees are from Limu, and on their own show a mix of chocolate and orange flavors when pulled as espresso, and a resonant lemony tang is easily discernible all the way up to Full City+ roast level (the darkest we tried). The Burundi isn't quite as citric, but still quite vibrant, especially in comparison to most coffees from Latin America. And it's an all bourbon cultivar as well which bodes well for level of sweetness. I have to say, it was tempting to just do a three-bean blend with these three coffees, as I'm a big fan of sweet, bright shots. But in an effort to take a little of the acidic edge off, we've mixed in a small amount of Costa Rica honey processed coffee, which lends a subtle fruited side, clean sweetness, and softens the acidic snap if only by a small margin. And 'snap' is what brings us back to "Blue Forty Two"....the snap of the football, and a snappy acidity in the espresso. OK, I'm reaching just a little with this one. But it also gives us an opportunity to resurrect the art used on an old favorite Sweet Maria's t-shirt from year's back!
If you liked #41, Afiliate Romano, you're sure to be a fan of Blue Forty Two. Like I laid out above, this is an espresso blend with untamable acidic snappiness, and the lighter you roast, the more unruly it will be. And while not necessarily a bad thing, I would avoid City roasting altogether, as even with a long roast time, the metallic flavors that come with light roasting are a lot to contend with. Full City and Full City+ is where I think this blend shows best, where a lemony tartness is engulfed in a flavor of rich chocolate syrup, divergent flavors that seemingly pull you in opposite directions! Ristretto shots of a Full City roast boasts stacked chocolate notes: carob to cocoa, Hershey's syrup, and more. Chocolate of the more bittersweet variety are what's tasted up front, along with a closely-following citric tartness, and in volume. The initial 'zing' is like fresh squeezed lemon, but then backing off in intensity to citrus flavors like orange juice, grapefruit, and citrus pulp too. The sweetness found with the initial onset of chocolate flavors falls away a bit too, leaving behind a more bittering cocoa tone, like unsweetened baking chocolate, that fills out the finish. The mouthfeel is so viscous, and crema comes easily in both short and long shots of Full City and Full City+.
"Pico y Placa" is a phrase I picked up on a recent visit to Medellin, Colombia. It has to do with a law enacted in order to cut down on traffic congestion by prohibiting groups of cars and motorcycles to be on the road during peak traffic times based on the last number of their license plate ("pico" peak, and "placa" plate). I learned of this because our trip to Urrao from Medellin fell on a day where our host wasn't supposed to be driving his car, which left us rushing to get out of the city limits by 7am. Not so relaxing, but I do like the way the name rolls off the tongue! This workshop strays from the African-based ingredients of the previous few Workshop blends. OK, there is a small amount of washed Ethiopian coffee, but 2/3 of the blend is made up coffees from Colombia and Guatemala. Why? Well, we wanted this latest addition to have chocolate notes at it's core. And "chocolately" it is. Both Colombia and Guatemala ingredients are wet processed, coffees that when taken to the outer reaches of Full City promise intense bittersweetness but with balance, and impressive inky body. The Ethiopian ingredient we're using is much more muted in terms of top note complexity, and brings citrus vibrance without being distracting. It too is laden with cocoa roast tones with roast development, adding to the overall flavor matrix. We constructed this blend with espresso in mind, but City+ roasts will serve up a good cup of coffee too. For espresso try starting at Full City (my personal fave in terms of balanced sweet and bittering flavors), edging south if you need to tone down acidity.
All three ingredients used in Pico y Placa are capable of producing incredibly rich chocolate notes when roasted to Full City and beyond, each bringing their own unique set of top notes to construct a complex and bittersweet espresso blend. Roasted cacao nib smells come up from the ground coffee, which if you haven't smelled before, have a chocolatey smell for sure, and with subtle fruited accent smells too. I only roasted this blend to Full City, which produced impressive level of sweetness, and I'm sure this will make a delicious darker roasted espresso too for those who prefer 2nd crack roast development. My first espresso attempt was my longest extraction, roughly 20 grams of coffee going in and 45 grams liquid over the course of 28 seconds. Definitely nothing "thin"about it at this ratio, though not as dense as the one that followed. Flavors are a mix of high % cacao bar and sugar in the raw. The bittersweetness is well balanced, and the cup is lightly marked by a 'pop' of citrus up front. Fruited accents come through, especially in the finish, and come off like dark chocolate covered raisin. I loved the shorter shot I pulled next - 20 grams coffee in, 30 grams espresso out over 30 seconds - so viscous, and dense in terms of flavor profile and mouthfeel. A chocolatey richness dominates the shot, and up front there's a syrupy flavor of dark chocolate stout beer, giving way to to a citrus note that's equal parts tart juice and bittering peel. Layers of cocoa/chocolate notes flourish in the finish, along with subdued dark fruit accents, and compact bittersweetness leaves a lasting impression. I'm impressed by viscosity in both long and short shots with a milky weight and feel, and would make an incredible cappuccino.
The Sadi Loya cooperative is located near Agaro town, in the Jimma Zone of Western Ethiopia. It's a relatively smaller coop, and serves the local farm members by acting as a central collection site for their coffees. With the help of the cooperative union that they are part of (Kata Muduga), they are able to offer services to members such as agronomical training and financial loans, as well as afford the farmers a link to the international coffee market. Sadi Loya were one of four coops to receive a $52k grant in USAID money in order to help them build out a more sophisticated wet milling operation. This is the first year we bought coffee from Sadi Loya (and may be the first year their coffee was exported to the US at all), and were pleased by the cup cleanliness, and subtleties found in our lighter roasts. We tested this coffee as dark as Full City (roughly 25 degrees F after the beginning of 1st crack), but found that much of the restrained top notes sensed in our City and City+ roasts were lost to bittersweetness and roast tone.
The dry fragrance has a delicate sweetness to it that lies somewhere between simple syrup and refined honey, clear and succinct. Both fragrance and aromatics have perfumed floral smells too, like lavender and honey suckle, and refined sugar undercurrents. The flavor profile is a bit subdued, and the top notes sensed in the cup take the form of fruit gum, dried green apple, and intimations of lemon-flavored tea. Floral notes hover overhead, and are a bit more like hop-florals when brewed, still showing hints of the more perfumed varieties sensed in fragrance too. The cool cup is sweet, and clean, and tea-like herbals hint in the aftertaste.
Sota Coop sits just a few kilometers outside of Bedele town in Ethiopia's Western-most province of Illubabor. They formed the cooperative in 2000, but in 2010 however, they became part of an initiative we helped to set up in Ethiopia that assisted at the cooperative level. The program was administered by a non-governmental organization and helped to coordinate agronomists, finance processing equipment, train leadership, and facilitate more efficient business practices including profit re-investment and fair distribution to farm workers. They've since "graduated" from the program, and are now operating under their own leadership and member-elected board. Processing is done mechanically to remove the fruit from the beans. The beans are then soaked in fiberglass bins overnight to clean any remaining solids before dried on raised beds. Having only produced naturals prior to receiving the processing equipment, producers now are able to sell their clean parchment at levels 3 and 4 times what they sold at in the past.
Sota is not your standard Ethiopian coffee. It's a cup profile personified by its dark sweetness. The fragrance of the dry grounds is very sweet like red honey with background notes of dried tamarind, and apple dusted with cinnamon and ginger powders. Brown sugar and cream soda smells effervesced from the crust of the coffee at City roast, and spice and fruit smells accented the steam on the break, as well as a brief spot of fresh floral. At a City roast level the floral aspects remain more of a backdrop, but are perhaps the most present at this light level, reaching their apex with hop-like presence when the cup cools in temperature. City and City+ roasts are more driven by dark fruited sweetness, like what you find in date and raisin, along with flavors of sugar cane soda, and raw honey with beeswax. The acidity has a sparkling beauty too, like fizzy orange soda. Dark, sticky fruit flavors are prominent in Full City roasts, body dense, and bittering cocoa tones are ushered in toward the tail of the finish. A supremely sweet cup in all three of our roasts - City, City+, and Full City - and considering the balance between sweetness, mouthfeel, and acidity, Sota will make for an outstanding espresso.
The Nano Challa Cooperative is part of an initiative we have in Ethiopia to work direct at the coop level. The name Nano Challa refers to a local mythic tale about a challenge to become King of Jimma, and the coop adopted it to signify their desire to be a strong cooperative. Indeed, many coops in the West of Ethiopia have struggled to find good buyers who will pay enough for the coffee, to manage their own debts, and from internal struggles and graft. Nano Challa was formed as part of an initiative to aid farmers in a more comprehensive way. The program was administered by a non-government organization that not only coordinates agronomists and managers for each of the coops they work with, but also has a business adviser assigned that helps the cooperative manage their debt, re-invest in quality improvements at the mill, and verifies distribution of income to all members.They've since "graduated" from this program, and are now part of an independent, local Union who assist the cooperatives with functions like marketing, exporting, and general representation on an international scale. Nano Challa is a smaller cooperative coffee mill near Gera town in the Agaro area, Western Ethiopia. (The area also has some of the finest honey available in Ethiopia). The farms are at altitudes between 1900 to 2100 meters, planted in old regional varieties of coffee.
Nano Challa has a honey sweet smell in lightest roasts (City), stone fruit and tea suggestions, and sugary sweetness that finds it's apex when adding hot water. Brown sugar and toffee smells are focused in the wet aroma, a candy sweetness that reminds me of torrone (minus the nuts), and the break releases a light accent of pearl jasmine tea, giving way to more weighty fruited smells that have elements of fruit cobbler. Brewed, Nano Challa produces a lightly fruited cup at City and City+ roast levels, with refined sweetness, and pristine finish. The underlying flavor is reminiscent of white honey, which is mildly fruited in flavor, and an aromatic note of ginger chew candies. Lighter roasts have a mild citrus note like orange juice, pulp and all, along with subtle Earl Grey and Jasmine accents. Darker fruit tones are built up at deeper roast levels, along with a Ricola-like dark herbal aspect, and the finish is marked by pleasant bittering qualities of cacao and dried orange peel. A mild citrus-like acdity serves as a focal point too, especially in the lighter roasts, adding a mouthcleansing affect to the finish. This years' Nano Challa has a dense mouthfeel, especially in middle to dark roasting, making for a nice choice for espresso blend accent coffee.
"Decaf" conjures memories of coffee flavored drink, a pale example, poor representation of what coffee's supposed to taste like, roasted to a crisp as to obfuscate the flavors that come with the decaffeination process. Thankfully, this is a thing of the past. The Swiss Water decaf method involves nothing more than water, first swelling the beans to become porous, then washing away 99.9% of the caffeine before drying back to 11% moisture. This is a very gentle method compared to decafs of yore, and leaves much of the volatile compounds that affect flavor and aroma intact. Send a floral, fruit-forward regular coffee to Swiss, and get a floral, fruit-forward decaf in return! A little about this particular coffee. We bought this coffee direct from coop Nano Challa, a coffee we've bought for several years now, and is a highlight of our Ethiopian coffee list. Unlike some of the small-holder coffee areas we buy from where harvest lots can be less than 10 bags, Ethiopian cooperatives produce large blends of the coffees of coop members. We bought a full 320 bag container of this coffee, and were able to easily peel off a chunk for decaffeination.
