Friday, November 12, 2004

from the western mountains: yemen sanani

i'm deeply indebted to california food writer and long-time altie richard reynolds for informing me that james freeman of blue bottle is a former professional clarinetist. this musical background just snaps his coffees into focus, i think. . .

i've often said that you can really know a roaster's deep personality through his coffee and vice versa. james is a perfect example of this, i'm coming to believe.

this chill and rainy morning cried out for a pot of james' yemen sanani. long-time readers know i am particularly partial to yemeni coffees!

i will describe this coffee in the usual way, just as i did yesterday with his alma viva. first let me note that when i spread the roasted beans out on the table, they looked like classic yemen to me.

smallish, kinda pea-shaped, a little uneven in roast (great yemens often roast unevenly), a tad beat-up looking. i think this coffee is probably the yemen variety known as "ismaili."

james says this coffee is a medium-to-dark roast, but to my eye these beans seemed roasted a bit lighter than the alma viva yesterday. that could just be because of the wacky way yemens often take color.

let's hop right to the description, so grab your scaa flavor wheel. . .

some varities of yemen are wild, intense, crazy, almost ecstatic. james' yemen sanani is in this classic mode, but a little quieter: it's crooning to you in a slightly softer way, it seems to me, in a voice of barely restrained ardor.

i mean, this is a coffee on the verge of an emotional explosion, if you follow me. there's something about it, this passionate quality, that makes me wonder if the green beans come from erna knutsen; does she sell yemens?

this rich coffee has a barely winey taste, a soft twist-y tang. in the cafetiére (a.k.a. press pot) it offered a really fabulous slightly gelatinous body.

the fragrance of the fresh grounds filled my kitchen with pure tea rose. breaking the crust in the cup, i found a fair pinch of damp soil or earth, probably from the rooftop on which the coffee was dried.

this is what james probably means when he says this coffee is like "being tossed into a grimy manhattan snow bank." but i think that may make the cup seem wetter and dirtier than it is, altho' i do appreciate the image!

tasting the coffee -- true yemen character: vanilla, a malty, balsamic rice (like chewing brown basmati rice for a long time -- this probably comes from the beans that took the lighter roast color), and then the great chocolate-y, dark dry cocoa bomb thing. that stays and stays and stays.

when the coffee's cooler, i also detect some kind of fragrant wood, not cedar. . .i'm reaching, i'm reaching. . .sandalwood?

this coffee just makes you wanna sway on your feet, like listening to the wordless impassioned sufi singing. you might not out-n-out whirl with this sanani, but you will be moved.

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