Selecting good green coffee from the many samples I cup daily is the most enjoyable and the most challenging part of what I do. It is really at the core of a business like ours, so I thought I would explain my preferences and prejudices a bit. The fact is, there are many coffees out there, and they don't fall neatly into categories of good and bad. One cuppers "winey" is another's "ferment," and an estate name is no guarantee. Even though each broker thinks they offer the best, you can't take them for their word ...you must cup and decide.
I have said before that we don't endorse the cultivation of "pedigree coffees" and excessive branding of farms and origins. However, we sell La Minita Tarrazu, La Tacita Antigua, and Kona from the small Eames farm. So let me backpedal and say that I don't endorse branding when the content (in this case, cup quality) doesn't match the glossy claims. The three coffees mentioned above are in stock at Sweet Maria's for their exceptional cup quality ...despite their high-profile reputations (and premium prices).
I can't say the same for some coffees from the San Marcos region that I negligently bought without cupping from the specific chops (that's fancy coffee slang for the lot of coffee) it came from. Normally, I never do this! But I had cupped it twice previously, thought it was delicate and good ...and thought I could get away with trusting the "brand" this once. When I cupped from the bag I was so disappointed (it was not tainted, just very ...um... delicate i.e. dull) that I pulled it from our offering list, and learned a good lesson in the process!
Its wonderful to have the chance to stock top-notch estate coffees. But there's something I enjoy much more; discovering a real gem of a coffee from more humble origins. Our current stock of dry-processed Sidamo and Harar, our Colombian Popayan with the Colsuaves export mark, and our Guatemalan SHB Huehuetenango come to mind immediately. These are outstanding cups sourced from varying coffee warehouses that far exceed the bulk of samples from the same origin this year.
Another important factor is that, while our list of coffees is the most extensive available to the home roaster, certain origins don't appear. Currently, there's no Java, Venezuelan, Burundi, Bolivian, Malawi, Honduran, Jamaican, Santo Domingo, etc. Why? Because if I don't get good samples I don't buy! The coffees on our list are ones that cupped exceptionally against their rivals.
We source coffees from a broad variety of brokers on both coasts, perhaps a sole advantage of being in the midwest. Currently our stock is from 9 sources, with each offering 25-75 coffees and multiple designations from each region. I think our broad range of suppliers is a natural outgrowth of my daily cuppings, and letting the cup reign supreme! There are suppliers to the home roaster that purchase entirely from one source, and one that is a source (the broker MP Mountanos is the corporate hand behind the "Home Coffee Roaster" web site) so clearly they aren't going to be shopping their competition for better coffees.
With a greater number of suppliers available to the home roaster, the true beneficiary will be you! Hopefully greater selection will make a broader range of coffees available and will make the coffee industry recognize home roasting not as a bastardization of the craft, but its zenith! I cant imagine a set of coffee consumers who care more for the details and consistently verify quality in the cup every day.
Kenyas and Past Crops
An interesting side note in broker Erna Knutsen's recent offering list in reference to the 98/99 Main Crop Kenyas just arriving this month in the US from the Kenya Auctions:
"Coffee is an agricultural product, and therefore subject to the vagaries of the weather gods. Who can chart the precise influence of the full moon on planting and flowering, or measure exactly which rains and mists accounted for the superb flavors of a particular crop? All we can say for sure is that one year, whether in wine or in coffee, yields vintage flavors, and another doesn't quite reach that peak. As we review this years entries into the Kenya Cupping Prize Contest held in Nairobi each year, we can only recall wistfully the coffees from the same co-ops last year. Very little of this years crop cups as well as the exceptional coffees grown last year, and we have not had samples yet fit to replace those old chops. Therefore, a bit of heretical advice; when the current offerings do not seem to satisfy, seek out the best from a previous vintage. We have managed to obtain a container of the Kenyan that blew us away last season, and we challenge you to cup them side by side with the weaker offerings coming to the market today."