Body and sweetness are what's most apparent to me when cupping this Ethiopian decaf offering. Right out of the gate (or, brewer rather), Gera Jimma has a sweetness like liquid brown sugar, with body the weight of fruit juice, albeit a little oily in mouthfeel. Fruited notes are on the understated side, but I do get accent notes of peach tea, apple and Bosc pear. The cooling cup reveals a toasted carob powder note, along with a long lasting corn syrup flavor, and doughy sweet bread accents. This coffee doesn't need much roast development to kick up hefty sweetness, and actually, taking close to 2nd snaps proved too smokey for my taste. City+ is where this decaf shines in my opinion, that is if you're looking to retain some of the flavor markers of the coffee's origin. But if you're just looking for balance of sweet and bitter tones, by all means, head to the edge of Full City. I don't think you'll be disappointed! Great espresso option too on it's own, or a sweet and bodied base for blending.
Baaroo is the local Oromifa name for this cooperative in the far western part of Illubabor. Baaroo were part of an initiative we helped adminster in Ethiopia to work direct at the coop level. The program was implemented via a non-government organization that not only coordinated agronomists and managers for each of the coops they worked with, but also had a business adviser assigned that helped the cooperative manage their debt, re-invest in quality improvements at the mill, and verified distribution of income to all members. Baaroo has since "graduated", and is under full operation and direction of coop members and their self appointed board (Fiseha Dibissa advisor in 3rd photo). Baaroo is quite small and remote compared to the other excellent cooperatives we buy from in Illubabor region. We have been impressed with the cup quality, and how clean and fresh the coffee tastes although it tends to be harvested later than other nearby stations. It is from a lower relative altitude than others (1700m) but perhaps because of the heavily forested environment in this part of Illubabor, the effect slows the maturation of coffee, and increases the density of the bean. It seems to be so, in both flavor profile and roast.
We're really pleased with this year's lot of Baaroo. A balanced coffee, Baaroo's profile has just the right levels of complex sugar browning sweetness and subtle top notes to reflect coffees from the origin. The dry fragrance has a smell of dark toffee, so sweet and candy-like, with an understated peach note of the canned, syrupy sweet variety. Adding hot water sees a boost in stone fruit aromatics, like apricot and brown sugar,, as well as a peak in sugary sweetness, a maple icing scent filling the steam. Baaroo is extremely versatile, and great at both light and dark roast levels. Notes of stone fruit reductions with unrefined sugars prevail across the roast spectrum, and darker roasts develop deep chocolate roast tones. Oddly enough, the floral side is most present in the hot cup, faint jasmine and lemon oil accent a honey-sweet cup. The cooler temperature allows for profile expansion and depth, and the profile is filled out with notes of raw honey, baking spices, slab apricot, and a well-integrated lemony acidity. There is a mingling of rindy citrus and cacao nibs in the finish too that interplay with one another nicely. Body is juicy, even at City roast level, and translates into great mouthfeel as both brewed coffee and espresso. Espresso shots of a Full City roast extract a rich chocolate syrup flavor, along with orange juice and licorice accents, and undeniable citrus brightness but without overpowering the shot.
Yukiro Cooperative was once part of an initiative in Ethiopia focused on working directly at the coop level. Administered by a non-government organization, they helped the cooperative with coordinating agronomists, managers, and with business advisors to helps the cooperative manage their debt, re-invest in quality improvements at the mill, and verifies distribution of income to all members. This is a key position; I have never known a coop to get this kind of expert advice from outside ... not in Africa at least. A cooperative can make all kinds of quality improvements, turn out fantastic coffee, and sink deeper in debt all the while. Cooperatives often fail to return a fair and full amount of payment to their farmer-members. Often this is from poor management, and sometimes from graft as well. The ultimate goal of the program is to get the cooperatives they work with to the point of self sustainability, which Yukiro has now achieved. Because of this work and the resulting transparency of the organization, we can verify that the great price we paid will result in a fair distribution of funds, a better managed coop, investment in the mill, and even better coffee next year. The farms are in Goma Woreda, with altitudes between 1900 to 2100 meters. Yukiro currently has 520 members (170 female members), and have improved their beds and warehouse capacity in the last year, as well as installed a new Penagos 2500 coffee pulper.
Light roasting is best suited for this year's lot of Yukiro. We tried 3 different roast levels for this review, including a Full City roast, which produced roast tones that all but completely overshadowed the inherent top note complexity found at City and City+ roast levels. The dry fragrance at City has a delicate floral note, with subtle fruited allusions, and a clover honey smell underneath. The brewed coffee really shines at City and City+, where the most clarity in profile flavors and aroma are found. Acidity is on the citric side, a tart lemon mouthfeel props up the delicate top notes found in the cup, as does an underlying raw sugar sweetness. When hot, this underlying sweetness reads like raw cane sugar, simple and refined. As the cup cools, a retronasal aspect perfumes the cup, and more aromatic sugars come to mind: panela, cane juice, and raw honey. Citrus fruit notes come into focus, sweetened limeade, and a lemon grass tea note in flavor and aroma. A faint apricot juice note also comes into play in the warm cup adding a tart, fruited sweetness, that along with a hoppy floral note gives an impression of apricot Hefeweizen beer in the finish. It's important to point out that Yukiro is subtle, restrained, and I found that the flavors mentioned above to be most easily discernible at City roast level and when the cup temperature cools off from brew temp. At 200 F, it's generally hard to taste much beyond sweetness and bittering coffee tones in any coffee. But Yukiro's profile in particular benefits from cooling off 30 degrees or more after brewing, unlocking an inherent delicate complexity.
A selection of 4 or 8 different coffees. They are curated by us each day.
Trying a sampler is the best way, in my opinion, to get started home roasting, especially if you are not sure what coffee to choose. We can not promise a particular origin in the sampler.
In the 4 Lb and 8 Lb sample sets we try to include a coffee from every coffee growing continent and a range of processes. Some folks have suggested that having a larger quantity of a single bean that takes a range of roasts is a better way to learn roasting -- I think getting a range of flavors so you can start to see the difference origin makes is better. The choice is up to you really. Limit one sample set per order since we cannot ensure against duplicates if you order multiple sample sets.
A selection of 4 different decaf coffees.
A selection of 4 or 8 different coffees we think will do well for espresso roast levels and preparation. They are curated by us each day, no substitutions.
Please note: for this Espresso sampler - we send some of our Sweet Maria's blends, and some single origins considered good for espresso. The selection in this option is more narrow, tailored for demands of espresso brewing and the 4lb espresso sampler will be mostly/all espresso blends.
Lot #209 is the first of a series of individual Gesha lots we purchased from a coffee estate in the Acatenango region. We buy this Gesha every year, and this year we decided to offer seperated lots instead of blending into one final coffee. We found that all of the coffee lots share similar cup characteristics. Afterall, they are the same cultivar pulled from the the same farm. But flavor profiles did vary slightly, as did our scores, and so we think it's only fair to offer them as unique offerings to highlight their differences, and to keep things fresh. If you don't know the story of the Gesha cultivar, it is an old coffee type from Ethiopia that was brought to an experimental coffee garden in Costa Rica years ago as a specimen sample. It was distributed to a few farms for testing on small plots, but not much was thought of it until one of these, Esmeralda in Panama, separated it from the other cultivars and entered it in the national competition. It was so outrageously different, with fruited and floral character like a Yirga Cheffe coffee from half a world away. Now that the word is out, other farms that received some of the seed have tried to separate their Gesha coffee as well, as is the case here. The results are always a bit different: the cultivar "expresses" itself differently in terms of cup flavors at each location, influenced by weather, soil, altitude and the like. And with this coffee from the region of Acatenango, we have a Gesha cup that expresses much of that floral intensity that's become synonymous with the "Gesha" name. Harvest was quite productive this year again as the owner of the farm has dedicated even more of his farm to this varietal, which after putting it to the cup test we've decided is a very good thing.
Floral sweetness is part of what's unique about the Gesha cultivar - perfume-like, sweet, complex, and 'fresh' - a set of aromatics we've come to associate with Spring and Summer, the time when this Gesha arrives. The dry fragrance of lot 1 is a bit more subdued than what we expect from this coffee. Jasmine notes do accent raw sugar sweetness, but I wouldn't say it "bowled us over" as it has in the past. (That said, put it next to another coffee from the region and I think we'd all say otherwise!). The wet aromatics, however, are where fresh florals and clean sugary sweet smells reach their apex, a perfumed gardenia-like scent, and cooked stone fruit, pectin sweetness underneath. Jasmine and rose water florals are apparent at a fairly wide roast range, however I would caution against taking anywhere near Full City+ as the roast tones will dominate much of the top note complexity. We do get customer feedback from time to time asking what all the fuss is about with Gesha, and I would say 9 times out of 10, they roast the coffee too dark to find out. I love drinking light and even closer to middle roasts of this coffee (City to City+), where citrus flavors of lemon water and mandarin orange highlight the cup, and vibrant acidity threads together the complex accent notes that hang way out in the aroma: lemon and limade, pearl jasmine and sencha teas, bubble gum, and peach hard candy. This Gesha has surprisingly juicy body when taken into City+, which sets it apart from many other Geshas we've tasted, a weight that supports the intense cup characteristics and sweetness. The finish is filled out with notes of cardamom spice and even a light dusting of cocoa powder in roasts beyond City+. Full City roasts are enjoyable, but I personally wouldn't compromise this complex cup character with darker roasting. As usual, these Gesha beans iare dense and large, and I found that the coffee benefited from a handful of seconds beyond the completion of 1st crack, ensuring roast evenness.
San Diego Buena Vista ("SDBV") has consistently provided us with top quality Acatenango coffee, a sizable all-bourbon separation from their farm on the slopes of the volcano. They continue to plan new bourbon plants from their nursery each year, and this season's harvest topped 200 bags, which allowed us to send a small chunk for decaffeination at the Swiss Water Decaffeination plant in Vancouver, Canada. We've worked with Swiss to process good tasting regular coffees into good tasting decafs for several years now, and are once again awed by the similarly flavored cup between this decaf and non-decaf pair. Sweetness is central to the SDBV bourbon cup, and remains an integral part of this coffee's profile post-decaffeination. This isn't a decaf you'll need to roast dark in order to obfuscate pasty and savory flavors. SDBV shows well at light roasts as well as dark roasting, and is as versatile in brew method as it is roast level. I roasted a few batches on a small home machine and had no problems hearing first cracks too, which can be a little trick with decaffeinated coffee, and can lead to over roasting. You can expect to see some bean fracturing and broken beans, which comes with the territory of any added decaffeination process, but does not affect the cup. If you're a Behmor user, consider giving your roast grid drum a shake before loading in the machine to let any small bean fragments to fall away outside the roaster.
This decaf version of San Diego Buena Vista ("SDBV") shows classic balance of a washed Guatemalan coffee. A mild cup all around, with the robust sweetness inherent to this coffee, SDBV brews well at a wide range of roasts, and is a great option for decaf espresso too (or a sweet base for espresso blending). The dry fragrance at City roast level has a smell of brown sugar on toast, a touch of rye malt in the background. City+/Full City roasts have a dark bittersweetness in the wet aroma, like burned sugar and Dutch cocoa powder. I was really taken aback by the level of sweetness in the cup, especially considering I tasted next to a non-decaf Huehuetenango coffee. Acidity is muted in comparison, a common affect post-decaffeination, but not lost altogether. And the sweetness is like brown sugar, barley malt syrup, and with a grainy chocolate flavor that reminds me of chocolate stout. Full City has impressive body, still loads of bittersweetness, and a hint of cinnamon powder in the finish. Espresso shots show long and layered chocolate bittersweetness and viscous mouthfeel, and you'd be hard pressed to guess this is decaf at all.
