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...

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...
Barista: Is This the Death of the Espresso Blend?

Barista: Is This the Death of the Espresso Blend?

Stephen Leighton (coffee guy, blogger at Hasbean, one of the more permanent fixtures on Bloggle’s list of outbound links) has a featured article in the most recent issue of Barista magazine in which he wonders aloud, “Is this the death of the espresso blend?” In it he notes that James Hoffmann’s World Barista Championship was won with not one, but two single-origin coffees prepared as espresso. That’s a notion that not so long ago would have been unheard of — which has annoyed me for years — but which may be on the naked edge of a trend… I think those observing the WBC competition this year will have noted that blends have gradually become less complicated and often now have far fewer components than they might have contained in the past. There has been a real movement towards allowing the coffee to do the talking with signature drinks, presentation and blends becoming simpler. This has to be applauded. This is me, clapping loudly. I make no claims to be a purist — a snob, yes, but not a purist — but I’m awfully keen to see more single-origin espressos come to the fore; for their character, their unbridled flavors and aromas, and the sheer adventure of discovering what a given grand cru drip coffee can do in the small cup. I want to see more coffee origins — especially Central and South American origins — experiment with semi-washed and dry process coffees to afford the kind of character that would better complement a single-origin espresso (a stellar example being Erna Knutsen’s Santa Elena Tarrazu Miel from a few years back.)...
Green Mountain’s Gombe Reserve Gets Tasted

Green Mountain’s Gombe Reserve Gets Tasted

Folks from all over are commenting on Green Mountain’s Gombe Reserve, a coffee offered in partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute. My own notes were from a pre-production roast and — honestly — were at least as much about the process of producing the coffee and had little to do with the finished product… I haven’t taken the time to capture my own tasting notes of the roasts I have sampled since. But fair’s fair… I’ll present some of the other points of view I’ve seen of late, and then I’ll add my own thoughts to sum things up. The first review comes by way of Coffee & Conservation, a blog with a point of view that is all about the relationship between coffee and the environment in which it’s grown. By those standards alone I’d expect the Gombe Reserve to fare pretty well in their review… With its proximity to Kenya, I think we all expected this Tanzanian coffee to have the wine-like tones so characteristic of Kenyans. Instead, we were surprised by the little citrus kick when piping hot and the undertone of fruit that followed that was so reminiscent of an Ethiopian coffee. Finally, when cooler, came the tart wine finish. I’m in accord… the Gombe presents itself as something of an enigma in terms of origin, being neither of Kenya or of Ethiopia but with characteristics of each. This coffee was marvelously complex, but not jarringly so, as some Africans can be. It harmoniously went from one flavor to the next, each nicely balanced. The bird song it evoked for us was that of the...
Waxing Nostalgic: The FreshRoast Coffee Roaster

Waxing Nostalgic: The FreshRoast Coffee Roaster

All this talk of home-roasters and roasting in one’s very own kitchen has got me waxing nostalgic. And so I dug around the roasting bench in the garage and excavated my very first coffee roaster — the FreshRoast — and after a bit of dusting and inspecting to make sure that all was in apparent working order, I started roasting coffee. The neurotic golden retriever — a creature who’s memory is clearly better than I’ve had any reason to believe — ran for cover. Fortunately (at least so far as the dog is concerned) while I did fill the house with the aroma of roasting coffee, I did not set off the smoke alarms. Honestly, when you’re roasting about 2 ounces of coffee at a time, you’d have to really throw yourself into it and put some serious dark on those beans to create a lot of smoke. My first batch, an Antigua that I’d noted as having lots of brown sugar and some lovely orange zest notes (I know this ’cause I attach my tasting notes to the bags of green beans,) despite a very promising fragrance just-ground, proved woody and dull and lifeless. I checked the date on the bag… and found none. That means that the coffee in question arrived before I’d got clever enough to date all of my incoming beans, which was sometime in 2004. So, no wonder. A second batch — a remaindered sample from the latest Ethiopia eCafe Gold auction — yielded lots and lots of chaff (natch, it’s an unwashed, dry-process coffee) and roasted incredibly uneven… some beans were entering second...

Accounting for Taste: A Model Major Article

The current issue of Roast Magazine features an informative and very well acquainted guide to experiencing the flavors and aromas of coffee, covering matters anatomical, physiological and — for good measure — psychological, too: “Say you’re having a rotten dayâ€â€?everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, and you need to cup one final batch of samples before you can leave for the day. Well, you might think twice about cupping those samples, because there’s a good chance your mood will alter the way you perceive the coffee. Your senses are all linked together with your brain, which also controls your thoughts and emotions. With all this going on at the same time, it is possible to allow mood to overlap with sensory evaluation, causing a misinterpretation of what you are really experiencing in that cup of coffee. In order to get a true idea of what you’re tasting, your mind needs to be clear of clutter and stress.” As for things olfactorial, don’t miss the article’s categorical companion piece, Dos and Don’ts for Supercharged Olfactory Skills. But don’t delay… I suspect this content may go away when the next issue of Roast hits the newsstand. (Not that it’s actually on newsstands… that’s me being...
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