Now, some brokers concur that last years crop was exceptional, some tell me it was lousy. While I trust my brokers, I never forget their propensity to make self-interested statements since they are, after all, salespeople. And Knutsen may be doing that too! But what I appreciate is her advice to focus on the cup, and forget if the coffee is new crop, current crop, or past crop. (By the way, new crop is 98/99 --which I sometimes lazily call '99-- , current crop is either 97/98 or 98/99 depending on whether a more recent picking has arrived, and 96/97 is certainly past crop).
I designate all crops in my coffee descriptions on the web page ...those are the detailed cupping/roasting notes and cupping numbers you get when you follow the hyperlink on the coffee offering list. Soon I will be changing the format to include more geographical and general background information about the region and its history of coffee cultivation, with the cup information foregrounded against this. I think this will provide a greater breadth (and depth) of information to make your buying decisions.
Green Coffee Storage, Again.
Home roasters, myself included, might tend to obsess about details. I plead with you to obsess about roasted coffee freshness and storage, and NOT about green coffee storage. Green coffee is essentially a dried seed, chemically stable and organically stable in a dense cellulose matrix. All that is changed during roasting, and the compounds are volatilized, and the matrix fractured.
But green coffee rests peacefully and all it wants to avoid is gaining moisture and avoid mold/mildew spores! If you intend to store a batch of green coffee for over 6 months, put it in a paper, cotton or burlap container --something that breathes to prevent trapping moisture with the coffee.
If you intend to use the coffee within 6 months than don't worry about storage! Just keep the coffee in something handy, or whatever vessel it was shipped in.
In the trade, the general rule in terms of climate for green coffee storage is this: if its comfortable for you, then your coffee is happy too. You don't want it to freeze, you don't want it exposed to 100% humidity at 100 degrees f.
Moisture loss (when the coffee reads 9% moisture content or lower) will cause the coffee to roast quicker but is not severely damaging to cup quality. Some coffee ship at 9.5% (Panama Hartmann, Lerida),, some look dried-out and fill more volume but aren't (Yemen Rimy, 11.8% moisture), some are near the top end of desirable moisture content (Mandheling- 13.9%) but , as in many things in coffee, no single rule applies across the board!
A customer asked me recently if I had stringy blonde hair. I replied that I wish I did, and that I lived at the beach again (I'm from San Diego). What I figured was that he found a sisal fiber in his coffee and though it was my hair! So let me say this: if you don't find burlap or Sisal fiber in your coffee I will be surprised! Foreign matter can sometimes be found in the best of coffees, and its expected in any natural, dry-processed coffees. If you get 5 lbs.. of Harar, you will probably find a couple small rocks in there. Kenya has some bits of parchment coffee, and some elephant ears. Black beans are found in Chiapas and the Huehuetenango from the 97/98 crop, along with a few pods. Small sticks and pieces of basket are in the Yemen. Seeds that look like they were flattened by a truck (and they probably were!) are in the Sumatras. None of these are detrimental to the cup except where noted (in our coffee descriptions I noted that Chiapas and Peru might have 1 seed per lb. that you want to remove). Only very small, withered, very black seeds should be removed. If you pull out every seed with an abnormality you could easily be damaging the cup quality! (I often site the "triple-picked SF Prep" polished Sumatra sample I have occasionally cupped that is DOA in the cup!) Obvious foreign matter should be removed, but wont hurt much either. Even the occasional rock is usually of a very soft variety and steel grinding burrs are unharmed by them. In 2 years I have had 3 metallic items (2 nails, one lump of metal) and those ARE damaging to grinders! Coffee is meticulously hand picked, prepped and hand sorted, but occasional interlopers are found. Its just testament to its colorful origins, and not a final determination of quality. That said, you should see the junk they find in the cheap coffee that larger and/or less quality-conscious roasters use. A fellow roaster told me he dumped a 25 lb. batch and a huge lump fell out, about a cubic foot square. After it cooled he discovered it was a plastic-sheathed auto battery cable, and most of the batch was imbedded in the melted lump! Ugh!
