This Antigua was nearly everyone's favorite, and probably the only coffee in the cupping to display genuine refinement as well as intrigue and power. Exclamation points littered the cupping forms. One enthusiastic (and very experienced) cupper confessed he "subscribed to the Olympic gymnastics scoring system" and assigned this coffee tens across the board and an overall score of 100. (However, like the Olympics, we dropped the highest and lowest scores for each coffee, so this heartfelt tribute went for naught).Positive comments ranged from the generally approving ("best of the litter"; "very Guatemala") to characterizations of completeness, complexity, or dimension ("Depth, depth depth! Spice comes in on back end. Very nice!"). Assessments of body extended from medium through full, but everyone agreed that there was enough of it to balance the coffee ("medium body but perfect for its flavor!"). To me the clinching evidence of this coffee's distinction came in the nuances discovered in its sweetly acidy top notes. Descriptions ran from winy (five citations), fruity/floral (also five), through prune, blueberry, and "floral berry." One found the flavor reminiscent of fresh leather. No one uncovered defects. The only cupper who dissented on this coffee found the acidity too sharp.
By Kenneth Davids
July 1st, 1997
A provocative coffee. Everyone had something to say about it, yet no clear consensus emerged. The majority read the body as full ("even and full; well-balanced," according to one), but a small but outspoken minority found it light or even thin. Surprisingly, almost no one came down in the middle. Reactions to acidity were similarly mixed: Several found the acidity pleasantly dry and winy; others criticized it as sharp or sour. I found it alive and vivacious at first impression but rather ragged and astringent in the finish. No defects were cited; on the other hand nobody carried on about grace notes either.
Almost everyone remarked on a complex sweetness in this medium-bodied Huehuetenango. Some characterized the sweetness as chocolate-toned; others as caramel. Two assigned the sensations to that tantalizing cusp between chocolate and fruit. Most found the acidity sufficient to enliven the sweetness ("bright, pleasant, intriguing"), but one cupper complained that the acidity was disappointing and another that it was "puckery." There was an unusually wide range of response to body. Assessments ranged from light to (emphatically) heavy, with a consensus somewhere between medium and full. Perhaps our palates were confused by the pervasive sweetness, which can read as weight.
For most the acidity was the main act here. Some found it pleasantly bright ("nice, winy and sharp," according to one); others complained it was too sharp, throwing off the balance of the coffee, and perhaps astringent in the aftertaste. Supporting virtue: Most found this coffee substantial in body. "An excellent example of a Guatemala," according to one. But judging from the scores, the majority may harbor reservations.
Judging by the scores, I was in the minority here. I loved this Antigua for its dimension and completeness -- the way it resonated on the palate and developed, stretching into the distance behind the initial impression. Some cuppers agreed: "nice complexity ... clean, lingering aftertaste"; "full [bodied], great structure." But others wanted more out front: "all the right characteristics, but very [much] in the distance, blurry." Four detected chocolate notes; only one found a mild off note.
Virtually everyone described this medium-bodied coffee as soft and sweet. About half of the cuppers reported nutty tones. Some stopped there. "Unremarkable!" exclaimed one. Several, however, also identified a light, high-toned acidity that balanced or complemented the sweetness. For example: "Pleasant soft, sweet acidity -- subtly snappy." Two cuppers detected slightly hard or woody notes in the nose of this coffee, but apparently tasted nothing to confirm the problem in the cup and chose not to push the issue in their responses.
A powerful but flawed coffee. Coffee professionals are familiar with the taste of ferment, caused when the sugars from the coffee fruit begin to go off while the fruit is still on the bean. The result is an odd, lush sensation that can register as ripe, overripe, or occasionally (particularly as the coffee cools) rotten. Cupper's comments reflect the ambivalence that mild ferment provokes. Almost everyone noted this coffee's luxuriant, wine-like fruitiness. Six cuppers detected a clear defect, however, and five of the six identified the defect (correctly in my view) as ferment, the shadow side of the fruitiness. Only one cupper dismissed the coffee on the basis of this defect, however, and in compensation several noted spicy nuances.
Most found this Antigua a bit underpowered, perhaps owing to its relatively light body (noted by almost everyone). Some found compensating virtues: chocolaty, spicy, nutty notes. Others praised a soft, sweet smoothness. Still others objected: "a bit lifeless"; "not so happening"; "thin"; and most Originsal, "straightlaced[!]". Only two found outright failings: a slight sourness. One delivered an inspired characterization of the subtle fragrance: "Dancing on fruity."
This delicate coffee is the inverse of the San Rafael. Its virtues would seem to be softness, lightness, and buoyant top notes. Its weakness appears to be lack of power, and its faults failures of youth rather than age. Several cuppers detected floral tones. Others tasted notes ranging from spicy through herbal to nutty (the favorite, noted on three forms). Nevertheless, several cuppers were put off by shortcomings associated with immaturity: grassiness, rawness. Two detected sour notes.
Defects apparently consigned this rather heavy-bodied, low-toned Antigua to the bottom of the cupping-form pile. Some found its low-toned heaviness flat; others, however, liked it. Several called the profile "sweet"; another "solid." One cupper raved: "Great cup. Very good body and flavor." Another puzzled: "Aspects don't gel, even though it has good flavor." Three cuppers detected sour notes, one going so far as to call the coffee "oniony." Three others found it old-tasting or "baggy," which suggests conditioning or storage problems, a plausible hypothesis for a coffee that suggests power but doesn't come through, that seems oddly dulled or muted.