Coffees in Melbourne, Australia in 2019

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
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Postby luca » Apr 01, 2019, 5:00 am

Hi All,

I sort of attempted to post up some reviews that were useful in 2017 and in 2018, I half wrote up some reviews of ridiculous geisha coffees (I still have notes to go back and add when I get a minute ... big "when").

Two things were clear:
1) doing justice to coffee reviews requires a bit of work; and
2) there is sat least some amount of enthusiasm for me to continue, and a few people whose arms I hope can be twisted to join in.

Late February Cupping

For the first time in several years, I decided to actually go to MICE this year and I got to spend some time playing with, and demoing, the decent espresso machine and doing Rao's roast workshop (topics for another day), which was a good opportunity to bump into a few enthusiasts who post and do not post on H-B. I was asked the question of 'what is it that I'm actually looking for for coffee that I buy for myself' and we resolved that the best way to answer this question was for me to have a bunch of people over to my place to cup a few different flights of coffee and for me to guess at making a few shots. Since the coffees were going to be shared with a lot of people, I thought it was a good opportunity to put some more expensive and ridiculous coffees on the table.

The flights were broadly as follows:
1) A tour of the Melbourne market
2) Geishas
3) Ona coffee's competition winners
4) Luca bumbles through preparing some espresso at warp speed

I wanted this to be a fun event that encouraged people to say what they liked and didn't, and also one that didn't leave people feeling that they were sitting an exam, so this was conducted entirely non-blind and we didn't use forms or score numerically. I knew that the amount of stuff that I wanted to get through was quite ambitious, so I cracked the whip a little bit and guided the discussion by asking people to comment on body, acidity and sweetness for each cup, then discussing flavour. Nonetheless, we still ended up pressed for time at the end. We didn't take notes on the day, but I wrote some notes down later and will post them below, since they are pretty interesting.

Cupping brewing method

For this event, I was really keen to do whatever I could to accelerate it and having spent a few days with Scott Rao at MICE, I have now tasted first hand that his idea of good coffee gels with mine. I had spent quite a bit of time re-aligning my EK and so I decided to take up Scott's point that many cupping and french press grinds are too coarse (there's an interesting blog post from Scott broadly on the subject here). If it means anything to anyone, my burrs touch at 1.1 and I ground for the cupping on 6. If you have cupped a lot, you might notice that a typical timing is to pour at T=0 mins, break at T=4, have a first pass at T=10 (for people with asbestos mouths)-12 and then two further passes at maybe T=16-18 and T=22-24. Often, the third pass has the most fleeting aromas in it and I was pleased to see that at this fine a grind setting, the second pass seemed to have most of the complexity that often only comes out on the third pass. In fact, this method enabled us to get a really successful extraction from a coffee that I previously thought had been under-developed and had found very difficult to extract - I ran it through the refractometer and think that the final result was 23.5% or 24% EXT, but didn't taste overextracted.

A few points about cupping are worth discussing, before we dip into the actual reviews.

First, the attendees pointed out that they don't cup often, and nor should people feel that they have to. We discussed that cupping is a specific technique that is very good for some things and very bad at others. Cupping is great for brewing a lot of different coffees simultaneously in a way that minimises the possibility of differences in extraction affecting the outcome and doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment per coffee that you want to brew. For us, the purpose was to allow us to taste a lot of different coffees simultaneously; getting through 18 even using something like v60s would have been a nightmare. We discussed that some coffee roasters use it as a nice marketing event that people can turn up to. Of course, classically coffee roasters use it to taste samples to decide what to buy and for QC (though we wonder how often roasters in Melbourne actually do it before the coffee hits the shelves and, if they do, what do they do with the stuff that fails QC, especially if they are a smaller roastery that maybe doesn't have a "lips and a**holes" blend that they can use as a home for duds, like butchers use sausages). All of these are fine reasons for professionals to cup coffee.