Each year we find new folks in Huehuetenango to buy coffee from, and sometimes we're lucky enough to find a whole family of coffee producers. The Castillos are such a family, and this lot is made up by Edwin, Arcenio, and Cornelio in the Hoja Blanca area of Cuilco - neighbors, family members, "Familia Castillo" (that's Edwin, and Arcenio along with other brother Felino in the first picture). Hoja Blanca is rife with coffee farmers, like many of these highland regions, and it's an area we've been buying coffee from now for some time, with Finca Regalito/Famila Villatoro being one of our longest interests. These farms are situated right around 1700 meters, and Caturra and Bourbon make up the lion's share of varietals, but some Typica trees are also in the mix at a much lower volume. Processing is handled onsite, the coffee is patio dried, and then trucked down to a dry-mill in Antigua. This is year 2 for our Proyecto Xinabajul, and we're pleased to offer these newest members.
This coffee boasts raw sugar sweetness in middle roasting, and a pleasant nuttiness that make for a great daily cup. The dry fragrance has a date sugar smell to it, and accented by roasted almond, and brown sugar. The wetted crust has a saturated brown sugar sweetness and cinnamon accent, that has a pastry smell like coffee cake. I really enjoyed both of my roasts of Familia Castillo which were roughly City+ and Full City, both showing convincing levels of sweetness, nougat, unrefined sugars, and more. They both also had a roasted nut quality that along with the sweetness came off like caramel or toffee covered nut. Letting a City+ brew cool a bit, a sweet hazelnut flavor comes through, along with candy-coated pistachio in the finish, and black tea brightness highlighting the cup. Full City roasts are chocolatey indeed, and I'd bet the sweetness holds up at Full City+ too, balancing out the increasingly bittering roast tones that come with it.
Cuilco is a region up in the Huehuetenango highlands, and is part of La Libertad municipality. This lot is a blend of a few farms in the area whose coffees stood out on a recent visit. We cup many samples on these trips, identifying similar flavor profiles and qualities worth blending together, and in the case of lot sizes that are large enough, separate on their own. So many of the farmers in this area have small farms, 1 hectare, sometimes less, and so we bulk together coffees from 5, 10, or more farms sometimes in order to put together a large enough lot of coffee that makes sense. This is one of our "microlot" quality blends, coffees that we consider better than just "good", and that we scored above 88 points. The farms are mainly planted with a mix of Caturra and Bourbon varietals, and the altitude varies between 1600 to 1900m meters above sea level. These are dense coffees, and can handle relatively high heat in the roaster. I like to tack on a few seconds beyond my normal end roast times to allow for internal bean development. If you're shooting for City-City+ roasts, and have manual heat control, you might play around with stretching out the last leg of the roast post-1st crack. Consider dropping the temperature by as much as 50% after hearing the beginning of 1st snaps, slowing the rate of heat rise, and further developing the coffees sweetness (but be careful not to stall!).
This blend from the Cuilco region has a nice developed sweetness throughout the profile, the dry grounds giving off a smell of caramelizing sugar, butter, and vanilla (like the aroma released when making caramel). City+ is really the starting edge of my roast recommendation, and both our City+ and Full City roasts showed immense body and bittersweetness, with subtle top notes that come into play once the cup cools off a bit. Brewing a City+ roast, the coffee has a straight-forward bittersweet appeal, dark brown sugar and cocoa roast tones equally matched, and a subtle plum-like acidity can be sensed. As the cup cools down a bit, a chocolatey tones show intensity, and give way to dark fruit flavors like stewed plum, and date pudding. But fruited tones are more icing on the proverbial cake, which if this coffee were a cake, it'd have been made with a mixture of high % cacao bar and bittering baking cocoa. Full City roasts have to be tried as espresso too if you have the means. A flavor of Dutch drinking cocoa is resonant, with a fig/date flavor coming through in intermittent bursts.
Xinabajul is the name of the original Huehuetenango town, and this coffee comes from small-holder farmers in the greater department of Huehue. The small coffee producers in this area had few options when selling their coffee locally; they could take it to the large mills down at lower elevations and get paid the going rate, or they could sell it to "coyotes" who drive the dirt roads in their trucks paying cash for coffee. Neither offered any extra price for quality, even though the coffees were grown higher and tended with greater care than the big farms down at lower elevations. For the last 7+ years, we've partnered with local coffee people to offer higher prices if the farmers could meet our quality expectations in the cup, and this lot is testament to that success. Given that the localities where we are buying coffee are little more than extended family groups, we have found if we involve a brother or sister, they will tell all their coffee-farming kin and soon we have a network of farmers interested in our project. We wrote an in-depth and detailed description of the project as well.
City+ roasts have a toffee nut sweetness in the dry grounds, like almond brittle candy. Full City adds a bittersweet smell that together comes off like cacao bar with candied almond bits. Adding hot water heavily boosts the cacao bittersweetness, especially at Full City, but really in both of our roasts (City+ and Full City). Breaking through the crust releases layers of chocolatey smells, roasted cacao nib, baking cocoa, Hershey's bar, and earth-toned carob. I'm hit with a bittersweet cacao flavor up front when the coffee's hot, that settles into sweeter chocolate flavors as the cup cools down a bit, like tootsie roll, and chocolate taffy. The volume of sweetness comes up as the coffee cools too, balancing out the cocoa roast tones in Full City roasts, the building blocks of a balanced brew. In terms of acidity, there's a subtle green apple-like impression that lends a mouthcleansing effect in the finish. With impressive levels of sweetness and bittering roast tones, Pequeños Granjeros proves to be balanced at a wide roast range, as light as City+ and all the way into the beginnings of 2nd snaps. More than worthy of trying as single origin (SO) espresso too, as well as a bittersweet base to an espresso blend. Try starting with a 2-bean blend of 2/3 Guatemala to 1/3 wet processed Ethiopian and adjust to taste.
San Pedro Necta is one of several small towns perched on the spine of a mountain in Huehuetenango. The area has produced some really nice coffees, but the opportunity finds its way to large farms who can market their coffee and enter competitions rarely spreads to their small-scale neighbors of this area and their neighbors. It's been 7+ years since we partnered with locals to try to reward these small farmers with better prices than they had ever seen, if they could grow and process coffee that meets our ideas of quality. In the past the only options to local farmers was to sell the "coyotes" who drive around offering cash for coffee, or to sell the bigger farms and mills in the zone. But neither rewarded the farmer with a better price for quality coffee. With our "Proyecto Xinabajul" we're working to change that, and have grown from importing a single container ship full of coffee in our first year, to nearly 5 this past season.
The dry fragrance of San Pedro Necta has nice sweet smelling dry fragrance, allusions to ginger snap cookies at City roast level with a mix of dark sugar and subtle spice notes, and Full City roasts shift to strong bittersweetness that is accompanied by wafts of raisin and cola. There's a nice range of smells here, and adding hot water ushers in more roasted nut type smells in the light roast, whereas bittersweetness remains resolute at Full City, and breaking through the crust gives off an incredible smell of dark chocolate with dried fruit accents. As a cup, my City+ roast San Pedro Necta showcased flavors of toasted muscovado sugar and roasted almond, vanilla and cinnamon powder accents in the finish. Acidity is on the 'slight' side, but still offers a soft structure ala Red Delicious apples. There's a chocolate undertone too that flourishes when you reach Full City roast level. A nice, rich flavor of fine Dutch drinking cocoa comes through in darker roasts and hangs on long after the final sip. This is a great drinking coffee, and one that fits the daily drinker roster - sweet, balanced, bodied, and without any 'over the top', top notes. San Pedro Necta also makes a great dual-use coffee with SO espresso shots displaying rich chocolate tones and inky mouthfeel in the Full City roast range.
This Guatemala coffee comes from small producers in the Santa Barbara municipality of Huehuetenango, an area with high altitude farms starting at 1500 meters and reaching 2000 in some areas. The farms where this coffee was sourced sit right around 1700 meters and are planted mostly in Caturra. This is an area of small holders, not estates like you'd see in the lowlands. The topography wouldn't allow for sprawling farms as the hillside is jutting, and where instead small hamlets are situated in the lands carved out in the surrounding hillside that is sprinkled with countless tiny farms at a couple hectares each. Pulping and fermentation of the coffee is handled locally, and the coffee is, for the most part, patio-dried. Dry-milling happens at a mill in Huehuetenango town (this is the first year) where they are equipped with state of the art equipment, and with the infrastructure to properly handle small lots of coffee. "Xinabajul" is the name of the project/partnership we have with local coffee people to offer higher prices to farmers that meet our quality expectations in the cup. Given that the localities where we are buying coffee are little more than extended family groups, we have found if we involve a brother or sister, they will tell all their coffee-farming kin and soon we have a network of farmers interested in our project. We wrote an in-depth and detailed description of the project as well.
This small producer blend has a profile of candied sugar and soft spice notes, with heavy cacao/chocolate bittersweetness as you pass the middle roast range. Grinding this coffee produces a sweet toffee smell, along with understated clove and roasted nut accents. At City+ roast level, adding hot water brings up a complex, sweetened cocoa smell, like a dark chocolate hot cocoa, marked by raw sugar and cinnamon stick. Brewing my City+ roast produces a cup that's front-loaded brown sugar sweetness, and an apple-like brightness is apparent. A smell of five spice marks the aroma of these middle roast levels, adding a layer of complexity to the dark sugar and nut attributes dominating the cooling cup, leaving an impression of spiced pecan shortbread cookies. Apple and a faint orange oil note are sensed as the cup cools, but more or less are obfuscated by dense caramel sweetness, and a fading baker's cocoa flavor in the finish. We roasted one batch to just north of Full City+ right before 2nd snap territory, and were rewarded with a chocolatey espresso option or brewed coffee, underlying flavor of dark chocolate pudding, muted fruit accents, and powdery cocoa in the finish.
This coffee is made up of several small lots of coffee from the Villatoro family, a group we buy coffee from in the Huehuetenango highlands. A good portion of this lot came from Aler, whose coffee we recently sold on it's own as "Peña Blanca -Señor Aler". He has two farms in Peña Blanca, La Libertad, both sitting around 1700 meters, and working their way up toward 1850 meters above sea level. This coffee comes to us through a joint-effort of a local micro-mill owner who is able to process and separate the micro-lots we approve, and a highly sophisticated dry-mill who handle the finishing touches and export the coffees for us. It's also part of our "Proyecto Xinabajul" small holder project in the region, which you can read more about HERE.
The dry fragrance of this lot from Aler Villatoro has a resinous sweetness at Full City, blackstrap molasses and palm sugar accents, along with roasted nut accents. A subtle vanilla scent comes up in the steam off the wetted grounds, and sugar browning sweetness is bolstered, and along with nutty tones, culminates in a candied pecan smell. The cup of Full City roasts shows developed sugar sweetness paired with a bittersweet flavor of high % cacao bar when hot. Body is incredibly dense, a characteristic that is easily improved upon with more roast development. I found this coffee to have a sturdy core of sweet and bittering tones, which will lend itself to milk drinks. A wonderful honey accent comes out in the cooling cup, accenting cocoa roast notes, developing a flavor aspect of honey-infused dark chocolate truffles. Brewing a pour-over at this roast level yielded balance of unrefined sugar and sharp bittering cocoa flavors, a crowd pleasing and inviting cup.. And as espresso, this one's a home run. Our Full City roast excelled: silky mouthfeel, high % cacao bar, and, pine/green herbal accents in the finish.
