There is a story to be told of the tempests that occur when
people debate what is, and what is not Tarrazu. The
short version is this -- Tarrazu can at once be defined by the
geo-political border that is Tarrazu county, by the ICAFE
designation of what is a Tarrazu finca, and by the
micro-climate that exists within a particularly mountainous region
of Costa Rica that produces very hard coffee beans with distinctly
spicy, aromatic qualities and bell-like brightness. I'm running with
the latter of these three definitions, and I'm willing to let ICAFE
and the SCAA sort out the rest.
With this in mind, I've assembled a number of Tarrazu coffees
with the idea of formally cupping them to compare their
characteristics -- but I keep drinking them instead! It doesn't help
that I've had little time at the roaster recently -- the lion's
share of what I roast lately is straight away ground and brewed.
Even so I've managed to pull out the silver spoon long enough to jot
down a few notes...
[Update - I've had a second go at it, and
have formalized cupping notes for each of these coffees... which is
why you'll now find the charts and graphs that were missing before.
On the whole my opinions haven't changed... but I'll make a point to
distinguish between my first and second cupping notes just the same.]
La Minita Estate
What can I say that hasn't already been written a thousand times
before, and more eloquently? La Minita, a pioneering estate run by
Bill McAlpin -- something of a organizational and horticultural
wizard -- year after year produces some of the very finest coffees
in the world. Long before I was a fan of roasting my own coffee, I
was a fan of La Minita.
At a light city roast it is richly aromatic and spicy. Its
acidity is sparkling and clean. It's layered with complex spice
flavors... when I hit just the right spot in the roast it tastes
something of apple pie with its fruity and savory notes. It's still
clean and refreshing as the coffee cools. If you like iced
coffee, this is your cup.
That much said, it's all too easy to destroy the unique
characteristics of this super premium coffee. A moment or two of
distraction is all it takes... anything beyond a City roast, and you
might as well be drinking just about any other Central American
coffee. Full City? Second crack? Fughetaboudit. Is this a bad
thing? Certainly not in the hands of an experienced roaster. But
if you're just cutting your teeth, I'd get some practice with a less
spendy coffee first.
Dota is a valley within Tarrazu, some distance removed from many of
the other growers. While still a Tarrazu coffee [and these days
brokered by La Minita] it's got its own personality. It's not quite so
fragrant as La Minita, not quite so bright either. It's got a winey
characteristic that fans of East African coffees will appreciate,
with some fairly powerful bitter chocolate notes as well. While not
a full-bodied coffee by most measures, it does have a surprisingly
long, lush finish. I think if I were to cup it blind I'd think it
more related to a Yemen than a Tarrazu.
[Just for kicks I did cup it blind against a Yemeni
coffee... and while it was easy to distinguish which was which, the
difference was conveyed less by flavor characteristics, and more by
Dota has a bit more range in terms of roasts... some heat after
first crack will burn away some of the brighter notes and reinforce
the chocolate. Still, go easy... this coffee shouldn't stray too
far from the City limits.
The appellation for this coffee comes from Sweet
Maria's... Tom Owen says it was brokered as Holland Especial,
and the name didn't seem to fit. No matter, by any other name, this
is one sweet coffee.
Tres Rios is not the product of a single Tarrazu finca, it's a
co-op blend of regional coffees. As such, there's really no telling
what next year might bring to the region... so get some of this fine
stuff while you can. Not quite so bright as La Minita, but nearly as
spicily aromatic, Tres Rios is another Tarrazu cup that's brisk and
clean right to the finish.
At a City roast the Tres Rios reminds me very much of coffees
from the Kona coast... it's got something of that same
"evergreen" quality to it -- piney, balsamy, call it what
you will -- it's a flavor that I thought was distinctive of Kona,
and I couldn't be more pleased to find something of it in a cup that
costs less than half as much.
I've found that Tres Rios contains 30% or more peaberry
content. That may play a contributing role in the profile here, as
the peaberry type beans roast differently [more quickly] than the
flat beans in the mix, making for more flavor complexity overall.
Unlike the other Tarrazu's compared here,
Tres Rios is quite forgiving of the roaster, and can take a range of
roasts from a very light City to a very deep Full City -- and if you
want to experiment with a deeper roast, this bean will take some
And there you have it... Three coffees from Tarrazu -- one of the
very best growing regions in the world -- and each distinct in
flavor and aroma. What traits do they share? They are each
bright, clean coffees, and beautifully prepared. Maybe someday the
Tarrazu appellation won't matter so much... what counts, after all,
is what's found in the cup.