Award-Winning Coffees of Central America by Kevin Knox |

December 2006

Award-Winning Coffees of Central America 2006
by Kevin Knox

For me, the most enjoyable aspect of this sampling of prize winners from Central American green coffee competitions was experiencing the pride and passion of the small North America roasters who purchased these coffees and roasted them.

All of the samples arrived impeccably fresh, and with a couple of exceptions all were roasted within the classic full city range, which is to say the roast was stopped before the flavor changes set in that are signaled by what roasters call the "second pop." Given the current prevalence of very darkly roasted coffees - owing, of course, to Starbucks and its many imitators - it was gratifying to see these costly coffees roasted in a range that allowed relatively full expression of their aroma and flavor.

That said, most of these coffees still were roasted towards the darker end of the full city range, optimizing them for French press rather than vacuum or drip brewing. Personally, I would hope in the future to see more stylistic diversity in the presentation of such refined coffees, especially more emphasis on the lighter end of the roast spectrum. Even at the rarified level of coffee production represented by this month's cupping, many samples seem to be roasted as much for beautiful, even bean appearance as for sensory complexity. Yet, in many cases the most complex flavor is achieved when bean appearance is still slightly uneven. If, in terms of the Agtron roast color scale used by Coffee Review, a whole-bean color reading of 50 represents, as Agtron President Carl Staub rightly says, "the death of fruit," then conversely fullest fruit expression and maximum aroma may be found not in the high 50's or low 60's, to which many of these coffees were roasted, but rather in the high 60's to low 70?', a very light roast by current American standards.