Karnataka is a state in India, and the name of the group who sourced this coffee for us. They work with a fairly large group of plantation farmers throughout different counties within Karnataka, and this lot represents mostly coffees from the city of Chikmagalur. Chickmagalur sits at the foothills of Mullayanagiri range, probably the most famous coffee region in India. The Karnataka folks used to just buy from one growing group, but have since cast a much wider net, where some of the value is in their ability to increase selection, and putting together from this more premium blends. This is a peaberry selection ("PB"), so around 15 screen bean size, and gets a second sort during milling. About 70% of the coffee grown in the region is of the old Kent 975 arabica varietal, and all the coffee is shade grown out of necessity, for reprieve from the oppressive Summer temperatures. I found the peaberries to be dense, and able to take quite a bit of heat. Roasting to a few different levels, we found that City+ and Full City roasts offer the most complexity and balance, and what our review below are based on.
Aromatically, this coffee has impressive raw sugar sweetness, the fragrance and aroma showing alluring pungent burned sugar and spice smells, as well as a fruited pipe tobacco note. There's an herbaceous quality too that seems to shadow the profile all the way through, offering up elements of sweet basil and a licorice accent in the nose. As brewed coffee the sweetness is a mix of unrefined sugar and barley malt sweetness. There's a buttery caramel flavor note too, that fades to Assam tea, and greenish sweet herbal notes in the finish. City+ roasts cool nicely, base bittersweetness is well balanced, and a subtle tea-like acidic impression provides backbone. No doubt a unique cup from an area less represented on our coffee list.
Thunguri is a "Factory" located in the Kirinyaga district, just across the border from Nyeri. Factories are basically what we call a wet mill, and is where cooperative farmers bring coffee cherry fruit for processing in Kenya. The coop is part of the Rumukia FCS (farmers cooperative society), a parent society whose other Factories we've bought coffee from and offered multiple times in our 15 year history at Sweet Maria's (Kiawamururu and Tambaya come to mind offhand). AA, AB, PB, all from the same day's harvest, but we're never really sure which will shine brightest, and this AB outturn happened to stand out amongst the rest. An out-turn is the name for the graded, separated lots that come from one raw, unmilled lot of parchment coffee that arrives at the mill. AA and AB refer to screen size - 17 to 19 1/64 in., and 15 to 17 1/64 in. respectively.
The dry fragrance shows a subtle citrus feature alongside a maple sugar sweetness, the sweet smell of candied orange peel wrapped up in unrefined sugar. Aromatically too, I picked up on a smell of citrus with cinnamon and all-spice accents along with layers of sugar browning smells, and breaking through the crust gives off an impression of canned orange juice concentrate. The cup of City roasts most echoes my notes on "smells", and you won't be disappointed if light roasting is your preference. Soft citrus notes are revealed like lemonade and orange notes, and acidity has a slight grabbiness to it, akin to pink grapefruit. Berry notes accent the cup as well, and the underlying sweetness is very much fruited, as well as marked by raw sugars, baking spice accents making their mark in the finish. It's kind of surprising how just a shade darker reveals a whole other coffee. Fruit and sugar tones come off like blueberry pancake syrup, and raspberry compote sandwiched between a thin layer of dark chocolate. The cool cup reveals mixed berry jam flavors, and from as light as City to our darkest Full City roast, a lasting sweetness prevails. Complexity will shine in pour over brewing, and even full submersion brews such as French Press.
The Ngandu wet mill was erected in the early 1950s in the Mathira Division of Nyeri County. Settled on the slopes of Mount Kenya, farmers in this area benefit from the nutrient rich volcanic soil, as well as high altitude. Most farmers are above 1700 meters, and the station itself is located just below at 1650 meters above sea level. Ngandu once belonged to the Mathira Farmers Cooperative Society, which served the wet mills in the area at that time. They've since broken off, along with six other wet mills, to form the Rutuma Farmers Cooperative Society ("FCS"). The FCS currently serves about 1700 small farmers between all of it's processing facilities (the "Factories" as they're called in Kenya), small producers who generally manage much less than a hectare of coffee. The dominant cultivars are SL-28 and SL-34, as well as some Ruiru-11. This is the AB outturn, a grade classification that specifies the physical size - in this case 15 to 17 1/64ths of an inch - and low defect count.
Toffee sweet smells are released after grinding City roasts of Ngandu, as well as a sweet cherry smell thats more like a cherry flavored drink than the fruit itself. Fruit jam suggestions come through with a little more development, Full City roasts marked by a smell of blackberry preserves. Sweet smells are spread thick in Ngandu's aroma, spanning a range of raw to caramelizing sugars, dried fruit, and deep cocoa roast tones in our Full City roast. Red fruit notes are prevalent in the brewed coffee, our City roast offering more of the cherry alluded to in fragrance, along with raspberry juice, and dried mango. Ngandu has softer acidity than most of our Kenyas, even at City roast level, but the flavors are clean and articulate, and the subtle lemon water mouthfeel adds a soft vibrance to the cup. I get a floral, retronasal response too in these light roasts, like an understated lilac aroma. Full City roasts are a bold brew, bittering cocoa flavors are tempered by sweet berry fruit, and a tropical aroma. Being that this isn't a super bright coffee, it's a great option for Kenyan espresso. An espresso shot of the Full City roast with just a day's rest tasted like dark chocolate-covered dried cherries, with a tart pomegranate note in the finish.
This coffee is a small blended lot made up of coffees from the various wet mills under the Kiama FCS (Farmer's Cooperative Society). The wet mills, or "factories" as they're referred to in Kenya, are collection sites where local farmer members sell their whole, harvested cherry where it is then passed through wet milling equipment to process the coffee down to the parchment covered seed. Much of the separation of defects are processed by hand, the coffee hand-picked at various stages on the drying beds, before a final hand picking on tables once completely dry. Small washing stations are aligned with a particular "society" which is what they call a cooperative in Kenya, and in this case, that society is Kiama. We keep returning to the societies who seem to regularly produce some of the best Kenya coffees we see, such as Kiama and Barichu societies. This coffee was purchased direct, not through the Kenya auction system, so we could avoid the risk of losing it. It also means we paid a bit more, premiums which go back to the coop for distribution.
This AA grade outturn from the Kiama Factory has a convincing level of dried fruit and sugar sweetness from the start, the ground coffee offering up smells of golden raisin, and a sweet buttery toffee side. Adding hot water sees sweet orange and lemon scents accenting the steam, and a bittersweet baked sugar smell exudes from the wet crust. Our Full City roast showed darker fruit accents, with caramelizing sugar sweetness at equal intensity. The cup is fruit-forward when hot, tart berry and cooked fruit flavors are surprising from the get go. Let the cup temperature cool off a touch and you'll be rewarded with flavors of blueberry, blackberry juice, and concord grape. Fruits flourish in both light and dark roasts, and my City roast cooled out to a complex fruited cup that was also tropical, winey, and tied together by a soft, fruited acidity, much more muted than many of our other Kenyas, but sufficient for a well structured cup. My Full City roast was a real berry bomb, a blueberry flavor much more focused and singular, with pleasant burned sugar notes, laced with dark plum and grape accents. Even at Full City, chocolate and roast bittersweetness are nowhere near a central cup features, with dark fruit notes being the most dominant cup characteristic. Body is weighty too, like fruit juice, leaving behind fruited flavors that endure in the long finish.
Thageini Factory is part of Aghuti Farmers Cooperative Society (FCS), an FCS that includes a few other stations we buy from: Gititu and Kagumo. It's not the "factory" as we might imagine it. "Factories" are essentially small washing stations aligned with a particular "society" in Kenya, what we would call a "cooperative". We return to the societies who seem to regularly produce some of the best Kenya coffees, and each year we come across societies that are new to us as well: such as Aghuti. This coffee was purchased direct, not through the Kenya auction system, so we could avoid the risk of losing it. To do this we pay a price that is higher than what the top auction bid might be, but it means we get the exact lot we want. During the final dry milling, the coffee seeds are separated by size which is measured in 1/64ths of an inch, and they call these separations "outturns". The main ones we're used to seeing in specialty coffee are AA 17-19 screen, Peaberry 15 screen, and AB 15-17 screen, which this lot is.
Thageini has a 'big' fragrance when coming out of the grinder, red berry and dried tropical fruit smells lining the aromatic profile. A perfumed red tropical punch smell comes up from the ground coffee along with a smell of berry cooked down with raw sugar and cinnamon. It's a super sweet smelling coffee, sugary smells are candy-sweet, and the wet aroma is blossoming with maple sweetness and fruit smells like pomegranate and juicing oranges. Citrus is the first flavor I can think of when sipping the hot cup, like lemon icing, a tartness that's matched by underlying layers of sweetness. The cool brew reveals a fruit and raw sugar centered cup, flavors of berry and subtle tropical accents circle back to that "Hawaiian Punch" aroma sensed in the dry grounds, along with lingering unrefined sugar sweetness. There's a cinnamon powder accent too, most noticeable in the finish. Acidity is brightest in light roasts, some tart citric aspects as well as a berry like brightness, especially in our darkest Full City roast. I think it's helpful to point out this isn't "bright" by Kenya standards, but a much more well-integrated into the cup profile. This works in favor of single origin Kenyan espresso too, no puckering acidity to take away from delicious dark chocolate and berry fruit flavors that make their way into the shot.
It's that time of year again, when new crop African coffees have us bursting at the seams. Being that African coffees are the highest scoring coffees on our list, having too many is a bit of a luxury problem, as well as an opportunity for us to share them with you in this East African 4-pack. A sampling of East African coffees that deserve a special level of focus, and this sample set highlights the fantastic range of flavor and complexity.
Ethiopia and Kenya receive so much attention in the coffee world, and they are deservedly rewarded with some of our highest scores in the course of the year (as the two in this sample set can attribute to). Yet the quality coming out of nearby Burundi and Rwanda should receive full representation as well. We're investing more and more in these two growing regions as they continually improve, producing wet-processed coffees that are delicious and versatile at a wide range of roasts. These coffees can be syrupy sweet, complex, clean, and even floral.
These are all high caliber coffees in their own right, but the set emphasizes flavor diversity. And it's also worth mentioning that most of these African coffee of score above 88 points.
*Please note that we can't make substitutions or take special requests for our samplers. Thank you!
The farm where this coffee was produced is over 40 years old, part of a larger set of plantations that were privately held since the late 1960s. Mr. Sero stepped in and bought one of the estates about eight years ago, replete with a processing facility which was built to process all seven estates some time ago. The 42 hectare farm sits at 1680 meters above sea level, and is still planted in the original tree stock, Blue Mountain Typica and Arusha types. Mr. Sero dry ferments his coffee for 36 hours, perhaps lending to the fruited characteristics found in the cup. The coffee is dried on tarps, which is not ideal, however they put great care in keeping the area clean, turning the coffee regularly to facilitate even drying. There is an old dry-mill on the premises too which is not currently in use, but perhaps an investment in the future. I found the final sort of this coffee to be quite nice, consistent bean size (approx 15 - 17 screen), and with very few quaker beans. You can easily identify and pull out quaker beans because they are yellow, and look unroasted. These are unripe cherries that made it through processing, a common occurrence in small numbers.
Kainantu Sero has complex layers of molasses sugars and fruited sweetness, and sweet herbal notes that accent the cup. A strong scent of molasses and dark brown sugar are emitted from the dry fragrance, along with a light cranberry note. City+ roasts shine a light on Sero's fruited side, bringing about dark berry elements, and even a pungent tropical fruit note in the wet aroma. The cup weaves sugary sweet flavors with dried fruits, golden raisin, fig, with sucanat, turbinado, rice syrup, and more. A cardamom-spice flavor comes out in the cooling cup, and the finish is marked by accents of Thai basil, coconut water, and cacao nibs. Brewing will yield a thick-bodied coffee, and I would stick close to the middle roast levels, not wavering too far in either direction from the City+/Full City range. Too light and the sweetness lacks complexity, and the smokiness of Full City+ takes the focus away from the layered sugar and dry fruit flavors.