I have to admit, finding odd things in coffee is actually quite fun. What have I found? Not much really. I found a completely intact Sumatran bee in the Mandheling. Its wings were outstretched and I couldn't believe this large, delicate thing was intact with the weight of all that coffee on it! I found a bottlecap once. Maybe I should buy lower grade coffee: another roaster in Columbus found bullet casings, and hunks of cement!
There is a "urban legend" among roasters that a guy in the had a bullet explode in his roaster a few years back. I cant find anyone with first hand knowledge to really verify this.
PS: for clarification of what the above-mentioned terms (like black bean etc. ) refer to, read the article on green coffee quality at www.sweetmarias.com/articles.shtml
Footnotes From the Last Issue
No sooner than I announced all Harars had "gone chocolate" than new crop samples arrived with incredible raspberry flavors in the cup. Additionally the Sidamo DP has great dried apricot fruitiness to it. We are selling 2 Harars as I write this, something I feel VERY comfortable with since the range of cup character in Harars in general, and these 2 in particular, is quite pronounced. The "Harar Grade 4 Longberry" is spicy, chocolatey, and has a voluminous fruit flavor in the background. The "Harar Grade 5 Horse" has a lighter body, a bit less earthiness, and pronounced raspberry flavors.
While there was plenty to dread at this years SCAA Conference in Philadelphia, I managed to separate the good from the bad. My first day was overwhelming and depressing. The fellow that sued me for selling corn poppers was there hunting for new bait, and even a nice conversation with Michael Sivetz didn't manage to turn me. It was Ken Davids seminar on cupping the following morning that brought color back to my jaundiced face. His focus on cup quality and language is something I experience and struggle with on a daily basis ...and it is the part of what I do that I value the most! I suppose that in the midst of new slushy coffee drink machines, purveyors of chemical flavorings and POS equipment, I felt alienated. The bonus was that I was able to tell Ken Davids about the reviving effect his talk had on me later that day... I also was able to meet some of the cronies from the alt.coffee newsgroup, people whose opinions and expertise I deeply respect.
New Roasters on the Horizon
There's been a lot of talk about the new home roasters that should be unveiled soon. Our web site will feature the latest information about new devices once they are actually available. Many of these roasters have been promised for years now, and there is no guarantee that the current release dates are solid. As far as what items we will stock, I put aside all prejudices and test every new item objectively. I have orders in with every roaster manufacturer for their latest, and I will receive the first units to ship. I will then rigorously test them and cup the results against current models, corn poppers, and my professional Diedrich roasts. This should benefit the home roaster ...to have someone check out all these models in advance on your behalf. I promise to carry only the machines I feel have good value and quality, with design, sturdiness, ease-of-use and (above all) cup quality as the criteria. I will not carry any model until I test it completely, and feel totally confident in the machine (a process that should take only a few intensive days of effort.) Also, I don't want to discuss the new machines extensively before they are released; there's too much speculation, akin to the "vaporware" term used in the computer world.
But here's a brief list:
* Hearthware Precision Roaster -currently at UL for testing, should be available July sometime.
* West Bend Coffee Roaster -currently at UL ...I believe (UL labs must smell awfully nice these days) due July/August
* Swissmar AlpenRost -1/2 lb electric drum roaster also at UL according to the spokesguy at SCAA. Due out in late August/September
*Unimax 2000 -supposedly redesigned, supposedly available in July.
* PS: Hearthware is working on a 220 v model for overseas due in August and has a 1 lb air roaster on the drawing board ...maybe 9-12 months off.
This list is superceded by the web page list, since that is updated continuously! Coming June 15: Tanzanian Adela AA, Aged Java Old Brown, Costa Rican Dota Tarrazu, and Mexican Chiapas Pastores Estate coffee!
