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...

Your Politics Don’t Mean Beans

It was inevitable, really, what Farm Coffee has done: THEY’RE ROASTING presidential candidates on Bill Hill, which is not nearly the same as grilling them. Ashlawn Farm Coffee has introduced an Obama Blend, a “sweet, balanced” combination of “dark and light roasted coffees from Kenya, Java and the Americas,” and American Hero Coffee, “a light-roasted, highly caffeinated” brew that’s “edgy, strong,” made from beans grown in Vietnam. The latter’s redolent, you might say, of Sen. John McCain. But what about a Hillary Brew? That, says Carol Dahlke, Ashlawn co-owner and roaster, is … uh … in development. In development. Hey… they aren’t trying to find a civet cat, are...

PT’s Coffee: Kenya AA Kieni Auction Lot

I’ve known Jeff Taylor for nearly half a dozen years. Jeff’s a coffee guy through and through. He’s a heck of a barista, an international WBC judge, and a talented coffee roaster… which he puts to good use as co-owner of PT’s Coffee in Topeka, Kansas. PT’s had a coffee shop up the street from me a ways when I was in Overland Park, Kansas… I understand they now have another only a block or two from my old place. (Clearly, one or the other of us needs to work on timing.) Many moons ago Jeff was kind enough to send along a number of his coffees for me to sample. I enjoyed them each and all, but never quite got around to writing about them. (Okay… so it’s now clear that *I’m* the one who needs to work on his timing.) I figure that was something less than fair of me, so a number of weeks back I ordered some coffee to see what he’s roasting these days, with the intent of writing about *this* batch of beans. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed *this* round each and all, too, but one coffee in particular stands out… PT’s Kenya AA Kieni Auction Lot is a sweetly perfumed cup, with jasmine-like hues of coffee flower, and… are those violets in its fragrance? Wetted, much of the florals remain, joined by a lower note that I read as amber and a new top-note of citrus. In the cup I find ripe, red grapefruit (seems I nearly always do with better coffees from Kenya’s Nyeri district) as well as flavors of...
Selling Coffee to Kenyans

Selling Coffee to Kenyans

Oh sure, it sounds like the punchline to a joke. Something like “selling ice to Eskimos.” Instead, it’s an idea who’s time has come. Finally. Most coffee growing countries you may visit you’ll have a hard time scaring up a good cup of coffee. Ask for a cup and often as not you’ll get instant — granules spooned from a tin or a jar kept above the stove. Only Ethiopia — the birthplace of coffee — has had a coffee-consuming tradition for as long as the bean has been cultivated. (Yemen, too, but somewhat less so.) This is changing, and one of the most profound changes may be in Kenya. For most of Kenya’s 100 years or so of coffee production, it’s been illegal to roast beans for local consumption, all to better assure a steady supply of beans for foreign trade. Those rules have been relaxed… and many more of the traditionally rigid, compulsory practices of the Kenya Coffee Board are being reexamined as Fair Trade principles — and Fair Trade’s higher prices — find their way into the Kenyan economy. Thus, the latest entry into the Kenyan coffee culture… the iconic coffee shop — Plush coffee bars are springing up all over the capital, serving home-grown lattes and cappuccinos to young, status-driven Kenyans breaking from the country’s tea-drinking past. Where there were no proper coffee shops in 1999, there are now more than 20. In the gritty city centre alone, Java House, the best-known chain, serves 1,500 cups of premium coffee a day. “People thought we were crazy to try to sell coffee to Kenyans,” said Jon...
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...

Coffee Notes from All Over

More on the USDA and Organic coffee certification kerfuffle when I can get to it… meanwhile here’s a link-dump of coffee notes from all over: Ever wondered what it takes to get to championship levels in Barista competition? Practice, practice, practice. (Youtube.) I really like Jen Prince’s point of view — and her humble approach to the bean — and having been on the receiving end of one of her stellar espresso macchiatos when I was last in Seattle I think she’ll go far. I don’t really have much of a life outside of coffee. — Jen Prince, Zoka Coffee Kindred souls, huh? You might want to get in line now for a couple of new beans from Paradise Roasters. I’d love to sample (hint, wink, nudge) the Biloya Special, a small-lot Ethiopian natural process that took top dollar at the 2007 Ethiopia Limited auction, and the Kenya Auction Lot #398 Oakland Estate Gesha which has such an interesting story you should really go read all about it. Finally! Some love from Kenneth Davids for Green Mountain’s classic Mocha Java Blend, long one of my faves, and a bit of a sleeper on the Green Mountain offering...
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