This dry processed coffee is from the El Pato cooperative, a certified Fair Trade and Organic coop that's operated in the Amazonian Andes since 2003. This is Typica varietal, a large bean coffee, and is dry processed with the whole cherry left intact during the entire drying process. This type of processing tends to produce fruit forward coffees, heavier body, and muted acidity. Such is the case for this coffee from El Palto. The cooperative is invested in coffee quality and quantity, re-investing their premiums in both the farms and the families of farmers. They're currently at nearly 200 members, and have done a great job of isolating quality lots and featuring as micro, single-farm lot offers. Being a dry processed coffee, you can expect a lot of chaff to come off of the beans during the roasting process. This, in combination with the darker color hue that dry process coffees take on, can make judging physical roast characteristics a little tricky. Pay attention to when first crack begins and ends, and adjust your finish times from there.
This dry processed lot is a powerhouse in terms of dense sweetness and the array of fruited notes that are present. Sweetness and complexity aren't hard to come by with this one, and no matter where your roast development winds up, you're sure to be rewarded with a bold, fruit-forward brew. The dry fragrance of City roasts has a strawberry smell, not so much like the actual fruit, but more on the dehydrated side, and reminds me of strawberry milk powder. The wet aroma is filled with dried fruit smells, that with a rustic sweetness comes off a lot like an Ethiopian Harrar dry-process coffee. Full City roasts bring about pungent cocoa roast tones, along with dark berry fruit smells on the break. The cooling cup has a rustic date sugar sweetness, and as the temperature dips, fruited notes like red berry, dried strawberry, and banana chips make quite an impression. It doesn't have the cup clarity of a dry processed Ethiopia Yirga Cheffee coffee, but you'd be hard pressed to not take notice of overt fruit flavors that are out front at a wide range of roasts. There's a winey side too, and the finish has a cranberry liqueur aspect. Darker roasting does little to tone down bold dried and dehydrated fruited notes, and at Full City the cup shows a blend of semi-sweet chocolate chips, dried natural apricot, and grape wine.
The village of El Cautivo is located in one of two coffees we bought from the San Ignacio District, Cajamarca, a region known for producing specialty grade coffee. The group in El Cautivo are one of several who together have formed a coffee farmer's alliance, "Finca Santuario". The goal of this association is to aggregate resources in order to not only gain the small farmer transparent access to the global market, but also work as a collective to increase their coffee's value by planting cultivars with cup quality in mind, and improve harvest techniques as well as processing and drying conditions. This is a fully washed coffee, meaning that after most of the fruit is mechanically removed from the seed, the remaining sticky layer of mucilage is broken down by overnight fermentation and then washed away the next day. Most of the farmers wet-process and dry their coffee at home, and then deliver their dry parchment to the local association arm in town where it is stored until export. This is one of four lots of coffee we bought from Finca Santuario this year, most of which we're finding to be versatile in the roaster, as well as working well in many brew methods (this one is a fantastic espresso!).
Loose leaf tea comes to mind when grinding a City roast of this coffee, a smell that's like popping a box of bagged black tea. You get a sense of caramel malt sweetness and bittering coffee tones too, and City+ strikes a nice balance between these two characteristics. City+ and Full City is where I found the most balanced cups in general, a bittersweet cocoa aroma that plays out in the finish, with an undercurrent of raw sugar finding equal footing. I also roasted to City level, but found the coffee's sweetness to be underwhelming. But middle roasts is where El Cautivo opens up to flavors of brown sugar and a raw Brazil nut, and an interesting sweet yam note in the finish. Full City shows a delicious hazelnut chocolate flavor like Nutella. I enjoyed an espresso shot with my FC roast, finding flavors of semi-sweet chocolate chips, and creamy nut tones in the long aftertaste.
The village of El Sauce is located in San Ignacio District, Cajamarca, a region known for producing specialty grade coffee. The group in El Sauce are one of several who together have formed a coffee farmer's alliance, "Finca Santuario". The goal of this association is to aggregate resources in order to not only gain the small farmer transparent access to the global market, but also work as a collective to increase their coffee's value by planting cultivars with cup quality in mind, and improve harvest techniques as well as processing and drying conditions. This is a fully washed coffee, meaning that after most of the fruit is mechanically removed from the seed, the remaining sticky layer of mucilage is broken down by overnight fermentation and then washed away the next day. Most of the farmers wet-process and dry their coffee at home, and then deliver their dry parchment to the local association arm in town where it is stored until export. This is one of four lots of coffee we bought from Finca Santuario this year, most of which we're finding to be versatile in the roaster, as well as working well in many brew methods (this one is a fantastic espresso!).
Light City roasts smell so sweet with honey and toffee smells, along with a subtle dry fruit accents of green apple and golden raisin. The wet aromatics have a candied sweetness that's like Kraft caramels, that subtle apple note sensed in dry fragrance coming through much clearer, and together, reminiscent of caramel apple. Light roasts have a surprising juiciness in the cup, big body apparent even at City roast level. There's a pistachio and chocolate flavor when the coffee is hot, which fades away a bit as the cup cools, moving into an apple flavor that's more like stewed fruit than dried. I didn't think I was going to like my Full City roast as the coffee smelled dark to the point of ashy, but was surprised by a high level of sweetness. When hot, it's all about bittersweetness, but as the coffee cools, a dark fruited side adds subtle highlights in the finish. El Sauce is a killer espresso as well, Full City roasts weighing heavy on the palate, a coating effect that leaves intense chocolate tones to linger.
This is coffee lot incorporates peaberry selections from several coffee washing stations in Rwanda's southern and western provinces. Peaberries are an abnormaity that happens when only one of the two coffee seeds inside a coffee cherry germinates, and proceeds to mature inside the cherry as a small, rounded seed. They occur on every coffee shrub, but only in small amounts (roughly 5%). When we buy peaberry lots from a single farmer in say, Guatemala, the final bag count is usually only a couple bags due to the small farm sizes. But in Rwanda, we're buying from cooperative stations that collect coffee from hundreds to thousands of cooperative members, who between them, produce considerably higher volume of this small bean rarity. "Milles Collines", as Rwanda is commonly referred to, French meaning "the land of 1000 hills". The cooperatives who contributed to this blend are situated in the villages at the tops of some of these "collines", affording access to the higher elevation coffees, and offering ease of delivery for these coffee farm members.
When pondering what I consider to be common flavor characteristics of Rwandan coffees (at least a lot of them), tea and spice would be at the top of the list. This peaberry blend is a good example of those flavor characteristics, and both middle and darker roasting express aspects of herbal and black teas, and mix of dry spice accents. I also think of the syrupy sweetness that comes with being all Bourbon cultivars, especially in those lots grown at high altitudes, like the farms where this coffee comes from. The aromatic profile is built on a base of raw sugar sweetness, caramel cookie accents, and an interesting Rooibos note. Deeper City+ roasts show a fruited side as well, and flavors of dark berry come through with more detail in the brewed coffee. I really enjoyed drinking this peaberry in the City+ - Full City roast range, which really captures a foundation of unrefined sugary sweetness, like raw cane juice and accents of blackstrap molasses, as well as an undercurrent of blackberry syrup, top notes of herbal and black teas, and a clove spice note in the finish. It'd be a disservice to not mention chocolate too, especially at Full City, which acts as the mortar holding these layers of flavor together. Full City roasts make a wonderful Espresso, inky chocolate flavors gush, with waves of dark cherry, and specked by cinnamon and clove accent notes.
Gitesi is one of my favorite sites in Rwanda. Not only is it located in a beautiful valley, but the washing station looked clean, well-organized, and the leaders seemed motivated and competent. I had already cupped quite a few day lots (wet-process batches from coffee cherry received in a single day), and I knew the coffee was really good. The Gitesi site is at 1740 meters, actually one of the lower areas surrounded by high ridges ranging up to 2000 meters, where coffee is grown. 1,830 coffee farmers in the area supply Gitesi with cherries each year. The station fosters a relationship with the farmers by paying an additional dividend at the end of each season based on performance. Gitesi was started in 2005 and has been building capacity each year. Like much of Rwanda, the coffee is Bourbon variety. We "built" this lot by looking at all their day lot batches and combining the best ones. We found some excellent process batches from the middle harvest. And we're not the only ones noticing: Gitesi won COE a couple years back and continues to produce competition level coffees.
Gitesi continues to produce some of the best coffee we see from the region. From the outset, Gitesi shows an attractive set of aromatics, perfumed with clover honey and subtle spice accents, a cola smell in our City roast. Aspects of complex sugar browning come into full view when you add the hot water, with sweet smells of caramel candies, and a collection of fine black tea smells released on the break. City+ roasts are intensely sweet, a framework of sugar cane juice and clean raw sugar sweetness making up this coffee's backdrop. As you move through brews of City roasts, citrus accent notes come into play, like lemonade, and a brisk flavor of orange spice tea. And speaking of tea notes, Gitesi has them in strength, the cooling cup presenting Earl Grey, Darjeeling, and Orange pekoe undertones. The acidic impressions fall somewhere between a palate cleansing black tea and lemon-spritzed water, both having a mouth refreshing effect in the finish. Darker roasting builds flavor layers of fine dark chocolate, and with uncompromising sweetness all the way to the outer edge of Full City (but for the most complex cup, don't stray far from City+). Gitesi brews so well, with the quality of a competition-winning coffee.
Tucked away in the Nyamasheke region of Rwanda's Western Province is the Cyato washing station site. This is one of two washing stations managed by the Fidele family, the first of the two producing naturals and started by the father, and Cyato managed mainly by son Leo (that's Leo in the second image). Cyato is set up with a Penagos 800, and they are producing mainly fully washed coffee. The station is much farther than some of the others we buy from in Nyamasheke, and on the edge of the Forest of Nyungwe. Cyato sits at roughly 1850 meters above sea level, and the local coffee farmers have coffee planted well above 1900 meters, growing older Bourbon cultivars. Coffee is wet processed, hand picked, and dried at Cyato proper, but then moved to a house nearby where they store the dry parchment to rest before preparing for exportation. A newer venture for the Fidele's, they hope to reinvest in their wet mill for the upcoming season in order increase the mill capacity and produce a higher volume of exportable specialty in return.
"Elegant" comes to mind when taking in our City roast of Cyato. With pristine sweetness that's like simple syrup, clean citrus and berry tones, and a floral overlay, it's clear from the outset that this new arrival is a cut above. Smelling the ground coffee, you're hit with a smell of sugar cane juice, a sweetness that achieves a floral pitch, and you start to get a sense of the clear fruited notes that will invariably accent the cup. In the wet aroma I get an underlying honey sweetness, not the density of honey itself, but like tea sweetened with honey, along with a spiced orange smell that reminds me of orange marmalade. Once the cup cools enough to drink it, a lovely citrus-like brightness is apparent from the get go, like pink grapefruit, which is complementary to the citrus accents that come into play as the temp dips further. A light honey note accents the cup, and a pervasive yet simple raw sugar sweetness stays with you from start to finish. Berry notes come through too, like tart wild berry and cranberry, and a blueberry flavor note that carries a floral side like when the fruit is ripe. A dark grape note develops in City+ roasts, coming off like warm grape juice peppered with whole clove and all spice berry, and an orange blossom aromatic note graces the finish. The citrus acidity rings though at this slightly darker shade, and both City and City+ finish clean, a brisk tea-like quality and baking spiced accents come to a point.
