Coffee Notes from All Over

Super-size me? Not any more. Doug Zell and the gang at Intelligentsia Coffee are ‘just saying no’ to Big Gulp portions of brewed coffee, as they discontinue their 20-oz. serving size. Is it about the bottom line? Doug says no, it’s not that at all… “Drinking our coffee is not like drinking jug wine,” said Intelligentsia Coffee founder and Chief Executive Doug Zell on Tuesday. “We’re focused on intensity of flavors and providing coffee in the way it tastes best. And it’s not in that size.” As a coffee snob, I think it’s a good call… coffee does not want to be slurped in giant takeaway cups. As a commentator on the business of coffee, I worry about the timing: folks are minding their pennies these days, and “value shoppers” may migrate to someplace where they feel they get more caffeine for their buck. ‘Course, that might be offset by an increase in same-day sales… folks who used to buy a Venti to last them the morning may visit twice for two twelve ounce cups. Maybe. P.S. Speaking of Zell, have you seen his Amex ad? He’s the new Mr. Big, man. Rwanda preps for its first Cup of Excellence! Rwanda is rightly celebrating one coming out party after another… last year it hosted its first Golden Cup competition, and this year it’s joining the ranks of the prestigious Cup of Excellence program. “As the host country of the first Cup of Excellence competition in Africa, Rwanda will set the stage and create the benchmark for the rest of the quality coffee-producing countries on the continent where coffee was...

Intelligentsia Coffee’s Rwanda Golden Cup Melange

Rating: [rating:4/5] While I’d talked up Rwanda’s Golden Cup competition last September, I’ve only late come to realize that I hadn’t actually tasted any of the coffees from this competition. That couldn’t stand, of course. And so this week the coffee delivery man brought me a package from Intelligentisa Coffee. Intelligentsia’s greenie, Geoff Watts, was fortunate enough both to jury the competition, and to buy a number of lots… this coffee being an all Bourbon melange of coffees from three districts: Nyamasheke, Huye and Gakenke. Just ground, this blend’s aromas are clean and sweet, with brown sugar the dominant note. On brewing the sweetness continues with a bit of apple pie spice. In the cup, mango and caramel flavors are accentuated by a shimmering acidity, and buttery, syrupy body. The finish is long, and sweet, and leaves a taste of candied pecans on the tongue. Sweet. Balanced. Lyrical. This is Zen poetry in a cup. Recommended, and available at Intelligentsia...

Bikes to Rwanda: Happy Birthday!

Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters has been doing some mighty fine things on the ground in Rwanda for a while now. Stumpies have been key players in the PEARL Project, a public / private partnership with USAID and Michican State University to revitalize agriculture — and life — in post-genocide Rwanda. PEARL has, by any measure, done great things, and among them it’s been instrumental in putting Rwandan coffee on the world stage as an emerging — and now preeminent — coffee origin. (Really! have you tasted Rwandan coffee lately? All kinds of awesome.) Above and beyond PEARL, however, Duane Sorenson — Stumptown’s founder and chief protagonist — found a need that had gone unmet. The people harvesting coffee in Rwanda’s hilly terrain had to carry heavy loads of coffee cherry from remote growing regions to washing stations. And they had to do it quickly. Cheaply. Reliably. No matter the weather. Rwandan coffee farmers needed bikes. Back in Portland, Duane started putting things together. He rounded-up a network of avid sport cyclists and bike messengers (naturally… most all those messengers were fueled by Stumptown coffee already) and started fundraising. He held benefit dinners. Awareness-raising rides. And in a matter of months he had spun off a non-profit organization to focus on the effort, and had 260 custom-built cargo bikes in the ground in Rwanda. Today Bikes to Rwanda is a year old. (Happy Birthday!) And to-date they have delivered 400 cargo bikes to Rwanda, opened a bicycle repair shop, arranged innovative financing for coffee growers and more. (Maybe you should think about giving them a tax-deductible birthday present?) Learn all about it: watch...