Second, cupping doesn't actually result in a cup of coffee that you can simply drink, and if you wanted to use it to brew coffee to drink, then you'd be waiting 15 mins+ brew time. These are fine reasons for home baristas to never think they need to ever cup in their life.

Third, there is no getting away from the fact that, almost invariably, some roasts and coffees pretty much invariably end up being more enjoyable on a cupping table than others.

Finally, before moving on to the actual reviews themselves, I'll return to my intro - writing stuff like this up takes a fair bit of time, even as set out below, so please forgive the lack of rigour that I've applied to these notes. Better to have something fair and useful up rather than post nothing because I don't have it scored properly to a Q grader standard.

LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Grader Exam, Brewer's Cup #3, Australian Cup Tasting #1
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Postby luca » Apr 01, 2019, 5:06 am

Flight 1 - February Tasting - Tasting the Market

Disciple Roasters Bom Jesus (Very light espresso roast)

Body: We were a little split on this; some thinking low, some medium - put it down to being the first coffee and out of calibration
Sweetness: Medium
Acidity: Low

Notes: Our own Samuellaw178 pointed out straight away that this tasted like raw peanut, which was absolutely correct. It also had a hint of bandaid/rioy defect hidden in the aftertaste. This was absolutely classic, low-point scoring brazillian coffee. It was a great example of a good roast of an unimpressive coffee. In the context that this is used as a base for milk-based coffee, it makes a lot of sense.

Proud Mary Honduras Benjamin Paz 48 hour anaerobic Caturra (Filter roast)

Body: Medium
Sweetness: Medium/High
Acidity: Medium/High

Notes: We ended up considering this coffee most by skipping over it and tasting it in comparison with the next coffee. I have found that references to anaerobic/carbonic maceration aren't particularly helpful in helping us to work out what a coffee is likely to taste like, since it is a bit of a question of degree. Here, the main thing that we noticed was that the process seemed to move it in the direction of natural process flavours as opposed to washed, with it being a little dirty in the finish and maybe with a touch of blueberry in the finish, too. It felt like maybe the defining factor was extended fruit contact time after picking, as with a natural, rather than whether the processing was aerobic or anaerobic.

Proud Mary Honduras Nahun Fernandez Washed (Filter roast)

Body: Medium
Sweetness: High
Acidity: High

Notes: This was the standout of the first round. It was sweet and clean. I can't remember our tasting notes; I think it might have been something like orange and stonefruit. I pointed out that this is what we often find in cuppings: because slight green and roast defects can be really easy to spot, and because the bitterness of darker roasts are emphasised, good washed coffees with proper roast development are often the standouts. We felt this was another good roast, in that it didn't taste roasty or baked, nor did it taste vegetal, grassy or green.

We discussed that this shows something of a personal preference bias: it is a standout in a cupping setting, but what happens when you try to pull it as an espresso? I explained my personal preference is to try to use the espresso machine to get into the cup all of the flavours from a cupping and I'm not fussed by the acidity, whilst others might find that acidity an issue. Part of this comes down to what you actually drink - Sam observed that most of what Rao and I drink through espresso machines isn't actual espresso, but is more americanos or cappuccinos. In those longer drinks, the acidity is diluted and therefore not as much of an issue. In espresso, the same amount of acidity exists in much less volume, which many people find unpleasant. We discussed that this underscores that people writing coffee reviews need to be clear about these sorts of things, since if readers with opposite preferences to reviewers don't understand what extraction result people are trying to achieve, they could be set up for disappointment.

Maker Yirgacheffe Kochere Natural (Filter roast)

Body: Medium
Sweetness: Medium/Low
Acidity: Medium

Notes: This was a good exercise in looking at age. The coffee was probably a month and a half/two months old and from the bottom of a bag that had been opened and closed a bit, so this tasting required us to try to look past it being fairly stale. The cup basically had some sort of clean red berry, with some stale bitterness overlying it. Anything more subtle had been obliterated by being stale. However, it was interesting to taste that the bad things in this cup seemed just to be due to age. We didn't pick up any earthy/mouldy or medicinal flavours, for example, nor did we pick up anything green derived that was especially fleeting and nice, like floral aromatics. There was nothing that we picked up that suggested that this was over or under roasted. In fact, at its peak, I bought this because it was a strikingly clean and well roasted natural Ethiopian coffee, though it did seem to fade fairly quickly.

