By January 30, 2003 |Reviews Tasting Report
Coffee Review reader at desk

Readers’ Choices Round Two

Reviewed here are a dozen more coffees nominated by Coffee Review readers. As was true of the
ten readers’ nominations I reported on last month, the relatively high ratings for this group of
coffees seem to support the notion that Coffee Review readers either have excellent taste in
coffee, or, if you take a more cynical relativist position, tend to share my taste in coffee.

The fifty or so nominated coffees I sampled for these two articles were almost universally
impressive, with only four generating ratings below 80. Here are twelve that broke 85. Some came
from very small roasters, some from very large. About half are blends intended mainly for
espresso brewing.

Two Themes: Espressos and Surprises

For me, two themes ran through the cupping.

First, the quality and character of the espresso blends. Surprisingly, not one of the
nominated espresso blends exhibited the sharp, bitter character that until recently was typical of
American espressos. It would seem that American roasters are learning to achieve sweetness and
milk-mastering power in espresso blends by using naturally sweet, full-bodied coffees rather than
roasting hell out of high-grown acidy coffees.

On the other hand, the European tendency to blend for espresso using bland but crema-
fattening robusta coffees has, apparently and fortunately, not yet caught on with American
roasters. It would seem that even Italian roasters honor the American specialty taboo against
blending with robustas: The Italian roasting giant Lavazza, most of whose European blends are
laced with robustas, uses none in the impressive Qualita Oro canned espresso blend offered in
American supermarkets and reviewed here.

A note on procedure in espresso evaluation: We evaluate espresso as espresso, prepared
using a well-tuned commercial machine following parameters adopted by the Specialty Coffee of
America: 1 _ ounces by volume per shot including crema, 17 – 21 seconds per shot from the first
appearance of coffee from the portafilter.

Also note the difference in review format between our conventional cupping reviews and
espresso reviews. Espresso reviews do not rate acidity (a largely negative characteristic in coffees
intended for espresso brewing), replacing it with an “In Milk” category, which reports on the
general impact of hot milk on the brewed espresso coffee: Does the coffee survive the impact of
milk? If so, does it survive with some character and distinction? A brief report on performance in
milk can be found in the “Blind assessment” paragraph, where “small milk” means coffee
performance when a serving of espresso is mixed with an equal amount of hot (not frothed) milk
and “large milk” means performance when mixed with two parts hot milk.

Unexpected Sources

A second thread that, for me, ran through this review was surprise at the unexpected sources for
some of the outstanding light- to medium-roasted coffees that readers turned up.

First, the Jamaica Blue Mountain from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. That Green
Mountain should produce an exceptional medium-roasted coffee is, of course, no surprise. Green
Mountain is one of the country’s finest and certainly one of its most versatile coffee roasting
companies. But the quality and character of the Jamaica Blue Mountain was a surprise for me.
Most Blue Mountains I have cupped over the last ten years or so have been listless and ordinary,
often shadowed by a slight mustiness that I assume develops while the beans, with fruit removed
but still wet, are trucked down from the mills in the mountains to the drying facilities in
Kingston.

However, this Blue Mountain exhibited almost every characteristic of the great Blue
Mountains of years past: tremendous, ringingly deep dimension, perfect balance of sweetness
and acidity, and absolutely cleanly expressed fruit, a kind of essence of coffee fruit. I admit that I
did register a couple of missing elements: The body was excellent, but not quite as big and
bouillon-like as the Platonic Blue Mountains of memory, plus a slight, slight astringency may
have imbalanced the finish. But these are quibbles, occasioned more by my lust for Blue
Mountain perfection than by any failing of pleasure generated by that particular cup at that
particular moment in time.

Reader Ben Anderson deserves our thanks, not only for calling this coffee to our
attention, but also for so precisely identifying its distinguishing strengths in his nomination.

Other surprises were the appearance of exceptional light-to-medium-roasted blends from
unexpected quarters. Graffeo, a small second-generation Italian roaster identified with San
Francisco and particularly known for its dark roast, produced an impressive, uncompromisingly
medium-roasted blend simply called Graffeo Light. Mozart’s Coffee Roasters of Austin Texas
showed a fine, sweet, light-roasted blend. And the excellent medium-roasted Millstone Colombia
Supremo is available in supermarkets all over the country.

More Readers’ Choices On the Way

Thanks to all who nominated coffees. I pay close attention to all nominations, and will do my
best to work more of them into upcoming reviews, giving perceptive readers credit as I do so. If
your nomination did not appear in this or the previous set of reviews, it may yet pop up over
the coming year in another article.

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Posted in: Tasting Reports

About the Author:

Kenneth Davids is a coffee expert, author and co-founder of Coffee Review. He has been involved with coffee since the early 1970s and has published three books on coffee, including the influential Home Roasting: Romance and Revival, now in its second edition, and Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing and Enjoying, which has sold nearly 250,000 copies over five editions. His workshops and seminars on coffee sourcing, evaluation and communication have been featured at professional coffee meetings on six continents.

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