By December 22, 2002 |Reviews Tasting Report

Readers’ Choices

What coffees do readers of Coffee Review actually drink, as oppose to read about? Are their
tastes fairly similar to mine, or are they marching to some different coffee drummer?

This review and next month’s suggest some answers to those questions. Over the last few
months readers have nominated close to two hundred coffees for review. Sometimes the reader
simply delivered the name of the coffee and a rating, sometimes a line or two of praise,
occasionally a few delightful and informative paragraphs of confessional enthusiasm.

My co-worker Morgan and I began working through the nominations starting with the
earliest and working toward the present, until we had turned up about thirty nominated coffees.
It took about seventy or eighty nominations to get to thirty coffees — in many cases we failed to
find contact information for the nominated roasting company; in other instances the roaster chose
not to respond to our invitation to send us coffees.

Starbucks garnered the most nominations among the group we worked through — about
eight. Only one canned coffee was nominated, the MJB 100% Colombian reviewed here. Other
nominations ranged from coffees from large specialty roasters like Timothy’s World Coffee and
Diedrich Coffee to interesting small roasters I never would have come across without the help of
a reader. The thirty coffees that made it to the cupping table ranged from medium roasts through
medium-dark roasts, dark roasts and espressos.

All at the Same Cupping Table

Based on the coffees that actually made it from email nomination to palate, readers are looking for
about the same pleasures in a coffee that I am: complexity, nuance, balance, clean and agreeable
finish. Most strikingly, if we delete two totally out-of-context oddities that turned up (more on
that below), the average rating for these thirty reader-selected coffees was several points higher
than the average rating for the coffees that usually turn up for my reviews.

In other words, readers — coffee-savvy readers at any rate — may be doing considerably
better at identifying quality than some of the roasters themselves.

Ten this Month, Ten Next

Here are reviews of ten drip coffees, ranging in roast style from very light to very dark. Next
month another ten reviews will appear, including reviews of five excellent espresso coffees.

Whenever feasible, I introduced the reader’s evaluation along with mine. Many of these
email nomination speeches were quite short and to the point: “I like it!” In other instances,
readers presented more complex evaluations, evaluations that I almost always basically agreed
with, even though my language differed.

Know Your Brightly Acidy Medium Roast

A word of caution, however: Readers tended to nominate extremes & either medium-roasted
coffees or dark-roasted coffees. Only a few nominations filled the sweet middle part of the roast

In particular, there are several old-fashioned, medium-roasted, brightly acidy coffees
reviewed here. Coffee drinkers who enjoy a moderately dark-roasted, round and comfortable cup
should buy them either cautiously or in a spirit of adventure. These are refreshing, brisk,
challengingly dry coffees best drunk only lightly sweetened and with little to no dairy.

The exception is the Thanksgiving Maragogipe, which turned out to be one of those
exceptional coffees that displays absolutely none of the astringency that reads as slightly sour in
medium roasts and bitter in darker, and should be agreeable drunk in almost in any fashion.

A Cautionary Tale: If You Think Canned Coffees Are Bad, Try This One

Which finally gets us to two blends that were extraordinary in another way — they were, by
international specialty coffee standards, the most alarmingly bad coffees I have ever cupped that
have actually been offered for sale to the public. Neither is reviewed here, but their sheer
shocking badness would seem to make it important to bring them up, lest some other well-
meaning entrepreneur decides to start importing similar roasted blends from abroad. Both blends,
a medium and a dark, were formulated and roasted in Europe and imported to the United States
as specialty coffees.

I was quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article declaring that really badly handled
coffees have two main off tastes: “compost” and “old shoes in the back of the closet.” In other
words, intense ferment and intense mold and mildew tones. Both off-tastes develop because the
coffee fruit has been strip-picked and dried in half-rotting piles.

These imported European blends displayed both faults in extreme — compost-ferment as
well as old-shoes-mustiness — and not much else. They appeared to consist not only of mass-
processed coffees, but mass-processed coffees of the tasteless (at best) robusta species. Even
given the fact that fermented and mildewed coffees have something of a following in parts of
Eastern Europe and the Middle East (these coffees hailed from neither region), I find it hard to
believe that anyone anywhere would find these coffees pleasant to drink. But I invite
contradiction from either the roaster or the importer.

But the Rest is All Upbeat

With that out of the way, I invite readers to enjoy the fruits of their colleagues’ coffee-hunting

Read Reviews

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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