Sam's Home Roast Yirgacheffe (from Coffeesnobs) (Espresso roast)

Body: Medium/low
Sweetness: Medium/low
Acidity: Medium/low

Notes: I pointed out that we had been quite unfair to Sam's coffees, since we had moved slowly through this flight and had put them last and after lighter roasted coffees, which gave them more time to extract in the cupping bowls and meant that they seemed bitterer by comparison to the earlier lighter roasts. Sam's aim with his roasts was to mute the acidity to whilst still preserving flavour in order to make for good espresso shots. This is a very difficult task. This cup had some typical yirgacheffe lemon to it, but was a bit astringent.

Sam's Home Roast Ethiopia Ardi Natural (from Coffeesnobs) (Espresso roast)

Body: Medium/low
Sweetness: Medium/low
Acidity: Medium/low

Notes: Again, Sam did a great job of muting acidity. The natural process flavours tasted a bit medicinal.
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Grader Exam, Brewer's Cup #3, Australian Cup Tasting #1
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Postby luca » May 22, 2019, 7:43 am

Hi all,

Well, unfortunately life got in the way of things and I, once again, let the team down in getting up the remainder of the notes from the earlier cupping. I recently had a vacation to the USA and Mexico and brought back a number of coffees, which provided a good excuse for us to get together and cup a bunch of random things. The real draw card for us was to have the opportunity to cup a few roasts from Nossa Familia on the theory that if the roasts were great, that would make us want to revisit Rob Hoos' book. Hence, we probably focussed a bit more on the roast level than we did in previous cuppings.

Bracket 1 - Aromatic, Light and Washed:

We decided to work from the lightest coffees with the most fleeting and ethereal flavours in the first bracket to heavier and more obvious coffees in later brackets. And, yes, sorry, I've decided to call them brackets rather than flights - I'm not very consistent.

Intelligentsia (USA) Kurimi, Ethiopia, Washed

This was somewhat muted aromatically. Highest acidity in the bracket and a surprisingly high amount of body. Some char/roast notes to it.

Bird Rock (USA) Borboya, Ethiopia, Washed

Another fairly muted coffee, but with some herbaceous/vegetal traits. Odd, because the roast did not seem at all underdeveloped. In fact, it was neither under, nor over developed.

Dawn Patrol (AU) Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, Washed

The most developed roast on the table. This coffee was fairly fresh and therefore we were hoping there would be more aroma to this one. The roast didn't taste especially bitter, but we wondered if it was overdeveloped in the sense that some of the aroma may have been roasted out.

Dawn Patrol (AU) Alasitas Geisha, Bolivia, Washed

Strong citrus/lime aroma on the dry grounds. Flavour of citrus, but also with a ripe type fruit like an apricot or canteloupe. Very sweet; we thought the roast was well done for the purpose. This was the unanimous favourite from bracket 1. Also worth noting that the roast level on this was far superior to an under-developed roast of the same coffee from Market Lane earlier this year (don't think I got those notes up in the earlier post; I'll see if I still have them).

Both of the Dawn Patrol coffees were packaged in paint tins, with holes punched into them and coffee bag valves inserted in the holes. Adding valves to any tins small enough not to have a serious risk of the lids blowing off from pressure buildup strikes me as silly. I find it hard to believe that the valve improves coffee quality over a total seal, provided that there isn't too much headspace, so at best there is no quality drop and a lot of wasted time and/or expenditure in putting the valve in. At worst, I can imagine that either the valve, or the hole in which it sits, might actually allow oxygen exchange that might reduce quality.

