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Coffee in Australia by Alan Frew
Suck it and See; The Search for "Wow!" Coffees.
Posted: August 9, 2002
Article rating: 8.1
feedback: (3) comments | read | write
Karoma Estate bag
All that's left of the Karoma Estate coffee, the empty bag. I drank the rest!

I’ve been <extremely> diligent with my roasting and cupping in the last month, mostly, I admit, in an attempt to catch up with all the green coffee samples I got at SCAA Anaheim. A lot of “new crop” coffees are also finally reaching our shores and I’m also trying to work out the “Monthly Specials” for the next few months. Net result is that I’ve been tasting about 10 “new” coffees a week for the last month, and for the next few weeks as well.

It’s a long time since I’ve made such an intensive effort, and I’ve been struck by a few things along the way. The “biggie” is how few really outstanding coffees there are. An awful lot of coffees taste more or less identical to an awful lot of other coffees. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with the coffees. There are no big faults in the overall flavour, they just don’t stand out. These are the ones with the cupping notes that read “Medium aroma, medium flavour, medium acidity, medium body, overall...tastes like coffee.”

The other side of this is that when you’re travelling along the row of coffees, sucking and spitting, you’re occasionally pulled up with a “Wow! What was that?!?” The unfortunate thing for me is that the “Wow!” experience seems to be becoming less frequent outside of a group of coffees I already know pretty well.

This was brought home to me forcefully when I recently had the opportunity to cup 5 of the coffees from the top 10 in the SCAA “Best of Panama” auction. Lovely coffees, exquisitely balanced, nice flavours...but I honestly couldn’t pick up much difference in taste between any of them, and none of them stood out so much that I could guess which was which after the cup positions were changed.

Of course, the opposite happens too. A couple of months ago I was tasting a lineup of East African coffees, a couple of Kenyas, a Malawi, a Tanzanian, a Zambia and a couple of Zimbabwes, and the Malawi just about leapt out of the cup! I have NEVER tasted an East African coffee like it, with a distinctive honey/aniseed aroma and flavour. Unfortunately it’s now all gone, and I have no idea if we’ll ever see any reach Australia again, but it was lovely while it lasted.

So, among all the coffees I’ve tasted so far, which ones have achieved “Wow!” status? Well, in no particular order, here they are:

Dominican Republic, Karoma Estate.  Sweet, malty nose with floral overtones, sweet toasty soft palate in cup, velvet mouthfeel, low acidity. Yummy stuff, a lot like Haiti but the sample I got from SCAA was a cleaner prep. I’ve got my broker chasing this one for next year, apparently there’s none left right now.

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Grade 2, “Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet” is the thought I get when I smell this one. This year’s example was such a roaring success as a “special “ that I sold out despite ordering extra. Lovely citrus aroma, sweet mid palate and dark chocolate back palate aftertastes.

Monsooned Coffees
Monsooned Indian Arabica and Robusta, they look alike but certainly taste (and cost!) different.

Indian Monsooned Arabica, pretty neutral taste but what a body! An obvious “blender” to enhance body and mouthfeel.

Indian Monsooned Robusta, like sucking a freshly polished cedar chest. The combination of wax, wood and rubber does nothing for my tastebuds, however, when allowed to stale for 3 weeks the cedar flavour moderates into a dark chocolate taste. The interesting thing about tasting these two was their behaviour as espressos; they seemed to give identical body and crema.

Chinese “Yun Jia” Yunnan Arabica, another SCAA sample. One sniff, one sip, brain says “stewed apples”, I say Yunnan. Watch out for these coffees as they get wider distribution, they’re good medium coffees with that little bit extra to make them distinctive.

Sulawesi Bukit Marante Toraja, new crop. Talk about rich and spicy, even the green aroma is reminiscent of cloves and allspice. The full body and medium acidity makes this a very desirable coffee taste, which my customers will get access to next month, if I don’t drink it all first. <g>

That’s about it so far, although I’m about to start a “vertical” tasting of all the coffees currently available from Ethiopia, starting with a Grade 2 Djimma and working my way up to the Yirgacheffe. And yes, this DOES count as work, especially when you have to taste all the “duds” as well!

Article rating: 8.1
Posted: August 9, 2002
feedback: (3) comments | read | write
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