Folks from all over are commenting on Green Mountain’s Gombe Reserve, a coffee offered in partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute. Dr. Jane Goodall (and friend) My own notes were from a pre-production roast and — honestly — were at least as much about the process of producing the coffee and had little to do with the finished product… I haven’t taken the time to capture my own tasting notes of the roasts I have sampled since. But fair’s fair… I’ll present some of the other points of view I’ve seen of late, and then I’ll add my own thoughts to sum things up.

The first review comes by way of Coffee & Conservation, a blog with a point of view that is all about the relationship between coffee and the environment in which it’s grown. By those standards alone I’d expect the Gombe Reserve to fare pretty well in their review

With its proximity to Kenya, I think we all expected this Tanzanian coffee to have the wine-like tones so characteristic of Kenyans. Instead, we were surprised by the little citrus kick when piping hot and the undertone of fruit that followed that was so reminiscent of an Ethiopian coffee. Finally, when cooler, came the tart wine finish.

I’m in accord… the Gombe presents itself as something of an enigma in terms of origin, being neither of Kenya or of Ethiopia but with characteristics of each.

This coffee was marvelously complex, but not jarringly so, as some Africans can be. It harmoniously went from one flavor to the next, each nicely balanced. The bird song it evoked for us was that of the Yellow-breasted Chat: full of interesting and sometimes unusual notes, all coming from an enigmatic source. There was only one shortcoming in the Gombe Reserve — we felt it failed brewed in drip coffee maker, even using a gold filter. The loss of character was nearly complete. Please prepare this special coffee in a French press, Chemex , Eva Cafe Solo, or vacuum pot. This is seriously good coffee — 4 motmots.

I’ll echo C&C’s recommendation to brew this bean using most any method other than drip.

Next in our review circle, Kenneth Davids at Coffee Review. Ken scores the Gombe Reserve with a solid 90 points, and describes it thusly:

Dominated throughout the profile by crisp, complex dry berry notes (think blackberries and cedar) with deep, sweet undercurrents of honey and chocolate that emerge with particular clarity as the cup cools. The tart berry notes also carry suggestions of dry, light-bodied red table wines.

More than fair. Quite respectable, even.

If the best Kenyas are cabernets, this is a very nice merlot. Any way your palate construes it, the farmers and the chimpanzees get a good deal.

A quite nice review. (Ken, your check is in the mail.) 😉

And most recently, long-time blogging pal Fortune (of Bread, Coffee, Chocolate, Yoga) takes a swing

i’m calling the gombe’s roast level a vienna+: ragged looking beans with patches of oil, and a few “elephant ears” or shells. by which i don’t mean peaberries or caracols, but the defect called shells.

I feel compelled to add: a shell, or elephant ear, is considered a secondary defect; 5 secondary defects equal one primary defect, and SCAA standards dictate that Specialty Grade coffee should have no more than 5 defects in a 300 gram sample, none of which should be a primary defect. Finding shells in your coffee doesn’t mean that you’ve bought junk coffee, but finding too many might indicate something less than the best grade.

Fortune continues:

anyway, i chemexed this coffee at the usual oren proportion. even as i ground the beans, their floral fragrance seeped across the kitchen.

done brewing at 4 minutes, i took a sip: whoosh! like a fencing foil across the tongue. this baby is bright, bright, a classic razor-bright coffee.

really, it was a mark of zorro moment.

i’d have said it was a kenya aa at this point. once the coffee cooled a bit, a passion fruit tartness also sprung to the fore, balanced out by a honeyed character.

i’d say there’s a light milk-chocolate aftertaste, not that you notice with your clothes in tatters. douglas fairbanks? he went thattaway…

If you’re not familiar with Fortune’s writing, yes, she does write like she hasn’t a shift key in the house, which makes for fairly breathless reading, as though every word were urgently IM’d (er… im’d) in your direction. That’s how I read her writing, anyway. 😉

Fortune, I think, shoots straightest of all. Clearly, from where she sits, this is not a perfect coffee. And frankly, I find it a bit challenging, myself.

I’m really not concerned whether or not this bean matches any preconceived notions of a taste of place; Gombe is not Kenya, nor is it Ethiopia, or even one of the many traditional (read, highly marketed) regions of Tanzania. That it has characteristics that might be ascribed to each or all bothers me not one bit; I’m fully prepared to meet the coffee on its own terms. Its terms, however, strike me as somewhat varied cup-to-cup. While I enjoy such variability in, say, a Yemen coffee, or most any bean that’s a natural process, it’s not something I expect in a wet-process coffee, and consequently for me it’s not ideal.

The Gombe’s brightness is now legendary. 😉 Even at a darker roast (a darker roast than was originally planned for this coffee, I might add, and one that was arrived at in an effort to tame this bean’s acidity) this remains an intensely zingy bean. While acidity is not a defect (quite the opposite!) too much can unbalance a coffee that doesn’t also offer sweetness and flavor and body to compensate. And Gombe Reserve does dangle on the precipice, still… wheeling on the edge of too bright, and only just saved from the brink of disaster by its tropical fruit notes and an underlying raw honey sweetness.

That’s probably as good a summary as any: Gombe Reserve is a coffee on the edge. And it’s appropriate, too, as it is so representative of a species on the edge, and a habitat that is, itself, on the brink and in a most delicate and fragile balance.

P.S. Me, I find this coffee brews pretty well in a press pot, better still in the Eva Cafe Solo… either will brew up a more balanced perspective on this unique bean.

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