Nossa Familia (USA) Finca San Jeronimo Miramar Geisha, Guatemala, Washed

The floral dry aroma was the only giveaway that this was a geisha. Only when I got back from my trip to the US did I realise that, staggeringly, this had been packaged in a bag without a valve that had been sealed only with a sticker to keep it closed. Unsurprisingly, there was not much aroma left in the cup. The roast was well balanced, with good body, sweetness and restrained acidity.

I feel the poor and baffling choice of packaging from the roaster probably cheated us out of a lot of the enjoyment that we were really paying for in buying this coffee and if I were in the US, I would not be buying this coffee from Nossa Familia without checking what the packaging is.

Bracket 2 - Blends and Kenyans (really, whatever didn't fit into the other two brackets):

Nossa Familia (USA) Full Cycle Blend

In many ways, this was the drawcard for the tasting, since this is probably the most commercially important of Nossa Familia's blends. I had previously cupped some Nossa Familia coffee with Rob and HB members, so I was unsurprised that we were all quite impressed with this.

This was quite a light roast level, but with no hint of under-roasting or baking. Predominantly nutty in the cup, with high sweetness. Acidity was lowish, yet crisp and flat. We thought that this was probably a very conscious effort from the roasters to pair low-acid Brazillian coffee with some centrals to give a clean acidity.

I also pulled a few shots for people using this, at a few different grind levels and brew temperatures. It was almost impossible to overextract; even the very fine grind, high brew temperature, slow flow rate shots were pretty sweet and nutty. Conversely, the fast shots were a little acidic and almost had a bit of hay. Hence, we thought that if this is to be predominantly an espresso blend, it might make sense for it to be developed a little further.

Coffee Renos (AU) Blend

We skimmed over this quickly; it is as dark a roast as I can tolerate, but quite well done for the roast level. We commented that the cupping brewing method and my choice to go a little finer than a normal cupping to end up with an extraction comparable to a proper brew invariably makes the traditional espresso roasts seem roasty and bitter on the table.

We noted that this had quite good body and sweetness, which often disappear at higher roast levels ... paradoxically, when people who are roasting darker may think they are developing body. This was sort of in the chocolate and nuts spectrum. We thought this was a good job at a darker roast level than the Nossa Familia blend above.

Symmetry (AU) Honduran, Washed

Again, we skimmed over this quickly; it was certainly a darker roast intended for espresso. The underlying green coffee seemed quite clean and full-bodied.

Intelligentsia (USA) Kenya Kungu Maitu Estate

This was something of a curio because it is 100% SL-28, grafted on Ruiru 11 roots. The Gituara from Market Lane, by contrast, is said to be a mix of SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11 and Batian. So this provided an opportunity, to some extend, to test out the stereotypical statement that the catimors (Ruiru 11 and Batian) decrease the cup quality compared with the Scott Labs varieties. Of course, there are a lot of barriers to discerning this. Does the rootstock influence the cup? When Market Lane write that the Gituara is a mix of Scott Labs and catimors, what is the split? Can we separate the effects of roast level? Are both coffees too stale to be able to get any meaningful information?

Consistent with the Kurimi in bracket 1, this was roasted to a level where we tasted some char, but it also retained significant acidity. It was, again, a bit muted, but had some deep berry characteristics and some citrus rind to it.

Market Lane (AU) Gituara

This was light, a little vegetal and very acidic. It was also about a month old at the time of tasting. A week post roast, I had been quite disappointed that I basically couldn't extract any fruit flavours from it. The additional ageing time, however, seemed to do wonders, bringing out some really delicate hibiscus/rose type flavours. It certainly didn't have rubbery robusta type flavours that you might be on guard for from the catimors, but, then again, it was vegetal and reticent enough that maybe the roast wasn't developed enough to showcase everything in the green anyway.

... so I don't think that we ended up learning all that much from this limited look at two Kenyan coffees!