Tumba has been a coffee on my radar for years. When I first tasted it, the sweetness and bright acidic snap in the cup made a great impression. But at the time I noticed varied quality from one cup to the next, and a lack of consistency can mean problems in the processing. For a coffee buyer, it signifies that what you taste now might not be what you get upon importation. The backstory at the time was Tumba Station was a private processing wet mill that had 2 owners with very different ideas of quality and how to run a mill. Fast forward 5 years, and we found ourselves purchasing Tumba for the first time under a different light. A local teacher in the Tumba area for which the mill is named, had taken over all aspects, and the coffee was consistent in every cup...and amazingly good! Venustre Mugraneza, the teacher, is esteemed in the local community and has been systematically improving the mill. The best coffee cherries (those that make up this lot) are dried in a special area of raised beds and receive focused handpicking by the farmers. Tumba is situated at 1825 meters in the Rulindo district, where we also source our excellent Cocatu Cooperative lots.
This lot from Tumba shows candied sweetness in the cup, a beautiful profile of fruit and tea flavors, and brilliant acidity that offers amazing structure to the complex cup character. The dry fragrance is laced with sweet berry smells, spiced accents of clove and cardamom, and layered raw sugar sweetness. The wet grounds smell so sweet, like lighter caramel that is near floral, butterscotch also comes to mind, and while fruited accents are still present, they aren't the focal point at this stage. The brewed coffee is incredibly clean and clear, profile flavors are crisp and succinct. Berry notes come into view as you move through the cup, raspberry iced tea, and sweetened dried cranberries. A subtle tangerine note comes through in City roasts, and at City+ there's a mingling of fresh and dried fruit flavors that accent the cup, like juicing oranges and black currant. Tumba has a sweet finish, with a mix of chocolate and citrus sensed in the long aftertaste, along with a tannic black tea flavor. Tumba's sweetness holds up to darker roast levels too, producing delicious dark chocolate roast tones, with cinnamon and chicory spice notes in the long finish. A remarkable Rwanda cup at a wide range of roasts, and we found City and City+ roasts brewed as pour-over made for a complete cup in terms of sweetness, complexity, and acidity.
The "Saleko", a name for the blue eyed, black and white spotted buffalo, is one of the most prized buffalos used for traditional burial ritual in Sulawesi. The highly valued beast is used in this case to denote a high quality blend of coffees from small producers who belong to a local cooperative in a small town in Northern Toraja, a group made up of nearly 2000 farmer members across 8 sub-districts. That's a large group to say the least, and they've been divided into 87 smaller sub groups in order to streamline processing and quality separation. The group facilitates sales of wet parchment to the famed Toarco group as well as export on their own, and this year have shifted into mostly producing their own coffee, affording farmer members a higher premium. This lot is from one of the higher elevation zones, farms starting at 1800 meters above sea level, and topping out at 2100 meters. This lot is fully wet processed, and sun dried in covered drying rooms. Most farmers grow Typica as well as 795, and older Typica hybrid. The bean size is roughly 17 to 19 screen, which is about the size of a Kenya AA. Being Typica, the seed is elongated and somewhat narrow in comparison to most Caturras or Bourbons. I found it to roast relatively easily in the Quest M3s I use, and being a dense coffee, it responded well to high heat all the way up to the 1st crack. On the Quest you can slow the roast slightly by increasing airflow, which I normally do, but didn't need to with this coffee as the sound of 1st crack wasn't violent or too rapid. A great option for those who's roasters don't have manual heat settings, as there's little worry of the roast getting away from you.
Seleko is a versatile coffee in the roaster, light roasts harnessing balanced bittersweetness and a light citrus effervescence, more developed roasts building a solid core of bittering chocolate roast tone. Brown sugar and caramel sweetness come through in the ground coffee of both City and City+ roasts, Full City giving off more pungent burned sweet qualities. Aromatically speaking, the wetted coffee has a cooked caramel smell that reminds me of caramel corn, a little malty too like the smell of Cracker Jacks. Wet-processed Sulawesi coffees can have convincing acidity, and this Saleko lot delivers in that category. A light citrus vibrance sparkles in light roasting, and is in no way puckering, adding just enough effervescence to the dense caramel and cocoa bittersweetness that follows. The interplay of sweet and bittering tones is balanced, and this along with big body, and the soft acidity, this Sulawesi finds parity with a clean Central American coffee rather than most other Indonesian coffees we carry. Full City and Full City+ roasts really bring out the bittersweet cocoa roast tones. I took one roast to just shy of 2nd crack and was impressed by the decadent chocolate notes, and a finish marked by flavors of dark cocoa wafers, and high % cacao bar.
This Gayo Lues lot is a blend of small producer's coffees from a highland area within Kerinci, Jambi District. In a system where farmers sell to local collector, much rides on the long-standing relationships between the two parties, and the collector is really the key person to determine coffee quality. A good collector buys coffees direct, such as in this relationship, rather than in the local village coffee markets where quality is low, processing of the coffees haphazard, and everything gets mixed together. Average altitude in the region ranges from 1300 - 1500 meters, and the typical varietals grown are Ateng, Bergendal, and Jember. These varietals tend to produce an earthy, low-toned cup. But more than varietal, the process "Giling Basah" has more to do with what is thought of as a "typical" earth-toned Sumatran profile. It starts on the small-holder farms, where they pick the coffee and pulp off the fruit skin in a hand-crank machine. Then most farmers ferment the coffee in small containers to break down the fruity mucilage layer, others simply leave the bags of cherry intact overnight and pulp in the morning. The coffee is dried for a few hours on tarps or concrete, sold to the coffee collectors, and then transported to their mill and warehouse facility where it will be processed and stored until time of export. Yes, it's a rough road for coffee, but the best examples of this are some of the most complex coffees we carry. You can read more about Giling Basah HERE. Also worth noting is how clean looking the physical green is. Sumatran coffees generally get a pass when it comes to bug holes, chipped beans, and general discoloration. But this lot from Lues Cike has a uniformity in color and physical condition that is really quite impressive for the region.
Cike is fruited from the outset, a rustic berry smell emits from the ground coffee, along with a green pete-y scent. Both our City+ and Full City roasts had this fruit-forward and herbaceous/earthy mix in fragrance and aroma, and breaking through a wetted crust you get a rush of cooked fruit and tarragon, and an earthy sweetness underneath. "Rustic grape" was one of the first adjectives to pop into my mind when sipping the brewed coffee, both fruit and earth tones are undeniable. The cooled cup has luscious grape flavors at City and City+, as well as a raspberry wine note. This fruit-forward side takes the edge off of the rustic qualities that come with wet hull processing, though I personally enjoy the herbal and forest-y notes of a quality Aceh coffee such as this. They make for some of the most complex coffees we carry, and this lot is definitely one of the better we've had in a while. Full City roasts have earthy chocolate notes, along with more dark berry and an unexpected flavor of ripe cantaloupe, the mix of rustic fruit and chocolate lingering long in the aftertaste.
It's not often we have wet processed Sumatran coffee. The typical Sumatran processing method "Giling Basah" is quite harsh on the coffee, and involves wet parchment bagged up at farms, transporting to mills, peeling the parchment off the still wet seed, and then drying the rest of the way. The flavor that comes with Giling Basah would be considered defective in most other coffee growing countries, but is what's put Sumatran coffee on the map to begin with. But what happens when you remove the lens of rustic processing? This is a rare opportunity to find out. This coffee comes from Gunung Tujuh and Kayu Aro areas, two higher elevation areas around Mount Kerinci. There's a cooperative that serves this growing area, and who is fully washing their coffee, meaning they are pulping, fermenting immediately, and moving wet parchment straight to the drying beds - a departure from tradition. The result is a much cleaner flavor profile than the wet-hulled counterpart, almost no earth tones at all, and acidity that's normally lacking in Sumatran coffee. The farms in this area are planted in older Typica types, and benefit from the high slopes, situated between 1400 - 1500 meters above sea level.
Deep sugar browning smells come through in Gunung Tujuh's dry fragrance, with complex herbal and forest-y accents too, clean smelling relative to a standard wet-hulled Sumatra. I was taken a back by the clean sweetness found in the wet aroma, my lightest City+ roast offering brown sugar and sweet cream smells, glimpses of pumpkin pie, and a mix of dry spice and sweet herbs. Brewing my City+ roast yielded succinct flavors of burned sugar and caramel/toffee, a sweet base that shifts into a flavor of yellow custard, and flan-like. And though I wouldn't categorize this as a "bright" cup, it certainly has an apple-y vibrance that is uncharacteristic of Sumatran coffee, and not to mention a welcome addition! My Full City roast showed an herbaceous side that seemed to be all but missing at a shade less development. Impressions of sweet basil, and fresh tarragon come out as the cup cools, providing contrast to an undercurrent packed with bittersweet chocolate. Body is as dense as this coffee's bittersweetness, which together make for lasting cocoa roast tone intimations in the long finish. We don't get wet processed Sumatrans very often, so this is a rare opportunity to taste the local cultivar without the lens of traditional wet-hulled processing.
Every year when cupping coffees from Central America, there are so many lots that make a lasting impression on us as single origin espresso. So much so, that we thought it would be a great idea to blend a few of these lots together, creating a mix of diverse coffees from the Central American highlands. "Altiplano" is the word we are using for high plains, not to be confused with THE Altiplano in South America. From the La Cumbre mountains in El Salvador, to the Los Cuchumatanes in Guatemala, to the Los Arados mountains in Nicaragua, we bring in a wide variety of coffees with unique cup profile, and that all work extremely well as espresso. Blended together, the resulting cup or espresso has balance, and with an acidity that is controlled by roast development. Roasting to City+ will have the highest tones in the cup, and bright results in the espresso machine. Full City/Full City+ will produce a more "classic" espresso profile with chocolate roast pungency, deep sweetness, and zesty citrus acidity. Altiplano is seasonal dual-use blend, and we'll be rotating new coffees in as they become available, updating the review when necessary. This initial version is equal parts, all washed coffees - Guatemala from Acatenango, El Salvador Matalapa, and Nicaragua.
This is a great dual-purpose blend, and so we cupped it as both brewed coffee and espresso. Roasting to City+ - Full City is great for a cup of coffee, and the dry fragrance has a pungent-sugar sweetness, molasses sugars, along with roasted nut and hints of spice-tea. Wet, the sweetness peaks with dark toffee and a smell of butter pecan ice cream. Cupping the City/City+ roasts, you're rewarded with a tea-like brilliance providing structure to the cup. Flavors of muscovado sugar and cinnamon spice come through, along with roasted almond and golden raisin as the temperature cools. FC is surprisingly fruited, and strikes a pleasant balance between raw sugar sweetness and cocoa powder bittering. As espresso, FC shots show high levels of dark sugar sweetness and cocoa roast tones up front, peaking with a tart, lemon-citrus high tone. The mouthfeel is extremely dense, viscous, and like syrupy-chocolate. Nut and cocoa tones round out the finish well, intermixed with faint raisin and dry fruit hints.
