Stumptown’s Guatemala El Injerto Reserva

You should know something about coffee people… we’re *constantly* tasting coffee: our own, the stuff from the guy across the street, and across the country. Oh sure, part of it’s about keeping tabs on what other folks are doing — but that’s a small part, really. The larger share is just ’cause we like coffee, and love the origins and flavors of coffee the world over, even if it’s not us that’s selling it. Consequently, things like family vacations are sometimes interrupted with a brief dash into an unfamiliar coffee shop to sample the brew of the day, or — in the case of a recent trip Don Holly made to Portland — a quick jog in to Stumpies to grab a bunch of beans for the gang back home ’cause you just *know* they’re gonna be good. “The thing about El Injerto,” says Holly, “is they have the most amazing worm farm.” I ponder this for a moment. “So…” I ask, “how do you judge a worm farm, anyway?” Don shrugs. “It’s like art. I know it when I see it.” There *is* something artful about this cup — Guatemala Finca El Injerto Reserva, by Stumptown Coffee — that’s just about as challenging to pin down. It’s something experiential: the rich, spiced cocoa and savory herbal note as it brews, the tremendous expression of jasmine and coffee flower aromas in the cup; the lush, saturated flavors of dark fruit — raisin and plum and ripe mango — matched with ample body and just enough of a bright, crisp, acid snap to counterbalance the richness of it all. The...
Sumatra Mandheling — Age Defying Coffee?

Sumatra Mandheling — Age Defying Coffee?

After a bit of a hiatus I’m back at the roaster in the garage. Why the break? It’s been chilly lately — it’s winter in Vermont, after all — and besides, my roaster doesn’t perform so well when the ambient temperature is anything less than 40 degrees. Neither do I fare all too well hanging around waiting for it to get its heat on. Oh sure, I know there’s hard-core roasters who don their parkas and mittens to roast outdoors all times of the year. That kind of insane and slavish devotion I save for barbecue alone, thanks. I haven’t ordered any new green coffee of late (see the bit about it being cold) and so what I have left is really remnants of seasons past… in some cases, several seasons past. Some Ethiopian coffees from the last eCafe competition, Guatemalan greens from the spring before, and some Sumatra from — gosh, I really can’t be sure — maybe two years ago? And so I roasted some of just about everything. The Ethiopian coffee is quite decent, really. For a day or two, anyway; and then the cup just sort of… winds down. Aromatics are fleeting, flavors fading. It’s not a tragic thing, really. It’s just tired. The Guatemalan beans have a similar tale to tell. Notably, they roast dry and hot — they’ve apparently lost a lot of moisture — and the cup quality is not only faded, but also bitter. Very much so. The Sumatran beans — the oldest of the lot — well they’re something of a different story. They roast well within parameters I might...
Winning the Hearts and Minds of Terroirists

Winning the Hearts and Minds of Terroirists

If a recent article in the New York Times‘ Style Magazine is right, then everything you think you know about terroir may be wrong. The article — Talk Dirt to Me — takes aim at some long-held thinking about the stuff that makes a wine’s flavor what it is: dirt. When terroir was first associated with wine, in the 17th-century phrase goût de terroir (literally, “taste of the earth”), it was not intended as a compliment. Its meaning began to change in 1831, when Dr. Morelot, a wealthy landowner in Burgundy, observed in his “Statistique de la Vigne Dans le Département de la Côte-d’Or” that all of the wineries in Burgundy made wine essentially the same way, so the reason some tasted better than others must be due to the terroir — specifically, the substrata underneath the topsoil of a vineyard. Wine, he claimed, derived its flavor from the site’s geology: in essence, from rocks. The concept of terroir is not the sole domain of the wine enthusiast, and neither are those misconceptions that may have commingled with it. The world of specialty coffee, too, has long grokked the notion of a “taste of place,” though its interpretation is frequently more nuanced, less rigidly constructionist than it appears in the world of wine. In recent years, the concept that one can taste rocks and soil in a wine has become popular with wine writers, importers and sommeliers. “Wines express their source with exquisite definition,” asserts Matt Kramer in his book “Making Sense of Wine.” “They allow us to eavesdrop on the murmurings of the earth.” Of a California vineyard’s...

