Friday, December 03, 2004


a turning point and the peaberry

let's start, as i did this morning, with the gillies tanzanian highland peaberry, as i promised.

everybody knows i'm gonna say now: grab your scaa flavor wheel while we talk about this coffee. . .tanzanian peaberry, as you all know, is a consistent favorite among many consumers, and my retailer friends report that it sells steadily.

and not just because the little round peaberries are really, really cute! part of it may be the myth that a peaberry -- or "caracol" bean -- contains more flavor than regular flatbeans. some think peaberries are more desirable; others still find them technically a defect, or flaw.

i've made this coffee 3 times now: twice in the vac pot, and this morning again in the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press). i prefer it in the latter.

why? i think the vac pot overemphasizes the coffee's brightness and underplays its nice body.

i also like it as a breakfast cup, altho' don schoenholt, the roaster, intends it as an after-dinner coffee!

but let's get started. this peaberry is a full coffee, roasted to what i would call low-medium full city -- a nice color, no oil.

the dry grounds had a lovely floral quality. tasting it, i found a nice fruity, nutty note -- not the usual almond or walnut, maybe more hazelnut -- i thought at first a brazil nut, but brazil nuts are buttery and coat the tongue in a way this coffee doesn't -- and a long, mouth-watering aftertaste.

even in a vac pot, it has a lovely body, but the press pot allows this coffee the best expression of its mouthfeel. in the press it developed a surprisingly thick body!

there's no doubt that the coffee is medium bright. i wouldn't use the term winey -- although in the link above long-time bccy pal dougie cadmus does, as does don himself -- because they use that term differently than i do, to indicate that fruity quality, whereas i feel winey's a taste quality, not an aroma quality, so we're talking about different sides of the wheel with this -- and in the press pot the brightness and body come into a more pleasing balance, i think.

why is this coffee so consistently popular? i think because many consumers want some of that bright african taste, but might not like the razor-sharp brightness (as don described it, "the gleam on the edge of a wilkinson sword" -- don, i didn't know you were a fencer!) often associated with kenya. the tanzanian is grown in roughly the same region and has some of the same characteristics, but in a milder form.

and with it's noteworthy body, it's a pleasure to drink. however, i will note that the peaberry is best hot. when i let it cool a bit to better judge the brightness, it lost some of its charm.

what does this mean? to my mind, you wouldn't make iced coffee with the tanzanian peaberry alone!

when i tried it with a tablespoon of light cream and a touch of raw sugar, the brightness diminished further, and a more vanilla sensation developed. since i think most new yorkers drink coffee with milk and sugar, it's easy to see why they like the tanzanian peaberry -- that lightly fruity, nutty, vanilla thing is appealing!

finally, long-time readers have patiently listened to me rant about the world-price depression known as "the coffee crisis" for years now. about how this situation not only causes human suffering, but also surprisingly contributes to the problems of illegal drugs and illegal immigration, as well as just plain lowers the quality and purity of coffee in our coffee-lovin' cups.

thus i have amazed everyone -- myself including coffee market professionals -- by somehow persuading a number of otherwise ordinary normal consumers to become coffee market price watchers! and yesterday was a most interesting day for us.

why? the coffee market crossed the US$1 point for the first time in 4 long years. since the fair-trade people estimate that coffee has to be at US$1.26 for farmers to make a living and be able to invest in really taking care of the trees, we still need coffee prices to move up a bit, and for the increase to sustain itself for a while, say, more than 6 months.

while the market closed below US$1, march coffee is still above that level. what this means for consumers is that if these prices hold, we will see higher-quality, better-tasting coffee in our morning mug!

but it also means we may pay a few cents more at retail for our beloved java. even should it increase, gourmet specialty coffee remains a bargain beverage -- a pound of coffee makes about 40 cups, meaning even pricey-feeling kona at US$24 per lb. costs only US$0.60 a cup, less than a can of [insert soft drink/soda brand here]!

so even if a truly beautiful costa rica coffee rises from, say, US$11.50 a pound to US$13.00 retail, that means cups of costa rica are still only US$0.33, up just US$0.04 per cup. mere pennies, pennies that make such a difference for the farmers!

however, before we celebrate too widely, we have to remember that recently many farmers have entered into longer-term relationship-style contracts. this means they may have promised their coffee earlier this year for US$1.20!

so it will be a hard moment for them should prices reach US$1.30, even tho' the lower price seemed like a good deal at that time. with this in mind, we have to remember that higher prices have to be sustained for a good length of time before we consumers will see the improvements in quality we desire, for us and the farmers!

posted by fortune | 6:59 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 0 comments

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