Bracket 3 - Naturals:

When we looked at the naturals that were roasted for this bracket, it became apparent that the Ardi and Yemen were so distinctive on the nose that there was no point in doing this single blind, since we would instantly pick what was what, so we just grouped the roasts of the Ardi and the Yemen by each of Coffeesnobs and Sam next to each other and randomised those two. We also picked a bunch of what we thought were quakers from the Ardi and Yemen and added them back in to a cup of the Coffeesnobs Ardi to cup that as well to learn about it.

Ardi, Ethiopia, Natural - Coffeesnobs (AU)

We tried two different roasts of this; one from Coffeesnobs and one by Sam. The coffee snobs roast had the distinction of being the overall winner of the Golden Bean in 2018.

We felt that this roast was quite well done. We expected it to be towards the darker roast end of the spectrum, yet it wasn't especially bitter, nor did it have especially prominent roast-derived flavours like pepper or roast beef. It also didn't taste baked; it was vibrant and fruity. From a roast perspective, it was easy to see why this did well in the golden bean.

In the cup, this had a fairly large volume of fruit, which I thought was a bit more towards the mandarin and apricot end of the spectrum than the berry end of the spectrum. Some of us objected to the pretty rough, medicinal and long aftertaste that this coffee had.

Mocha Ismaili, Yemen - Coffeesnobs (AU)

Anyone who has seen Mochas before will know that they are unusually small, and these were no exception. Sam commented that he found these difficult to roast.

This cup displayed some red berries and winey acidity. It had a little bit of char and roast beef to it and a long, very earthy aftertaste that, again, some of us found fairly objectionable. Both the Ismaili and the Ardi had a noticeable bitterness.

Coffeesnobs Ardi + about 20 quakers (AU)

This cup tasted the same as the Coffeesnobs Ardi noted above, save that the fruit was muted, it was a bit lacking in sweetness and the rough, medicinal flavours were greatly accentuated.

Ardi and Mocha Ismaili roasts by Sam (AU, home roaster)

Sam's roasts had the same flavour profiles as the Coffeesnobs roasts, but tasted a bit more developed. Sam has been trying to reduce the acidity in his coffees. Sam noted that the Ismaili was his first roast of it and he commented that he found it difficult. If you haven't seen mocha coffees before, it's worth noting that the beans are just about the smallest you will ever see, so it is unsurprising that they require a bit of experience to dial in in the roaster.

Cardinal (Mexico) La Asuncion (Green also from Mexico)

This was fairly unsual; a natural processed typica from Oaxaca. This was by far the cleanest cup on the table, with no real identifiable earthy or medicinal defects. The cup did have a little papery astringency to it, sort of like a pacamara. This cup tended towards red berries and roses, rather than the more brooding and dried out plum that you can get from some of the more extreme Central and South American naturals.

(As an aside, Cardinal in La Condesa was a pretty good little local cafe to check out if you're over there.)

This bracket left me with some very good questions - why was the quaker-filled cup medicinal, rather than peanutty, as everyone says? And why didn't John's Coffee Renos blend have that same medicinal and bitter quality that we noticed in the ardi cup, given that it was made from coffee snobs sourced coffee that also seemed to have a lot of quakers in it? To investigate this, I picked a bunch of quakers out of the blend and cupped them separately later on. They did indeed taste strongly of raw, or very light roast, peanuts, and not at all like the ardi quaker cup. They weren't really especially bitter or unclean beyond that. It was pretty easy to see that if any quakers made it into the cups that we cupped, perhaps we would have glossed over them, expecting the blend to taste nutty due to its Brazil component and with the roast level and high extraction in our cupping method covering a little flavour. This, of course, begs the question of whether the extremely light beans that we separated from the naturals were, in fact, quakers.

This bracket did an excellent job of highlighting the polarising nature of naturals: with most naturals, the extreme fruit flavours come with off flavours and bitterness; it's just a question of extent. To some extent, darker roasts and espresso extraction leave people accepting of a certain amount of bitterness and skank factor in their cup, which might mask the defects in some naturals, to some extend. The line where people will accept this tradeoff is a decision for each coffee buyer to make for themselves.
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Grader Exam, Brewer's Cup #3, Australian Cup Tasting #1