For sometime now, I'd been waiting for the opportunity to visit Terroir and spend some quality time with George Howel and Peter Lynagh. George needs no introductions, he has been at the cutting edge of the quality in coffee movement for many years, and has set new standards in storing and roasting coffee to deliver the highest quality in the cup. Peter Lynagh is well known in professional coffee circles as a master roaster, a coffee aficionado and a frequent judge in cup of excellence and other coffee competitions.
Jim Schulman got the invite and asked me if I wanted to tag along. Without a second thought I filled up the tank and headed north to Acton MA. Acton is a small town about 30 minutes from Boston and 10 minutes from Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau spent two years in the woods writing: "simplify, simplify, simplify". The New York Times book critic responded by saying "One simplify should have sufficed".
We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and took a tour of the facility.
They use a Probat roaster
It is a hand-on-the-throttle roasting technique, no pre-programmed roasting profile.
Beans would take about 3-4 minutes to cool down after the roast
To preserve green coffee freshness, a growing number of green coffee farms ship their greens vac packed. Vac packing at origin has been George Howell's crusade for sometime now and it is a very slow starter. Daterra initiated that practice but this year, for the first time, the cup of excellence winner from Brazil was also shipped vac packed.
Vacum packed green coffee
As soon as the coffee arrives, it is stored in a freezer until the day it is roasted. The benefits of vac packing and freezing became very apparent on Day 2 when we cupped frozen coffee against non frozen. More about that later.
They have a variety of brewing machines in their tasting lab. I counted two Mistral espresso machines, one L/M Linea, a Clover, ten Technivorm drip brewer, press pots, and an Eva Solo pot. They also use two small sample roasters for cupping. After a few shots of espresso, we checked into our hotel and headed out to Harvard Square for wining and dining. The wine of the evening was a great piedmont whose name I forget.
A sample roaster
In the next two days we talked coffee and cupped a great sample of coffees from around the world. Here is a partial list from Jim's memory:
We started with a cupping of various Guats and El Salvadors, comparing existing samples from Terroir stock with newly arrived samples. George was trying to determine whether to buy some of those coffees or not. Then we did a Kenya cupping, again their stock Mamuto versus a newly shipped sample.
The highlight of the day was an experiment designed to determine the effect of damaged beans in the cup. Peter took what looked like a high quality shipped & sorted green sample and sorted it further by hand to separate flawed beans from the perfectly processed ones. He then roasted the samples and served them for cupping. All cupping was done blind. The difference in the cup between the healthy and flawed sample was noticeable. The healthy one was vivid, round, wonderfully acidic, sweet and aromatic. The damaged sample was flat, slightly astringent and weak in comparison. Bottom line, better sorting of beans at origin has the potential of drastically improving cup quality.
Separating flawed beans from the pack
Cupping. From left: Peter Lynagh; George Howel & Jim Schulman
On day two we started with around the world samples. Daterra (Brazil), Sumatra, Pedra Petra (Brazil COE), Santos Maria Las Sauces (Colombia), Addis Ketema (Ethiopia) and Mamuto (Kenya).
Around the world in 30 minutes.
We followed it by cupping a DP Yirg agains a WP Yirg. The fermentation of the DP was very obvious. The highlight of this day was the following two experiments. In the first one, we cupped three different samples of the same coffee (La Minita). Sample one was green coffee that was vac packed and frozen as it arrived. Then roasted, ground and immediately brewed. Sample two was the same coffee as sample one, only, it was ground ten days ago. Sample three was not vac packed or frozen but stored as green coffee in a standard burlap bag. The results were startling. Sample one was as expected the best of the three: vivid flavorful and sweet. Sample three was the worst. It was flat, faded, and tasted a bit like the bag it was stored in. The biggest surprise however was sample two. That coffee was ground 10 days ago, and it still tasted better than Sample three.
Vac packing the greens at origin and freezing them at arrival has a huge impact on cup quality.
Can you make my coffee taste like a burlap bag? From left: Jim Schulman, Peter Lynagh & Abe Carmeli
The second experiment of the day was a showdown between three brewing methods using the same coffee: Drip using the Technivorm; Soak pot using the Eva Solo, and Soak/vacuum using the Clover. This was very informal, and we did not spend the time to fine tune each brewing method, so the results should not be taken as more than casual play. The winner was the Eva Solo, followed by the Technivorm drip. The Clover came in last by a large margin. We were using the Mamuto as our sample coffee.
That experiment concluded the 2nd day after which I said my goodbyes and headed back to New York. Jim stayed after lunch for another round of the flawed versus healthy beans comparison. Many thanks to George Howell, Peter Lynagh and the team at Terroir for their great hospitality.
The humble winner - Eva Solo soak pot