Wednesday, May 31, 2006

exploding trees

so i'm enjoying a cup of sumatra mandheling right now--brewed out of a french press, mind you--and i get the overwhelming, no, scratch that, the pervasive, no, not the right word either, the very present feel of cedar in the cup. sure, it has the usual muskiness and syrupy body i expect from a classic mandheling. but over the past three years i have been noticing this cedar-like streak and now i can't seem to shake it. it's like when you cup to the name: you know a classic sidamo profile is going to display lemony citrus. you know a chiapas or oaxaca will typically be way bright and lilting. so you head to the cupping table with your preconceived notions and cup to those expectations. this is both good and bad, in my opinion. good, because after a while you develop an easier vocabulary arsenal that is categorized and more easily retrievable in your mind. you know the major profiles from major regions. bad, because it ebbs away at the element of surprise and pigeonholes maybe some underdog coffees that are just waiting to be discovered. the more categorized the regions' flavor profiles are the more i tend to feel like a big coffee company's palate instead of a punk rock palate that truly gives the stage to let the coffee speak for itself, even the tiny plots on one side of one ridge of one farm that have amazingly different characteristics than the rest of the farm, neighboring farms or region. the end result of cupping to the name is putting out big barrels of coffee with generic "ETHIOPIA," "COLOMBIA," "SUMATRA," and "GUATEMALA" on them. or, easier, i can just write "EARTH" on them all!

i've noticed that since i've begun doing formal cuppings (you know, spoons, spit catchers, cupping bowls and the like) i've been more surprised than i would like to think i should be in terms of finding what could be termed as 'rebel' flavor notes--those you wouldn't expect from a typical region's offerings. i want to come to the table feeling like i know what to expect. but i realize that too much of that closes my mind and my palate to what the coffee is really trying to tell me. so i suspend those notions garnered along the well-worn paths and instead i get a kenya that shows deep plum and leather, a costa rica that displays mangos, papaya, even pineapple, or a sulawesi that suggests dried bananas and dried apples. and the end result is i like this way better. i can still keep my old prejudices but i'm open to newer ideas. i wonder if that could be considered a suspension of disbelief or an opening to new ones.

even the idea that a classic sumatra tastes like i'm licking the inside of my humidor's cedar walls.


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