Coffee Review Article: Summer Selections 2010

August 2010

Summer Selections: Coffees of Note
by Kenneth Davids; reviews by Kenneth Davids and Ted Stachura

Coffee writers need vacations too. What we offer here in place of our usual monthly article is a set of reviews of exceptional coffees that came into the Coffee Review lab during July 2010. The article originally scheduled for August (Tall Milk Espressos) will appear next month.

In a sense, this fill-in-for-Ken's-vacation article is a roaster's choice exercise. The roasting companies that sent us coffees were particularly excited by them and eager to have them reviewed. So you could say these reviews represent a tiny sampling, a miniature cross-section, of the interests and aspirations of the top end of North American specialty coffee in July of 2010.

Dried-in-the-Fruit Successes

If so, then that top end is particularly taken by the latest crop of "natural" or dried-in-the-fruit coffees from the Sidamo region of southern Ethiopia. Four of the eleven coffees reviewed here represent this opulent, recently reinvented coffee type, and a fifth is a two-bean blend that prominently features it. If these five samples are any indication, a few producers in southern Ethiopia are finally getting the difficult dried-in-the-fruit method right, in which even a slight moisture-induced irregularity during drying of the fruit-enveloped beans can shadow the deeply complex sweetness of the type with a bitterish, salty edge. In this month's variants, however, the salty or bitter tendencies soften to a backgrounded savory or pungent character, deepening rather than compromising the fruit.

The 96-rated Ethiopia Nekisse from Coffea Roasterie is a complete and close to flawless expression of the style, displaying a tremendous range of fruit, brandy and cocoa sensation with a fine savory hint of aromatic wood as balance and complication. Dried-in-the-fruit Sidamos also make excellent espressos, as evidenced by the 93-rated Ethiopia Amaro Natural Espresso from Matt's Wood Roasted Coffee, in which a moderately dark roast develops the chocolate tendencies of the type while deepening an impressive floral character. Te Aro Roasted sent an espresso (95) based on the ancient Mocha Java formula, in which a dried-in-the-fruit Sidamo replaces the more traditional Yemen Mocha component. The Sidamo seems to contribute a particularly deep-toned, brandyish character to this impressive reinterpretation. The Johnson Brothers Ethiopia Amaro Gayo Natural (91) gives us a tarter, crisper, brighter rendition of the dried-in-the-fruit style, fully developing the floral tendencies of this year's Amaro Natural.

Classic East Africa Cups

Readers curious to know what a classic Sidamo coffee processed by the wet or washed method (fruit is removed before the coffee is dried) rather than the dry or natural method (fruit is removed after the coffee is dried) can sample the Johnson Brothers Ethiopia Sidamo Roast 12 (92), which displays a full complement of the cleanly bright, floral, lemon and cocoa notes for which the wet or washed version of the Sidamo profile is justly famous.

The remaining coffees reviewed this month are a cross-section of distinguished coffee origins and styles. The Roasterie Tanzania Ruvuma (93) is not the usually delicate Tanzania peaberry so beloved of specialty coffee tradition, but instead a grandly acidy and tartly rich fruit-toned coffee of an East Africa style perhaps more associated with some Kenyas. By comparison, the Coava Kenya Kieni (also rated 93) is juicier and more floral, with an equally penetrating but less powerful acidity.

Latin America and Kona Options

This month's collection of reviews also offers several attractive options from the more familiar profiles of Latin America. Two Guatemalas, the Matt's Wood Roasted Guatemala Guaya'b (93) and the Cafe Grumpy Guatemala Finca Puerta Verde (92) present two nicely complementary versions of the subtle, layered complexity of the Guatemala cup. The Temple Coffee Colombia Monserrate Huila displays the straightforward richness and balance that distinguishes fine Colombias.

Those who buy Konas for the cup as well as for the name alone should recognize the pleasures of the classic Kona type in the Kona Cafe 100% Kona Medium Roast (89) reviewed here. Although some Konas are acidy and bright, the most characteristic profile, like this one, is round-toned and balanced with soft acidity, silky body and a quiet, cleanly sweet-toned fruit. A sensitive medium-dark roast develops these virtues well in the Kona Cafe sample, emphasizing the chocolate tendencies of the fruit.