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