People have requested that we offer a pre-blended espresso, a decaf counterpart to the Espresso Monkey blend. Working under the codename of the "Donkey Blend" (don't ask how all these ridiculous names started ---I think it was George's fault) we came up with this. It is intended to be used several ways. As an all-decaf espresso blend I wanted it to work well under a wide variety of roasting conditions, in terms of both lighter Northern Italian type espresso roasts (the equivalent of a Full City to Vienna Roast) and the darker Southern Italian type roast (roasted to a French roast). I also wanted a good espresso from both air and drum roasters, and I wanted good crema. This is a lot to ask from a decaf, but I think this blend works very well. While origin tastes are muted in decafs, I think the bittersweet roast tastes from this blend are very good. My second focus was having the blend not have too much character so that it can be used as a base blend for a "low-caf" espresso. This means it should work well as 50-75% of your blend where you add other caffeinated coffees to give more aromatics and flavor: my choice would be a Ethiopian Harar, or a Central American (see our Blending Basics article for more). Why do we call this Donkey Blend? Frankly, I can't remember .. it just is...
A longtime favorite espresso blend intended solely for pump and piston type espresso extraction. This is a sweet but punchy little cup, and roasted fairly light it is a shock to the palette, but has great body and a smooth, sweet, stunning aftertaste. The joke behind the name: I imagine a fancy roaster charming a client in the cupping room, effusing about their "Master Roaster" and "Master Blender" and "Master Cupper", all in the trade for decades of course. Then I imagine the scene in their warehouse where hired apes rip open bags of green coffee and randomly hurl handfulls into the hopper for roasting. In other words, there's a lot of BS in the coffee trade, and blending is NOT really a noble art ...it's done to save cost and disguise coffee defects 80% of the time. The Irony? I have never worked so hard to develop a blend as this one, designed to cup well at a full range of "espresso" roasts, and developed as a pre-blend (all coffees roasted together to same degree of roast). Am I going to tell you exactly what is in it? No! I am feeling a bit snobby today! Espresso Monkey has become our signature blend for some reason or other, perhaps because it is a true standard that we have sought to maintain for so long, and that we put such nice coffees into it.
We blend this for body, balanced between high and low tones, chocolate roast flavors, and slightly rustic fruited accent notes. Those are our goals, that is the "spirit" behind the blend, and we check it to make sure it meets those targets. Our roast goal is in the beginning stages of 2nd crack ... we never "let it roll".
Ethiopiques, an all Ethiopia coffee blend for espresso. It was our our 17th Espresso Workshop blend from a few seasons back, and with its popularity, we've decided to make it one of our regular blends. This a a vividly bright espresso blend, complex, high-toned, amazing ... but perhaps not for everyone (especially those who only make milk drinks). The espresso editions are limited, lot-specific blends inspired by the ingredients, rather than imposing a fixed idea on the result, then looking at the coffees to achieve it. This is a blend of wet-process coffees from the South, from Sidama and Yirga Cheffe specifically, as well as a Western coffee, interjecting from fruit-forwardness in the cup - all scored 90+ points on the cupping table. These are nuanced coffees, and while they are moderately bright, the resulting espresso isn't too puckering when taken to Full City, or stretched out in the roaster post 1st crack. In fact there is very intense chocolate roast taste formed by this specific coffee blend, and that is one of the dominant characteristics of the cup - as well as intense florals topped with brightness. What does Teddy Afro, famed and shamed Ethiopia music star have to do with this blend? Not much, but he does have an amazing voice. Millenium song! And you really should check out the Ethiopiques compilation records to appreciate the rich jazz and pop music traditions of that great land.
By standard cupping methods for brewed coffees, the profile is much "bigger" than previous years, and extracting this blend in an espresso machine produces something very intense, sweet, and complex. The dry fragrance of City roasts have citrus and tropical fruit suggestions, which are still prevalent in darker roasts but with an overlay of chocolate notes. The wet aroma is downright mouthwatering. Fruited notes are like peaches and apricots baked with brown sugar, spiced cake, and floral hints - our FC smelled like jasmine-infused dark chocolate bar. As a brewed coffee, this is a really amazing blend. So versatile, showing great from City to Full City, lightest roasts being very fruit-forward and clean - nectarine, mango, fragrant berry. It shows surprising level of body at these light roast levels too, carrying with it a syrupy-thick sweetness. Full City roasts develop rich chocolate flavors, with a nice slab of blackberry syrup. Ethiopiques makes for an intense ride through the espresso machine. The chocolate roast taste is pungent, aggressive, bittersweet, and long-lasting on the palate. But it is also very clean, succinct, not earthy or rustic. On top of this are intense florals - jasmine and sweet pea - lemon oil and rind, raisiny ripe fruit and red berries. The body seems bolstered by the intense cup flavors, and has the effect of satiny chocolate. It's fantastic! My preference is about 2 oz in 24 seconds, brew head temp right around 205 degrees. We are finding this also makes amazing Americano (espresso + water), which is no surprise. This can also be used as the "bright" component in a blend that tones it down a bit. For example 2/3 Brazil or El Salvador with 1/3 Ethiopiques.
What do you do when you accidentally use dry processed ingredients in a blend that calls for washed, and the resulting concoction is an impressive, if not wild espresso? If you're us, you don't let a good thing go to waste, and roll the new blend into production. And that's how we came to "Ethiopiques 2.0", a mix of wet and dry processed Ethiopias (2/3 to 1/3 respectively), that melds acidity and clean sweetness that comes with wet processing, with big body and fruit tones of the naturally processed counterpart. For those who appreciate both it's a match made in heaven, and I think you'll find the fruited tones to be quite complimentary. Mixing dry and wet process coffees before blending means equilibrium should be achieved in the drum, and I think is tricky to do when trying to roast light. I recommend making Full City your starting point, the bean mixture taking on a fairly even color tone, and where I think this blend really shows it's stuff - after all, this is an espresso blend. Dark fruits, big chocolate tones, citrus allusions - version 2.0 is a complex espresso to say the least.
From the outset, dried berry and cocoa tones permeate from the ground coffee, especially strong given the finer grind setting for espresso. I probably sound like a broken record, but I'm going with Full City as the recommended roast level for this blend. Partly a function of finding roast equalization between the differently processed beans. But also, dark berry tones start to really unfold in the dry process ingredient when roasting beyond City+, a real highlight to this cup. Dehydrated blueberry and cranberry, blackberry juice, huckleberry tea, are notes I picked up on in our espresso shots, fruited flavor attributes coated in dark chocolate syrup that peaks midway through. The chocolatey bittersweetness sort of fades away, leaving behind a mild fruitiness, and hop floral note to linger in the finish. Full City+ roasting takes some of the edge of the dark fruit flavors, but berry notes still manage to leave an impression amidst smokey chocolate bittersweetness. It's best if you can let your roast rest for at least 24 hours to off gas, but this blend might find it's peak closer to 48-72 hours rest.
This is my favorite blend designed to endure the rigors of dark roasting, and produce excellent pungent tastes, attractive bittersweet/carbony flavors, and great body. Body is so important to a darker roast. Extended roasts incinerate body, and a thin cup of burned water IS NOT what French Roast coffee is about! You do not want to fully burn up all the sugars, you want some degree of bittersweet, overlayed on the carbony charcoal tones of the burned woody structure of the bean itself. You want something still voluminous, and something sharp that stings you a bit down the center of the tongue. Well, at least if you do want these things, then we share common ground, and you might like my blend. Please note that we made changes to improve the blend. I have changed the percentages and added a new coffee that became available that really enhances the chocolatiness in the Vienna stage, and the pungency in the darker French stage
I wanted an espresso blend that was potent, sharp, intense enough in flavor to cut through steamed milk, but clean enough in flavor profile to work as a straight espresso shot. I wanted it also to be complex and hint at all of those tastes, and more. Here's the product of a lot of overly-caffeinated days of experimentation: the Liquid Amber Espresso Blend. It is named for the rich color and multitude of crema it produces. The blend was fairly complex to come up with ... after I found the general tastes I wanted, emerging from aroma and first sip through the very long aftertaste (if I don't cleanse my palate with water I will taste this coffee for 20+ minutes) I needed to play with the exact percentages. The specific blend, hey ... it is my secret! But I will tell you that the 5 coffees that really worked toward the flavor goal I imagined ended up surprising even me! I will say that there are wet-processed coffees, a monsooned coffee, and even a modicum of quality washed Robusta. And to keep this a mystery, the blend contains some coffees not on our list. I admit this is a pretty wacky blend by the current fashion in espresso toward lighter-roasted and acidic coffees; it's downright dated really. But it works in it's own way. Some emphasis here is on the physical character of the espresso, hence the use of the monsooned coffee, which has properties in terms of crema that no other coffee possesses. Even in cupping the dynamics of the foam/bubbles are clearly different from other coffees due to the changes in the bean from the monsoon processing technique.
Extracted in a properly functioning, clean espresso machine the blend produces a lot of crema, making the mouthfeel very thick and creamy. The sharp pungent bite to the blend is not bitter, and fades into a rich tobaccoy-milk chocolate aftertaste. If properly roasted (not scorched) the blend will not be ashy, something I really don't like in espresso. (With any espresso, if the aftertaste turns acrid and bitter after 3 minutes or so, clean the heck out of your machine.) In the Liquid Amber Blend there are hints of fruit, mushrooms, sweet smoke, caramel, and cream in the extended aftertaste. This blend works extremely well in milk drinks, meaning by that a true cappuccino (6-9 oz.) or machiatto. I make no claims for Latte ... is there any coffee that tastes potent mixed down 8:1 in a Slurpee-sized cup of milk? Please note: a long while back, I changed the type of Monsooned coffee. It is paler, sweeter, and is not a coffee we offer on our list at all times. It's a special purchase for the blend to increase sweetness and reduce mustiness. -Tom Liquid Amber Note:If the coffee arrives and doesn't appear evenly blended, this is because of the vibration during loading and shipment. I can positively guarantee you that the blend was packed in the exact, correct proportion (we are extremely careful about this), but the difference in size/density of the Monsooned/non-Monsooned can make them separate a bit with vibration. Just give it a stir....
"Majirani", an all East African coffee blend for espresso, and that works well as brewed coffee too. We thought about making this a Workshop blend, but those come and go. And while this will certainly "go" once ingredients are no longer fresh, we love the results, and so plan to bring back annually. The ingredients will change of course, and right now, this is a four-part blend of all washed coffees from Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania. These countries neighbor each other more or less, and so we're using the name "Majirani" as it's Amharic for neighbor. All of the coffees scored high as single origin, big sweetness, moderate to bright acidity, and viscous body. These are nuanced coffees, top notes garnering as much attention as positive attributes like sweetness and acidity. Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania ingredients are made up of all bourbon varietal too, which in the case of these ingredients, means dense sweetness, and balanced bittersweet cocoa tones at the darker end of the roast spectrum. These ingredients make for a high-toned espresso, which settles down a bit with roast, but a zippy lemon accent refuses to be erased altogether even at Full City+. A versatile blend for those looking for a "dual use" option, and espresso roasts should see at least 48 hours rest in my opinion.
Majirani is a force to be reckoned with. Espresso extraction yields an intensely sweet and extremely viscous liquid, both aspects leaving pleasantly memorable flavors on the palate. Grinding middle roasts gives off big fruited notes, dark stone fruit and berry, along with roasted cacao nib and sweet cedar smoke accent. Fruited smells perhaps make the strongest impression in the wet aromatics of City+/Full City roasts, with essence of cooked fruits in a cinnamon spice bread. I found this tight middle roast range to be great for brewed coffee, and at the Full City end of the spectrum, functions well in both brew and espresso applications. I like a bright espresso, and Full City shots are bracing to say the least. A zap of fresh squeezed lemon kicks in at the first sip, making way for layers of raw sugar sweetness and thick, syrupy dark chocolate goodness. All along the way accents of tart cranberry, herbaceous verbena, and pungent burned sugars pop in and out of focus, and a flavor of high % Scharffen Berger chocolate fills out the long aftertaste (and I mean loooooong). Those looking to tone down acidity a bit can take to Full City+, just the beginnings of 2nd snaps, adding layer upon layer of bittersweet cocoa roast tone, and with uncompromising sweetness to balance things out. Citrus notes still come into play, but more of the 'rindy' nature, candied orange peel, or lemon shavings soaked in simple syrup. F We are finding this also makes amazing Americano (espresso + water), which is no surprise. This can also be used as the "bright" component in a blend that tones it down a bit. For example 2/3 Brazil or El Salvador with 1/3 Majirani. I would let espresso roasts rest for at least 48 hours, but preferably 72 hours.