Rwanda’s Golden Cup — The Results Are In!

It’s Labor Day in these United States — a celebration of the working stiff, the last gasp of Summer — and to mark the event I’ll be… laboring on the garage. (sigh) I can’t help but take a moment, however, to mark the outstanding results of Rwanda’s Golden Cup competition and auction. In a few short years Rwanda has emerged from its national nightmare to become an increasingly prominent player in the specialty coffee trade, and perhaps nothing to-date has marked this more significantly than the results of the events of the past few days. The cupping jury has seen some phenomenal coffees, some scoring as high as 95 — even 98! — and the results of the auction itself are now in. The winning bidders? The usual suspects: Stumptown walks away with the top lot from the Muyongwe cooperative, at $25 per pound. Lots from Ngoma, Karaba and Kanzu fetched in the neighborhood of $15/lb. and winning bidders included Zoka, Counter Culture and Intelligentsia. Look for some of these stunning coffees at a winning roaster — perhaps even before the turn of the...

Tasting… when you can’t taste a thing.

Over the weekend I found myself with an awful head cold, every bit as severe as it proved — thankfully — short-lived. Now a cold most any time is an inconvenience. This time it was distressing. The coffee delivery man had just left some excellent beans on my front porch, and doggone it, I was really looking forward to giving them a taste. And the simple truth was I couldn’t taste a thing. Zero, Zilch. Nada. So I brewed some coffee anyway. I brewed a “regions of the coffee world” sampler, really: Centrals, Indos, a winey African or two. Even a couple of real stinker coffees that I forgot to throw away. And just for kicks and grins, I set up a blind tasting –six coffees, labeled A through F — so I wouldn’t know what was in each cup, but I could look each up later. I couldn’t smell anything. Not a thing! No fragrance of just-ground coffee. No aroma of brewing coffee… nothing. I couldn’t discern flavors: no berry or cherry, no raisin or grape or plum… not even any of the farmyard funk in a Sumatra that I’d dissed just a day or two prior. Just when I was about to give up entirely I realized that, while I couldn’t smell and I couldn’t taste, there were still sensations to be found. So I settled myself a little bit and focused on what was there… Acidity. That little tingle on the tongue and soft palate — which on any other day would probably be zinging with at least some of the coffees I was tasting —...

Tasting: Counter Culture Coffee’s Rwanda Karaba

Rating: [rating:4.5/5] 100 miles east of Kansas City, Missouri, along the route of Highway 24, you’ll find a pecan the size of a UPS delivery truck. Here, at the confluence of the Grand and Missouri rivers, the fertile bottomlands produce not only roadside attractions worthy of Neil Gaiman’s attention (look for it in his latest work, Yet More American Gods) but also prodigious numbers of black-trunked pecan trees standing in sentinel rows as far as the eye can see. And each tree, in turn, produces prodigious pecans… Oh, they’re not the biggest in the land (that title probably goes to Georgia, despite the many-tonned concrete pecan’s hyperbole) but bite for bite, they’re the tastiest you’ll find anywhere. Nutty, sure… but also buttery, warm and sweet. By flavor alone you might mistake them for cashews… but they’re not one bit tropical, but instead Missouri’s favorite native… er, nut. The Coffee In a nutshell, friends and neighbors, this is the surprising flavor of Counter Culture’s Rwandan coffee offering — it’s a nutty, nutty bean. Sourced from the Koakaka coop, and processed at the very same Karaba washing station as Green Mountain’s very spiffy (and long gone) Rwandan Special Reserve offering, Counter Culture’s Rwandan is an exemplary coffee in every way: meticulous preparation, and expert and attentive roasting. Just ground, the coffee offers the intriguing fragrance of coffee blossom and ripe, sweet pears. Brewing, its aroma tantalizes with notes of maple syrup and caramelized sugar. The cup’s brightness is well-controlled in the roast — some acidity has been traded for complexity and warmth — which I think is a good choice. Its...
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