Hurricane Stan, Revisited

For a little more than five years now I’ve been a keen student of coffee… of coffee’s origins and varietals, growing and processing, beans and blends and roasting. Along the way I’ve learned more about farming than I’d ever have imagined (even — or maybe, especially — given the long farming tradition of my mother’s family). I’ve discovered more geography than any social studies teacher could have dreamed for me. And by visiting coffee growing communities I’ve experienced first-hand the vast chasm between those who have and those who don’t. It’s stunning… and all the more so for the selfless nature and endless generosity of the have-nots in the equation. Two groups of Green Mountain folk just returned from trips to Mexico, and to Guatemala, where I visited about this time last year. My fellow travelers describe the immense spirit, character and generosity of their hosts in these coffee-growing lands… places hard-hit by the ravages of hurricane Stan just a few months ago. In Guatemala, at the La Voz cooperative on the shores of Lake Atitlan, upwards of 90,000 coffee trees were lost when the mountain shrugged its rain-soaked shoulders. A number of small-holder farmers found their land was… gone. Disappeared. The harvest came in early this year… affected by the rainy weather. It’s been a challenge as many drying patios are still covered in mud and roads and bridges are still washed out in many places. And yet — in the midst of it all — those same farmers greeted our weary travelers as old friends, shared their stories, their laughter, their food and water… and they spoke...

Coban: Zounds!

Rating: [rating:4.5/5] Zounds! My first taste of the Guatemala Coban “Tanchi” left me wondering if I dipped into the wrong bin at roast time. This coffee has stellar acidity that reminds me very much of the powerhouse Ethiopian Yrgacheffe that Barry Jarrett tossed into the Mystery Cup Challenge. The two origins, mind you, are half-way across the world. This is a delightful coffee! Just-ground it’s its fragrance is spicy and hugely complex. Brewed, its aroma is lively with notes of Ceylon tea and cedar. Take a sip and — wham! — there’s that amazing brightness, followed in turn by flavors of black tea, burgundy and wood. It’s squarely in the middles in terms of body, and it’s finish is clean and crisp and just a little tannic. Clearly, this would be an intriguing addition to my Christmas blend, but it’s such a remarkable single-origin cup, it might be a shame to blend...

Guatemala Huehuetenango, Asobagri Co-op, 2001 Crop

Rating: [rating:3.5/5] My First Fair Trade Coffee Guatemala is home to some really good coffees–clean, fragrant, and fruity. While the Antigua region garners the lion’s share of attention for their complexity, chocolate and spice flavors, Huehuetenango tends to produce some fruitier stuff. Guatemala is also a place that has suffered more than its share of political problems. Coffee farmers here live hard lives, and low market prices have eaten into what little profit–if any–remains. The Fair Trade system provides family farmers and small co-ops with subsidized pricing, a network of buyers that are committed to maintaining equitable trade… sometimes micro-loans so that farmers don’t fall prey to “coyotes”–local middlemen with reputations for shoddy business practices. In turn, the Fair Trade system asks a slighter higher price of the coffee consumer, in effect selling both coffee, and a small investment in the future of these unstable growing regions. Niggling questions remain… Is the subsidy a sustainable business practice? Are growers benefiting? Is it good coffee? Well, this one is. The Asobagri Huehuetenango roasts up peppery and fragrant, and remarkably even given the fairly odd assortment of beans in the mix. [All typica, says Tom at Sweet Maria’s–maybe the co-op has a wide range of farms.] In the cup? Refreshing. The Huehuetenango is a light, brisk, clean brew. It’s aromatics are peppery, its high notes tangy lemon citrus [rather like a Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.] It’s a straightforward, uncomplicated cup, with nutty pecan flavors, light body and a slightly sweet finish. It’s a great summer slurper, whether you’re beatin’ the heat poolside, or moppin’ ribs on the barbecue. The roast: Keep this one...

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