Sweet Maria's Green Coffee Offerings on 6/4/99
***Central American*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Costa Rican Tarrazu LaMinita $7.30 $13.87 $31.76
Costa Rican Tarrazu Papagayo $4.80 $9.12 $20.88
Guat. Antigua -La Tacita Estate $5.80 $11.02 $25.23
Guat. Antigua -Santa Barbara $5.20 $9.88 $22.62
Guat. SHB Huehuetenango '99 $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
Mexican HG Chiapas $4.25 $8.08 $18.49
Mexican Coatepec -Roma $3.90 $7.41 $16.97
Mexican Maragogype $5.40 $10.26 $23.49
Mex. San Pablo Tres Flechas $4.65 $8.84 $20.23
Mexican HG Organic Putla $4.80 $9.12 $20.88
Nic. Matagalpa Gavilan Estate $4.80 $9.12 $20.88
Nicaraguan Organic Segovia $5.20 $9.88 $22.62
Panama Boquete Lerida Estate $5.10 $9.69 $22.19
Panama Hartmann "Songbird" $5.10 $9.69 $22.19
***South American*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Brazil Bourbon Santos 2/3s $3.50 $6.65 $15.23
Brazil Cerrado-Monte Carmelo $4.40 $8.36 $19.14
Brazil Minas17/18"Organic" $4.50 $8.55 $19.58
Brazil Serra Negra 17/18 $4.70 $8.93 $20.45
Colombian Huila Supremo $4.30 $8.17 $18.71
Colombian Pop Sup "Colsuaves" $4.60 $8.74 $20.01
Colombian Reserva Del Patron $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Peru Org. Chanchamayo Florida $4.75 $9.03 $20.66
***African*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Ethiopian Ghimbi Gr 5 $4.75 $9.03 $20.66
Ethiopian Harar Gr4 Longberry $5.70 $10.83 $24.80
Ethiopian Harar Gr5 Horse $5.70 $10.83 $24.80
Ethiopian Limmu WashedGr2 $6.10 $11.59 $26.54
Ethiopian Sidamo DP Gr4 $5.20 $9.88 $22.62
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Gr2 $6.45 $12.26 $28.06
Kenya AB -Gaturiri Farm '98 $7.80 $14.82 $33.93
Kenya AA -Mweiga Farm '98 $7.50 $14.25 $32.63
Kenya AA -Kiungu Farm '98 $7.80 $14.82 $33.93
Kenya Kirinyaga '99 MainCrop $6.20 $11.78 $26.97
Ugandan Bugisu AA $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
Zambia AA Chisoba Estate $6.60 $12.54 $28.71
Zimbabwe AA Canterbury $6.00 $11.40 $26.10
Zimbabwe Peaberry + $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Yemen Mocca Rimy $6.90 $13.11 $30.02
***Indonesian*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Sulawesi Toraja $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
Sumatra Golden Pwani $5.80 $11.02 $25.23
Sumatra Mandheling Gr1 DP $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
Sumatra Aged Mandheling DP $6.40 $12.16 $27.84
Sumatra OrganicGayoMtn.Gr2 $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Timor Organic MaubesseGr1 $5.35 $10.17 $23.27
***Other*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Indian Monsooned Malabar $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Indian Mysore-Kents Varietal $5.40 $10.26 $23.49
French Chicory -Roasted $6.00 $11.40 $26.10
Kona -Eames Farm Estate Grade $16.00 $30.40 $69.60
Maui Kaanapali Moka $7.40 $14.06 $32.19
Papua New Guinea Gumanch A $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
Papua New Guinea Wahgi PB $5.70 $10.83 $24.80
SM's Moka Kadir Blend $5.80 $11.02 $25.23
SM's Espresso Monkey Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
Sweet Maria's Fr.RoastBlend $5.50 $10.45 $23.93
***Decafs*** 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb
Colombian Co2 Decaf $5.80 $11.02 $25.23
Costa Rican HB Natural D $5.30 $10.07 $23.06
Indonesian KomodoBlend SWP D $6.40 $12.16 $27.84
MexicanEsmeralda Natural D $5.00 $9.50 $21.75
Sumatra Mandheling SWP D $6.40 $12.16 $27.84
Timor Organic SWP Decaf $6.40 $12.16 $27.84
Sweet Maria's Coffee Roastery
9 E. 2nd Ave. * Columbus Ohio 43201
ph/fx:614 294 1816 * orders:888.876 5917