I finished (sorta) a long pictorial and commentary compiled from my travel notes in Ethiopia the past few weeks. There's a few good points in there, and if you have time to kill, check it out.
Sweet Maria's Weblog
coffee. It can be rough to cup mixed tables of coffee in one day, or mixed flights. Having just returned from Kenya, it struck me how efficiently, quickly, almost mechanically they cup coffee there. 223/2 . 323. 233. Body, acidity flavor. The cupper doesn't even write down their own scores. That would slow things down. But they cup Kenyas all day long, day-in-day-out, 650 per week, 2x per sample, plus 600 Tanzanias, plus re-cups, totaling 2,000 or even 3,000 coffees a week! wow. They have 3 sample roasters, 5 barrels each, running for hours each day. But oddly, they don't face my challenge. Today, 1 table of Central America pre-ships from the new crop, 1 table of re-cups of the top Kenyas, a table of Brazils, and then 3 different in-depth single coffee cuppings to write reviews. That involves a lot of "gear-changing" and it can be hard. I admit, the Brazil table was dismal. Everything tasted like dusty herbs, with a few weeds thrown in. I will try again tomorrow with those, maybe it was just the context, or maybe they were truly all bad. As a cupper, I think one of the best skills you can develop is skepticism, and suspended judgment. Sure, first impressions count. But they can be awfully wrong too. That's part of the challenge, and enjoyment as well.
Sweetness, Dear Sweetness. If there is one quality of good coffee that can't be underrated, it is sweetness. You might not notice it at first (especially since bittering flavors are intrinsic to any coffee), but an absence of sweetness is akin to the absence of acidity. The cup is lacking without it. To illustrate how much sweetness can be a good thing we present one of our all time favorite coffees around these parts Costa Rica Helsar Organic Naranjo. When you smell the aroma as it brews, you can find lemon and citrus, piquant, delicate sour notes. But paired with that is a clean, articulate sweetness in the cup. Pay attention to the finish, the aftertaste, and I hope you will find a refined sweetness as the coffee flavors fade. If you don't, it is time to clean your coffee brewer! We could have chosen many extreme coffees that are aggressive and unsweet, Indonesia wet-hulled types, an Aged coffee, Monsooned, etc. But that wouldn't be fair. While the differences are more subtle, we wanted to chose a wet-processed coffee from the Central America neighborhood, one with a modicum of sweetness, ranging toward the baker's chocolate roast flavor. For this coffee I select the Guatemala San Jose Pinula -La Trinidad. Again, pay attention to the finish' this coffee has a lot of body, and a very attractive chocolate bittering aftertaste, not without sweetness, but certainly more in the realm of "pleasant bittering" flavors. I know, this is not a "hit you over the head" obvious difference. But I think you can observe the difference if you evaluate them side-by-side. As for the roast we have taken the Guatemala to a nice City+ roast with a very gentle roast profile with greatly reduced heat at the end of the roast cycle. The Costa Rica Helsar was roasted just a shade lighter, still in the City+ range to highlight the wonderful sweetness in this lot. This pairing should be an outstanding example of the degrees of sweetness available in two Central American coffees, Sweetness, we love you.