Friday, January 16, 2004

coffees gone wild

today i got a great email from peter of counterculture. he's currently in el salvador, searching out new coffees.

we were discussing his ethiopian moka harrar, which he actually thinks may be a sidamo. and what we were discussing was the concept of "wild" and "stinker" in coffee.

professional coffee tasters, known as cuppers, generally use the term wild to mean coffees that don't taste the same throughout a sample. it's common to take 1 lb. of a coffee, roast it, grind it, and place samples in 3 or 5 cups when you cup it. if these several sample cups taste different, the coffee is deemed wild.

some people use wild to denote any extreme or unusual flavor in a coffee, good or bad (scroll all the way down), but i think this usage is in the minority.

if the coffee has taints or defects, they might show up in all the cups. but some coffees are just naturally inconsistent; wildness may be due to their climate, the way they're grown, or the way they are processed.

one roaster i know no longer carries harrars: "there's wild," he says, "and wild, and then there's harrar -- out of control!" inconsistent coffees can be difficult to roast, and certainly don't provide the kind of reliable product most customers demand.

as i wrote earlier, this harrar has tremendous raspberry notes that i loved. but there was also in the aroma a decided raw potato-groundy thing. it wasn't in every cup. but when it appeared it was there and it was unpleasant.

this sometimes-there / sometimes-not is the wildness in the cup. and while perhaps a touch of that potato-earthy thing might be a note adding unique character to a coffee, in this case it was all bad.

peter wrote that he believed this was the taste of the defect known as "stinker bean" (see pic here). he said:

"These are all too common in naturals [ed. note: a.k.a "dry-processed"], and the way you describe it is perfect -- between earthy and potato. This comes from a bean where the fruit is broken either on the tree or as it is being picked, which as it dries (remember, on this coffee the cherry dries on the bean) gets moldy.

This is one single bean which can affect an entire cup. I really liked this coffee this year, however even one defect is over the level acceptability for me.

This is the first year with this particular coffee (it was a risk - the first year this particular Organic Sidamo was available). Next year, I have contracted an extra sort to try to avoid such things. Ohhh, the perils of being a coffee buyer."

it seems like peter was apologizing for his coffee, but i have to say, as someone used to drinking the perfect coffees of don schoenholt at gillies and other specialty roasters, i never ever see a defect. to find one is a thrilling experience for me! i'm happy to have found it and been able to identify it. . .

recently i wrote about the midnite espresso cocktail. now it seems like various espresso cocktails are everywhere, like this one with espresso, vanilla vodka, and kahlua.

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