Tasting Square Mile Coffees

Tasting Square Mile Coffees

Let’s face it. Right now the folks at Square Mile — Stephen Morrissey, James Hoffmann and Annette Moldvaer1  — could phone it in. They could source dubious coffees, call them edgy, describe them cryptically while lavishing them with praise… and they would sell. A lot. At least until the hype subsided. Happily, our world champion baristas and coffee tasters are doing no such thing. They’re sourcing coffees of great character — juried award winners and coffees from small, family-run farms — roasting them light to remain faithful to the beans’ origins, and letting the coffee speak for itself. Well done. Costa Rica El Portillo C.O.E. I admit to having a love / hate affair with Costa Rican coffee the last year or two. From where I sit, Costas have lurched in one of two directions, each at opposite ends of my bell curve of happiness: at the one end, bright, shrill, efferfrickinvescant acidity at the expense of all other character; at the other extreme, big, beefy and dumb-as-a-cow bullion flavors with no dynamic to the cup at all. The exceptions to these extremes can be found far from the big coffee estates on small, family farms… and — happily enough — the Square Mile El Portillo is just such an exception. Balanced and round, with flavors of honeysuckle and buttery caramel. I find a burst of citrus on the front, and a dark cocoa surprise as the cup cools, and that honeyed sweetness and syrupy body throughout. This is a complex, many-layered cup, and immensely rewarding. [rating:4/5] Kenya Muchoki Peaberry Tremendously bright, crisp, and dry with flavors of tart...
C.A.F.E. Through Rose-Colored Glasses

C.A.F.E. Through Rose-Colored Glasses

It’s hard to peer into Starbucks’ notoriously opaque coffee sourcing standards. In a Sunday article in the Seattle Times — Changing the Way Costa Rican Farmers Grow Coffee – and Live — writer Manuel Valdes offers a glimpse, through the eyes of Rodrigo Vargas of Santa Eduviges — one of Costa Rica’s largest family-owned coffee-farming operations. Vargas is one of the hundreds of farmers — large and small — in Costa Rica who have benefited from Starbucks’ arrival after an influx of cheap beans from Brazil and Vietnam saturated the market and sent prices tumbling in the late 1990s, creating a crisis for coffee growers. As Starbucks’ presence grew in Costa Rica, Vargas’ relationship with the Seattle specialty coffee-shop chain tightened. He replaced 25 percent of his coffee plants with better breeds of arabica beans to keep up with Starbucks’ growing demand and quality standards. By 1998, he sold 1.2 million pounds of coffee to Starbucks. In 2002, Vargas visited Seattle, met CEO Howard Schultz and sat courtside at a then-Schultz-owned Seattle Sonics basketball game. Should you unwittingly get the impression that Starbucks’ coffee growers were all new-found members of the Seattle jet-set, chomping cigars and playing poker with Howard, the article further suggests that Starbucks still must wag the occasional disapproving finger at their naughty kids coffee suppliers… Much like his boss, Yeiner Chacón’s life revolves around coffee. As head agronomist for Santa Eduviges, he knows coffee. He’s a fan of Café Practices, but he no longer deals with the certifiers that visit the farms. “I almost killed the last guy,” Chacón says half-jokingly. But his attitude reflects...

Wanted: Adventurous Travelers for Coffee Kids Costa Rica Trip

Ever thought about what it *really* takes to get coffee from seed to cup? What life is like in a coffee-growing community? There’s really only one way to learn… make a trip to origin! Coffee Kids — by any measure, a terrific non-profit group that does great work in coffee growing lands — is hosting a trip to coffee communities in Costa Rica in November… Coffee Kids and JavaVentures will host a fun and informative tour in the coffee lands of Costa Rica, Nov. 6-11. This five-day tour will focus on coffee communities and a student scholarship project supported by The Rural Children’s Education Foundation (FHC) and sponsored by Coffee Kids. Deadline for registration is Saturday, Sept. 15. On this trip participants will have the opportunity to learn how coffee and grassroots community development serve as critical elements to providing families and communities a higher quality of life and hope for the future. The cost of the trip is $1,295… the benefits — priceless. For a complete trip itinerary and more information, visit www.javaventures.com or www.coffeekids.org or call 415-595-2924. I have to warn you… a trip like this will forever alter how you look at your cup… and how you look at the...
Congrats to the World Barista Champion

Congrats to the World Barista Champion

Congratulations to James Hoffman (whom you may know as Jim Seven (that’s his blog in the list down yonder) on capturing the top honors at the World Barista Championship in Tokyo. His performance was — in a word — artistic. Poised, relaxed — or doing a damn fine job of looking relaxed — Jim wowed the judges with his technical skills, his presentation, and a signature espresso drink that combined separately-pulled single origins from Costa Rica and Kenya (an intensely blackcurrenty Gethumbwini) with a tobacco and cream infusion, topped with a biscotti foam. (I’m thinking it’d probably be labeled illegal in the U.S.) If you’re at all wondering what the Barista Championships are all about, watch the finalist videos at ZacharyZachary and be amazed. (As a bonus the videography is quite good!) Congrats to Jim, and congrats to *all* of the national barista champions (and that means you, too, Heather...

Tasting: Santa Elena Tarrazu Miel

Rating: [rating:4/5] Coffee is a fruit, you know… Sipping the cup in front of me, this simple truth is underlined. The cup is lush, heavily fruited with black cherry, and reveals a sweet tobacco finish. Oh… and it’s from Costa Rica. The coffee is Santa Elena Tarrazu Miel. Now, Santa Elena is a big coffee farm in Tarrazu, Costa Rica. Big enough they have their own mill… and big enough that when the top 10% or so of their coffee meets specialty coffee standards, it’s a lot of coffee. Erna Knutsen, the grand damme of the specialty coffee trade [and the originator of the term Specialty Coffee] convinced the folks at Santa Elena to process this coffee, this very fine Tarrazu coffee, like folks in Sumatra do… a “semi-wash” process that left the pulp of the fruit on the bean while it dried. Unheard of! It was almost certainly something of a leap of faith for Santa Elena farm… maybe even for Erna! But the result is unique, and distinctive, and very enjoyable. It’s not your typical Tarrazu… it’s sweeter, it’s more complex, it’s richer in body. Thanks,...
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