Thursday, May 11, 2006

defects, quakers, character and complex cocoa in the cup

i remember seeing a sweet kool-aid flavor once, where the dry kool-aid was one color (i think blue) but when added to water turns another (red). my friend quipped, "somewhere, a chemist is proud of himself." (and a prescient thought, coming from the man who now holds a doctorate in chemistry himself.)

i felt a tiny bit like that today with an experiment i ran on one of my favorite coffees: ethiopia harar. yes, the legendary horse lot, with all its wild and untamed, unpredictable beauty. i just received my order and was eager to roast up a sample and cup it, along with two other selections i added to my lineup: a guatemala from the fraijanes district and a fabulous looking kenya peaberry, all new crops. the mouth is watering just thinking about them.

but i digress. i knew what to expect from both the guat and the kenya. they both would roast very evenly. (i usually take notes on the percentage of "consistency" each batch of beans has. greater percentages can indicate better quality beans, or the fact that the beans may come from a very small number of farms or that the farms may be very near each other. and just the opposite may also be true: inconsistent beans in the roast can be the manifestation of myriad smallholder offerings being lumped into one lot. not saying that's always the case; but it's something to consider. i also consider the fact that i could just suck at roasting consistently.)

again, a digression. i was looking forward to very consistent roasts from guat and kenya; while the greens from ethiopia were typical broken chippers, irregularly whithered and mottled looking--but not, i hasten to add, showing signs of pests. as i've mentioned in previous posts, i enjoy the character imparted by such irregular beans versus the brilliant and boring centrals. and harar has to be one of my perennial favorite coffees, bearing in mind that flavor counts more than appearance to my mind. (at this point, every serious cupper and buyer surfs to another website.) i just enjoy the mystique of harar, is all, even if i didn't know what to expect in the roast.

and of course, the unexpected showed up. as i dropped the harar i think i may have audibly gasped in curious wonderment, for there in the cooling tray was the most inordinate number of quakers i had ever seen. granted, my history as a roaster is not extensive. but i would hazard that this was an atypical amount of unripe beans in this lot. and seeing what looked like an unintended melange roast/blend there in the cooling tray, i had a cupping epiphany of sorts: "let's cup this tomorrow both ways, one set of cups with the quakers in the mix, one without."

that was yesterday. fast forward to today for my cupping results. i had already worked my way through the guatemala a little bit earlier (very interesting cup--dried tropical fruits like pineapple and papaya, fruity but not juicy, with an unusually crisp and dry i think back on it even now i might characterize it like a good german riesling). kenya would be last because of its tendency to overpower a cupping table. before me lay the harar. so i set out my cups and began to do my experiment. for the first set of cups i scooped, weighed, ground and portioned the harar normally. the second set of cups took more time because i painstakingly separated all the quakers i could from the rest.

without all the rest of the mundane details, here were the results, which were not what i would've expected. the non-quakered harar presented the typical blueberry, cherry wine, rich blackberry notes as per usual. but the quakered harar actually gave an added dimension of cocoa or baking chocolate on the low end. complexity in the cup created by the quakers. go figure. the difference was night and day. even my father readily noticed it as i beckoned him to taste the two. quakered harar acted almost like a mocha-java blend with a fuller range of flavors.

i've never tasted/tested for quakers before. this experiment was eye-opening. do i have a favorite of the two? yes. but i'm not telling which.

what do you think of 'defective' coffees like harar versus more technically well-constructed coffees? are the defects worth it for interesting cups?


At Wednesday, 26 July, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your cupping results make a lot of sense ... that quakers pair with the non-defective coffee in harar to form flavors in the range of nut-cocoa-bakers chocolate. okay, i added the nut, because thats based on my findings, but agree very much on the later two. -tom


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