Once there was "Classic Italian," our espresso blend to set the benchmark for traditional European-style espresso. It was a blend based on quality Brazil coffees, with a touch of aromatic Central American coffee to add a grace note to the cup, and it had a small percentage of premium robusta in it for crema, mouthfeel, and to add traditional flavors found on the continent. But times change and tastes change. Espresso culture is much less Euro-centric, and for good reason. While Italy gave us espresso, the general quality of street-level espresso there can be exceptionally poor. Don't even talk about coffee in France. The big brands in Europe are largely run by multi-nationals who keep a close watch on price, and gleefully buy lower quality green coffee if they can save .01 Euro. The privates follow suit, in order to compete. Of course, there are many exceptions, but the darker roast styles, well into 2nd crack, to cover up the use of low quality green coffee ... well, that is NOT something to emulate. For Sweet Maria's, espresso has never been our "dumping ground" for coffees we can't sell, old lots, or ones with mild defect. It's been a program where we have dedicated much time, focus in cupping, and roast testing. With this in mind, we want to start over again, and offer New Classic, a somewhat silly name, an oxymoron, and overused ... but it says what I want it to say: Here is the new benchmark espresso with sweet-bittersweet balance, body, crema, and finesse, the core definition of the espresso beverage, and defines it in the established West Coast espresso style (clean, bright notes) without the burden of European espresso conventions. In other words, no robusta! No obsessive interest in crema! (You can produce buckets of crema in espresso and still have a very mediocre-tasting cup. What ... do you make espresso just to look at the beautiful crema? No dummy, you make it to drink it!)
While this blend is designed primarily for a lighter roast, stopping the roast before 2nd crack, it also works well with a darker roast treatment. It does not have the extreme brightness that have been the trademark of some of our Espresso Workshop blends; it is a bit more restrained in it's overall demeanor. The cup has a balance between sweet and bittersweet flavors, moderate bright accent, soft traces of fruit, body and depth. The lighter roasts have a very sweet aromatic, fruited with plum and a hint of spice (cinnamon stick, cardamom). Darker roasts tend toward chocolate laced with dark fruit tones, in both aroma and cup flavor. Both have a firm, opaque body, with toasted almond roast notes as the espresso cools. In the aftertaste, peach tea flavor (and it light roasts a bit of jasmine tea) are evident. Of course, results vary with how the espresso machine and grinder are set up. We use 8.5 bars of pressure at the head, with 202 degrees water temperature (measured at the head) to start, dropping to about 198. At higher temperatures, it's a more aggressive espresso with a bittersweet edge and well-suited to milk drinks.
We concocted this 2-bean blend around a couple of our more stellar decaffeinated African coffees that were just processed by Swiss Water in Vancouver. We're at a point where 100% of our decaf coffees are pulled from our own stock and processed by Swiss, which starts by selecting coffee by flavor profile and physical makeup that we think will translate into a quality cup. "Tam Efriqa" roughly translates the "Taste of Africa" in Amharic, which in the past I may have thought a bold statement for decaf given the harsh processing treatments some decafs endure. There's nothing harsh about Swiss's water decaffeination process, a chemical-free water processing technic that removes nearly 100% of the caffeine, while leaving behind volatile compounds that affect flavor and aroma. So in the case of Tam Efriqa, so much of what makes these African coffees unique still comes through in the cup. The blend is made up of a selection of wet processed Ethiopia and Burundi coffees. I roasted to three different roast levels - City, City+, and Full City - and was really pleased with all three. We set out to construct a blend for espresso, but found that it shows really well as both brewed coffee and espresso, though I'd roast to at least City+ if you plan on pulling shots, as City roasts are puckering and metallic as espresso. The decaffeination process does break down the cellular structure of the bean a little, and so oils will rise to the surface more easily, even in roasts as light as City+. So ignore that visual marker when roasting, using the normal sounds of 1st crack and physical fracturing as your guide to judging roast development.
Tam Efriqa is a dual-use decaf blend, all three ingredients shining stars of our most recent custom decafs processed by Swiss Water. From City to Full City, the level of sweetness runs high, a pungent molasses aroma, and sweet undercurrent of palm sugar, muscovado, and smokey-sweetness of burned sugars (especially at Full City). The smells in dry fragrance and wet aroma cover a range of cookie to dried citrus, cocoa to dark rye. And the cup is impressive to say the least, and not just for decaf! We constructed this blend with espresso in mind, but after cupping light roasts give it the thumbs up for brewing too. Decaffeinated coffee often lose any brightness they once had, the cup profile losing dimension along the way. I'm sure if this were non-decaf, acidity would shine even brighter, but the level of rindy lemon-like acidity found in light roasts is striking, and has a voluminous effect on cup profile. City and City+ roasts boast dried stone fruit and raisin accents, subtle cocoa notes, and caramelizing sugars. At Full City smokey cocoa roast tones are more dominant, making room for some dark fruit hints once the cup cools. We were floored by how chocolatey and bittersweet espresso shots are at City+ and Full City roast level. Both roasts exhibit a tangy brightness up front that's like a drop of fresh squeezed lemon juice, and followed by opulent dark cacao notes, and understated accents of berry and pumpernickel/rye bread in the finish. An absolutely standout decaf espresso that we've added to the list of "I can't believe this is decaf"!
Tarime is a the capital town of a unique coffee growing area in Tanzania's North Mara district. What makes it unique is the distance of Mara from the other well-known coffee areas around Mount Kilimanjaro and Arusha, as well as the Southern areas of Mbinga and Mbeya. Tarime is between the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Victoria. I knew that the area of Lake Victoria had coffee, but of the robusta species, and from the other side of Victoria near Bukoba. Tarime has a handicap because it is over 1200 km by road to the port at Dar Es Salaam, making for high transport costs over hot, dusty roads. But more remarkable than location is how clean and fresh this coffee tastes: With all the logistics challenges to ship coffee from Dar in general, and Tarime in particular, this is a brilliant arrival. It's a peaberry outturn, the small, round coffee bean that is separated from normal flat beans in dry milling the coffee before export.
The peaberry outturn from Tarime is a real powerhouse, dry fruit and loose leaf dry tea notes accent a clean, simple syrup like sweetness as the dry fragrance suggests. City/City+ roasts hint at fruit teas in the ground coffee, elderberry comes to mind, even a citrusy waft in our lightest roast. Adding hot water brings up more of a cooked fruit smell with caramelizing sugar sweetness, like berry compote, and plum jam. The cup is brisk at City to City+ roast levels, showing clean black tea-like acidity. As the cup temperature cools more tea notes unfold, herbal flavors come to fore, along with candied citrus, and a resonant grape note too, tart like green grape and the grape skins too. The weight of this peaberry coffee is impressive and like fruit juice on the palate, lending to a long lasting aftertaste. Versatile in the roaster, I prefer the middle roast levels where fruit flavors and body are both 'juicy', and mouth cleansing acidity ties together the fruited cup complexity. This is the perfect "dessert" type coffee, a complexity and sweetness that are easy to identify in light to middle roasts, and sure to turn the heads of even those who think all coffee tastes the same!
Tarime is a the capital town of a unique coffee growing area in Tanzania's North Mara district. What makes it unique is the distance of Mara from the other well-known coffee areas around Mount Kilimanjaro and Arusha, as well as the Southern areas of Mbinga and Mbeya. Tarime is between the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Victoria. I knew that the area of Lake Victoria had coffee, but of the robusta species, and from the other side of Victoria near Bukoba. Tarime has a handicap because it is over 1200 km by road to the port at Dar Es Salaam, making for high transport costs over hot, dusty roads. But more remarkable than location is how clean and fresh this coffee tastes: With all the logistics challenges to ship coffee from Dar in general, and Tarime in particular, this is a brilliant arrival! A large bean, AA screen size, this lot is a bit more brilliance in acidic impression than the peaberry, which is a bit more fruit forward. Together they present a unique pairing, showing how different coffee from the same process batch can have distinct flavor profiles.
The cup shows clean raw sugar sweetness, tart tea, and with herbaceous accents that weave in and out of the profile. The dry fragrance of City and City+ roasts have aspects of raisin and grape, with big whiffs of brown sugar. Adding hot water, a smell of fruit reduction emerges, with unprocessed muscovado-like sugar blooming with the wetted grounds, and a black tea note is released in the steam. We found City+ to Full City to be our preferred roast range for brewing, but I imagine sweet and bittering tones to pull through well on up to 2nd crack. Our City+ roast had syrupy sweetness, revealing layers of unrefined sugars as the cup cools in temp. Panela and demurara provide stable base sweetness against which fruited top notes including blackberry and a soft grape accent stand out. Like the coffees from neighboring Kenya, Tanzanian coffee can have mouth cleansing acidity, and this Tarime lot does not disappoint. A tartness builds as the temperature dips, and along with a flavor of jamaica flower tea, presents tart, tea-like impressions in flavor and brightness. Full City roasts have a flavor of 70% or more cacao bar, with rue-like herbal aroma filling out the finish. Mara Tarime AA is a big-bodied cup, which matched with the aforementioned profile, lends to decident chocolate flavors. This is a great dual-purpose coffee, working well as both brewed coffee and single origin espresso.
Zambia is not a coffee growing country we see many samples from. There is plenty of coffee being exported from the region, but their coffee-growing history is much younger than those that surround them. The first coffee was planted in Zambia in the 1950s, however, it wasn't until the last few decades that it became a major contributor to Zambia's agri-business sector. "Kasama Estates" is actually a blend of the coffees from two different estates in Kasama town, Northern Province. Estates and "plantations" make up the bulk of coffees that are exported from Zambia, and there are about 2500 hectares of land between these two, with nearly 800 planted in coffee. Altitude ranges from 1300 to 1500 meters above sea level. This lot is a AAA, which refers to the largest screen size, 16+ microns in this case. Screen size does not necessarily differentiate quality (as we see with AA, and AB lots in Kenya), but the bean size is quite uniform, and so even roasting tends to be more easily achieved.
The dry fragrance has green herbal hints, and hazelnut-like nutty sweetness. A unique set of scents, and with sweetness that builds after adding hot water. Pumpkin pie filling (brown sugar and cooked pumpkin to put a fine point on it), burned caramel, and a note of fresh cedar, this is not a 'conventional' smelling coffee to say the least. The cup follows suit, with an array of fresh herbal tones dotting a thick base sweetness of molasses and brown sugars. I find the green herbal aspect appealing in this context, adding contrast to this coffee's core bittersweetness. It's a big bodied coffee, and at City+ roast level (which is a great starting point roast-wise) you're hit with bittersweet cocoa and herbal accent notes, flavors that are are carried long into the finish. While I prefer City+/FC level, this coffee can definitely handle roast as well, and is a good option for those who enjoy taking their roasts into 2nd cracks/Full City+ territory.